The first time I met Mr. Roger Dubuis was in 2002. It was my first day on the job in the manufacture’s press department. I had arrived early, a little too early in fact as I was the first one to turn on the lights. I didn’t know what to do with myself, when in walked Roger Dubuis, all smiles: “A new face, how lovely, welcome to our company”. I will never forget how the feeling of fear and apprehension dissipated and I felt instantly welcomed. Roger could do that, just with his smile.
He asked me if I had seen any watches and when I replied in the negative, he unstrapped his watch and handed it to me. Not dial up. But sapphire crystal/movement-side up. That’s what really counted for him – the movement inside.
When people ask me about when I became interested in watches, this was it, my moment of horological conversion. Roger explained the different parts of the movement in such a way that I was captivated. He was a watchmaker, but also an excellent teacher, and over the years, many a watchmaker has shared with me how Roger had helped them solve a problem that was troubling them. He loved helping and was always willing to share his 60+ years of experience with anyone who requested it.
During my time at the manufacture he would pop by and see me, dropping off a variety of articles about watchmaking in English that he would photocopy for me to help with my writing. There were 250 people working in the manufacture at the time and he made each and every one of them feel special even though it was his name in lights at the top of the building.
We both left the company under difficult circumstances, first him and then me, but we stayed in contact and would occasionally meet for lunch or a beer in his secret hideaway in a restaurant that was above the Nissan garage. You could drive your car right up onto the roof, it was the coolest of places.
In 2004 he started working on a new project with Steven Holtzman from Maîtres du Temps and I helped with translation as neither of them spoke the other’s language and we had many wonderful meetings brainstorming and planning in Franglais, often in another of Roger’s secret restaurant locations that would serve the most fabulous local food.
In 2008 the Manufacture Roger Dubuis was bought by the Richemont Group and in 2011 Roger was invited back as a kind of Godfather figure. It was extremely hard for him to lose his business and his name, but this new role brought him a certain amount of closure.
Shortly after this reinstatement of sorts, I was invited to interview Roger by the new PR person, which I immediately accepted. It was the first time I had been back to the manufacture since leaving and when I saw Roger he said “Who would have thought we would be back here doing this?” We laughed, joked and goofed around the whole time and the PR person had no clue what was going on between us. When I had finished with my questions and we were saying our goodbyes, he whispered in my ear “Meet me above Nissan in five”. So over a beer, I got the “off-the-record” story.
Richemont kept him super busy but we would bump into each other at events. I remember the last time I saw him was at the Geneva watch show last year, he was with a group of people and gave me a wave and that super smile of his across the room that just filled you with warmth. He was one-of-a-kind and I am proud to have been able to call him my friend.
I have been wearing my Roger Dubuis watch a lot recently. It is a MuchMore, one of the first collections from those early days, and is a reminder of the man who got me started. I have a lot to thank him for.