Diving Watches: From Sports Watches to Certified Icons
The watch industry is diverse and colorful, yet still small enough that you keep seeing the same names popping up. One such name is Philippe Dufour. With his white hair, watchmaker’s loupe, and a pipe in his mouth, Philippe Dufour embodies the prototypical master watchmaker. However, like his masterpieces, Philippe Dufour is anything but ordinary. He has achieved cult status among watch fans. Creations like the Simplicity and Grande et Petite Sonnerie have even earned him the title “The Pope of Watchmaking” in various forums.
Philippe Dufour was born in 1948 in the village of Le Sentier in the Swiss Vallée de Joux. You might argue that his birthplace was his first step toward becoming a career watchmaker. The seclusion and climate of this quiet valley helped the region develop into a center of watchmaking.
Philippe Dufour dedicated himself to watchmaking at the young age of 18. He began training in 1967 after his schooling ended. His first job was with Jaeger-LeCoultre – not a bad way to get started in the industry. Later, the young watchmaker decided to leave his familiar surroundings and gain experience outside of Vallée de Joux. He spent time in London, Frankfurt, and even the Caribbean, among other places. In 1974, he added two more names to his already impressive resume. After returning to Switzerland, he would go on to work for Gérald Genta and Audemars Piguet. Anyone with that résumé is ready for the next logical step: It was time to fulfill his dream of starting his own company.
In 1978, he set this plan in motion. Monsieur Dufour bought a workshop and all the machinery he needed to put his creativity and talent to work. At first, he restored antique and particularly complex timepieces. Doing so not only further improved his watchmaking skills but also allowed him to make a name for himself quickly by working in this niche branch. It, therefore, came as no surprise when his first movement followed soon thereafter. Even more impressively, it was a Grande Sonnerie – a complex complication that can relay the time acoustically every quarter hour or on demand. This movement was initially only available for pocket watches. His connections with manufacturers and his good reputation helped him start his career as an independent watchmaker. For example, Audemars Piguet ordered five of his movements. Yet despite the 2,000 hours of work, which Dufour claimed to have invested in the development of that movement, and finding his first buyer, he still couldn’t sell the watch under his own name.
At Baselworld 1992, Philippe Dufour finally presented his own brand and his first masterpiece: the Grande et Petite Sonnerie wristwatch. It immediately went on to win a gold medal for technical innovation. It’s not only his technical finesse that places Philippe Dufour in a bracket with the world’s finest watchmakers; above all, it’s his perfection and the finishing of his movements. In an interview with aBlogtoWatch, he addressed the perfection one must demonstrate as a good independent watchmaker. He’s aware that his customers expect nothing but the best and, at the same time, a personal signature. This handcrafted touch is what sets him apart from major manufacturers. That’s why he meticulously checks each screw and surface under the loupe. After all, an independent watchmaker could quickly lose their reputation if their particularly complex and high-priced watches revealed even the smallest production flaw. His designs may appear classic and simple at first glance, but the skills at play are highly challenging and require the utmost concentration and perseverance. As he stated in the same interview, such qualities are rare, making it hard for him to find a suitable successor. His basic models take about four to six weeks to complete. A Grande Sonnerie Minute Repeater, on the other hand, may take as long as ten months. Unsurprisingly, the waiting list for one of his watches is quite long.
Many people first associate Philippe Dufour with the Simplicity and the Grande Sonnerie. The Simplicity truly is an aptly named watch. It embodies elegant, clean design like no other. If you had to make a comparison, perhaps some models by A. Lange & Söhne would approach that same level of grace. The Simplicity made its debut in 2000. Dufour made about 200 copies of his “entry-level” watch. They come in precious metals like rose gold, white gold, and, of course, platinum. Whereas others typically specialize in one aspect of watchmaking, Dufour designed the entire movement himself, thus demonstrating his broad range of disciplines and skills. The watch’s finishing shows that he is more than just a master in this arena as well. When you look closely, you can see the individual decorative touches and sharp edges: For example, he combines Geneva stripes with other finishings and perfectly polished edges on the same watch component.
It’s no wonder that variants of the Simplicity have sold for prices over $250,000 at Christie’s.
When talking about Philippe Dufour, there’s no ignoring his Grande et Petite Sonnerie. The initial model, introduced at Baselworld 1992, was the first of its kind. After having developed the movement for pocket watches in 1982, it would take another ten years before he finished adapting it for a wristwatch. The watch relays the time in a series of chimes every 15 minutes, reminding its wearer not only of the time but also to periodically admire the perfectly finished enamel dial. For many, the second version of this watch with a sapphire dial is the most fascinating of his creations. Here, Dufour grants us a view of the wonderful movement from both sides.
What makes Philippe Dufour a name to remember? It’ll so more than just impress your watch buddies at the pub. For us, Monsieur Dufour stands for pure passion and the ambition to become the best at something, whatever challenges may arise. He’s set milestones in his craft, like the development of the first wristwatch with the Grande et Petite Sonnerie complication. A romantic in the watch industry, Philippe Dufour remains a real character, setting himself apart from the major corporations, machine finishing, and big marketing campaigns.