Roger Dubuis "The only Manufacture to be 100% Poinçon de Genève certified" This is the mantra which you will see again and again with each navigation through the company's new website.
Quite an achievement, and one which perhaps you would associate with a watch brand whose history is measured in decades if not hundreds of years - not so, the first Roger Dubuis watches only appeared in 1996, and a glance at their collection reveals not the classical styling you may envisage from such an accolade, but a selection of unconventional, technical and slightly theatrical timepieces which simply demand closer attention and inspection.
Often, in the business of watch production the chance meeting of two individuals leads to the shared realisation of ambitions, where dreams become reality and the impossible becomes possible. Such is the case with Roger Dubuis Horloger Genevois.
Carlos Dias, businessman, innovator, designer was a watch enthusiast from an early age. A childhood spent in and around his father's motorbike factory had taught him that self-sufficient production was the only sure way to avoid the pitfalls of an inadequate supply chain.
As a schoolboy Roger Dubuis was already involved in horology, spending most of his time in the shadow of the village watchmaker, fascinated by the rituals of disassembly, cleaning and assembly of movements. His studies at the Geneva Watchmaking School were followed by positions at Longines and Patek Philippe, but it was at Galerie d'Horlogerie Ancienne (later known as Antiquorum) where the two men would meet. Sr. Dias had found his Master Watchmaker.
The two men co-founded SOGEM - Société Genevoise de Montres - with the first pieces presented to the industry in 1996. Carlos Dias may have brought the energy, design flair and strong production principles to the new business, but it was in admiration for his colleague's ingenious watchmaking skills that when established, the company was re-named Roger Dubuis.
The spectacular rise of Roger Dubuis is well documented. The company became a fully fledged Manufacture by 1999, Carlos Dias had realised his vision for independent production methods and Roger Dubuis had brought to the company his experience and expertise, creating a range of astoundingly complicated movements. The portfolio featured models which were as extravagant as they were audacious, bringing previously unseen outsize cases to the genre of Haute Horlogerie. Slightly peacocky but also supremely technical some of the pieces were also given dramatic titles - "MuchMore", "FollowMe" and " TooMuch". The development of such extravagance was perfectly timed for the years of consumerism of luxury high-end timepieces which began in 2003 and which would continue for half a decade.
The number of references was expansive, but strictly limited to 88 or 28 models, each deliberately featuring the fortuitous number 8. But beneath the theatre was the persuit of perfection - fastidious craftsmanship, Haute Horlogerie finishing and standards of in-house production which would lead to that most prestigious of quality assurance, the Geneva Seal.
A state-of-the-art facility, the Meyrin Manufacture opened in 2001. By 2003 the company had a workforce of 180 individuals, but in September of the same year Roger Dubuis retired, leaving behind the watchmakers he had trained personally to continue his legacy and Carlos Dias to maintain his role of Chairman and Managing Director.
The development continued in his absence. By 2007 the Manufacture had 28 calibres with which to equip its porfolio, but perhaps the demise of the Roger Dubuis watchmaking company as we knew it had already began. This was a brand built on exhuberant aesthetics and one which had neither the classical styling nor the heritage of some of the older and more traditional watch brands on which to fall back on. Production costs of such small series models was surely extreme with the manufacture of components which would meet the required standards of the Geneva Seal reputably taking 40% more time to create than those of standard quality - and the marketplace was in freefall.
In September 2007 it was announced that Richemont had purchased the component production facility of Roger Dubuis. Six months later they had also acquired a controlling interest in Manufacture Roger Dubuis SA.
Richemont had much to gain - the facilities to produce everything, balance springs included and the expertise to do so to the exacting standards of the Geneva Seal would naturally be advantageous to its other watchmaking companies, but for Roger Dubuis, Richemont could provide what it had been lacking - a clear marketing and distribution strategy and also the patience that security and financial strength bring in order to allow the brand to re-establish a niche for itself thus gaining a new and wider customer base.
George Kern, a dynamic and decisive individual became the new CEO of Roger Dubuis, albeit temporarily, and although his tenure was set to be a relatively short one, it would remain to be seen how a brand like Roger Dubuis would emerge having been restrained for the first time and how bringing order to such a portfolio could be achieved while maintaining the essence and character of the brand.
Last year a new collection, La Monégasque was unveiled. It offered models in stainless steel or gold and variations of time only with small seconds, chronograph or the limited edition "Big Number" shown above, but more importantly it re-captured the spirit of a Roger Dubuis original - the 1996 Sympathie, evidence that despite its new ownership the true DNA of the brand was not to be ignored - to the contrary, it was to be celebrated..... and in an almost unheard of scenario, while the new collection was being created in double-quick time, M. Roger Dubuis returned to his once "orphaned" watchmaking business in the role of both ambassador and consultant.
These are exciting new times for Roger Dubuis, this year is set to be the "Year of the Excalibur" with new editions including the truly amazing and reassuringly extravagant Excalibur Table Ronde which we will feature in the coming days and more will be unveiled at the upcoming SIHH 2013, but, for now enough - I fear I am already unashamedly smitten.
View the Roger Dubuis Official Website here.