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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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