THE GODFATHER. With life dedicated to watchmaking, Roger Dubuis regales Chris Andre with his first love for timepieces and a special homage to Geneva
Hommage Double Flying Tourbillon in pink gold
Meeting the legendary Roger Dubuis in person is such a dream come true. not only has he founded one of the world’s most iconic watch brands, the septuagenarian Swiss watchmaker has also spent over a half century passionately tinkering with old clocks and unique wristwatches. His lifelong obsession for timekeeping instruments has indeed come a long way since a tender age of 10, when the then young boy was called to ring the bells every noon in his small village on the border of Switzerland and France. That unbridled passion soon developed into an illustrious career that began with a stint in the after-sales service department of Longines and pivotal tenure at the high-complications department of Patek Philippe.
In 1995, 57-year-old Dubuis treaded the road less taken by collaborating with designer and entrepreneur Carlos Dias to found his own watch label, Roger Dubuis. Fueled by instinct and drive for perfection, the ambitious watchmaker went the extra mile to produce in-house movements and designs for every timepiece under the company. Among the brand’s signature pieces are the skeletonized dials and the double tourbillon-complication watches, all made possible thanks to Dubuis’ watchmaking know-how.
During his business trip around Asia last August, Roger Dubuis was surprisingly sprightly and vigorous when met at Grand Hyatt Jakarta. His smile warmed up the conversation, and every now and then his intense glance recollecting old memories was beaming with infectious passion, that the watchmaker within him will never yield to fading away despite old age. More remarkably, Dubuis believes that he’s now taken a much more important role in the industry: a godfather to the young generation of watchmakers. Appropriately, this year’s novelties of Roger Dubuis are dubbed the Hommage collection, a special tribute to the inspiring founder.
Chris Andre: Hi Roger, how are you doing? What brought you to Jakarta?
Roger Dubuis: We’re here to present you the new collection we launch this year: the Hommage collection. That’s the main reason why we decided to come to Jakarta.
CA: And you’re touring all over Asia as well?
RD: Yes, we were in Korea for a week. We’re staying for two days in Jakarta; then we’re flying to Singapore for another four days, and afterwards we’re going back home.
Roger Dubuis’ headquarters in Geneva
Tweaking the Excalibur Skeleton Double Flying Tourbillon
CA: Is this your first time to Jakarta?
RD: Yes, first time.
CA: How do you find it?
RD: It overrode my expectation. My room is on the highest floor, so I have a good view of the city and you can see that this is a city that is constantly developing and evolving. It seems like an easygoing city; it might be nice to live here. That’s my first impression.
CA: Let’s talk about your background. I read that you first liked watchmaking because you saw some bells at a church.
RD: That is the beginning of the beginning. [Laughs] I was a schoolboy and in my village, there’s a lot of different craftsmen. I was a friend of a local cobbler who happened to be the one ringing the bells at the steeple every Sunday. One day, he asked me if I could help him because he’s getting old. So, my teacher at school allowed me to go to the church every noon to ring the bells, and I became the one ringing the bells in the village. When I had to climb up and ring the bells, I had to go and pass around the movement of the big clock, and wind the big mechanism. By looking at it, I just fell in love with it, and I did everything I could just to enter the watchmaking school.
“I’m a kind of godfather for the young generation and it makes me very happy”
CA: After finishing school, you worked in Longines and Patek Philippe. What is the most important thing that you learned from those two companies?
RD: During both experiences I learnt a lot and I can’t really pinpoint one particular thing. I started at Longines. It was my first job, and it was learning the after-sales service because I was at the after-sales department. When I joined Patek Philippe, it was really about discovering how to make a watch from A to Z, because I would actually manually make it. That was such a pivotal learning curve.
Afterwards, I became an independent watchmaker working on restoring old timepieces. This period of time was very crucial because as I was working on old timepieces, I had to learn what they used to do in the past; I had to learn the history and go back to what the timepieces were designed for many years ago. Naturally, I developed this desire to create my own movement, and this is how the brand Roger Dubuis originally started.
CA: Were you specifically working on wristwatches only?
RD: I did antique and pocket watches—a lot of English and French watches. I also loved working on music boxes, with the mechanical birds that come out and sing at certain hours.
CA: How long was the gap between working in Patek Philippe and founding your brand?
RD: 15 years. It took me 10 years to build the ideas and accept the creation of my own brand. I arrived at the intersection of my life where I had to decide whether I would continue working on watchmaking or just stop. I’m glad I chose to continue on.
Sketches of the Hommage Double Flying Tourbillon
The Hommage Tribute to Mr. Roger Dubuis watch
CA: Speaking of the brand, the Poinçon de Genève qualification and the finishing by hand obviously set Roger Dubuis apart from other brands. It seems, at least to me, that it’s such a perfectionistic brand. Would you call yourself a perfectionist?
RD: In my work, I’m surely a perfectionist because I’ve been taught to achieve only the best. But in real life, I’m not quite sure. I just go with the flow.
CA: What is the ideal timepiece of Roger Dubuis in your opinion?
RD: This one: the Hommage collection. The idea is to pay tribute to all the masters and the people that helped me become this watchmaker that I am, and it’s also why I went for a round classic shape and some typical Geneva watch shapes. Take the lugs as an example. This is a way for me to say a big thank you to the Geneva watchmaking tradition.
CA: When you want to design a watch, where do you begin?
RD: First, we start with the movement and then the dial and the case. In the former years of watchmaking, it was very often the case. But now the progress of technology has allowed us to go the other way around. So, you can think of an idea of the aesthetics you like and then create the mechanism to go with it.
“It’s that moment in your life when you can look back with no regret. That is why it’s so hard to find happiness”
CA: Out of all watch mechanisms, which one do you like the most?
RD: The perpetual calendar of Roger Dubuis, because I poured blood, sweat and tears in creating it.
CA: Have you ever thought about retiring?
RD: Definitely not! Never! I have so many roles. I represent the brand and am someone who gives advice when needed. I’m also a kind of godfather for the young generation; I’m involved in trainings for the watchmakers under the company. All this takes a lot of my time and it makes me very happy.
CA: How do you define happiness?
RD: It’s that moment in your life when you can look back with no regret. That is why it’s so hard to find happiness, because when you think it’s there and it might just go away in an instant.
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