Life, so goes the cliché, is a roller coaster: exhilaratinghighs stalked by gut wrenching lows. Daniel Roth’s sixty-seven years appear to qualify. Things started smoothly enough: Born in Marseille, the scion of a watchmaking family, educated at the local horological academy, Roth moved to the La Vallee de Joux and eventually a job at Audemars Piguet.
After seven peaceful, productive years the first upward climb started when Roth answered a want ad. The Chaumet brothers, then the owners of Breguet, recruited Roth to oversee the brand’s revival. They even funded his returnto watchmaking school for a year to improve his knowledge of complications. He also paid regular visits to the Breguet archives, immersing himself in the study of history’s most celebrated watchmaker. Roth thought he had found his life’s work.
Fourteen years later, in 1987, the roller coaster plunged when financial difficulties forced the Chaumets to sell the brand. Unhappy with the new owners Roth left, borrowed money, found a distribution partner and started his own brand a few years later.
In those days the launch of a new watch brand was a rare occurrence. Retailers needed time to fit the Daniel Roth into their offering. The buying public needed time to understand and then desire the watches, which had a distinctive case that Roth called a form shape.
Time was something Roth’s distribution partner did not have. They withdrew from the venture. The roller coaster plummeted again when the bank, hearing the news about the distributor, called in Roth’s loan.
Another ascent began when in 1994 Roth linked up with an Asian partner, The Hour Glass, owned by the Tay family of Singapore. By the end of the decade the roller coaster nosedived with the Asian economy. The Tay family moved to sell their 51% to the Italian jewelry powerhouse Bulgari. The roller coaster had one more vicious dip to complete. The Italians played hardball. They wanted 100% of the brand or no deal. Roth could not continue on his own. He sold his share to the Italians and signed a short-term contract. When the contract expired, Roth stopped the rollercoaster.
In 2000 he, with his wife and son, both watchmakers, started working in a bright wood paneled atelier in Le Sentier. The family produces a handful of watches each year some round some with his own form shape. Roth also offers wisdom worthy of Buddha.
"I've had ups and downs in my career," he writes, "but only with business never with watchmaking. The business is nothing of importance because passion drives me to do pursue by metier. Only passion justifies the huge amount of hard work you need for watchmaking."
He claims he still learns from the masters of the past. "I admire them all, Pierre Leroy, Breguet, John Harrison, Antide Janvier, Ferdinand Berthoud, they are my mentors. Each one had a philosophy that showed in their work."
One thought gives him great satisfaction: "In my head I am always imagining new watches."
In other words, the roller- coaster ride is worth the trouble.