December 15, 2014
by David Bredan
What you see here is a look that for a while now has been synonymous with Roger Dubuis: a large, round case with triple-lug design, a notched bezel and – the party-piece – an excessively skeletonized movement that makes any and all dials completely redundant. Gears, wheels, springs, cams, bridges, jewels, and other structural elements of the movement are exposed as much as possible, in a vast effort to create some serious eye-candy for the watch enthusiast – the kind not turned off by an arguably more flashy design. Making its debut at SIHH 2015 is a new piece that carries on this tradition, with a different approach: the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Automatic Skeleton, the first watch of this kind that does away with the tourbillon and offers this avant-garde aesthetic without the tourbillon’s hefty pricing premium.
For years on end, the tourbillon has in many ways been considered to be one of the absolute pinnacles of fine watchmaking – despite the fact that many master watchmakers I had the chance to chat with said that other complications, including a “simple” chronograph (when done right), are much more challenging to create from scratch, than a tourbillon. Anyhow, the tourbillon was a must-have for many ultra high-end brands when it came to creating their top-of-the-line models – state of the art materials, top quality finishing, and bespoke movements have been made “complete” with a tourbillon.
Now, very recently, we have been seeing a developing trend where some brands are tuning down their “non plus ultra” models, ridding them from the tourbillon, but leaving all other design elements – which made these pieces great – intact. This allows brands to deliver their trademark models to a (somewhat) wider audience – Richard Mille could arguably be considered to be one of the more successful brands who started offering some of its top references without tourbillons, say, for example, with the “Baby Nadal” and “Baby Bubba” pieces.
The Roger Dubuis Excalibur Automatic Skeleton may look familiar: for the untrained eye it looks deceivingly similar to the tourbillon models of the manufacture – although those more familiar with the finer details and mechanisms of watchmaking will spot the key difference right away. At the 8 o’clock position the tourbillon and its spinning cage have been replaced with a balance wheel, secured by skeletonized bridges and a mirror finished plate. The RD820SQ movement comprises 167 components, most of which have been grey rhodium plated to create that familiar, dark, and technical look we have become used to seeing in Roger Dubuis’ similar watches.
The skeletonization includes hollowed-out bridges, the most peculiar of which is the one found at the 4 o’clock position. This large, star-shaped constellation of five bridges hold the massive mainspring barrel in place, while between it and the balance is the swirling arrangement of wheels and purple jewels: the going-train. While there certainly are more affordable ways of showing your friends how a mechanical watch works, I still like the idea of being able to show the exact flow of energy from the barrel, through the going train, to the balance wheel on such a pompously styled watch. Hidden somewhere deep inside this tornado of eye-candy are some very interesting basic watchmaking principles.
Situated at the top left side of the – non-existent – dial is the micro rotor of the movement: another relatively rare and yet intriguing piece of watch movement design. Some of these pictures do not give away just how thick a piece of a metal it is. Although the micro rotor has been hollowed out (in an effort to make it work better aesthetically with the rest of the movement), it is crafted from a thick piece of metal (likely 18k gold or platinum), so as to give it enough momentum to properly wind the mainspring that supplies 60 hours of power reserve.
The Roger Dubuis Excalibur Automatic Skeleton will come in a 42 millimeter wide pink gold case, rendering this watch more wearable than its “big brothers” in the collections (several of the tourbillon versions were 45 millimeters in diameter). The Excalibur Automatic Skeleton will make its debut at the SIHH 2015 exhibition, and once it hits the stores, it will carry a price tag of $83,200. rogerdubuis.com