Watch vs. Brand

By Watchbore

Obsessed by brands? Watchbore offers a cure.

To all those nagged by the suspicion that without the brand name on the dial and other distinguishing marks their watch would be worth less than half what they paid for it, Watchbore brings glad tidings.

At the Geneva Salon and Basel Show, 2000 will be the year of the small independent watchmakers who still make original timepieces that are more watch than brand.

Watchbore reviews four such watchmakers which all started on the road to brandhood in the mid-nineties. They are still uncorrupted, and this is their golden age. Companies like Roger Dubuis, Parmigiani Fleurier, F. P Journe and Bovet are making the creative running in craft watchmaking — a field abandoned by the big brands.


Parmigiani launched a trend for long power-reserve watches last year with an eight-day caliber. This year they are presenting their first tourbillon, some split-seconds chronographs, a limited edition of 50 anniversary watches and 30 watches with cloisonné enamel dials to mark the year of the dragon. Their unique piece for 2000 is a minute-repeating, perpetual-calendar skeleton wristwatch.

Parmigiani is essentially a restorer of antique pieces and a constructor of movements for such clients as Chopard and Bulgari. However, they produce about 1200 own-label watches a year — most of them special pieces. Like many would-be brands, they have introduced as more “accessible” line — the Basica model (350 a year).

Parmigiani is 90% owned by the Sandoz foundation, which should ensure that it will keep its watchmaking virginity for some time.

Parmigiani watches have a distinctive look with beaded cases, engine-turned dials, custom hands and enamelling in the showy decorative style of the Val-de-Travers. The movements may be relied upon to be carefully crafted and finished. They are guaranteed for 10 years.


Another name in the Val-de-Travers revival is Bovet who make fancy watches for aesthetes of sophisticated tastes. More objet d’art than wristwatch, their pieces have highly decorated movements, original casework and such exotic craftsmanship as enamelling (cloisonné & miniature) and appliqué work.

A typical product launched this year is a small series of about a dozen Barque du Léman models featuring a Lake Geneva sailing barge in gold and silver on a dial of lake, mountains and sky in enamels, all in the award-winning “Fleurier” case.

Ironically Bovet was one of the earliest brands — its name was synonymous with watches in China 150 years ago. Revived by Mr Thierry Oulevay and Mr Roger Guye in the mid-nineties, it produces around 900 watches a year and has only 15 sales outlets. But Bovet plans to increase production by introducing a more affordable line of sports watches. Until they reach brandhood again, a Bovet watch must be one of the most rare and original timepieces you can buy.

Roger Dubuis

Roger Dubuis is a grandfatherly watchmaker of the old school who worked for many years at Patek Philippe. In 1995, he teamed up with Mr Carlos Dias, a brash young entrepreneur from the clothing trade. Since coming under the patronage of the ruler of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, their company has doubled sales annually.

The Roger Dubuis workshops in Carouge, Geneva, maintain a portfolio of around 21 calibers and complications, mostly of their own construction. All the movements are made to Geneva Seal standards. Each model is limited to 28 pieces, which means they build an astonishing variety of watches.

The speciality of the house is Mr Dubuis’ own multiple-retrograde indications. Their show in Geneva this year includes a new tri-retrograde perpetual calendar with rapid date-change by pushpiece, a tourbillon bi-retrograde perpetual calendar, as well as the unique piece — the minute-repeating, bi-retrograde perpetual calendar and chronograph with a co-axial button in the crown. The patents for these retrograde indications, however, remain stubbornly pending.

On the style side, Roger Dubuis came out last year with the show-stopping “Much More” model. This year they promise something even more spectacular.

Roger Dubuis watches are considered an acceptable upgrade from Patek Philippe, which has now become common. The company should retain its integrity while Mr Dubuis remains alive and active.

F. P Journe

François-Paul Journe is a chronometer-maker and horologist in the style of the great masters of watchmaking — Arnold, Breguet, Berthoud, Harrison etc. He signs his watches “Inventit et Fecit” with every justification, for he constructs and makes watches packed with invention.

Journe’s big contribution to watchmaking is undoubtedly the resonance-system wristwatch with twin independent movements. The two balances, adjusted by rack & pinion to around 0.5mm apart, vibrate in anti-phase, synchronized at the average of their individual frequencies by resonance. This keeps the rate extremely stable on the wrist. When shock or sudden acceleration speeds up one balance, the other slows correspondingly, and vice-versa. The balances then return to their common frequency.

The resonance watches have two dials, regulator style, that can be independently set to different hours and minutes, and a power-reserve indicator.

Journe’s other series-produced watch is a constant-force tourbillon. So far as Watchbore knows, this is the first tourbillon with a remontoir in a wristwatch. The remontoir in this case is a blade spring with a spinning governor that delivers constant force directly to the escape-wheel. The remontoir receives its energy once a second from the mainspring via the going train. It thus isolates the regulating organs from the fluctuations inherent in the train, and should make a significant contribution to the performance of a tourbillon on the wrist. This watch also has a power-reserve indicator.

In addition, Journe makes a few one-off pieces. For 2000, it’s an extraordinary wristwatch with grand strike/small strike in passing, minute-repeater and retrograde minutes. Furthermore, the chiming work is inverted so that the striking hammers show through the dial while the intricate steel-work, usually hidden in repeaters, can be seen through the display-back.

For the future, Journe is working on an eight-day automatic, with integrated complications.

The watchmakers reviewed above are at the forefront of a new wave of watchmaking catering for such connoisseurs as Timezoners who are far too sophisticated to let the spurious attractions of brand-value detract them from the patronage of authentic horology.

Copyright © Alan Downing March 2000