Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

In recent years, as fierce competition between high-end brands and luxury groups has further intensified, watch certifications have stepped up as a favored weapon of choice, functioning as yet another quality-differentiating factor, if you like. The problem, though, is that these certifications – including important factors such as their exact criteria and required processes, as well as what they really mean to the consumer and for the value of a timepiece – are much less well known or understood.

Take the Geneva Seal, Poinçon de Genève, or Hallmark of Geneva – many fancy names for one fancy title – for example; this prestigious certification likely requires a bit more clarification. It is widely known that the Geneva Seal brings with it a certain assured level of decoration quality, but what it actually means in haute horlogerie terms, what it delivers to the owner of the watch, and how it is achieved in practice are scarcely talked about as a whole. After a long week at SIHH 2016, we stayed in Geneva to visit the Roger Dubuis manufacture, and discover how Poinçon de Genève movements are manufactured and decorated – because there is hardly a better place to do so than Roger Dubuis which has all of its movements decorated and tested to bear the Geneva Seal. Here's all you need to know about the Hallmark, and what it takes to obtain it.

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

Geneva-based Roger Dubuis will surely need no introduction, as it has already made a name for itself as an avant-garde brand that never shies from realizing some of the more daring concepts under the aegis of the Richemont group. While other, age-old brands must be especially careful not to step on each others' toes as they practice excessive care to conserve their heritage, Roger Dubuis can busy itself, making no apologies about coming up with bold-sized, over-complicated watches - which, nonetheless, never lose focus on quality of workmanship.

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

What's truly interesting about how Roger Dubuis developed its own style, though, if you think about it, is the fundamental role of movement design – it isn't merely about in-your-face case designs and distinctive branding efforts (there is no shortage of those either, of course), but proprietary movement layouts you can spot from the other end of the imaginary ballroom. This mix between design, movement architecture, and finishing is what makes this look into their manufacture on the outskirts of Geneva truly interesting.

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

The brand Roger Dubuis was officially established in 1995, although Mr. Dubuis started his own independent career in 1980 when he left Patek Philippe, having spent 14 years with the company developing high-complication movements. The Roger Dubuis brand has been owned by Richemont since August 2008 – and you can tell the brand has benefited from some new oversight and, as a result of that, better consistency throughout its product ranges.

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

All that corporate talk in reality translates into a brand that, as we said further above, is hands-down the most daring, boldest company in the Richemont group. Sure, there are numerous very cool pieces and niche collections produced by other "sister companies" – Cartier, Lange, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Piaget all produce some breathtakingly daring watches – but Roger Dubuis very much stands on its own by having nothing but comparably bold pieces in all its collections. Being bold just for the sake of being different rarely works out, though – especially when there is a genuine interest and fascination with high quality finishing rooted in the DNA of the brand.

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

When setting up his new brand back in 1995, it was a given for Roger Dubuis that the brand would have to be positioned in the haute horlogerie, or high-end watchmaking, segment. However, because it was (and actually still is) a very young brand, it had to find a way to justify and prove its efforts to the watch-loving masses. This is where an independent certification – you guessed it: the Geneva Seal – comes into the picture.

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

Brief History Of The Geneva Seal

Funnily enough, in the late 1800s the Hallmark of Geneva was originally conceived with a very similar intent: to testify to the superior quality of properly manufactured timepieces made in the region. You see, starting from the mid-1800s, an ever-increasing number of "dishonest" manufacturers were labeling their inferior watches as "Geneva made," abusing and damaging this precious designation.

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

Consequently, watch manufacturers sought the help of the parliament of the Republic and Canton of Geneva so as to enforce by law the conditions related to the use of the "Geneva made" term. Their cries found receptive ears and, on November 6, 1886, the Hallmark of Geneva, an independent label of quality, was established. It included an office for the voluntary inspection of watches, as well as for the application of the Canton’s official hallmark on watches and movements.

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

In short, the Hallmark of Geneva was conceived to serve as a fully independent certification that would separate, highlight, and protect superior quality timepieces. Needless to say, that feat is only possible through a set of strict conditions that watches must meet – conditions which have changed and evolved over time. To clarify, today the Geneva Seal certification is run by the Foundation of the Geneva Laboratory of Horology and Micro-engineering, also known as Timelab. Let's see what these requirements are and how Roger Dubuis fulfills them.

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

The Geneva Seal Requirements

First and foremost: "Only mechanical watch movements and additional modules crafted based on the finest watchmaking practices in compliance with the approval criteria for the 'Poinçon de Genève' shall be considered. Assembly, adjustment and casing-up of the movement and the additional module shall be performed in the Canton of Geneva. The applicant must be registered with the Trade Register of the Canton of Geneva."

The focus on Geneva-based manufacturing is obvious – which explains why some major companies have purchased ateliers or moved into "partner facilities" to produce their Geneva Seal-qualified movements. The location limitation is strict, and there is no way around it: manufacturing and casing up has to happen in the Canton of Geneva, period.

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

Specifically, the following steps must absolutely happen in the Genevan manufacture:

  • Assembly – assembling all the constituent components on a movement and an additional module,
  • Adjustment – mounting, starting, and adjusting the regulating organ in the movement,
  • Casing-up – fitting the dial and hands, inserting and securing the movement in the watch case. Each movement and watch case must be individually numbered.

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

Furthermore, the different steps for obtaining the Poinçon de Genève include complying with these additional steps:

  • Approval [by the Foundation of the Geneva Laboratory of Horology and Micro-engineering that "governs" the Geneva Seal] of the movement, additional modules and the external components.
  • Hallmarking the movement with the “Poinçon de Genève”
  • Certification of the movement, additional modules, and the external components.
  • Certification of the “watch head,” or cased-up watch.
  • Printing of the watch certificate.

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

...let's take a deep breath and see how all this bureaucracy translates into an actual certification process. We'll start with the movement.

Whenever Roger Dubuis wants to have a new movement certified to have the Geneva Seal, they have to send engineering drawings, all movement components, an assembled movement, as well as all external (case) components to Timelab. They will approve the design and quality of execution and hold onto these parts and the assembled movement as a reference or "master copy."

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

Now, the question is, how is this reference quality maintained and certified for each watch by the Geneva Seal? Well, this is probably one of the most common misconceptions regarding the Seal. It is widely believed (and echoed time and again) that finished watches are sent to somewhere off-site where their quality is checked and certified, only to receive the Geneva Seal. What actually happens is that Timelab does not individually certify all Geneva Seal watches off-site, but rather monitors and audits the manufacturing and quality checking processes that happen in-house. There are a few more elements to this that we'll discuss further into the article.

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

While well over a million uncased movements (closer to around 1.5 million) are sent off to COSC for chronometer certification each year, there are a number of reasons why it is not possible to have watches sent to an off-site location to be certified for the Geneva Seal.

You see, to move with the times – and to respond to not exactly unsubstantiated criticisms – the Geneva Seal requirements have been considerably updated on the hallmark's 125th anniversary. Up to that point, the Geneva Seal only certified the quality of movement finishing, but was not at all concerned with timekeeping accuracy or the quality of other components – like the dial or the case. So, in 2011, the list of requirements was considerably updated to include accuracy, power reserve, water resistance, and watch function tests, as well as requirements for external components.

Everything You Need To Know About How Geneva Seal-Quality Movements Are Made By Roger Dubuis Inside the Manufacture

To create a third-party facility from scratch that would allow for testing an ever changing number of submitted timepieces would be extremely expensive – and largely unnecessary and wasteful as well, since all compliant watch manufactures already have to have all these quality check departments in-house anyway. Hence, the answer for Timelab and the Geneva Seal was to authorize and audit these in-house procedures (along with manufacturing processes), instead of performing them once again externally.

So, let's see now what exactly makes a Geneva Seal movement...

  • Waaait a minute…that’s not Roger Dubuis on the article photo

    • Roger’s son Ariel Dubuis?

      • Shinytoys

        from his first marriage 🙂

  • Love the photo of the eyeglasses looking at the movement.

    • David Bredan

      Thank you, Mark! 🙂

  • SuperStrapper

    Holy moly, that was a lot! Great article, and a fun read. I’ve always been a fan of this brand, and this just further explains why. Also, the manufacture itself is a beautiful building.

  • iamcalledryan

    What a great article David. Looks like a fun day out too!

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Lucky man. I would love to wander round that building.

  • BNABOD

    whoa impressive

  • Shinytoys

    Super piece David. I do love this brand ! Very informative and the photos are top shelf !

  • peacesun

    Ariel and David look like doctors with their microscopes and I’ve been to Geneva, Switzerland, and have seen watchmakers at work.

    • Tim Mosso

      Well, Ariel *is* a JD 😉

  • wallydog2

    Holy moly, I feel shabby. Somehow, favourite watches in my modest collection seem like poor country cousins bought at Watches r Us Discount Warehouse in Kaladar, Ontario. I think I’ll become a monk.

  • Larry Holmack

    Awesome article David!!! Loved the pictures and all the “inside” info on the whole process!!! This is why I love reading this Blog so much!!!

  • cg

    Aside from fit and finish and few measurements are there movement design traditions that must be part of the criteria? Very extremely good article… . btw what is the guy working on with a lineman’s pliers and a 10mm box end wrench?

    • peter_byford

      I personally couldn’t care less whether they use hammers & chisels lol ! All the tools on display probably cost more individually than the watch you are wearing ha ha !…………..
      ” The means justifies the end “…….Dubuis certainly do that !

  • Boogur T. Wang

    Very informative and well-written piece Mr. Bredan. Especially nice photos detailing the steps referred to.
    Well done !

  • Mike Darwin Brown

    Top notch!

  • frauss

    And all this wasn’t good enough for Patek? They had to create their own mark? Wonder why. Maybe an argument with these guys?

    • peter_byford

      Hi .
      Most Pateks carry the Cotes de Poincons ( Geneva ) seal on their movements, so I don’t have any argument with that. That coveted award is awarded by an independent panel of Master watchmakers answerable to no-one. Patek decided to pronounce to the world that their movements would carry PP engraved on their movements as a sign to everyone of the standard to aspire to. Sorry, that evaluation is for independent assessment, & IMHO, smacks of pretension & gloating, more akin to self regulation in the banking industry…….no one really believes it lol !

  • peter_byford

    It’s about time, long overdue actually, that this site got around to Roger Dubuis. A young Co quietly ( unlike Hublot lol ! ) going about it’s business of producing watches up to hard-earned Cotes de Poincons standards of finish etc, that I’ve mentioned in previous comments on site. What the article fails to mention is that the award of the Geneve seal is subject to passing all the criteria set, not just a handful…..fail on just one & it’s not awarded. Said criteria has changed from ‘finish/decoration’ to also include movements & performance , so getting the coveted award is even harder today than what it was historically. IMHO this is the pinnacle of watchmaking today, not the offerings of the’spectacular’, ‘gifted’ & ‘legendary’ Philippe Dufours & his ilk whose offerings are simply not good enough on any level to even be considered, by comparison lol ! ………If I could afford to, it’s Roger Dubuis I’d turn to for a piece, closely followed by Lange…………..eat your heart out long established PD, AP, PP, RM, Hublot etc, etc.

    • iamcalledryan

      I agree with everything you say except for that anti-Dufour/AP/PP/RM sentiment. I can’t think of any Geneva Seal criteria that PD falls short of. Roger Dubuis are excellent regardless of other brands.

      • peter_byford

        Hi.
        Yes, I’m a little anti-Dufour from a watches & social standpoint….but I’m entitled to voice an opinion even if it is counter to the ‘pack’ view. I don’t think his finish is as good as I’ve seen on lesser watches ( but you knew that anyway lol !), the gears, plates etc etc. One of the criteria he fails on to gain the Geneve seal is the lack of quality blued screws on the movement, the 2 holding his name plate aren’t enough really & I’ll voice an opinion that they are low quality anyway….even screws have a low to high hierarchy. It’s still open to debate that he buys in ebauches & finishes them, so ” No” he’ll never get the coveted Geneva seal for the reasons stated…………..I dislike the fact he left 40 people’s
        ‘ made in good faith ‘ ( possibly with paid deposits ) orders in the lurch ,possibly permanently . There was no force majeure involved, he sacked his loyal workforce on a whim, criticising them & the Swiss watch-making industry as a whole too ( not provable or measurable, purely his opinion ) Any other industry, ship-building, aircraft, oil rig production etc etc would have demanded financial compensation penalties ?

        As to my dislike of Patek & other snobbish Co’s ( Ferrari ) who methinks assume too much, selling by invitation only, to existing customers only , interviewing prospective buyers for their suitability to own one of their overpriced pieces ( The Stern family dynasty aren’t worth $3 billion for nothing lol !) . I could mention that Patek automatic movements are slightly dumbed down nowadays , thanks to adopting a Rolex shortcoming, but I’d be open to criticism for being pedantic ha ha !

  • Tim Mosso

    Well done, David! I know that researching, structuring, and editing an article of this depth is one bear of a task. There are a few points that I’d like to add as backup to a great writeup:

    -Roger Dubuis *has* executed the Geneva Seal on carbon fiber movement components, and this retro-futurist treatment can be seen on the Pulsion family originally launched in 2012.
    -Roger Dubuis also is responsible for the assembly, finishing, and Hallmark certification of those Cartier watches that receive the Poincon (it’s how Chaux-de-Fonds Cartier gets “Geneva” endorsements).
    -You mention the specialization of hairspring creation and pinning as one area where the Hallmark guidelines allow flexibility to accommodate outside suppliers, so it’s worth noting that Roger Dubuis is among the elite few within Geneva (and the industry at large) that don’t rely on outside agencies for hairspring supply; they’ve been manufacturers of hairsprings since 2004/5.
    -There’s a new Geneva Seal application technology afoot, and I’m not certain if it’s been implemented just yet. A conference was held about a year ago concerning the phase-in of a hallmarking process that was more of a chemical etch than a physical stamp. The rationale for this proposed change was the structural warping that actual stamping sometimes imposes on the most delicate bridges and plates. Did you hear anything about the time table for arrival of this process while researching this article?
    -This may have been lost to history and probably can’t be included in the article for political reasons, but a great deal of the modern imagery of Roger Dubuis watches must be credited to Carlos Dias. Mr. Dubuis was the figurehead and ambassador for the brand as launched, but Dias ran the company, designed the watches, and controlled the finances. He’s been gone since the 2008 Richmont buyout (and Dubuis, ironically, is back), but Dias deserves recognition for laying the ground work of RD as a true manufacture and the now signature marriage of outlandish style with outstanding finish.

    Again David, your article is an opus, so I’m just happy to add a few footnotes to a job well done.
    Best,
    Tim

    • iamcalledryan

      Great footnotes!

    • peter_byford

      Hi Tim

      Yes, news I hadn’t heard of. The last listing I saw for the base 12 criteria to be judged on was for 2007 ! So I’ll be on the lookout for the new standards that now encompass movements in terms of innovation & performance too. ……..I always thought it unfair that a brand that simply bought in ebauches, decorated & cased them up, could get the Seal when the likes of Roger Dubuis who build their movements from the the ground up, truly being their own creations , are judged on the same ‘finish’ criteria alone. To be fair to Cotes de Poincons, it has always been in their mandate to change the criteria in line with advances in all aspects of the watch-making process, but I’m delighted that this measurable ‘Seal of approval’ is now, at first blush, going to be very hard earned in the future, whenever start date is . Let us know if you get a more detailed insight into the new , more stringent, standards not just the new etching process……..Roger Dubuis will have absolutely no problem in meeting them, I’m pretty damn confident of that !……Wish I could afford one lol !

  • Marco Sampuel

    Great article it catch me up since the beginning. It is truly impressive all the criteria that watches must attain in order to get the Seal. Thanks David!

  • egznyc

    Fascinating article – really great to see such in-depth reporting on a subject many of us would find of interest, and on which it may be difficult to learn more in the absence of such reportage.

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  • FrankD51

    Excellent article that I just came across today. One thing that hasn’t been discussed is why the Geneva Seal standards were overhauled to include performance, and one of the reasons is Roger Dubuis’ performance prior to Richemont’s purchase of the company. In that dark period after Dubuis (the man) left the company and Richemont buying it (6 or 7 years) Carlos Dias was sending tons of finished watches out of the factory that were defective even when carrying the Geneva Seal since performance wasn’t part of the criteria. He needed the cash flow to keep the company going. This so damaged the reputation of the Seal that it is one of the reasons Patek Philippe made their own performance criteria, the ‘PP’ seal they now use. Richemont had a mess to clear up once they bought the company, and that included clearing the dealer inventories of new, but defective, watches. Production now is of Seal quality, including performance, but Carlos Dias did a lot of damage to the brand, and the Geneva Seal, that took years to sort out.

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