I don’t think it’ll cause much shock when I say that the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Chronograph’s looks are an acquired taste. For many I think that would be putting it mildly, and for a few more they’d probably rather burn their devices than see any more of this—but for me, despite its quirks, despite its oddities, the Excalibur Chronograph is a strong guilty pleasure, a definite must in the hypothetical ultimate collection. Let me explain why.
The age-old expression, “never judge a book by its cover”—a phrase first coined by John R. Book in 1902 after numerous judgements of character were made on him because of his particularly fancy hat—has never been more applicable than with the Roger Dubuis Excalibur. As a watch brand, Roger Dubuis has evolved in a direction that many don’t see eye to eye with, but it’s actually a direction built on top of the underlying premises on which the brand was forged by the man himself, Roger Dubuis Excalibur Chronograph.
His death two years ago marked a devastating blow to the community. He was one of the last people to learn the true method of hand-crafted watchmaking, cutting his teeth on repeaters and perpetual calendars—for Patek Philippe no less, and before the advent of complex CNC—and he used those skills in the execution of incredible complications like the world-first Bi-Retrograde Perpetual Calendar for Harry Winston. This was a man who would work on watches all day long—then go home and work on watches all night for fun. There are watchmakers and there are watchmakers, and Dubuis was most certainly the latter.
The chronograph, as well as the perpetual calendar, was where Dubuis would first take his solo adventures in watchmaking. Basing his work on the same Lemania chronograph utilised by Patek Philippe, Dubuis, with his own hands, produced the first calibre outside of Patek Philippe to be both awarded the Geneva Seal and certification from the Besançon Observatory. Needless to say, Dubuis could not make enough of them.
But it wasn’t all about what was going on inside the watch. Whilst the first Hommage piece looked decidedly traditional, with just the dial hinting at Dubuis’ intentions, the follow-up Sympathie revealed the personality behind the brand for the first time. A bulging square case flanked by elaborate lugs took Roger Dubuis from just an independent alternative to Patek Philippe to becoming its own brand. What remained was the utmost quality, the certifications, but now there was character too.
The Roger Dubuis Excalibur Chronograph collection soon followed, the boldest expression yet—and by far the most divisive. The visual impact is, shall we say, impressive, but regardless of your feelings towards this eye-catching aesthetic, this is a watch universally worth greater consideration. It was the first step of a new era for Roger Dubuis after the retirement of its founder, and it is every bit as emphatic and incredible as the visions he’d had for his brand when he was working at Patek Philippe.
Looks are of course subjective, but whether you like them or not, as someone who is drawn to watches of the most remarkable calibre there is no doubt that this one should earn your attention. That’s because the thread that has run from the very start of Dubuis’ career and into the core of the brand today still stands—an utmost, uncompromising dedication to excellence. So let’s turn this watch over and find out what it’s really all about.
It’s interesting that in Dubuis’ transition from a watchmaker working under the name of another, Patek Philippe, to a watchmaker working under his own name, his vision could not be immediate. He had established his credentials already, but still he needed to wean customers off the idea of extreme conservatism and onto a new way of thinking—his way of thinking.
The first watch, the Hommage, was completely unabashed in its eponymous purpose, its design for the fledgling bland written in its very name, offering an easier stepping-stone for long-time Patek Philippe customers to venture into something new and exciting. The styling may have mutated since, but from the back, nothing has changed one iota.
Well, it has changed, because it’s now the in-house calibre RD78, but what I mean is that the mentality behind it hasn’t changed. You’ll still see the Geneva Seal, and you’ll still see how this movement earned it. Where the Hommage was a manually wound watch, however, the RD78 has a micro rotor for winding duties, a decision deliberately made to leave the exquisite chronograph mechanism on full show.
And not only does it look exquisite—and we’ll get onto that in a moment—but it feels exquisite, too. This is an often-overlooked factor of a fine chronograph, even from manufacturers like Patek Philippe, but for Roger Dubuis and the RD78, the feel of the chronograph pushers for start, stop and reset is consistent, light, but satisfyingly positive. It’s a small thing, yet it has a big impact, adding a level of enjoyment to the watch that’s incredibly tactile.
The experience for the eyes, however, is no small thing, truly on par with the very best. This is an in-house movement in the staunchest sense, from screw to spring and everything in between, and not only has it been built exclusively by Roger Dubuis, it’s been finished to the highest standards as well. Earning the Geneva Seal is no easy feat, a process containing many difficult hoops through which to jump, designed with the sole purpose of maintaining the standards and traditions the watchmaking city has come to be known for.
The use of this decoration borders on the artful, with the regulator tipped with arrows, the micro rotor housed within a cage themed for the brand, the column wheel capped in what must be a nod to Dubuis’ time at Patek Philippe. Collectively it is very, distinctly Swiss—but it avoids the trap of becoming generically so. The name Roger Dubuis need not be present on the back to tie the RD78 with this incredible—and incredibly discordant—watchmaker.
Whether classic or contemporary, the works of Roger Dubuis Excalibur Chronograph are undoubtedly some of the best known in horology, and that makes the controversial Excalibur Chronograph a must-have guilty pleasure in any dream collection. Those earlier watches—particularly the ones crafted by the man himself—are quickly becoming collector’s items, and soon that will present the Excalibur as something of a bargain. You don’t have to like the way it looks, but you sure as anything should love the way it goes!