Philippe Dufour is at home on the Greubel Forsey stand at the 2013 Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. And for good reason, as Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey are his partners in the Naissance d’une Montre (Birth of a watch) initiative that launched last year with the aim to “safeguard the watchmaker’s art for future generations.” In practical terms, the three men will pass on their knowledge and experience of traditional watchmaking techniques to a younger watchmaker, who will use the skills thus acquired to produce a three-hand, manual-wind, tourbillon wristwatch. The watch will be made in a very small series using only traditional techniques. The only “indiscretion” allowed is the use of software to draft the blueprints. Everything else is done on the same machines earlier generations of watchmakers would have had on their bench and which are, incidentally, well-known to Philippe Dufour.
Alongside Michel Boulanger – the young watchmaker in question who has put his job as a watchmaker, restorer and teacher at the Paris school of watchmaking on hold to take part in this adventure – Philippe Dufour is busy demonstrating pinion polishing on a 1920s machine that has been brought in for the occasion. Dufour has just twelve seconds to polish each pinion on the wooden wheel; any longer and its shape will be altered. After months of preparation, Naissance d’une Montre has visibly moved on to a more concrete stage involving the manufacture of parts, testing and validation. The aim is to complete the first watch by 2014.
A watch that instantly doubles in value
Philippe Dufour is full of enthusiasm for this ambitious project, which will also inventory and record these skills on interactive digital media. He has another reason to smile too: after twelve years, he recently completed and delivered the two-hundredth Simplicity, a watch renowned for its flawless execution and exceptional finishing. Dufour had already risen to prominence with his Grande Sonnerie (1992), the queen of complications, incorporated for the first time into a wristwatch, and his Duality with double-regulator (1996).
“It’s a good feeling to have finished the last Simplicity, but to be perfectly honest I didn’t see time go by, such was the enjoyment of making these watches, which became better over the years. I’m also quite proud of the fact that, unlike a car that loses value as soon as it gets a few miles on the clock, my Simplicity is worth double the day after purchase. Not that my prices have changed. I haven’t even passed on the increased cost of gold. It’s a matter of respect vis-à-vis my customers. Some have had to part with their watch and informed me of its value on the secondary market. I’m still getting at least one order a week for a Simplicity, but that page has been turned.”
So what’s keeping Philippe Dufour busy these days? “I’m fulfilling an order for a Grande Sonnerie, the seventh I’ve made, which I’ll deliver this year. Then I’m nurturing another project which I’ll say more about when the time comes. All I can tell you is that the only limit to this series will be my own production capacity, as I’m again all by myself at the workshop.” Philippe Dufour’s career can be summed up in the aura his watches command all over the world: a celebration of probably one of today’s most gifted watchmakers. The one cloud on the horizon: “I haven’t succeeded in building a team.” Be that as it may, Philippe Dufour is passing on his knowledge in a different way.