The origin of Roger Dubuis
Roger Dubuis started his career at Longines, in the late 1950s, where he spent close to a decade in the after-sales department, repairing and caring for the brand's watches, including their prestigious chronographs. Shortly thereafter, he integrated Patek Philippe's complications department, where he has the opportunity to work on gongs, minute repeaters and perpetual calendars, among others. His time there coincided with the production of some of the manufacture's most sought-after, complicated models - from the ref. 2499 to the ref. 3448 - which Dubuis himself had the opportunity to work on.
Dubuis' enthusiasm for watchmaking was such that, when he had finished working a full day at the atelier, he would go home and work on repairing watches for private clients, auction houses and dealers around Geneva. In the '80s, he left Patek Philippe to establish his own workshop, dedicating himself fully to the restoration of pieces from the past. In 1995, following a partnership with businessman Carlos Dias, he would establish his own eponymous brand.
The first Roger Dubuis watches were acclaimed by collectors because they channelled the traditional Geneva watchmaking that Patek Philippe embodied, while having more stylistic flair. Dubuis' attempt to rival Patek Philippe themselves was obvious in some of his choices, from seeking the Geneva Seal for his movements to designing deployante buckles. In particular, the Hommage watches, as the name suggests, were designed as a homage to the great watchmakers of old, according to Mr Dubuis.
In 2003, after only eight years, Roger Dubuis himself left his eponymous brand. Though his output in the earliest days of the brand was limited, the design and quality of the pieces he produced have stood the test of time.
The Unconventional Sympathie
Roger Dubuis' watchmaking combined traditional techniques and aesthetics with a more contemporary approach. Perhaps more than any other, the Sympathie design speaks to this forward-thinking approach. Neither round nor square, the Sympathie case design balances the two different shapes, complemented by a stepped bezel and curved, elongated lugs. In an industry where case shapes generally follow quite a narrow blueprint - either round, rectangular or square - the brand put forwards a genuinely innovative design.
According to Roger Dubuis, the basic form was suggested by a respected casemaker in the Vallée de Joux, having later been refined by Dubuis and Dias. This unique silhouette was used across several of the watchmaker's earliest pieces, from his chronographs to his perpetual calendars. Traditionally, it is understood that each variant of the Sympathie series was limited to 28 pieces. According to Dias, the initial intention was actually limit each series to 25. However, following the suggestion of a collectors based in Asia - where the number 8 is considered to bring good luck - the number 28 was chosen instead.
This time-only piece is perhaps the purest incarnation of the Sympathie design, paring it back to its most essential components. With the design being available in 34mm and 37mm, usually in white or rose gold, this 37mm white gold version also stands out as perhaps the most contemporary execution of the idea.
It features a glossy black dial, with applied hour markers and Roman numerals. The white minute track and silver minute plots form an appealing contrast against the deep black surface, helping with overall legibility. The dauphine hands are sharply finished, creating an appealing balance between the two different portions of the hand.
The case is very distinct with its polished, stepped concave bezel and brushed elongated lugs. When viewed from the side, the mid-case and lugs feature a polished finish, a subtle nod to vintage dress watches from the past. The three-piece case construction and distinctive shape gives the watch a larger presence on the wrist than the 37mm diameter would usually suggest.
The watch is powered by the Calibre RD 57, based on a Lemania 8810 ébauche. One of the highest quality base automatic movements available at the time, the Lemania 8810 was also used for the brand's perpetual calendar, as well as being integrated by other watchmakers of the time, such as Daniel Roth.
The movement bears the Seal of Geneva and was regulated by Roger Dubuis himself. At the time of production, it was only Patek Philippe movements that carried the Geneva Seal, hence why Dubuis felt that it was crucial to have the same hallmark of quality. The seal focuses on the art of decorating a movement with finesse and skill, in the style of Genevan watchmaking.
The movement is revealed through an engraved sapphire case-back, featuring a 25-jewel, a monometallic balance adjusted to 5 positions, a self-compensating Breguet spring and a swan-neck micrometer regulator. As indicated by the "Bulletin d'Observatoire" signature on the dial, this movement was tested for accuracy at the Besançon Observatory, setting far more exacting standards than a test from the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC).
To find out more about the earliest days of the watchmaker, you can read our article on The Story of early Roger Dubuis.