On Roger Dubuis’s Instagram page, there is a man clad in a dark, elegant suit standing on a tower hundreds of feet above the urban landscape of a metropolis, unencumbered by any form of safety equipment. The message couldn’t be clearer: Roger Dubuis watches are for the individualists and daredevils — a breed of hyper-sybarites who can be found riding their motorcycles across the Moroccan desert en route to dinner at Al Mounia, BASE jumping off the Italian Alps, or even attending ayahuasca ceremonies in Mykonos surrounded by perfectly suntanned supermodels. Accordingly, when you look at a Roger Dubuis watch today, an example of a vision that they call “Hyper Horology”, it would be easy to consider it purely the type of ultra-extroverted, larger- than-life, neon-lit — literally, for the Excalibur Twofold actually features a luminous light signature — horological pyrotechnics whose primary purpose is to celebrate life in the moment with a carpe diem / memento mori vigour. But for me, what is important to understand is that Roger Dubuis’s rebellious creativity has its roots deeply and inextricably linked with the ambition of the brand’s founder — to create real technically authentic watches expressed in a way that always has them blazing an inexorable path into the future.
Nicola Andreatta, the dynamic CEO of the brand, says, “People forget that Roger was still alive when the brand began shifting gears towards the vision we have for Hyper Horology, and that he loved it. He says it is the natural evolution to the technical creativity and aesthetic audacity that are at the roots of the brand.”
“Roger was always about doing something executed at the very highest level, but completely differently,” says Gregory Bruttin, who is the product strategy director at Roger Dubuis, but also acts as the living memory keeper of the brand, having worked with the watchmaker from the very beginning in 1995. “This was his motivation behind the world’s first double retrograde perpetual calendar, the case design of the Sympathie, the first world’s first in-line instantaneous perpetual calendar, our first skeletonised flying tourbillon, and our double tourbillon with differential.”
“He would look at the watches we are creating today, such as the Excalibur Diabolus in Machina, which plays what in Latin they refer to as the “devil in the music” chord for the quarters, with a fully skeletonised movement, a dial that looks like an exploding star, and a case made of Cobalt Chrome Micro-Melt, which is not only super hard and has a beautiful, stealthy lustre, but also ideal sonic qualities — and I know he would very much approve,” says Andreatta. “He would have loved that we are creating watches at the very highest level of finish and technical integrity, but which evoke a sense of fearlessness.”
Indeed, he would have. People tend to forget that the spirit of fearless rebellion that is one of the defining qualities of Roger Dubuis today, was just as much present in the brand when it was founded. In 1995, when Roger Dubuis and Carlos Dias unveiled their unique merger of breathtaking Geneva Seal finish, groundbreaking technical innovation backed by COSC certification, and ultra-daring, Latin-influenced design, it was nothing less than an extraordinary breath of fresh energy.
“All our modern codes were present there from the beginning,” says Bruttin. “Roger wanted to have the very best standards of finish in the watch industry certified by the Geneva Seal. He wanted to master every one of the major complications — split-seconds chronograph, perpetual calendar, tourbillon and minute repeater — but also bring some new innovation to each of them. And he wanted his design rooted in the tastes of the contemporary world.”
“I would even say that Roger was a horological empath, channelling the spirit of rebellion that stretches back over three hundred years and that goes to the very roots of Swiss and, in particular, Geneva watchmaking,” says Andreatta.
OK, if this were a film, we’d pause here for a flashback into the past. For all their association with discreet understatement, the Huguenots had a decidedly Rage Against the Machine-like streak. Indeed, the monumental paean to rebellion, “Killing in the Name”, could well have been their theme song — in particular, the refrain, “F**k you, I won’t do what you tell me”. This would have been directed at King Louis XIV in 1685 when he issued the Edict of Fontainebleau, which ended official recognition of Protestants in France. He even went so far as to sanction ill-disciplined infantry units to beat, bully, abuse and harass Protestant families into conversion to Catholicism. As you can imagine, the abuses rapidly got out of hand. But instead of accepting defeat and converting, the Huguenots packed up their belongings, force marched commando-like up over the Alps in the most perilous conditions, pausing at the top of the Massif du Jura to give the middle finger to France, with many deciding to settle into farming, cheesemaking and woodcrafting communities on the other side of the border. But the most determined rebels, the most hardcore amongst them, kept going and headed straight to the Calvinist hotbed of Geneva.
These men and women brought with them an extraordinary treasure that was not visible to the eye. Instead, this hidden codex was stored in their minds and embedded in the muscle memory and dexterity of their fingers — the secret of haut de gamme watchmaking. Forming a cottage industry throughout the Jura — in particular, the Vallée de Joux — with its epicentre in Geneva, the Swiss watchmaking industry was born. Created to provide a living for the farmers with skilled hands in winter, but arguably more as the ultimate act of defiant, rebellious, one- upmanship, Swiss watchmaking soon demonstrated a level of skill, creativity and beauty that the world — in particular, France — had never seen before. It was as if expressed in the hands of the Swiss French was the sublimated inchoate emotion and passion of all they had experienced, which they, due to the nature of their religion, was not inclined to express verbally. Soon it was Switzerland, and not France, that was recognised for making the finest horological treasures in existence.
The point to this is that “rebellion” has always been at the very heart of the Swiss watchmaking industry. The other thing to stress is that for the Swiss, assuring the highest level of finish in the world is both a point of pride and a way of positioning their watches above all others. Concerned about pretenders attempting to emulate their quality, in 1886, the legislation for the Geneva Seal was enacted, which set out to certify watch movements that met the most stringent aesthetic criteria in the world. The Geneva Seal could only be awarded to watches that were manufactured in the Canton of Geneva, and for many years was associated with esteemed brands such as Vacheron Constantin, and of course, Patek Philippe. Today, there is no brand on the planet that works more closely with the Geneva Seal than Roger Dubuis, oftentimes helping the hallmark gain important new relevance as watchmaking moves its story forward into the future.
“At Roger Dubuis, out of respect for our co-founder, the Geneva Seal is very important,” says Nicola Andreatta. “But at the same time, we are a brand that was created to be daring and innovative and unafraid of embracing the future. As such, we’ve worked closely with the Geneva Seal to ensure we are abiding by or even surpassing their aesthetic criteria even as we explore new forms of decoration or new materials in our movements.”
“For example, we were very interested to be the first brand to create a skeletonised carbon-fibre movement, but of course, you cannot polish the angles of a carbon-fibre bridge in the same way you can on a brass movement,” says Gregory Bruttin. “So, we invited the Geneva Seal inspectors to the manufacture, and discussed the ways in which we could elevate the aesthetic value of a material like carbon fibre. One of the things we showed them was how the sinks and the screws that are fixed onto the carbon bridges and plates are black polished with a technique called “spéculaire” that is so perfect that it doesn’t reflect light. For us it was important to use this technique, which is normally reserved for the tourbillon bridge, because aesthetically it matched the look of the carbon fibre very well. They recognised that this actually entailed far more work than simply polishing a bridge, and so, they were willing to give us the Geneva Seal for this movement. Today, as part of our product development, we will discuss what we want to achieve in terms of new finishes that no one has ever seen before but that we feel meet their criteria, if not technically then definitely in spirit.
For example, in the Excalibur Twofold, we wanted to paint the high-polished angles of our skeletonised bridges with a new luminous paint, so we showed them how much hand work went into the polish first before the paint was applied. For the future, we have proposed to invert the normal finishing applied to the bridges — using the brushed finish on angles, and mirror polish on the flat surfaces instead. This is actually far more difficult than the traditional method, but that is the spirit of Roger Dubuis — to constantly work to move the story of watchmaking forward, to innovate to be different, but always with respect to the highest traditions of Geneva watchmaking. This is also why, in the majority of Roger Dubuis watches, you will either see the Geneva Seal hallmark on the dial — for example, at six o’clock on each one of our Double Tourbillons — or the words “Poinçon de Genève”.
Tourbillons and Skeletonisation
There is perhaps no brand on the planet that is more closely associated with the tourbillon complication than Roger Dubuis, and that is because while it is the most visually arresting of watchmaking complications, it also offers the brand the opportunity to innovate. “It was, of course, Roger’s ambition that we have a tourbillon that immediately set us apart from everyone else,” says Bruttin. “So we worked on a flying tourbillon with a cage that was as large as possible. Our large tourbillon cage, which measures 14mm in diameter, actually occupies one-quarter of the surface area of the dial, making it one of the most massive tourbillons in modern watchmaking.”
“Roger also wanted the tourbillon to be placed either at five o’clock or at seven o’clock as a statement that we would never be a conventional brand that places this device at six o’clock. This was Roger’s statement; he always wanted to be different.” But as a demonstration of Roger Dubuis’s dedication to the greatest watchmaking integrity, at the time of the launch of his flying tourbillon in 2005, Dubuis was the only brand in the world that made a tourbillon with an in-house hairspring. “This is an example of our authenticity in watchmaking, which we don’t really talk about, but is something important to our integrity,” says Bruttin.
Shortly after the launch of their successful tourbillon, the team at Roger Dubuis began working on what would become two of the most iconic creations of the brand: the first totally modern skeletonised Flying Tourbillon and the ultra-ambitious Double Flying Tourbillon with Differential. Both of these projects posed inordinate challenges, some of which were self-imposed by the brand. “We had a great result with the tourbillon and we loved skeletonised movements, so we tried a few of these with the traditional baroque, old-fashioned skeletonisation. But Roger wanted us to express something different and modern. I remember we went to the hand-finishing department at the manufacture and asked them about the different finishes we could apply. They said, “No matter what, don’t make a skeleton movement where all the lines are straight because this is by far the most challenging to finish perfectly. Polishing straight angles is a nightmare.” So we went back to the design studio and immediately designed a skeleton movement that only had straight lines,” laughs Bruttin. “As you can imagine, when the finishing department received those plans, they thought we had gone crazy, but eventually they loved the challenge. Then we brought the movement to the Geneva Seal, and at first, they completely lost it. It was like showing them something that came from a time machine from the future. But eventually, they understood what we were trying to do and certified the movement.”
Says Andreatta, “The resulting watch — the Excalibur Flying Tourbillon — is incredibly important for the brand. It created the iconic aesthetic code of a skeletonised star that seems to explode from around the barrel and reaches across the movement with these lines that express a sense of velocity and energy. As you can see today, this form of contemporary skeletonisation, which almost militates against the old art form of baroque, ornate curved forms, is our signature. You can see it in watches like our Excalibur Spider Pirelli Flying Tourbillon, Excalibur Spider Sottozero, and in our women’s watches, like our Excalibur Shooting Star, which incorporates a beautiful hand engraving back into the design, and our Excalibur Astral.” Bruttin adds, “On the subject of these women’s flying tourbillons, we are the only manufacture in the world that makes multisized flying tourbillon movements where even the cage is in totally different dimensions.”
The skeleton motif is also the signature on the non-tourbillon Excalibur models such as the brand’s Blacklight — an incredible marvel of microengineering that features a micro-rotor. Roger Dubuis’s first flying tourbillon minute repeater was wound by two micro-rotors. The orientation of the barrel and the oscillator in the Blacklight differs slightly from the tourbillon movements. From the barrel at 4:30 on the watch, the skeleton bridges emanate star-like to traverse the entire dial with a sense of dynamic urgency. Also emanating from the barrel are special sapphire bridges with a special treatment that makes them glow under UV light. Says Andreatta, “This is precisely the sense of dynamic playfulness that we like to bring to watchmaking. It dawned on us that people only spend part of their time wearing their Roger Dubuis in daylight. A lot of our clients love to go out at night, and we wanted to created watches like the Blacklight and Twofold, where their appearances would be transformed in the darkness, or under UV light, which is popular in nightclubs.”
The second signature innovation for Roger Dubuis is the Double Tourbillon with Differential Mechanism, a project that was born out of improving the chronometric performance of the single tourbillon. “Roger was really interested in increasing the performance of the tourbillon. This is important for me that people understand,” says Bruttin. “Each time we pursued something, there was a strong horological rationale for it. We do not make watches simply for them to be visually entertaining. For Roger there always had to be a purpose. At first we tried by increasing the frequency of the balance wheel beyond 3Hz, but we were not achieving what we wanted. At this point we started to look at watches that feature two oscillators, with their results averaged out through a differential mechanism. So we looked at some watches, such as Philippe Dufour’s Duality, which was the first wristwatch that used a differential to average out the errors from two oscillators. But Roger was also aware of some clocks that had been made at the Vallée de Joux’s watchmaking school in the early 20th century, which also used this system of the differential. And so, we embarked on the journey of creating two flying tourbillons, where their results are averaged out by a differential mechanism. The differential, I can tell you, was one of the most challenging mechanisms to create in series. We were one of the first brands to ever use ceramic inside the movement, which we needed for some parts of the differential, but eventually we were able to make it work. Then from there, it seemed only natural to eventually make a skeleton version of this watch.”
Andreatta says, “The Skeleton Double Tourbillon with Differential is an extraordinary watch — I would say, one of the most recognisable in modern horology. I love that what is in essence the technical language of Roger Dubuis, has also become the key aesthetic language of the brand. What we wanted to do was to use the platform of this icon to express different emotions. With the Excalibur Pirelli Ice Zero 2 and Excalibur Spider Pirelli Double Flying Tourbillon, the idea was to evoke all the codes of modern high-performance automobiles. The cases are crafted from Grade 5 titanium. The lugs of these cases are skeletonised both vertically and horizontally to create lightness, while the straps come from special tyres created by Pirelli — in the case of the Ice Zero 2, the ones used for ice racing.
“At the same time, the Double Tourbillon can be an incredible work of gem-setting métiers d’art, as with the Excalibur Superbia. The idea behind this watch is to take gem-setting to its most extreme. Our mindset was very similar to that of the incredible Japanese artist KAZ Shirane. We had to take 600 diamonds and sapphires cut in alternating triangular and tetrahedron shapes to create the visual effect we wanted and set them so that the setting is totally invisible — not just the case, but also the crown and the buckle. We also gem-set the movement, specifically the bridges for the barrel that travel the full diameter of the movement.
“The Excalibur Twofold is a different animal as well — more of a super-cool lifestyle watch, but with incredible technical credibility. It is an ultra-white watch, thanks to the mineral composite fibre (MCF) used for the case. The pure colour of this material is amazing, but it is also incredibly light — much lighter than ceramic — while remaining strong and resistant. For this watch, we wanted it to have an incredible light signature when clients wore it into a dark club, for example. And so, we had to create a new way to apply luminous material to the sloping, angular surfaces of the movement. As a gesture of pride that we were able to certify the movement with the Geneva Seal, we even made the seal luminous. Finally, we also created an all-new material to make the stitching on the strap luminous as well. This represents three patents, but for us, these innovations always go hand in hand with aesthetic audacity, and vice versa.”
Of the various technical achievements that Roger Dubuis can claim as their own, the most original and groundbreaking has to be the Excalibur Quatuor. Launched in 2013, this incredible timepiece featured four balance wheels, each angled at 45° and beating at 4Hz. These oscillators were linked together in pairs by a series of differentials, which meant two oscillators were linked together to a single differential that averages out their errors. The errors of the two differentials are then averaged out.
“Of all the innovations that we created towards the end of his career, I think Roger was most proud of the Excalibur Quatuor because it took the concept of the differential and its capacity to average out errors, to the next logical level. We have four balances and two differentials. Each differential averages out the results of one pair of balances, and these are, in turn, averaged out,” says Gregory Bruttin.
According to Bruttin, Dubuis was very aware that Philippe Dufour’s idea was to regulate each of the balance wheels in the Duality slightly differently, with one balance set slightly fast and the other set slightly slow. As such, over various positions, the deviations in rate tended to cancel each other out. This was also augmented by the fact that the balance springs in the Duality were pinned in different positions.
Lamborghini Squadra Corse
The Excalibur Quatuor’s technology came into play when Roger Dubuis entered into one of their most significant partnership to date with Lamborghini Squadra Corse. “As an Italian and someone who loves both cars and watches, I have to say with objectivity that this is the best and most meaningful partnership around,” says Nicola Andreatta. “Because the watches and cars are in the same price category, both are products related to extremely daring design, but supported by an incredible tradition in real technical innovation. When we work with Lamborghini, both teams know we have precisely the same client.”
I pause here to mention that while watching The Last Dance, the documentary on the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan’s unrivalled championship run, I was impressed to see both Scottie Pippen and His Royal Airness wearing Roger Dubuis Excalibur watches. “Both Michael and Scottie are the perfect embodiment of Roger Dubuis owners: self-made men who have blazed their own path and done so without compromise,” says Andreatta. “They are unafraid to express to the world who they are, and Roger Dubuis is the brand they feel communicates this identity the best.”
“It was not at all lost on us that the Lamborghini client and ours were the same, so we decided to create a movement based on the Quatuor,” says Bruttin. “This is the 45° double-sprung balance that we call the Duotor calibre. It is essentially half of the Quatuor calibre, but a remarkable movement in its own right. You have two balances each at 45°, which means they will never be in the same position and are offsetting each other’s positional errors at all times. Their results are then averaged out through a differential. In addition to that, we have a jumping- or dead-seconds hand. This was something that Roger really liked because before the chronograph, the dead seconds was the most accurate way to measure time. It was the perfect feature for a collaboration with Lamborghini as the big red seconds hand is reminiscent of those you would find on the counters of the car. We also took the most iconic design architecture of the car’s engine bay and transferred it to the Duotor.” In the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Aventador S model, the watch receives a 45mm skeletonised carbon-fibre case with a centre section in titanium. The barrel cover receives a carbon-fibre replica of the Aventador’s engine cover, along with the cross struts that brace the engine. But the thing to understand is that the watch has received the Geneva Seal and is representative of a major achievement in advancing chronometric performance.”
Finally, in the same way that Lamborghini is dedicated to material innovation, so too is Roger Dubuis. While the then head engineer at Lamborghini, Horacio Pagani — who would go on to found his own car company in 1992 — embarked on a program to radically implement the use of carbon fiber, at the head of Roger Dubuis, Nicola Andreatta is doubling down on material innovation as one of the key codes of the brand. Take, for instance, the incredibly complex process to create Cobalt Chrome Micro-Melt cases which first appeared in 2016 for a limited edition of eight Excalibur Quatuor watches and which is now used for the pièce unique Excalibur Diabolus in Machina. This material, well known for its use as surgical implants and also for turbines, is first atomised from molten alloy using a high-pressure jet of inert gas. The powdered metal left behind is then subjected to isostatic pressing under high heat and pressure in a chamber filled with inert gas to form bars of the alloy, which are then sent to a labour-intensive milling process.
“Material innovation is extremely important to us, but just as we always work with the Geneva Seal for even our most avant-garde movements to ensure that our level of decoration is the best in the industry, we are also working with a Swiss certification body to provide a kind of “hallmark” for the new materials that we are using and will use in the future,” says Andreatta. “The traditional materials like gold and platinum all have certification processes, and even though we are working with modern material likes carbon fibre and titanium, and cutting-edge materials like Cobalt Chrome Micro-Melt and Mineral Composite Fibre, I see no reason why we shouldn’t give our customers the same assurance of quality. That’s the way we do things at Roger Dubuis: we advance the beautiful story of Swiss watchmaking and we are unafraid to be creatively daring, fearless and even rebellious — but always with integrity and authenticity at every level.” Listening to Andreatta, I can’t help but think that the watchmaker-turned- founder Roger Dubuis, and perhaps even the Huguenots, the ultimate rebels and the forefathers of Swiss watchmaking, would nod in approval.