Roger Dubuis - The Watchmaker

Humble Beginnings

In order to get a better understanding of Roger Dubuis and the company he created, it is necessary to have a look at his background and at the humble beginnings of his life. Roger Dubuis was born in Corbeyrier, a small village in the Swiss canton of Vaud in 1938. Dubuis grew up among the green hills of Corbeyrier, a small community located close to the French border and to the south of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva). One can imagine him waking up every morning to a view of the impressive Alps through his bedroom window, taking in the fresh alpine air and the snow-covered mountaintops. The gentle green hills of the countryside dotted with pine trees and small flowers — certainly a calm, peaceful place to grow up.

Roger Dubuis

As a boy, he must have traveled to Geneva every now and then, to the “big city” — surely a place of wonder and excitement for someone from such a small hamlet. Roger probably would have traveled to Geneva by train, not alone of course, but with his parents, and the journey must have taken hours as the train wove its way through the Swiss countryside. While the distance is not so great (85-110 kilometers depending on the route), the trip most likely would have taken longer than it would today, but these were probably delightful trips for him. Alpine landscapes rushing by outside as Lake Geneva glistened and reflected the imposing mountains that loomed overhead.

The Young Watchmaker Gets His Start

The watchmaking traditions of Switzerland must have had an impact on Dubuis, as he started his career in the very same industry at Longines in the 1950s. Longines, a well-established firm in the quaint town of Saint-Imier, was founded by watchmaker and businessman Auguste Aggasiz in the 1830s. It was there at Longines where Dubuis got his start, learning the basics and necessary knowledge for becoming a watchmaker. It must have been hard work and quite challenging for a newcomer such as him, however Dubuis was always up for a challenge.

Moving Up in the Industry

Dubuis, a diligent and industrious work, must have encountered success at Longines, as he moved on from there to Geneva, to the high complications workshops of Patek Philippe. Working for Patek Philippe, one of the oldest luxury watchmakers in the world, must have taught Dubuis a lot and added a whole new level of experience to his book. For those not familiar with the term “complication” in the scope of the watch industry, it would be best to explain what this is. A so-called “complication” pertains to mechanical watches and the features that they possess. Anything outside of the basic functions of a watch — that is, telling time or providing the date — is considered a “complication”. Any additional features, such as an annual calendar or world time display, are added “complications”. The watches manufactured in the high (or “grand”) complications workshops are even more sophisticated, with features such as “moon-phase indication” or audible chiming. The watches in these workshops vary in the number of “complications” they possess, some with only a few, while others possess 20 “complications” or more. The more features a watch has, the more complicated and intricate it is to construct and create.

Working in a workshop such as this requires (and would have required) an extremely thorough knowledge of the complex functions of a watch, as well as the know-how to make these functions a reality. The staff at Patek Philippe must have been highly impressed with Dubuis’ work. They must have recognized the level of skill and dedication with which he worked. It is likely that he stood out from his fellow workers as someone to watch, as someone who would one day build a watchmaking firm of his own. Being placed in the grand complication workshop would have been an honor and a high achievement for any watchmaker. Dubuis’ supervisors clearly noted his superior skills, and recognized him as the visionary watchmaker he would later become.

A Bold Step

After 14 very fulfilling and productive years, Dubuis packed up his tools and left Patek Philippe. The experience and knowledge gained at well-revered firm such as Longines and Patek Philippe provided Dubuis with a strong background in rare and vintage watch restoration, hand-finishing skills, and gave him the confidence that he could make it on his own. With that in mind, Dubuis opened up a clock and watch repair shop of his very own in Geneva, and got to work. The 1980s had arrived and Dubuis, now in his 40’s, had the training and know-how to succeed. People came from all areas of the watch industry and sought out his expertise in repairing their watches and clocks. Auction houses, watch firms, and collectors came to Dubuis for his unparalleled hand-finished work and attention to detail, both of which he had learned during his years at Longines and Patek Philippe. His long training and tutelage under master artisans at these brands had paid off.

Branching Out - Collaboration and Partnership

Towards the end of the decade, Jean-Marc Wiederrecht approached Dubuis about a commission he had received from Harry Winston. The project on hand was a bi-retrograde perpetual calendar watch, an extremely intricate and detailed piece, which Dubuis ended up collaborating with him on. This watch, which according to sources, is still considered by Wiederrecht to be his “breakthrough timepiece”, showed that its creators had a very detailed understanding of the fine art of watchmaking. It is important to note that this watch was the first wrist watch to possess a double retrograde perpetual calendar, something which was groundbreaking for the world of luxury wrist watches, and career-altering for the two men who designed and built it. As a result, the bi-retrograde perpetual calendar watch became a very significant part of Harry Winston’s luxury watch collections, and marked the start of a new era for Dubuis.

Shortly after Dubuis’ collaboration with Wiederrecht, he met Carlos Dias, a Portuguese businessman and watch designer living and working in Geneva. Dias had dreams of creating a luxury watch firm that could rival the best of those in the city. This must have sounded like a lofty dream to Dubuis, something that could only happen in a fairy tale or one’s imagination, but Dias knew it was possible. He knew his own abilities, and knew of Dubuis’ strong reputation in the watchmaking world. He realized what they capable of together. So, Dubuis and Dias teamed up, and with some encouragement from Dias, Dubuis founded the Société Genevoise des Montres in 1995. The name of the firm was later changed to Manufacture Roger Dubuis, which it still carries today. Dubuis and Dias brought different and complimenting aspects to this partnership — Dubuis’ extensive experience working with rare and vintage watches, his knowledge of old European watchmaking traditions, and Dias’ business sense, enthusiasm, and energetic, entrepreneurial spirit. These two business partners were paired perfectly for each other, and together were able to bring Dias’ dream to fruition.