I may not be the most obvious person to do so, given the parallel course of our careers, and the fact that we never really knew each other beyond the occasional handshake. Yet the role Jacques Duchêne played in the history of watchmaking demands more than a few hasty lines if we are to pay tribute to his merit. Or rather merits: consistency, integrity and vision. From the time he embarked on his career, at the age of 21, Jacques Duchêne was what I would call, borrowing from political vocabulary, an enlightened servant of the state. Three states in fact: Rolex, Baselworld and the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.
As head of communication at Rolex, always respectful of its deepest heritage, he made sure the brand remained what it is: a turris eburnea, an ivory tower with a powerful identity, sometimes distant, isolationist even, but with absolute integrity. Rolex has never wanted to commingle with the world of luxury and Fine Watchmaking, even though this is where it belongs. “Rolex is Rolex”, Jacques Duchêne would say when defining its perimeter and vision. Even after retiring in 1999, I believe he remained instrumental in shaping the brand’s strategy.
And so to Baselworld. Jacques Duchêne was always its most committed partisan, in the most literal sense of the word. In 1996 he became president of the Exhibitors Committee, and from this new position showed he had the courage and obstinacy to turn the event into something far greater than a trade gathering. He made it the rallying point for Swiss and international watchmaking. He wasn’t afraid to show that Swiss excellence stands up to comparison, including on the banks of the Rhine. I have never been faced with an ivory tower myself, but rather found myself at the heart of a village, surrounded by magnificent mansions which had to be brought together in a single, harmonious community. A community whose vision of Fine Watchmaking can exalt the summit of the pyramid so as to illuminate the rest.
Lastly, then, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry of which he was vice president. He championed stronger Swiss-Made criteria, with the conviction that this was not merely a label but a sign of authenticity for the Confederation. A man of exemplary intellectual rigour, Jacques Duchêne was an outstanding figure in the history of Swiss watchmaking of the past fifty years. A merit we must honour.