Daniel Roth watch maker. As well as being part of our objective on The Watch Press to deliver quality articles on companies and individuals in the world of horology, sometimes we permit ourselves a little self indulgence when writing about some of the industry’s lesser-known - yet often key – players and bringing their stories to a slightly wider audience.
Which brings us to a small watchmakers workshop in the city of Nice, on the French Riviera, where a boy is passing his summer playing and watching his grandfather at work repairing and assembling watches for his clients.
It was against this unusual backdrop that one Daniel Roth realised his vocation. His grandfather had relocated to the most agreeable Mediterranean climate from his birthplace in La Chaux des Fonds, where he too had learned the craft of the watchmaker from his own father as a young man.
Once old enough, Daniel Roth attended a watchmaking class in Nice and three years later, emerged with qualifications in hand but in a town of few opportunities for an ambitious young watchmaker.
And so Daniel Roth set out to advance his education and develop his abilities, gaining experience by working in a number of small watchmakers studios in and around the Swiss watchmaking region of La Vallée de Joux before landing a cherished position with the famous Audemars Piguet manufacture.
There in La Brassus, the young Roth was able to build on his skills until, some seven years later, he noticed a somewhat unusual job position being advertised. Daniel Roth submitted his credentials and soon after received an invitation to attend a meeting with the Frėres Chaumet, Jacques and Pierre, long established Parisian jewelers who had recently acquired the historic, but now almost derelict Breguet name.
The position called for an individual who possessed the ability to immerse himself into the very ideology of the ancient Breguet name. The Chaumet brothers not only wanted to breathe new life into the marque, they wanted to restore Breguet to its’ previous glory, and that would require someone who could study the history and philosophy of the name, and who could faithfully create complex complication timepieces worthy of the great Breguet name.
Interviewing their new prospect, the Chaumet brothers were won over by the obvious talent, honesty and the clarity of vision displayed by Daniel Roth. Feeling that although he was the man for the position, he still needed to further his knowledge of the classic complications, he proposed that he return to study the art for another year. The Chaumet brothers agreed to this and within the year, while still at college in Le Sentier, Roth presented them with a perpetual calendar in classic Breguet pocket watch form to which they put the Breguet name – the first new Breguet in over thirty years.
On completion of his studies, Daniel Roth began his task of creating timepieces which were absolutely true to the centuries old tradition of the Breguet name. Recreating his perpetual calendar pocket watch and reintroducing the mystical tourbillon timepiece in the wristwatch form, he maintained the spirit of the brand with technical innovation and classic Breguet styling.
From 1970 onwards the Breguet name began to reclaim its’ place at the pinacle of haute horology and the genius of Daniel Roth played a pivotal role in the restoration of the brand. Under his tutelage the grande marque gently eased its way back into the affections and, more importantly, onto the wrists of connoisseurs the world over.
So content in his role was Daniel Roth, that he might still be there today, were it not for the Breguet name once more encountering choppy waters when the brothers Chaumet fell on financial and other troubles, which ultimately resulted in their disposal of their crown jewel to an investment company, Investcorp, in 1987.
No longer answerable to the brothers and finding that dealing with a board of directors was much less than personable, Daniel Roth was also soon on his way, leaving behind him a legacy in which were the signatures which would define his work – the perfection of the finished article.
With the successful if truncated Breguet chapter now behind him, Daniel Roth believed that having been a central figure in the company’s revitalization, the time was right for him to strike out on his own.
Once again, he began to put in place the elements which would be needed to set up a successful watchmaking company. The quality of his work was a given, he also knew that his brand would require a recognizable signature – and the unique ‘Double Ellipse’ elongated case perfectly fitted that requirement, there was simply nothing quite like it. Work began in the peaceful workshop in Le Sentier.
A mere two years after his departure from Breguet, Daniel Roth unveiled his spectacular Tourbillon Double Face which proudly bore his own name. It was a celebration of the man’s innovation and creative skill and the 250 pieces whose every component was intricately hand engraved, were soon in the hands of adoring connoisseurs to whom the name Daniel Roth was already revered.
So began the journey to establish his new brand in the competitive and elitist luxury watch industry, where new brands often foundered or at least failed to achieve the level of respect they had envisaged for themselves.
After the initial flourish propelled by the energy of a new business, the watches were well received and the Daniel Roth brand enjoyed a level of success, particularly in the Asian market, where the quality of Roth’s workmanship was truly appreciated. One after another technical wonder built up the portfolio of models available from the marque.
Specialising in timepieces which offered the client so much more than a means of reading the time, each Daniel Roth watch was a work of art as well as being a demonstration of pure horologic wizardry.
However, a few years into its’ life, the commercial rigours of developing the brand struck home when his distribution partner demanded a higher slice of the margins and, on failing to achieve the deal they wanted, dropped the Daniel Roth brand.
Help was now urgently needed, and it came from the Singapore luxury watch retailing giant The Hour Glass, who in 1994 took a 51% holding in the Daniel Roth watch company. Although no longer fully in control of his brand, the intervention of The Hour Glass meant that Daniel could get back to doing what he did best – watchmaking, while the more commercial aspect of the business had the added benefit of the retail outlet chain, as well as the trading experience of his Singapore partners.
Again, the Daniel Roth marque continued to make progress as the new marriage proved to be a good one. Yet within a few years, the economic slump in Asia forced The Hour Glass to offload some of its assets as it focussed on its core business.
This time however, the new potential owner being courted by The Hour Glass, was not interested in anything but a 100% holding in the brand and, being a minority shareholder, Daniel Roth saw his brand and family name leaving his control as the Bulgari luxury goods house assumed ownership of the company he had created only a decade before.
It must be noted that Bulgari have kept true to the values instilled by Daniel Roth and the watches which today bear his name are still pieces of exemplary craftsmanship and innovation.
But Daniel Roth the man, now a little older but a lot wiser following his experiences resolved that never again would he be answerable to, or in the hands of anyone other than himself.
By this time, he had built up a loyal following of watch lovers around the world, and his disappearance from watchmaking was a loss to many. He had received commissions for timepieces over the years, and now saw this very niche market to be one where he could indulge his passion and skills, patiently hand-manufacturing bespoke pieces while still having an eager customer base for his works.
And when Daniel Roth unveiled his next masterpiece, it would be fair to say that it was worth the two-year wait.
Bearing the name Jean Daniel Nicolas - bringing the christian names of his son and wife into the fold as the new marque – the round cased Two-Minute Tourbillon was an astonishing feat of horologic accomplishment. Absolutely every aspect of this triumph was finished to a level - possibly never seen before! This was the watch that Daniel Roth wanted to make, in his own time and on his own terms.
Today, the Jean Daniel Nicolas family manufacture painstakingly collaborate to produce a limited number of treasured timepieces each year.
A modest genius, Daniel Roth is owed a debt of gratitude from watch connoisseurs the world over, and even those who are in the same profession, for keeping true to the values and philosophy of a centuries-old brand such as Breguet as he maintained and practised the traditional watchmaking skills which are so close to being forgotten with the passing of each generation of master watchmaker.
At the beginning of this feature, we stated that we liked to feature some lesser-known characters in the world of haute horologie. We hope you will agree that Daniel Roth, although not known by all, is truly a giant among his peers.