It takes knowledge to properly break the rules. The reason Tracey Emin has endured is because she could only subvert the art world by having an MA in painting from the Royal College of Art; Jeanette Winterson, one of our most brilliant and experimental novelists, read English at Oxford – not exactly an establishment known for its anarchic approach to education. Roger Dubuis, the eponymous brand that is home to such creations as the Excalibur Quator, with four angled balances and the Spider with not one but two flying tourbillons, worked for 14 years in the grande complication department at Patek Philippe. You can’t get more traditional than that.
For Dubuis, the man, anything other than a life in watchmaking was unthinkable. He went to the horological school in Geneva when he was just 19, having spent years after school watching a local watchmaker work, learning all he could from the man.
After his tenure at Patek Philippe, Dubuis decided to go it alone and set up his own watch and clock repair shop in Geneva. However, people weren’t content to let him just repair, he started getting private requests from watch manufacturers to make them complications if they didn’t have the capacity in house.
One such complication was a bi-retro perpetual calendar requested by Harry Winston. Knowing he needed some help, Dubuis contacted legendary complication king and Agenhor founder Jean-Marc Wiederrecht.
The two would discuss their plans in a local café, where, by a strange turn of fate Carlos Dias, a Portuguese immigrant with dreams of building a watch company was working as a waiter. The two set up the company in 1995. Roger Dubuis was never going to be a brand that troubled the big guns – production was intentionally limited with every watch made to Poincon de Geneve standards (a hallmark given by the Canton of Geneva that signifies the superior craftsmanship that has gone into the watch in terms of quality and decoration).
Dubuis’s more conservative leanings were complemented by Dias’s more flamboyant approach and, for the first decade or so, the brand was renowned for producing some of the industry’s most distinctive designs from the pinched-corner silhouette of the Sympathie to the horizontal rectangles of the Too Much collection.
However, things got complicated and, following Dubuis’s “did he jump or was he pushed” departure in 2003 and the growing egomaniacal tendencies of Dias, it was finally bought wholesale by Richemont where it has continued to quietly challenge the watchmaking status quo
Richemont and the firm-but-fair hands of both previous CEO Jean-Marc Pontroue – who was at Montblanc and is now making a splash at Panerai – and current incumbent Nicola Andreatta, former head of watches at Tiffany & Co, has seen Roger Dubuis make a name for itself as a brand that blends innovation and superior watchmaking (all complications including the crazy tourbillons are made in house), with a touch of flamboyance and excess.
It sets diamonds and Paraiba tourmalines in carbon fibre – something that’s incredibly hard to do; leverages its automotive partnerships to debut the likes of C-SMC (carbon fibre sheet moulded composite) in watchmaking, when it was previously only used in Lamborghini’s supercars and skeletonises movements so they resemble spiders’ webs.
Roger Dubuis has transformed itself into one of the most iconoclastic and interesting brands on the horological landscape. We’re a long way from grand complications at Patek now.
Taking its name from a legendary forest in France where Viven, the Lady of the Lake from the Arthurian legends, was trapped by Merlin in an oak tree, the Excalibur Creative Skeleton Broceliande boasts one of the most dizzyingly intricate dials around. It’s skeletonised, there are enamel leaves and diamond-set branches and to top it all off you’ve got a flying tourbillon. It is watchmaking maximalism at its finest.