Among the six brands (Cartier, Chopard, Ateliers des Monaco, Louis Vuitton, Vacheron Constantin, Roger Dubuis) that currently produce watches bearing the Geneva seal, Roger Dubuis is unique among them all for being the only one that has every single watch they produce bear this certification.
This was the thought that crossed my mind when I was introduced last year to a very exciting watch from the brand, the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Spider Carbon Flying Tourbillon. A watch that features a DLC-treated crown, caseback and flying tourbillon movement frame in titanium, but more significantly as its name implies, is also the brand’s first watch with its movement plate, bridges and the tourbillon upper-cage entirely made in carbon. The combination of carbon and titanium components certainly makes the Excalibur Spider Carbon a very light watch, yet also groundbreaking in the technically daring way that only a Roger Dubuis watch can be.
However, the question that came to mind was — if all Roger Dubuis watches bear the Geneva Seal then wouldn’t this watch be the first instance in which carbon components are certified under its strict standards?
As it turns out, there is no specific objection to carbon, or indeed any specific material that can be used in a watch carrying the Geneva Seal. (An exhaustive list of the criteria is available on the website of the Poinçon de Genève.
Certainly, as one considers the “Craftsmanship” aspect of the Geneva Seal criteria, one finds requirements that place an emphasis on having a movement be as clean and beautiful as possible. The act of polishing and the removal of machining marks, in movement components, has after-all the dual advantage of not only making the movement look beautiful, but it also allows it to run better, since it is only with good finishing that the real shapes and surfaces of the components attain in reality, the theoretical promise of its design. Movement components are very small after all, and the added step of finishing ensures that they become as precise as they were designed to be.
With regard to the carbon portions of the hand-wound caliber RD509SQ, we find that the finishing contains the aspects that we’d expect.
Here, we find that chamfering has been applied to the edges of the star-shaped barrel bridge (as well as the tourbillon cage — not visible here)
Here, we find at the edge of the small seconds counter and part of the bridge that connect to the keyless works and gear train, the parallel lines of the carbon layers visible that coincide with the unique way that it is made, via sheets of carbon fiber stacked on top of each other that are then bonded together with resin. We find depending on how the carbon component is polished, and at what angle the component is placed, the parallel layers that make up of the sheets of carbon fiber begin to show and is an aesthetic quality unique to this material.
Here, we find another execution of the same idea in the previous picture. This time, its the bezel that is finished in a manner where we can see concentric circular lines that echo its shape of the bezel, as well as the layered structure of the carbon that it is comprised of.
What one notes about the way that the components are finished, is that the aesthetic qualities of the underlying material are magnified and highlighted. It’s clear that there is a bit of an organic and rough quality to carbon, very different from metal (in most cases brass) movement components.
Here we see, in this close-up look at the movement of this year’s Excalibur Spider Pirelli – Automatic Skeleton, what I mean in terms of the surface texture of this rhodium plated movement, which is smooth in the same places versus the carbon, which has a more organic quality.
Metals are homogenous materials, meaning that samples that come from different producers are all the same when the specified technical aspects are defined. Carbon does not possess this property since it is made up of different ingredients by different producers around the world, (of which there are very few), who mostly keep their propriety processes secret, since the technical value of what they make will vary depending on the many refinements and modifications they can make to the basic process. This accounts for the many ways that carbon can appear when finished, and in this case being of a layered construction, causes the appearance of the parallel lines when finished that alternate between being black or shiny.
One thing that can be noted in this look at the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Spider Carbon Flying Tourbillon is that while the Geneva Seal is a traditional certification that began in 1868, the attitude of the certification body responsible for it is anything but. Foundationally speaking, aside from the criteria of “Provenance”, in that the watch must be made within the Canton of Geneva, the other criteria of “Craftsmanship” and “Reliability” most certainly have their roots in ensuring the proper and precise functioning of the movement.
New materials not previously used in watchmaking therefore, as seen in this watch are obviously welcome, as long as, it seems, they are able to fulfill the strict criteria and enable positive aspects of performance for the watch.
Case in point: When one compares the rhodium plated RD505SQ Skeleton flying tourbillon movement versus the titanium and carbon based RD509SQ of the Excalibur Spider Skeleton Carbon Flying Tourbillon, both movements that are similar in architecture, one notes the difference in the power reserve of the former at 60 hours versus 90 hours of the latter. This comes from the lightness of the RD509SQ, being composed of both titanium and carbon, requiring less energy to function, thereby extending the power reserve. Carbon’s rigidity as well helps with precision as well as shock resistance, attributes that further enhance the performance of the watch.
That carbon as a material for movements has attained the highest accolade in watchmaking certainly inverts the notion that the Geneva Seal is all about tradition. As the Excalibur Spider Carbon Flying Tourbillon, shows us, the Geneva Seal is a certification that is truly in the service of making watches better, while keeping them beautiful at the same time.