Plaza Watch International - - Legend - WORDS MICHAEL CLER­IZO photo ian s k el­ern

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.

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