Roger Dubuis makes some of the most flamboyant watches in the industry today. Over the years, the brand’s calling card has been oversized cases in exotic materials, extroverted design, and partnerships with showy brands like Lamborghini. The irony that the company’s eponymous founder spent 14 years at a purist’s paradise like Patek Philippe isn’t lost on the watch collecting community.
Driven by a belief that there is increasing demand for more “expressive and contemporary” timepieces, Roger Dubuis has strived to impress haute horology enthusiasts with their disruptive watchmaking skills. Having steered clear of complications like perpetual calendars and minute repeaters in recent years to focus more on material innovations and movement construction, Roger Dubuis brought its contemporary watchmaking chops to the minute repeater complication this year. At Watches & Wonders 2020, they unveiled a unique new chiming watch, the Excalibur Diabolus in Machina, an irreverent take on the traditional minute repeating complication.
Why did Roger Dubuis bring back the minute repeater? Turns out they never stopped making them. “Actually the most complicated timepieces of the past few years were made for our bespoke department. We just did not advertise them as they have visible features linked to the personal life of our clients. Nevertheless it is a good way to keep improving our know-how and come up with timepieces such as the Diabolus in Machina,” says Gregory Bruttin, product strategy director at Manufacture Roger Dubuis.
“Besides, it is important to recall that we are a manufacture that has developed, in our short existence, more calibers and complications than most other haute horology brands. Among these, one can find the four most important – split-second chronograph, minute repeater, perpetual calendar and the tourbillon,” he adds.
The new minute repeater’s name Diabolus in Machina is a reference to “tritone” in music theory. In Medieval times, it was believed that the devil was said to exist in a particular musical tone. For centuries, it was called the devil's interval — or, in Latin, diabolus in musica and its use was banned during the Renaissance period. Roger Dubuis has chosen to tune its minute repeater to the sound of the tritone, it is specifically tuned to C and G flat.
“The Diabolus in Machina is a good example of how we work because it is a mix of technique and design (sound design in this case). How do you modernize a minute repeater? See this is a rather open question. That led us to consider the sound not only from a technical standpoint – how do I make a clear sound – but also from a (sound) design stand point – what is special about our sound. Through discussions and exploration, we eventually ended-up with the tritone, which made both our classical and rock music fans very happy,” says Bruttin.
The Excalibur range is known for its open-worked dials with the prominent star-shaped bridge. On this particular watch, the skeletonized NAC-coated bridges are arranged to look as if the star is imploding and uprooted some of the dial’s Roman numerals in its wake. As if creating a minute repeater wasn’t complicated enough, a flying tourbillon is also thrown into the mix. “The de-structured design of the timepiece is probably one of the biggest risks we took. Usually in watchmaking, design is all about well-balanced proportions in a somewhat symmetric way. In this case, we wanted to break and explode our existing codes to reach another level of creativity. It is an incredible and strong statement from an artistic point of view. The tourbillon is part of the apparent chaos that lies in the very heart of the Diabolus in Machina. Instead of bringing the second complication of the timepiece into the forefront of the watch, we integrated it inside the whole concept,” says Bruttin.
This watch also sees the return of performance alloy that was first used on the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Quatuor Blue Cobalt MicroMelt. The material, Cobalt MicroMelt, is widely associated with aeronautics and medical sciences. It is produced through a complex process that involves atomizing the molten alloy and turning it into a fine powder. The powder is then filtered to keep only the finest particles, then subjected to high temperatures and pressure, creating a dense and hard metal. It’s an unusual choice for a minute repeater case, but Bruttin explains that in terms of acoustic, the sound waves live well within this dense case, staying “as intact as possible when bouncing against it”. He says the focus was not to have the loudest sound, but keep the most harmonious one.
The brand like to think of Poinçon de Genève as a foundation on which to build their vision.
Roger Dubuis has consistently gone against the mainstream edicts of the industry. The company has gone above and beyond just achieving the Poinçon de Genève – an exclusive quality seal that mainly concerns the decoration and handfinishing of movements made in the Canton on Geneva. The brand like to think of this quality seal as a foundation on which to build their vision. “In other words, the foundation of our brand is the respect and the real appreciation of traditional haute horlogerie. Roger Dubuis intends to take haute horlogerie to a level we call “Hyper Horlogerie”. We need people with a certain culture of horlogerie – because one does not create anything without culture – and the same people must be open-minded and ready to question every bit of their culture in order to make it evolve.” The challenge then is not to combine traditional watchmaking with modernity, but find the right people (including clients) who understand the brand’s vision of hyper horlogerie.