''If you do something like everyone else, you cannot be recognised''

Made by Philippe Dufour, this Grande et Petite Sonnerie is amongst the most important wristwatches ever assembled. With the initial piece requiring over two and a half years to complete, it became the first wristwatch to house the impressive chiming complication. 

Only eight examples have ever been made. With its unique configuration, this is the third to have left the watchmaker's workshop. Completed in 1995, it was first delivered to the Sultan of Brunei. 

The story


Philippe Dufour was born in 1948 in Le Sentier, in the Vallée de Joux, to a mother and father who were both watchmakers. At the age of fifteen, he attended the Ecole d’Horlogerie in Le Sentier, where he excelled in his studies. Upon graduation, in 1967, he joined Jaeger-LeCoultre, spending time in their after-sales department. Whilst there, he worked closely with Gabriel Locatelli, who became a mentor for the young watchmaker, educating him on “all the things you don’t learn at watchmaking school,” Dufour recalls.  

In the following years, he worked for a few different manufactures, including Audemars Piguet, before focusing on restoring antique and vintage watches, on behalf of collectors and auction houses. In doing so, he became enamoured with the pieces which were created in the Vallée de Joux between 1800 and 1920, before any sort of industrialisation was introduced. He realised that the ébauches created here had been used throughout Switzerland, Germany, and even Britain, making this the epicentre of traditional watchmaking.  

Born in the Vallée de Joux himself, Dufour became determined to bring back this long-lost style of watchmaking. As he puts it, “I never invented anything, I just took inspiration from what was done before me.” To start, he decided to design a Grande et Petite Sonnerie pocket watch movement, which would become the first creation of his independent career. Audemars Piguet ordered five, each of which took over 2,000 hours to complete, using traditional tools and methods. However, rather frustratingly, he wasn’t allowed to take any credit for these creations, and sadly, two of them were severely damaged by the manufacture. 

An early design drawing of the Grande et Petite Sonnerie movement, by Philippe Dufour.

With time, Dufour gradually became more determined to create under his own name. To make his mark, he decided to become the first watchmaker to fit the Grande et Petite Sonnerie complication into a wristwatch. Considered to be one of the most difficult and impressive complications to design and assemble, this effort has cemented Dufour’s status as one of the greatest independent watchmakers of all time. 

'When you are small, you must do something special to stand out'

Philippe Dufour

Between 1989 and 1992, for two and a half years, he worked on his first Grande et Petite Sonnerie wristwatch. Looking back on the experience, Dufour recalls that, “I never stopped, not even for a single day. Not for Christmas, not for holidays, nothing. Every day, I was working. I remember going to sleep around 11 at night, because my eyes were crying from focusing all day”. Thanks to this dedication and drive, his earliest creation was also his most complicated, and perhaps his most significant. 

Over the course of his career, Dufour created eight Grande et Petite Sonnerie wristwatches. The watchmaker confirmed to us in August 2021 that five of those feature white enamel dials, whilst three were mounted with a sapphire dial. This example is the third Grande et Petite Sonnerie wristwatch ever made.

It is also the only one to feature a rose gold case and white enamel dial. It was completed in 1995, following nine months of work. According to Dufour, it was originally made for the Sultan of Brunei, an avid collector of independents, which the watchmaker only discovered when he delivered the watch. 

The chiming mechanism

The Grande et Petite Sonnerie chimes the time as it passes, with no intervention from the wearer, thanks to small hammers built into the movement. At any given time, the minute repeater can also be activated manually, thanks to a pusher on the crown. Despite its remarkable complexity, the movement was developed to be as simple to operate as possible. Turning the crown clockwise winds the sonnerie, whilst turning it counter-clockwise winds the movement. The winding blocks after a certain point, due to a stopping mechanism which prevents over-winding, similar to what can be found on some antique pocket watches.

Two sliders on the side of the case allow for the adjustment of the chiming function. The watch can be set to both Grande Sonnerie or Petite Sonnerie settings, thanks to the slider at 4 o’clock. The Grande Sonnerie strikes the number of hours, on every hour, and the number of hours and quarters on every quarter. Meanwhile, the Petite Sonnerie also strikes the hours and the quarters, but it does not repeat the hours on every quarter. The slider at 2 o’clock is used to silence or enable the chiming mechanism. 

“To make the first one, it took me two years and a half. I never stopped one day. No holidays, nothing. I used to go to sleep at eleven at night, when my eyes were crying”

As one might expect, the movement is superlative both in terms of construction and finish, bearing resemblance to similar pieces created in the Vallée du Joux, during the early 20th century. Two barrels are placed in prime position, with one of them powering the timekeeping mechanism, whilst the other gives energy to the striking function.

Both feature the traditional Grande Sonnerie style winding-click, serrated gears with hooks, which connect to curved springs. Meanwhile, one of the hammers for the chimes is visible, whilst the other is hidden under the bridge which proudly displays the watchmaker’s name. The movement is engraved with “N.3”, indicating its order within the production.  

Finishing

Chiming

Dufour is admired for the quality of his finishing, which he achieves entirely by hand, by utilising traditional tools and techniques. The bridges are made from rhodium-plated brass and finished with classic Geneva stripes; the seamless transition between the stripe and the angling on the side of the bridges demonstrates the watchmaker’s level of skill. The smallest details – from the black polish on the escape wheel cock, to the dramatically sharp points of the bridges – are thoroughly thought out. Though his approach can be particularly burdensome, Dufour chooses to prioritise these traditional techniques, harking-back to what he considers the golden age of watchmaking.

An early design drawing of the Grande et Petite Sonnerie movement, by Philippe Dufour.

With the movement being the main focus, the rest of the design is classic and pared back. The white enamel dial is unadorned, with the “Philippe Dufour” signature taking prime position. The Roman numerals, minute tracks and subsidiary seconds are all printed in black ink, complementing the blued steel hands used for the hours, minutes, and seconds. The rose gold case is polished throughout, with a hinged caseback protecting the movement, which can otherwise be viewed through a sapphire crystal. Measuring 39mm by 14mm, the dimensions are relatively restrained considering the complexity which sits within.  

Discover the Grande et Petite Sonnerie, by Philippe Dufour.

We would like to thank our client for entrusting us with this exceptional watch and Philippe Dufour for his extraordinary work & assistance in preparing this listing.