Photography by: Donnelly Marks
Since 2011, Jean-Marc Pontroué has been at the helm of the Roger Dubuis watch brand—steadily and successfully bringing the company to all new heights by continuing to differentiate it from others on a host of important platforms. From product to presentation, from high-tech mechanics to ultra-theatrics, Roger Dubuis continues to knock the socks off collectors.
In an exclusive Haute Time interview, Pontroué expounds on what really elevates this 20-year-young brand to pinnacle status rivaling some of the oldest watch brands on the market.
Recently, the Richemont Group purchased the full 100 percent of the Roger Dubuis brand. What does this mean moving forward?
Richemont had already owned a percentage of the business for nine years, so we were already operating with them as a major shareholder, so everything will stay according to the creeds that Roger Dubuis set when he started the company 20 years ago. Our goal was, and is, to build a brand that is one of the top five references in the Haute Horlogerie ‘Expressive’ segment. Roger Dubuis always said that to exist in this segment, the winning cocktail is to develop spectacular design when it comes to product and to offer technical content that has unquestionable credibility. This is why every watch we make carries the Geneva Seal. No one can question the quality or the credibility, when you have the Poinçon de Genève for every watch. That, combined with our innovative and expressive designs, works for us.
What are the differentiating factors of Roger Dubuis?
We are not like any other brand on the shelf today. Roger Dubuis is the watch that you get when you really want to stand out. The theatrics that surround our brand are a platform to tell the story of the products. Watches like our Skeleton double tourbillon are pieces that don’t look like anything else in the industry. These are not watches for everyone. These are watches that make a strong statement in terms of appearance, in terms of materials and in terms of mechanism, so you have these three elements that make a Roger Dubuis watch a piece of art on the wrist. They are the elements that appeal to the true collectors. To accomplish this, we bring our two teams (technical and design) together as equally important roles. They work side by side to create both movements and designs that are spectacular.”
You use the very unique term “theaterization.” Why do you spend so much time, effort and investment in creating huge stories and theatrics?
We spend all of our energy and resources to develop the brand based on differentiation and this is a part of it. If you want to exist in the most challenging markets and be on the radar of the most discerning customers, you have to be different. We do it in a very elaborate way. That is why we have a creative director at the executive level of the team; his role doesn’t really exist in the watch world, it exists in the fashion world. I believe that the success of Roger Dubuis today is associated with this added value of an additional “soul” given by the creative director who has an eye on every creative element of the brand from the business cards to the retail concept and all the other touch points for the customer to our brand. He insists we have to have a reason to do a product; there has to be a story behind it, it needs depth, relevance, and creativity. In the watch world there are so many messages given by so many brands that if we want to have a chance we have to have a great idea and make sure it is the right idea.
How is your development process, your creation of watches, different from others?
When we develop our products, we try to create things that don’t exist on the market. As soon as we have an idea, we ask, “Does it exist?” If the answer is yes, then we don’t do it. Our Excalibur is our iconic model–it is different from anything the other 700 brands on the market offer. It is identifiable immediately. We are able to create pieces like this because we hire people who have a thirst for extravagance in design and who have a curiosity and want to bring that into the watch development process. When we design, we don’t give them a briefing with parameters, we give them free time and free rein to come up with some spectacular, out-of-the-box ideas. This is how we developed the Excalibur Quatuor, a 4-balance wheel, silicium complication we launched three years ago. We got our creative team and watchmaking team together and the parameters we gave them were simple: develop something that gives the time and is different from anything else. That was our briefing. Today we build about 25 pieces a year at an average price of about $450,000.
This year you dedicated the entire SIHH to launching new women’s watches in the Velvet Collection. How important is the women’s segment to you?
It is one of the fastest-growing segments in the watch industry. We launched Velvet three years ago when we realized this was a growing segment in our portfolio. This year, after years of innovation for men taking precedence, and having seen that Velvet was so successful, we decided to have a bigger focus on Velvet. Then we realized that it has to be the only focus. As a brand of strong expressivity dedicated to high-end watches for men, we had to translate this appeal to women, so we decided to be very aggressive and focus the year on women’s only. It is a bet, a risk, because right now only 30 percent of our business is women’s, but it was worth it. When you take a risk, people generally support you. It is similar in the fashion industry. Few people wear the edgy haute couture pieces on the runways, but it is a statement that needs to be made. For a brand producing mostly men’s pieces in the high-end segment to come with women’s products as the total focus is disruptive, but important.
Are there plans with the new factory to increase production? Currently, it is estimated that Roger Dubuis produces just a couple of thousand watches per year; will this change?
At our new manufacture in Geneva, we have more than 200 people, but we won’t increase the product capacity. We need to stay exclusive. Right now about 50 percent of the business is in the haute horlogerie such as minute repeaters, tourbillons, double tourbillons, skeletons. We will keep that number and we will work on developing more in- house calibers. We already have a new movement planned for next year, but the exclusivity of our product will stay as is. Our sophisticated customers come to us because they don’t want to wear what everyone else is wearing.