Roger Dubuis: Time for the Ladies

The Roger Dubuis Blossom Velvet Blue
The Roger Dubuis Blossom Velvet Blue

Since its founding in 1995, the Roger Dubuis brand has been known for its innovative and daring approach to horology. On one hand, its legitimacy as one of the industry’s finest high watchmakers is undisputed—100% of its timepieces are Geneva Seal certified. On the other hand, the brand relentlessly pursues innovation, breaks conventions and pushes the envelope in design.

When I met with Jean-Marc Pontroué, the CEO of Roger Dubuis, it was no surprise when he shared with me that 2016 was the Year of the Woman for the brand. At the SIHH, the first important watch show of the year held in Geneva this month, every watch introduced will be for women.

“In fact, we will have a big sign at the entrance to the booth that says ‘Men Forbidden,’” Pontroué jokes. It is daring for a brand known for men’s watches to dedicate its entire presentation to women (last year, the decidedly masculine Excalibur Spider was the key piece for Dubuis).

“If there is one brand that can afford to do this, it’s Roger Dubuis,” Pontroué points out. “It’s a very interesting exercise for us. Already, 30% of our customers are women, and we needed to offer them a larger choice of concepts. Of course, everything we are offering this year is mechanical, all limited editions, all Geneva Seal.”

The focus for this year will be Velvet, a collection Dubuis launched in 2008 without much fanfare or promotion. This year, that all changes.

The Blossom Velvet Blue

A detail of the Blossom Velvet Blue

The first reveal of the Velvet Collection shows that Dubuis intends to remain provocative. Rather than simply introducing some standard watches, the new Blossom Velvet shows the brand’s commitment to women in a very substantial way.

The Blossom Velvet Blue combines old-school métiers d’art with modern high watchmaking. Its dial has uniquely produced deep, three-dimensional sculpted Grand Feu enamel flowers on white-gold stems circling diamonds on a mother-of-pearl base.

Inspired by the Flower Clock in the center of Geneva, one of the city’s must-see attractions, the Blossom Velvet Blue’s dial draws you in with its various levels. Usually, high-fire enamel is flat, but here Roger Dubuis has started with a thick plate of enamel, from which its artisans have sculpted the beautiful blue flowers. A total of 154 diamonds weighing 1.9 carats adorn the Blossom Velvet Blue, in addition to the diamonds in the center of the flowers, two rows of brilliant-cut diamonds frame the bezel and lugs of the 18K white gold case, and even the watch’s clasp is set with 14 brilliant-cut diamonds.

The RD821 movement

The timepiece is powered by Calibre RD821, an in-house movement produced entirely in the brand’s Geneva manufacture. It is comprised of 172 components and 33 jewels, with a power reserve of 48 hours, and meets the requirements of the Geneva Seal.

The Geneva Seal is awarded to watches that have met the highest standards of watchmaking and are entirely created within the Canton of Geneva. Watches are evaluated on stringent criteria including timekeeping, movement finishing and casing by TimeLab—the Geneva Laboratory of Horology and Microengineering, an independent organization of experts that is supported by the Canton of Geneva.

The exploded RD821 movement

“We are seeing that we have a growing number of women interested in horology,” Pontroué says. “Velvet was already in our portfolio for five years, but we didn’t do much for promotion or even product development. Now, we are doing different things to make it spectacular. When it comes to women and Roger Dubuis, Alvaro Maggini, our creative director, and his team have ideas for 1000 years to come.

“Our offering this year is an homage to what we launched at the very beginning, with a lot of retrograde movements,” Pontroué continues. “I think that having this small complication on a woman’s product is interesting. We believe that a women’s assortment has to be different from the men’s. In the past, the women shared a theme that was predominantly male. This is the first year that the women’s product theme will be as strong as the men’s.”

“When you work for Roger Dubuis, you have daily requests from customers to surprise them,” he continues. Our customers never ask for something specific, they want concepts that don’t exist on the market, and we are committed to giving these to them.”

The 36mm Blossom Velvet Blue is just one of the novelties of the Velvet Collection for 2016. According to Pontroué, there will be five different models in the collection—Blossom Velvet, Ribbon, Secret Heart, Black Velvet and Velvet by Massaro. “Velvet will have fine jewelry, new movements, new materials, métiers d’art and more, to show the versatility of the line,” he explains. “We will treat it the Roger Dubuis way, with lots of differentiation and creativity. All the attributes of the brand, which have made such a success of our men’s watches, will be applied to the women’s line.”

The U.S. Market

A sketch of the Blossom Velvet Blue and Pink

The American market is an important one for Roger Dubuis. “Everybody should know that even though Asia has had the highest growth in recent years, the U.S. remains the number one market in the world for luxury goods,” Pontroué points out. “For Roger Dubuis, this is the biggest business opportunity in the world. Today, we only have 17 points of sale in the United States, and we are not able to serve all the affluent parts of the USA.”

Roger Dubuis just recently inaugurated its first boutique in the U.S., with more to follow. “Having a store in New York is an image statement and it allows us to place our brand in the middle of one of the most prestigious cities in the world,” Pontroué says. “We think there is room in the U.S. for three boutiques. With the growing network of retailers and our own boutiques, we think three is the right number.”

Photo shooting Laziz Hamani 2015

Honoring History

To celebrate key boutique openings, Roger Dubuis has introduced unique watches, called Hommage Millesime, using vintage movements from legendary master watchmaker Mr. Roger Dubuis’s own collection. These vintage movements are refurbished, augmented with new complications and brought up to the standards of the modern Geneva Seal, which is no mean feat. One of these special pieces, a pocket watch, was developed for the new Geneva boutique, and a wristwatch was created to celebrate the opening of the New York flagship. Part of the Rarities program, “these timepieces are based on a restoration project, which Mr. Dubuis was doing when he started the brand, and so we developed a unique piece to celebrate the opening of a flagship boutique,” Pontroué details. “We are highlighting the beauty of what the brand has to offer. It is the watchmaking approach, because we are rebuilding the piece element by element, and we bring it up to the Geneva Seal. All of what we are known for is on display here.”

Each piece requires over 1,000 hours of work just for the restoration, not including assembly and regulation. The New York boutique watch is a stunning piece, incorporating a minute repeater, split-second flyback chronograph with a bi-retrograde center perpetual calendar. Each of these Hommage Millesime pieces retails for about one million dollars.

This year, Roger Dubuis has applied everything that makes the brand stand out to watches for the women in the world. Based on the first offering in the Velvet Collection, the Blossom Velvet Blue, we can’t wait to see what else Roger Dubuis has to offer.

—Keith W. Strandberg