While the relationship between cars and wristwatches in past was more rooted in function – chronographs like the Heuer Autavia and Rolex Daytona were tools used by motorsport crew to time races in the 1960s and 1970s - watches today tend to take inspiration from the design and materials used in high-performance cars. The Richard Mille RM 50-03 McLaren F1 chronograph and the Hublot Techframe Ferrari 70 Years Tourbillon Chronograph are examples that illustrate this point. In 2017, Roger Dubuis waded into these waters when they unveiled a five-year partnership with Italian supercar brand Lamborghini.
It was more than a perfect match if you think about it - the car and the watch are both known for their strong design philosophy, both watches appeal to similar demographics. The first watch born out of this partnership was the Roger Dubuis Aventador S - unveiled in September 2017, made with carbon fiber cases and limited to just 88 pieces each. “The decision we made right from the start for this partnership was to develop new calibers which would be used only in the Lamborghini timepieces. This was our strategic vision and it is already very different from what is usually done in that kind of partnership,” explains Gregory Bruttin, product strategy director at Manufacture Roger Dubuis.
Bruttin explains that his team’s interactions R&D and design teams of Lamborghini helped them gain a whole new perspective on movement design. The first movement produced as part of this partnership is Caliber 103SQ, which is inspired by the engine of the Italian supercar, and holder of five patents including one for the arrangement of its tilted balance wheels and a “G-force anti-ejection” reinforcement. The watch also uses C-SMC carbon, a composite material used by Lamborghini, on some of the components of the movement.
The sophomore collaboration between Roger Dubuis and Lamborghini, the Excalibur Huracàn Performante takes its visual cues from the performance variant of the Sant'Agata brand’s latest sports car. Interactions with the Lamborghini team have had a huge influence on the design of the second movement – the Caliber RD630 of the Excalibur Huracàn Performante. For the engineering team, the development of the V-shaped twin balance wheels on Caliber 103SQ was a huge breakthrough. Apart from mimicking the design of the V12 engine, it contributed to the precision of the timepiece too.
“When thinking about the RD630, we thought we should capitalize on our experience and offer a timepiece which would have a tilted balance,” says Bruttin referring to balance wheel which is placed at 12° angle balance at the 12 o’clock position on the RD630. The tilted balance is now a signature of the Lamborghini editions. “In terms of design, it adds another dimension to the movement. Instead of several horizontal layers, we are now working on a lot of different planes,” he adds.
After the complex movement of the Aventador S, the Excalibur Huracán Performante may seem like a relatively simpler timepiece but only just. Bruttin agrees that on the new Caliber RD630, the focus was less on the mechanism and more on the design. “We worked in extreme details on all the lines and the finish of the bridges and mainplate. You’ll see air-intakes, a grill, a wheel-like rotor, multi-finish components (shot-blasted, brushed, NAC-coated), a life cell protection unit around the balance, strut-bars,” says Bruttin.
It is clear that the technical boffins at Roger Dubuis are going to pay more than just lip service to this partnership. Interactions with their peers at Lamborghini has provided the team with fresh perspectives, especially around the use of carbon. According to Bruttin, it was a nightmare to machine carbon components for the Caliber RD630 since the material used in its construction is way stiffer than the norm. The rigidity of components meant there was a high likelihood that some of them would break under stress during assembly. To account for breakage, the production team manufactured three of each part.
While almost all “cars-and-watches-collaborations” in the past have produced a chronograph, Roger Dubuis has happily thrown that rule book out of the window. Bruttin says one could relate this to the evolution of watchmaking. He reckoned ten years ago you were not “part of the game” if you strayed away from the beaten path when it came to watchmaking, not so much now.
Bruttin pointed out that there is increasing demand from the market for more “expressive and contemporary” timepieces. He said, “It is difficult to create something contemporary if your work environment is exactly the same as the one you can see in watch museums. At Roger Dubuis, we wanted to incorporate a new way of creating timepieces. That led us to reorganize the product department into a very flat and collaborative unit. We are lucky enough to be a small company and to all work under one roof (except for the subsidiaries, of course). So we group everyone in product development team in the same workspace.”
“This means you have designers, engineers and watchmakers almost sharing the same workspace. Anyone can put his idea on the table and if it is a good one, it immediately becomes the idea of everyone and we all try and improve it. There is no design over technique or functionality over aesthetics. It is an ongoing process where disruptive and incremental innovation is the objective. Plus, we like to think that inspiration should come from outside our industry. We grew up with Swiss high-watchmaking. Now we live in a global world,” he added.