On paper, the criteria for Poinçon de Genève authentication are impressive. Page after page of detailed instructions dictate the specific decoration and finish acceptable for each component, from circular grained screw heads and polished inner edges of wheel teeth to chronometric performance and outer finish. The list is comprehensive. On the floor of a manufacture, the process is even more impressive, particularly if, like Roger Dubuis, the entire production is 100% Geneva Seal. On a recent tour of the only operation in watchmaking that is set up to produce every single watch according to Poinçon regulations, I was utterly astounded by the level of engineering it takes for even the smallest component.
There are, for example, seven separate technical operations involved in the milling of a single pinion in the roulage phase alone, in which CNC machines extract material from the metal to shape the diameter and cut the profiles of each tooth. Later, every angle, groove and face of each individual pinion is polished in another multi-step process. The closer it comes to being complete, the more hands-on the process is – and the more low-tech: one final polish is conducted with the edge of a beer coaster, which has just the right texture and strength to do the job. In the production of another component in the dressage stage, a champagne cork is used to drag it across an abrasive paper to create parallel lines. And in one of the many stages of polishing, the manufacture tumbles some components not only standard polishing mixes but also with finely minced walnuts for just the right finish.
A limited production
When you consider that the average Roger Dubuis movement has 250 components – more than 450 in the Double Flying Tourbillon, the brand’s signature and bestselling movement – you begin to fathom the outlandish investment in time it takes to manufacture according to Hallmark standards – it adds 30% to 40% more time to the production process, not including assembly. The cost is justified, when you consider that Roger Dubuis sells one of its signature double tourbillon watches, priced in the USD 200,000 range, at the rate of one per day, according to CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué. Obviously there are aficionados who appreciate the value of a polished pinion tooth, and understand that the Geneva Seal is not just about aesthetics but about the operation of the entire watch. The exacting finish has long been assumed to improve performance, and since two years ago, this is an authenticated aspect of the Seal. The Geneva laboratory of horology and microengineering with responsibility for the Poinçon de Genève now goes beyond dictating manufacturing processes of the movement to require testing of the entire watch, including accuracy (1 minute in 7 days), function (tested for seven days in several positions), power reserve (the value claimed) and water resistance (30 meters), in addition to the outside finish, also new. There are no shortcuts and no half measures. The laboratory conducts 12 unscheduled audits throughout the year to ensure full compliance.
The fact that Roger Dubuis is 100% Geneva Seal distinguishes it from other luxury watch manufactures and explains why the brand’s production is so limited. Le Geneva based laboratory authenticates only 30,000 pieces per year, and of that, about 4,000 watches are Roger Dubuis, representing their entire production.
I wanted to leverage and capitalize on that knowledge, and now I am working on the transmission of that knowledge.
20th anniversary in 2015
Roger Dubuis, the watchmaker, started the brand in 1995 (at the age of 58) in partnership with Carlos Dias, after a 14-year stint repairing and restoring watches for Patek Philippe and then as the owner of his own restoration company. “I have a lot of experience with complicated mechanisms,” he says, “and I have a lot of respect for the tradition. I wanted to leverage and capitalize on that knowledge, and now I am working on the transmission of that knowledge.” Dubuis also wanted his watches to be distinctive in design. Indeed, the brand’s modern design philosophy is almost at odds with its adherence to a manufacturing criteria that was established more than a century ago, and stands out against other elite brands at a time when most are designing watches according to the traditional design codes of classic 18th century pocket watches (even while using state-of-the-art calibers). Roger Dubuis designs are resolutely avant-garde – “we are not part of the classic program,” says Pontroué – with an emphasis on multi-level dials, skeletonization and a quasi-industrial aesthetic. The guilloched dials of the Hommage collection involve deep engravings done directly into the brass mainplate, giving the watches a distinctively modern look, yet combined with traditional elements such as applied Roman numerals.
The future of Roger Dubuis lies in its well-established innovative approach to watchmaking – I saw a new model during my visit that is very leading-edge both in general and for Roger Dubuis. It is a limited edition of 20 pieces, to be launched in 20 different cities simultaneously this Fall. It is embargoed until then, but it is safe to say the watch is Poinçon de Geneve and it follows the codes of the Roger Dubuis specialty … double tourbillon, plus, plus.
Growth on the ladies’ watch market
The company also has its sights on increasing its share of the ladies’ watch market – and aims to expand into jewelry, a segment the brand occupied before joining the Richemont Group in 2008. The brand’s signature ladies’ collection is the Velvet, which now comprises 20% of the company’s turnover. “We would like to see the ladies’ watches grow to 30% of sales by 2016,” says Pontroué. For Roger Dubuis, that is an expensive ambition, aimed at a very exclusive market. “We are an Haute Horlogerie brand,” Pontroué points out. “We want to keep Roger Dubuis 100% mechanical. We have never made a cheap quartz watch. There are no non-diamond watches in the line, and we are all Geneva Seal.”
Once the ladies’ watch market reaches 30% of turnover, the goal is to expand into jewelry. “We want to make ladies’ watches a strong platform, because we want to keep the option open to relaunch jewelry one day,” says Pontroué. The brand had jewelry collections pre-Richemont, but when it was relaunched, the number of skus was drastically reduced, and the focus was placed on watches. “Once we believe we are mature enough in ladies’ watches, then, it will be the time to launch jewelry. We can wait,” he says. “We are not being pressured by a shareholder, and we don’t believe in diversification just for the pleasure of having a product launch. It must be right for the brand.” When that time comes, will there be a new caliber for ladies? The answer is “of course.”