In Conversation With: Daniel Aellig, Chief Commercial Officer At NORQAIN On The Adventurous Element Off Watchmaking

A Throwback to The Early Roger Dubuis Creations

13 Oct 2023 |
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Roger Dubuis - the brand, has evolved into a Manufacture where true avant-garde creations are a specialty. The direction of evolution for the brand however isn’t to everyone’s liking as the underlying premises of the Maison forged by Roger Dubuis in 1995 have somewhat been lost in a pursuit of extravagance. The modern creations are undeniably sat within the upper echelons of hyper horology but are deprived of the DNA that promised a tasteful tribute to classical watchmaking.

Although the current portfolio offers an aesthetic which is an acquired taste, the market captivating prowess of its early creations can be justified by the fact that vintage Roger Dubuis timepieces, especially the early 2000s chronographs have become some of the most sought-after collectable vintage pieces.

A Throwback to The Early Roger Dubuis Creations
A white gold Roger Dubuis Bi-Retrograde Perpetual Calendar Chronograph from 2000

So, has the metamorphosis into avant-garde hurt Roger Dubuis’ true horological prowess? Well, let’s puzzle it out.

Roger Dubuis: An Accomplished Watchmaker             

Understanding the history of Roger Dubuis- the watchmaker, is the first step in understanding Roger Dubuis- the brand. Even before Roger Dubuis was 20, he started working in Longines’ after-sales department. There he spent 9 years, from 1957 to 1966 mostly working on their reputable chronographs. From there, he moved to Patek Phillippe where he worked in the department of high complications for 14 years up until 1980. This was a phase which coincided with the creation of fourth and final series ref. 2499 at Patek Philippe. It was a changing period in Mr. Dubuis’ forging as a watchmaker as the traditional Genevan codes of watchmaking got cemented into his technique and inspired his future direction.

A Throwback to The Early Roger Dubuis Creations
Mr. Dubuis was considered a consummate craftsman and one of the last masters of Swiss watchmaking

In the 1980s, Roger Dubuis struck out on his own and established his workshop and development company. Here he got a chance to repair timepieces for private clients and also auction houses of high repute. His parallel initiatives saw him developing his own modules and movements. A retrograde perpetual calendar module designed to integrate with a Lemania base caliber was one of his early inceptions.

Roger Dubuis partnered with another horologer of repute Jean-Marc Wiederrecht and together they created the world’s first double retrograde perpetual calendar caliber. It was released as a Harry Winston commissioned timepiece in 1989.

A Throwback to The Early Roger Dubuis Creations
Roger Dubuis worked with Jean-Marc Wiederrecht on the Bi-Retrograde Perpetual Calendar Watch commissioned by Harry Winston

Creation of the Eponymous Brand                 

It was in the 1980s that Roger Dubuis met Carlos Dias in what could be the most informal of introductory arrangements. During the development of the bi-retrograde perpetual calendar, Mr. Dubuis and Jean-Marc Wiederrecht would discuss their work at a cafe in Geneva where a Portuguese immigrant who happened to be Carlos Dias waited. Passionate of building a watch company, Carlos shared his vision and ideas with Mr. Dubuis whom he later convinced to found his eponymous brand in 1995.

A Throwback to The Early Roger Dubuis Creations
Carlos Dias (left) and Roger Dubuis (right) found the Manufacture Roger Dubuis in 1995

During the inceptive years for the Maison of Roger Dubuis, the creations were Mr. Dubuis’ personal interpretations on Patek Philippe. The debut creations at Roger Dubuis included the Hommage and Sympathie series. Housing Roger Dubuis’ in-house calibers, the early timepieces extended to time only, chronographs and perpetual calendar watches. Among these early inceptions, the double register chronographs rose to immense popularity and were truly emblematic of Mr. Dubuis’ time at Patek Philippe. The Roger Dubuis chronograph calibers just like the ones at Patek were based on the Lemania 2310 ebauche which were meticulously worked upon to achieve a poise worthy of the Geneva Seal (Poinçon de Genève) hallmark.

A Throwback to The Early Roger Dubuis Creations
Schooled at Patek Philippe, Roger Dubuis adopted traditional Genevan aesthetic codes in his early timepieces like the applied Breguet hour numerals on the H40 (left) and exuberant movement decoration on the H34 (right)

Roger Dubuis’ time at Patek Philippe truly inspired his direction and vision for the eponymous brand. The watches were founded on the principles of producing mechanisms that exhibited quality and finishing levels at par with Patek whilst the case designs were a revolution for the time. Famously, the cushioned shape with pointed corners for the cases featured on the Sympathie series were truly avant-garde. It is these elements that make early Roger Dubuis timepieces very special.

The Hommage Series           

Focusing on the Hommage collection, the inspiration from Patek Philippe ref. 130 and ref. 1463 chronographs transcends the aesthetic realms and carries over to mechanical depths. We don’t want to credit early Roger Dubuis as a Patek Phillipe sibling brand but the catalyst is strong. As the name suggests, the Hommage series was an intended reinterpretation of the great creations of the past which embodied traditional Genevan aesthetics and finishing codes at the highest level.

A Throwback to The Early Roger Dubuis Creations
The design codes and inspiration which the Roger Dubuis H34 (right) inherits from the Patek Philippe ref. 130 (left) are obvious

Roger Dubuis ref. H34 from the collection was a double register chronograph heavily inspired by the Patek Philippe ref. 130 while the ref. H40 was Mr. Dubuis’ take on the Patek Philippe ref. 1463, the “Tasti Tondi”. The Hommage series double register chronographs were made available in a plethora of variations with techniques such as applied Breguet numerals, lacquer and guilloche omnipresent across the collection.

A Throwback to The Early Roger Dubuis Creations
Roger Dubuis ref. H40 (right) was Mr. Dubuis’ take on the Patek Philippe ref. 1463, the “Tasti Tondi” (left) and featured similar styled flared pushers for the chronograph

A notable element among the early Hommage collection was the exclusivity to precious metal use with examples found in platinum, white gold, rose gold and even palladium. Case sizes also varied from 34 to 40 millimeters. Examples were diversified even in their style with the chronograph monopusher at 3 o’clock and the conventional double pushers at 2 and 4.

A Throwback to The Early Roger Dubuis Creations
Varying case sizes for the Hommage series double register chronograph models

Drawing parallels between the Roger Dubuis Hommage double register chronographs and similar iterations from Patek Philippe reveals a strong adherence to traditional aesthetic codes but with respective takes on the same. Moving away from the chronographs, the later executions within the Hommage series featured perpetual calendar complications as well.

A Throwback to The Early Roger Dubuis Creations
In 1999, Roger Dubuis designed and produced the first in-house movements, all certified with a prestigious Poinçon de Genève

The Sympathie Series              

The Sympathie series of Roger Dubuis is where the design and aesthetic codes get freshened with a bit of avant-garde. Still classical in essence but boldly executed with a complex shape for the cases, the Sympathie series exhibits a hint of Carlos Dias’ influence on the aesthetic front. This evolved flavor of watch design too draws inspiration from Mr. Dubuis’ past.

A Throwback to The Early Roger Dubuis Creations
Roger Dubuis Sympathie ref. S37 with Mr. Dubuis' patented bi-retrograde perpetual calendar movement

The Sympathie case shape is a surrealist expression of watchmaking design which results in a compound aesthetic. Opposing theories exist regarding the true inspiration for this unique case shape and some believe it to be a design of a case maker from Vallée de Joux, later improved upon by Roger Dubuis and Carlos Dias. Taking it back to the origins of the story when Roger Dubuis was a watchmaker at Longines, during the period from 50s to the 70s, they manufactured a case which shares an ironic resemblance with the Sympathie shape. The Longines ref. 846 also featured an angular square case. An extra hint to the Longines inspiration comes from the powerhouse within. The caliber 990 from Longines developed in 1977 forms the base for the calendar iterations of the Sympathie series.

A Throwback to The Early Roger Dubuis Creations
Strong parallels can be drawn between the Longines ref. 846 (left) and the Roger Dubuis Sympathie ref. S37 (right) case designs

The first series Sympathie timepieces featured a sapphire crystal that followed the contours of the case shape. The series 2 retained the compound case shape but made do with a rounded sapphire crystal and dial. It feels like an aesthetic compromise and takes away from an original idea while letting go of a better design.

A Throwback to The Early Roger Dubuis Creations
Roger Dubuis Sympathie case evolution from Series 1 (left) to the Series 2 (right) models

Progression of the Roger Dubuis Brand         

Roger Dubuis of today is totally unrecognizable from what it was 10 years ago and even more so when the brand was formed. There is no visible continuity of the aesthetic. The fine finishing codes and traditional Genevan artisanal crafts have translated into flamboyant avant-garde designs with a strong automotive collaborative allure.

The current ownership of the brand by Richemont Group has somewhat neglected the Maison that Roger Dubuis incepted and envisioned. The group took leverage of the fine Manufacture of Roger Dubuis created in 2001 and its in-house movement making prowess. The borrowed essence and best inspiration from classical watchmaking has evolved into a manufacture of timepieces for an acquired taste.

A Throwback to The Early Roger Dubuis Creations
The impressive Manufacture of Roger Dubuis developed in 2001 was acquired by Richemont Group in 2016

Mr. Dubuis retired in 2003 and on October 14, 2017, passed away at the age of 79. Some say that he didn’t retain a stake in his eponymous brand, unhappy with the direction that the company had taken. It ached him to see his tools working on creations focused on aesthetic flamboyance rather than a vision of high classical watchmaking standards.

A Throwback to The Early Roger Dubuis Creations
In the modern era, Roger Dubuis, the brand, has very little to do with Roger Dubuis, the man

As admirers of Roger Dubuis and his wonderful ideas, we remain hopeful of a new chapter at the brand where the spirit of his glorious vision is celebrated and channeled in the creations.