Roger Dubuis' "Arch-Grail": the Hommage Condottieri
It is with great pleasure (and thanks to the Gentleman owner) that I am able to present to you a watch that has acquired a cult status amongst watch connoisseurs worldwide - regardless of their respective brand inclination. I am speaking about the Roger Dubuis Hommage Condottieri:
Presented as one of the first watches to be produced by Mr Roger Dubuis under his own brand in the mid-1990's, it was an unusual watch in its days: It came with a diameter of 40mm which was considered huge in these days (36mm was the 'norm' for a man's watch back then, and 38mm 'big' - long time ago!).
The dial is crafted in snow white fired enamel and is of superb quality. The indications are all painted and very sharp against the white background. The image above does not show it well but the hands are proprietary designs, quite three-dimensional and executed as heat-blued steel of matched colours. Superb craftsmanship and full of life! I have always admired such hands with RD. This one is no exception, and there were other fantastic specimens particularly in the Hommage collection.
The traditionally-inpsired case is a three-piece construction with a screw-in back. It is made in unplated white gold and is actually quite thin (9mm). I think it compliments the classical overall design very well. Also note the elaborately ornamented crown:
If the front side appears to be a bit diffident the back side certainly does not:
Below a sapphire crystal (with the - back then - typical etched-in RD logo) lies a movement of splendid dimensions and marvellous execution. It is called the Calibre RD27 which in fact is a new-old-stock pocketwatch movement originally manufactured by Tavannes Watch Co. of La Chaux de Fonds.
Tavannes was foundet in 1895 through the merger of two incorporated companies in La Chaux-de-Fonds under the management of Théodore and Joseph Schwob, two french jews who emigrated from the French Alsace region. The company quickly adopted American techniques for mass production and achieved a daily output of 2.500 watches in 1913. Tavannes was hit severely by the establishment of the soviet rule in the USSR (which basically cut them off their important Russian market) as well as the economic crisis in the 1930's. In 1966 Tavannes was absorbed into the holding Ebauches S.A. Cyma was one of Tavannes' trademarks. [condensed and translated from Dictionnaire historique de la Suisse, Berne]
The base movement is a Tavannes Caliber 507 from the 1940's It has a diameter of 34mm which corresponds to 15 horological lignes. It is also known as the Cyma Cal. 234 and was used in many watches where reliability and accuracy were of principal importance, e.g. military watches. Here are two examples of a Cyma Cal. 234 I found on the net:
Well, I think its safe to say that there is an ocean of differences between the two implementations. Roger Dubuis did some intensive modification work on the movement including:
- new bridges, e.g. balance and geartrain cocks as well as a new main bridge (note the different position of the screw above the Geneva seal)
- top-grade movement finish (perlage, Geneva stripes, anglage, polished gear teeth, matte gear surfaces, anglage on gears)
- swan-neck regulator
- center jewel
- mirror-polished cap on the escapement wheel cock
- modified balance spring assembly
- polished and champfered screws
- Breguet spiral
As with all RD watches also the Condottieri is certified according to the requirements of the Poinçon de Genève. This certification indeed necessitated a few of the above modifications, e.g. the new spring attachment and several finishing touches. It might well be that other changes had to be implemented which are not visible with a fully assembled movement like this one.
But the Poinçon is not the sole certification: The Condottieri was also certified for its chronometric performance at the Observatoire National de Besançon, France. The resulting Bulletin de Marche is quite an interesting one:
First of all, it demonstrates the expert skill of the master who regulated this watch - all values are squarely within generous confidence intervals. Second, the bulletin also names the watchmaker who accomplished the regulation (there were time in Switzerland where regulateurs had a kind of a 'rock-star status'!) - in this case Mr Roger Dubuis himself! His company back then was called Sogem S.A. ("Société Genèvoise des Montres"); only later it was christened after its co-founder. As per the bulletin it also looks like there were two companies involved - Sogem (as the manufacturer) and Montres Roger Dubuis (as the 'destinataire'=consignee). I will have to inquire whether the latter was solely the marketing/sales company.
Finally, I have to admit that I really love this statement on the top of the bulletin: "Le Bulletin et la Montre sont inséparables" - the bulletin and the watch are inseparable. In other words: the bulletin is an original that won't be replaced if lost.
The bottom line:
Let's spell it out clearly: Roger Dubuis' Condottieri is a downright conservative watch. Manual-wind, three hand and a round case with an enamel dial. It even uses a 70 year- old movement!
Clearly, that timepiece is nothing for those enamoured with progress. But there is something special about those really well-made simple 3-hand watches that particularly strikes a lot of chords with many, many watch enthusiasts. Just think about Roger Smith, Philippe Dufour or Kari Voutilainen. It is perhaps so because those watches are unassuming and not officious. They live of a limited and very manageable number of components. Since one does not get lost in numerous complications and myriads of parts the appreciation of the finissage of each individual of the movement's constituents is much easier - and a much more involving experience.
Thus, I think ultra-fine time-only watches like the Condottieri have a certain humanistic touch to which one only can fall victim. It is a life-long 'enslavement' that brings a lot of pleasure and enrichment. Subtle difference can be understood. For example, the individual variations and idiosyncrasies of each master watchmakers in respect to Geneva stripes or other types of finishing can be studied better with such movements. Thus, these watches are cornerstones for a deeper understanding of individual watchmaking languages and thereby make us 'better' connoisseurs.
I just wish such watches would be offered also today - and not only by a few very select independent masters! A successor to this watch is DEEPLY missed in the current RD collection.
There is something with this specific watch that really trickles my fancy: the fact that Mr Dubuis himself regulated it originally! Thus, the master's own touch is inseparable from this watch as is his clear influence its design and construction. While I researched and wrote this article I had a growing feeling that this watch is a personal pièce de résistance, comparable with my ochs und junior that has been made my Mr Oechslin at home, or my Minerva Cal. 48 that turned out to be last project of 'old Minerva' and the first one of the then youngest watchmaker there...
Does this sound like I just submitted my declaration of love?
I hope you enjoyed this little report!
This message has been edited by Ornatus-Mundi on 2013-03-28 03:30:14