Would you believe that watches have souls of their own? Renowned watchmakers all over the world take pride in hand-made components, spending precious time on making only the most sincere pieces crafted from their fingertips. One fine Friday morning, reputable Swiss watch manufacturer Roger Dubuis generously hosted a watch craft making session in demonstrating the true quality that goes into their watches, with a presence by Mr. Roger Dubuis himself.
The minute piece given to us for our morning of art & craft was a part that makes up the tourbillon cage. Now you must already know that Roger Dubuis watches are popular for showing off a skeletonized tourbillon movement. However, holding the rough steel piece in my palm of hand, I couldn’t help feeling that at a scale so small, it would be easily dismissed by most. Though outstanding, I assumed it would be overshadowed by more gilded parts and a fancier bezel. Hence, my plan was to sit through the technical demonstration and at the end, my completed assignment will be another well-polished, well-beveled piece that the renowned Mr. Roger Dubuis will take back to Switzerland and there it will sit, among 20 others, in the next released timepiece.
The workshop was led by Floriane Legras, Strategy and Training Project Manager from Roger Dubuis HQ. We slipped on finger gloves, important enough to cover my thumb, index and middle fingers to prevent prints, and examined the miniscule piece that was set on our working benches. It was a rough piece of metal that looked like it merely needed a quick fix-up, assuming that the procedure was simple enough to execute with ace.
As with every first step, Floriane said it was the easiest. We were required to sand one side of the surface in a single-stroke fashion, bringing down the piece along sand paper with one finger. Thereafter, we slipped on black satin gloves in preparation to polish the piece with alcohol solution to give that one-off mirror shine. In other words, it is known as mirror polishing. With one finger placed on the piece, the strategy was to go in circles of eight to get that uniform reflection. While we slogged over our workbenches, Mr. Dubuis went around to vet our progress. During the passing critique sessions that he delivered as he went about, it then sunk in about the deliverance of the execution. Wasn’t it simple enough to just copy the demonstration? Watching the room, I noticed that everyone had a different way of handling their given assignment. From furrowed brows to selective finger handling, though similar, each piece was personally handled in a different way. As if poring over a newborn chick, the amount of attention paid to this inanimate piece was with utmost focus and the heightened importance of this piece of the tourbillon cage wasn’t so much of the namesake that we were doing it for, but that it became a personal form of craft that reflected much of our human touch. Right from the beginning, in the simple sanding that I so obnoxiously dismissed to the one-finger polishing, I became worried that Mr. Dubuis would discover my ice-cold soul transmitted onto the metal.
Upon inspection, Mr. Dubuis took it in his hands, scrutinized for two seconds and when he placed it back down on the workbench, he expressed his approval in French and gave a thumbs up. Why, I thought, didn’t he need to do a corrective re-shine? Hesitatingly, I re-examined it yet I didn’t exactly know what detail I was supposed to look for. Technically, it was important that the amount of pressure to be applied unto the surface was distributed evenly from the centre towards the wings. Possessing zero ground on watch craft and solely basing on gut instinct, mirror polishing the piece of metal was solely based on my “feelings.”
Further delving into beveling of the curves and buffering the edges, the piece required one last final shine and before encasing it in a plush Roger Dubuis case, our instructor exclaimed that for a novice, I have “a magic finger” and my polishing skills may just land me a workbench of my own in the Roger Dubuis headquarters. Flattered and with a heightened appreciation for raw watch craft handiwork, I was humbly enlightened by the French visionary and his dedication for superb quality that could only be transcended by the most genuine of human touch.
Looking a little banged up, but not too shabby, I have to say. It is no wonder then that every production that leaves the Roger Dubuis manufacture is never absent of the Hallmark of Geneva, the most demanding signature in fine watch-making.