Roger Dubuis, a Master Watchmaker, Dies at 79

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Roger Dubuis, a Master Watchmaker, Dies at 79

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Roger Dubuis, a master watchmaker and the co-founder of the Swiss brand that bore his name, died Oct. 14. He was 79.

The company announced his death in an email statement but did not disclose its cause.

“The death of our founder is a heavy loss for the entire watchmaking community,” the Roger Dubuis employees wrote in a separate joint statement. “His unique mastery of haute horlogerie, his avant-garde vision and his human values will remain deeply engraved in our hearts.”

Jean-Marc Pontroué, the company’s chief executive since 2011, said, “Roger was a charming and moving person, and an artist of technique and complications. His passing, after some 22 years with the company, is for us a moment of sadness and emotion.”

Mr. Dubuis retired from the company in 2005 but, at Mr. Pontroué’s urging, returned as a brand ambassador in 2011. “As an ambassador, Roger was there at product launches to meet with clients and retailers,” Mr. Pontroué said. “It is rare for any brand to have its founder present.”

Roger Dubuis was born in Corbeyrier, in the Swiss canton of Vaud, in 1938. He began his watchmaking career at Longines in the 1950s then moved to the high complications workshops at Patek Philippe, where he stayed for 14 years. In the 1980s, he set up his own watch and clock repair shop in Geneva.

In the late 1980s Mr. Dubuis was working with Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, the well-known movement designer, on the Bi-Retrograde Perpetual Calendar Watch commissioned by Harry Winston. “Roger and I shared a passion for beautiful horology,” Mr. Wiederrecht said. “He was ‘schooled’ at Patek Philippe at a time when so much of the work was still done by hand. He made some of the stunning Pateks that we see in auctions today.”

It was during that period that Mr. Dubuis met Carlos Dias, a businessman and watch designer. By 1995, he had convinced Mr. Dubuis to found the Société Genevoise des Montres, later renamed Manufacture Roger Dubuis.

Industry experts say Mr. Dubuis’s understated manner and old-school craftsmanship complemented Mr. Dias’s exuberant style. Together, they produced some of the watch world’s most distinctive timepieces, recognizable by their signature oversized cases, transparent backs, imposing crowns, Roman numerals and Celtic cross-styled tourbillon carriages, all of which are certified for their provenance and quality with the Poinçon de Genève, or Geneva Seal.

The company generally produced small editions, often limited to 28, 88 or 288 pieces — variations of 208, Mr. Dubuis’s registration number at the École d’Horlogerie de Genève. Its first two collections, Sympathie and Hommage, were followed by collections like Much More and Too Much and, later, Excalibur.

In 2008, just as the watch market was feeling the financial crisis, Mr. Dias sold his 60 percent stake in Roger Dubuis to the Swiss luxury giant Richemont, which acquired the rest of the company in 2016. Under the Richemont umbrella, the company has opened 28 boutiques around the world and multiplied its collaborations, such as the Pirelli partnership to make watch straps from the tires of Formula One cars.

Some watch fans say that Mr. Dubuis, who did not retain a stake in the brand, was unhappy with the direction that the company had taken.

“Roger Dubuis was one of the last master watchmakers who left a brand in his name but whose destiny, like a Greek tragedy, had slipped through his gold fingers,” Gregory Pons, the editor of the newsletter Business Montres & Joaillerie, said in a telephone interview from Geneva. “He felt that the brand had taken his tools to do something that was more about design and less about his vision of watchmaking.

“In the end,” he said, “Roger Dubuis, the brand, had very little to do with the man.”

Mr. Pontroué disagreed. “Roger understood that the ‘classic’ watch segment was saturated and that watchmaking tradition needed to evolve,” he said. “He was proud of what we had done with the brand and its international expansion was proof that his reputation was on the rise.”

As the watch industry took note of his death, many referred to Mr. Dubuis as a consummate craftsman and one of the last masters of Swiss watchmaking.

“Roger was a remarkable human being with an extraordinary talent,” Mr. Wiederrecht said. “That is what must be said about him.”

By | 2017-11-02T15:45:00+00:00 November 2nd, 2017|0 Comments

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