Collector’s Guides • 24 Dec 2015

Philippe Dufour: The Last Of His Kind

by Amr Sindi


If Philippe Dufour is widely regarded as the single greatest watchmaker alive, it is not without merit.

Philippe Dufour was born in the watchmaking cradle of the Vallée de Joux, the region where his workshop is located today in the village of Le Sentier. After completing his education to become a watchmaker, he worked at Jaeger-LeCoultre for some time before heading to the Caribbean to take part in a watch assembly unit at General Watch & Co. Upon his return to Switzerland in 1974, Dufour was hired by Gerald Genta and subsequently Audemars Piguet.

Shortly after, yearning for independence, Dufour set up his own workshop, where he would restore antique timepieces for Osvaldo Patrizzi’s then nascent auction house Antiquorum. During this time, Dufour would hone his craft and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of how watches were made in centuries past.

He then created his first movement, a pocket watch with grande sonnerie, a project that eventually grew into an order of five watches by Audemars Piguet. Each pocket watch required some 2000 hours of work, with Dufour to creating each movement entirely on his own.

But Dufour was disheartened when his name appeared nowhere on the dial of the watch he had created, so he decided to take the road less traveled and strike out on his own. Uncompromising quality and an unparalleled level of superlative hand finishing would become his trademarks. In other words, creating the most perfectly finished watches.

Here are some of his most illustrious works.

Grande Sonnerie
In spite of his watches’ ultra-classical appearance and his insistence on traditional hand finishing and assembly techniques, Dufour’s illustrious career has not been short on innovation. His first wristwatch, for example, required him to scale down the grande sonnerie movement he made for the Audemars Piguet pocket watches. Dufour taught himself how to use computer aided design (CAD) software, using 21st century technology to design a wristwatch finished with 19th century techniques. After two years, he unveiled his own grande and petite sonnerie wristwatch, which he first presented during the Basel Fair of 1992. This was the first time ever a grande sonnerie striking movement was put into a wristwatch.

Philippe Dufour is the first watchmaker to incorporate the grande sonnerie striking movement in a wristwatch.
Philippe Dufour is the first watchmaker to incorporate the grande sonnerie striking movement in a wristwatch.

Duality
A few years after the marvel that was the grande sonnerie wristwatch, the man went on to create one of the most important modern wristwatches of our time. The Duality was the first ever wristwatch to have twin escapements linked by means of a differential system. The purpose of that construction was to produce an unassumingly simple watch with a pure design typical of the Vallée de Joux, housing a unique kind of movement that actually added to the watch’s chronometric performance rather than just being a complication for complication’s sake. Philippe Dufour has only ever made 9 examples of the Duality, so it’s no surprise that the Duality is one of the most sought-after time-only wristwatches ever made.

The Philippe Dufour Duality was the first ever wristwatch to have twin escapements linked by means of a differential system.
The Philippe Dufour Duality was the first ever wristwatch to have twin escapements linked by means of a differential system.

 

Simplicity
The third and perhaps only remaining Philippe Dufour watch that is currently in production is the Simplicity, which brings the classically minimalist aesthetic of the Duality into a simple, time-only watch. And while the Simplicity may not have the breakthrough innovations of the Duality or Grande Sonnerie, it is a showcase of true haute horlogerie finishing.

The Philippe Dufour Simplicity is a showcase of true haute horlogerie finishing.
The Philippe Dufour Simplicity is a showcase of true haute horlogerie finishing.

 

The Legacy of Traditional Watchmaking
One of Philippe Dufour’s greatest achievements is perhaps not so much the watches he made, but how he paved the way for other independent watchmakers. Philippe Dufour is one of the leading member of the AHCI, an association of independent watch- and clockmakers, a testament of Dufour’s unwavering support for fellow independents and his deep desire to perpetuate the know-how of those that came before him.

 *The products listed above have ceased production and are not available.


Amr Sindi

A Saudi-born, Swiss-bred watch lover who just so happens to live in the world capital of horology. What started as a childhood fascination quickly became an all-consuming obsession. Today, I'm fortunate to be able to live and share my passion for watchmaking and all things Swiss through The Horophile.


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