ROGER DUBUIS

World of Watches (Singapore) - - Reports -

The mar­ket may be de­pressed cur­rently, but Roger Dubuis re­mains un­fazed. When asked for his opin­ion on the mat­ter, Dubuis was non­cha­lant – he stated that shake-ups hap­pen reg­u­larly, but they don’t im­pact the watch­maker’s cre­ativ­ity, and the econ­omy will even­tu­ally re­cover any­way. Dubuis’s words point to a man who has seen it all, in­clud­ing 14 years at Patek Philippe’s high com­pli­ca­tions depart­ment, and the very real losses of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence that took place dur­ing the Quartz Cri­sis. Best known for his name­sake brand these days, Dubuis was also the founder of the now-de­funct Groupe­ment Genevois des Cabinotiers, which served as cus­to­di­ans for crafts and tech­niques that were rapidly dy­ing out in the 1970s. These ex­pe­ri­ences have made Dubuis who he is to­day; like the watches bear­ing his name, the man isn’t afraid of stand­ing out, and the in­dus­try is all the bet­ter for it.

PRE­SERV­ING LE­GA­CIES

“Dur­ing the Quartz Cri­sis, most peo­ple be­lieved that it was go­ing to be the end of me­chan­i­cal time­pieces, since they just couldn’t com­pete with quartz watches when it came to pre­ci­sion. There was more to it – be­sides just los­ing busi­ness, the Swiss watch in­dus­try was also los­ing many ar­ti­sanal and watch­mak­ing tech­niques in that pe­riod. I re­alised that we were in trou­ble when I was work­ing for Patek Philippe. In that pe­riod, I also had my own restora­tion work­shop. How­ever, as a watch­maker, I couldn’t carry out all the as­pects of restora­tion work by my­self, and I had dif­fi­culty find­ing crafts­peo­ple with spe­cific metiers like guil­lochage to help me. They were miss­ing! It drove home the im­por­tance of seek­ing these peo­ple out and mak­ing sure that their knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence wouldn’t be lost. We had to try to pre­serve these crafts, which I did by start­ing a club, the Groupe­ment Genevois des Cabinotiers, in 1977. This is what I con­sider the most im­por­tant part of my pro­fes­sional life, be­cause I was fight­ing for the sur­vival and fu­ture of the tra­di­tions and metiers that mat­tered.”

LOST AND FOUND

“The Groupe­ment Genevois des Cabinotiers was just a group of young peo­ple in their 20s to 40s who re­alised that the in­dus­try was crum­bling down around them, and saw the need to pre­serve the knowl­edge and know-how that were be­ing lost. We were seek­ing out old crafts­men and watch­mak­ers, and ask­ing them to trans­mit their knowl­edge to us. The in­dus­try still took over 20 years to re­cover all these metiers though, and by then, the club’s ‘ac­tiv­i­ties’ had long faded off to be­come an in­for­mal net­work of friends in­stead. Still, the mem­bers’ ef­fort to save the in­dus­try is some­thing that we should all re­mem­ber.”

CON­TIN­UAL GROWTH

“There were mul­ti­ple points and pe­ri­ods in my ca­reer that I’m proud of, so it’s dif­fi­cult to pin­point a spe­cific one that stands out from the rest. But what I’ve al­ways felt proud­est of is the present mo­ment. Not many peo­ple to­day can look at a brand bear­ing their name and think to them­selves, ‘I started this, and look how much it’s grown.’ And things are al­ways grow­ing, so I guess my an­swer is right now.”

CHANG­ING TIMES

“Peo­ple used to buy watches be­cause they needed them to tell the time. Then the Quartz Cri­sis came, and with it the ar­rival of many new tech­nolo­gies that al­lowed watch­mak­ers to be more cre­ative. We are now reach­ing the point where bold de­signs are one of the last ways for a man­u­fac­ture to stand out. To me, this is a log­i­cal pro­gres­sion. We don’t need a watch to tell the time nowa­days any­way, so watch­mak­ing’s fash­ion­able side has come to the fore. It’s im­por­tant, how­ever, not to lose sight of the essence of things. We don’t need watches, but they must still tell the time, and do it in an easy way. There was a pe­riod when things got crazy, and man­u­fac­tures were propos­ing com­pli­ca­tions on top of more com­pli­ca­tions, just to stand out, but there’s been a re­turn to sim­pler watches, to the essence of things.”

Left: Roger Dubuis’s man­u­fac­ture Right: A fo­cus on women’s time­pieces and high fash­ion in 2016

The Vel­vet Se­cret Heart is a re­turn to sim­pler watches, yet suit­ably com­pli­cated with two ret­ro­grade date in­di­ca­tors

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