Seal of Ap­proval

Roger Dubuis is once again mak­ing his mark at the company he started, and this time with even more soul. Josh Sims speaks with the watch­mak­ing gi­ant about how the re­vived Hom­mage line turns out to be an homage to him as much as Geneva's finest.

Plaza Watch International - - Seal of Approval - JOSH SIMS

Roger Dubuis, the man, is feel­ing emo­tional. The company that car­ries his name has not only just re­leased a new Hom­mage line – an homage to the orig­i­nal Hom­mage model with which Dubuis launched his company in 1995 – but also one of the vari­ants, a fly­ing tour­bil­lon, which comes in a limited edi­tion of 208 pieces.

That some­what ran­dom num­ber was Dubuis’ reg­is­tra­tion num­ber from his time at the Geneva Watch­mak­ing School, the num­ber stu­dents had to have stamped on all their tools.

“I ac­tu­ally only found out that the company had de­cided to limit the edi­tion to 208 af­ter­wards,” says Dubuis. “I was very touched by that be­cause, although I know it’s a smart bit of mar­ket­ing, I also know that it comes from the heart and was done for me. It’s a big mark of recog­ni­tion.”

In­deed, a timely one too: since re­tir­ing from the company in 2004 due to poor health – and sell­ing up to the Richemont lux­ury goods group four years later – now Dubuis is back, at least as a kind of am­bas­sador and over­seer. Or as the company has dubbed him, in what must have been a new-age mo­ment, a ‘soul­maker’.

“I’m not op­pos­ing that ti­tle,” Dubuis laughs. “Re­ally it re­lates to the idea of hav­ing a com­mit­ment to what the watches are about – a tech­ni­cal ex­cel­lence but also, I hope, a bit of soul. Hav­ing the soul also be­came the set of rules the company worked to. Or rather just one: that ev­ery part must have that Poin­con de Gen­eve – that’s re­ally the only thing I’ve ever in­sisted on. I was trained on Point de Gen­eve stan­dards from the be­gin­ning and didn’t want to trade that for any­thing.”

Roger Dubuis re­mains the only haute hor­logerie maker whose watches carry the 128-year-old Poin­con de Gen­eve mark for ev­ery sin­gle com­po­nent – the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion cov­er­ing not just the me­chan­i­cal likes of pre­ci­sion and wa­ter re­sis­tance, but the artistry in the hand fin­ish­ing over some 12 dif­fer­ent cri­te­ria. That means that each of the 4,500 watches the company pro­duces ev­ery year (the Roger Dubuis has a rep­u­ta­tion for tour­bil­lons and skele­ton mod­els – its flag­ship model be­ing the show-stop­ping Ex­cal­ibur) takes around 40 per cent more work to com­plete. Some 360 of the 1200 hours re­quired to as­sem­ble the RD100 – a new move­ment with a 50-hour power re­serve – are de­voted to get­ting the Poin­con seal of ap­proval. Frankly, it sounds like a mill­stone around the neck of money mak­ing. Thank­fully, Dubuis doesn’t much care.

“It’s even more im­por­tant for the brand now and I think it will con­tinue to be im­por­tant – be­cause it’s some proof of Roger Dubuis’ com­mit­ment to watch­mak­ing at the high­est level,” Dubuis adds – not­ing that of the 20 mil­lion watches made in Switzer­land ev­ery year, only 24,000 carry any Poin­con de Gen­eve.

“We use it in­ten­sively, from the be­gin­ning of the de­sign process. Of course other com­pa­nies use the Poin­con de Gen­eve now but with us it ac­tu­ally de­ter­mines what we do with the move­ment. It’s in­te­gral from the first de­sign on­wards.” “I re­ally agree with the idea that haute hor­logerie has to be mod­ern. Who wants an elite watch that looks old-fash­ioned?”

That kind of think­ing might well be ex­pected from a man who launched his own man­u­fac­ture pre­cisely be­cause he wasn’t get­ting the op­por­tu­nity to make the kind of watches his train­ing would al­low him to do. “I think my ca­reer started be­fore I ac­tu­ally be­came a watch­maker, when I was 15 and dis­cov­ered this big clock in the back of a church and fell in love with the idea of mak­ing them. I did all I could to get into the watch­mak­ing school in Geneva, which led to a sales ser­vic­ing depart­ment in a watch company and even­tu­ally a spe­cial­i­sa­tion in per­pet­ual cal­en­dars. And all of a sud­den I was 58,” he re­calls, as if hint­ing that the les­son of his story is also one of ‘carpe diem’. “That’s when I de­cided to go in­de­pen­dent. I had a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence over the years and won­dered what I could do with it all. And the only way to find out was to go in­de­pen­dent. To do it all my­self.”

Much, he con­cedes, has changed over those years in the business. There is the ex­tent of the use of ma­chin­ery and tech­nol­ogy in fine watch­mak­ing. There is the will­ing­ness to put a ‘crazy’ de­sign on the mar­ket or to play with un­ex­pected ideas: in the new Hom­mage, for ex­am­ple, the nu­mer­als are fit­ted di­rectly on to the main­plate, a process that would usu­ally in­volve grind­ing but which, as was con­cluded, would leave un­ac­cept­able scratches. So, while the de­tails are be­ing held close to the chest, the company used a move­ment-mak­ing tech­nique to do the job. There is even, as Dubuis notes, the fact that when he was a stu­dent, watches were still for telling the time, whereas now “even the move­ment is a form of jew­ellery”.

Equally, he wor­ries that much has not changed. While he would cer­tainly cham­pion tra­di­tional watch­mak­ing and watch dec­o­ra­tion crafts – one Roger Dubuis sig­na­ture is its use of guil­loche, a tech­nique of dec­o­rat­ing with en­graved, etched and in­ter­sect­ing lines that has was first used on a watch back in 1786 – he finds it strange to wan­der around SIHH and see, as he puts it, that “so many watches could have been made, aes­thet­i­cally-speak­ing, any time in the last 200 years”.

“I re­ally agree with the idea that haute hor­logerie has to be mod­ern. Who wants an elite watch that looks old-fash­ioned? A lot of the watches I see to­day re­mind me of my past – but I don’t mind, since I’m an old man now and that makes you nos­tal­gic,” he jokes. “Of course, a watch can be linked to the past be­cause it uses tra­di­tional watch­mak­ing craft – the guil­loche on the dial, for ex­am­ple. But the moder­nity is there too – in the guil­loche, be­cause the pat­tern is con­tem­po­rary. Or, from a watch­mak­ing point of view, be­cause the dial is the main­plate and the plate is the dial. It’s tra­di­tional tech­nique used in a mod­ern way,” he says.

“The first tour­bil­lons were made by Breguet in 1801, but they’re still be­ing made in 2014, be­cause they’ve been rein­vented over and over,” Dubuis adds. “It’s re­ally only the func­tion that stays the same – telling the time. The ideas, the meth­ods of pro­duc­tion, the met­als and ma­te­ri­als, the look – they’re all dif­fer­ent. And they add up to the me­chan­i­cal watch’s ap­peal to­day.”

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