The new creations in the Roger Dubuis Velvet Collection are rare artistic masterpieces that just happen to tell time.
Words DEBBIE HATHWAY
Published in PRIVATE TIME 2016
IT SOUNDED LIKE A WRY CONFESSION when the Roger Dubuis presenter acknowledged minimal fanfare around the Maison’s Velvet Collection when it came to market in 2011. I remember it well, however, particularly the fashion strap with the fishnet-stocking overlay that appealed to my theatrical sensibilities.
The Velvet Collection, she said, has been steadily growing in popularity among women who want to wear a watch that is aligned with fashion but underpinned by watchmaking prowess. This year saw the launch of three new references linked to the fashion world, thanks to a meeting of creative minds at the House of Massaro and Roger Dubuis. The Velvet Massaro was the only one of three Massaro designs to be launched at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva in January, arriving just four days before it opened and selling almost immediately. The famed Parisian shoemaker, who has been part of the ‘Chanel constellation’ since 2002, reportedly took about two months to design and complete the neatly plaited strap once he sourced its exquisitely soft, pale-gold leather. ‘Because Roger Dubuis is a relatively young brand [Roger Dubuis created his first watch in 1995], we can and want to do things differently,’ says product design director Lionel Favre. ‘We use different materials; make different associations. We can make a fashion watch because people know that inside the case there is a beautiful mechanical movement bearing the Geneva Seal, which is the best you can find in watchmaking.’
Roger Dubuis’ positioning as the jeweller of rare artistic masterpieces is evident across the new line, inspired by the sophisticated facets of femininity. One of the most outstanding is the Black Velvet Paraiba, limited to 88 pieces. Designed for women who want to wear a ‘very original, different piece’, it is made out of really light carbon that is decorated for the first time with stones – even more notable because they are the extremely rare Paraiba tourmalines sourced from a single mine in Brazil. To give that enhanced perspective: for every one Paraiba, there are 10 000 diamonds, resulting in a price point five or six times higher than that of the traditional sparklers.
Favre’s favourite in the collection is the Blossom Velvet, also limited to 88 pieces. ‘It’s inspired by two things: the flower clock of Geneva and the decorations of the minaudière, a ladies’ clutch used to carry small personal items,’ says Favre. The mother-of-pearl dial is engraved using the traditional high-watchmaking grand feu technique with a twist – this time applied to achieve volume and depth in the dial for the 3-D background behind 15 handcrafted leaves and six flowers, anchored in the centre by a diamond. ‘This is very hard to create; it’s really complex. Enamel is like crystal. You need to engrave 20 to 30 flowers to get one right. That’s why this watch is 18 months in the making – six months to create and decide on the design, and a year to create something strong and wearable,’ he says. Favre comes from a jewellery-design background and says he prefers to imagine his creations by hand. ‘I like to take my pen and draw, using Pantone crayons for colour accuracy. I think it’s the best way to have the best ideas because when you design … when you make sketches, sometimes your hands speak for you and give you an idea. It’s more about something very sensitive, a feeling, than reflection,’ he adds. ‘If you work too much with the computer, it becomes too engineered. At the end you have something interesting but, for me, a little too logical.’
A former head of design for another jewellery brand, Favre says he knows how to place a movement in a watch and ‘that’s enough’. ‘I discuss a lot about a new project with the engineers before I start the design process, but not too much. If we find too many problems before starting, it gets boring and we can do nothing. I present my design and, if the CEO likes it, we find the technical solutions later.’
The Roger Dubuis Manufacture is open to bespoke commissions, such as customising a movement so that the initials RD can be replaced by letters of the client’s choice as a personalised gift. Again differentiating themselves from other watchmaking houses, they will add the engraving to the actual movement and not the case. ‘This is an added extra to the already exemplary finishes on the movement. We have some wheels that are polished 40 times more than a traditional movement – but you have something totally perfect,’ says Favre. ‘It’s like a beautiful suit that is lined with cotton. You need to have silk. This is exactly the same.’