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Gregory Bruttin learned technical knowhow from Roger Dubuis to create timepieces that shake the watchmaking industry

Audrey Simon
Audrey Simon8/16/2022 02:36 PM GMT+08  • 9 min read
Gregory Bruttin learned technical knowhow from Roger Dubuis to create timepieces that shake the watchmaking industry
Gregory Bruttin learned technical knowhow from Roger Dubuis to create timepieces that shake the watchmaking industry
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Singapore will always occupy a very special place in Gregory Bruttin’s heart. This is because the Lion City was one of the very first Asian cities Bruttin visited with his mentor, the late Roger Dubuis, in 2010. Watch connoisseurs will know Dubuis as the watchmaker who, according to worldtempus.com, set a high benchmark by insisting that the company’s entire production be certified in accordance with the strict requirements of the Poinçon de Genève, or Geneva Hallmark.

Bruttin now takes over the legacy that Dubuis started, a job that fell onto him about 20 years ago. Bruttin was in Singapore on a very brief trip and recalls the moment when he was on his sofa watching TV in his parent’s home and a call came for him. Bruttin recalls: “It was Mr Dubuis, who was my parent's friend. He told me that he was looking for people to work with him. Since I wasn’t doing anything, I said ‘yes’.” That was 20 years ago.

Armed with degrees in microtechnology and watchmaking microelectronics, and a Masters in Watchmaking Design from the University of Neuchatel, he began an incredible career with Dubuis and has not looked back. Bruttin has had the privilege of growing up with Dubuis and as a regular spokesperson for the Maison since 2010, he is fully acquainted with its inner workings.

Having started in the role of movement constructor in 2002, he moved on to become head of the brand’s Technical Office in 2009, prior to taking the lead for Movement Development in 2009, where he oversaw the development of Roger Dubuis’ self-winding movement, chronograph, minute repeater and famous skeleton movement. Bruttin was next appointed as technical director from 2012 to 2014, and headed the R&D and Watchmaking Department thereafter.

Fascinated by horological complications during his watchmaking studies, and particularly by the tourbillon, Bruttin always nurtured a desire to further improve on this ingenious idea. He is extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to lead the Movement Development team in bringing to life the Excalibur Quatuor, based on his groundbreaking vision and presented by Roger Dubuis in 2013.

Bruttin once compared the mechanical inspiration of the Quatuor to that of a four-wheel drive system connected by a differential. Proudly symbolising the mechanical magic of one of the most innovative Manufactures of the 21st century, this landmark model is doubtless the high point of Bruttin’s career to date. The Quatuor In, responsible for the overall creativity, heralded great things to come for Roger Dubuis and for Bruttin himself.

Just recently, Bruttin implemented the “Thinking Approach” concept which is a more cohesive approach. This involves ensuring the development of all elements – design, R&D and marketing of each timepiece – produced by the brand all happen in sync with each other. It also means reinterpreting cutting-edge technologies used in other industries and leveraging them for watchmaking.

He explains that this concept is one where everyone in the company gets an equal say. He says: “It's very important to create a place where everyone has the possibility to share their ideas about the development of a watch. It is my objective to put everyone – from the designer, the engineer and the watchmaker – together and come up with a product. This is how design thinking works and I think we are the only company to work like this in the watchmaking industry.”

The design thought process
When it comes to design, Bruttin starts off with a blank piece of paper and starts to sketch. He takes his time sometimes, going back to the drawing board a few times just to get it right. He trains the other watchmakers the same way and he never accepts the first idea. “I tell them to work on the idea 10 or 20 times more and then come back to me, because the first idea is never a good one,” he says.

Was this perhaps coming from his engineering background? He answers that it is, and more, as every design comes attached with emotions, an important factor in the world of watchmaking. He cites an example of the Blackberry, a smartphone developed for business before the iPhone was even a thing.

Bruttin says: “Blackberry was incredible and for business use, it was perfect but boring. It was a product for an engineer, but not a product for the end-user. So the challenge was to find the balance between emotion and technical qualities. That’s a big challenge. The great thing is, when you find the solution, it's very satisfying.”

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He is perhaps referencing this year’s Watches & Wonders novelties, the Excalibur Monobalancier. This timepiece was born during the pandemic, and Bruttin acknowledges that because of lockdown, time was on his side to redevelop a movement he was happy with. He adds: “Normally in the watch industry, it’s more about the vintage approach. You take a very old product, and you create a re-edition of it. You don't change it because you are using the same movement and you must respect the traditions – that is really important.”

Bruttin uses the BMW analogy of one launched in 2010 and the one launched this year. Basically, the essence of both cars is the same, but there are some minor differences and the changes are clear. “And it is what we wanted to do with the new Monobalancier. In terms of design, it's possible to see the improvement … it is an Excalibur, an automatic skeleton,” he says.

Design-wise, some elements have changed totally, such as the shape of the case design. In terms of finishing, there are a lot of options to make the changes from 10 years ago, but this was not an option for Bruttin. Small but very useful improvements are made such as increasing the performance by 20%. This is a watch that you take off on Friday and it is still working on Monday when you put it on; there is no need to reset your time. Bruttin says: “And we have a lot of small details inside the movement to better the software system … a lot of small improvements.”

Does this make it more of a challenge to create a watch from scratch or improve on the one you have? Bruttin explains that when you start with white paper, you can create something new. But it is different for an icon, such as the Excalibur with the double tourbillon. He cautions: “You don't touch your icon, because it's dangerous. To take the risk to modify your icon. It's a big challenge. Someone asked me if we would have two watches, a new one and a modified one, and I said ‘no way’. I get it that a client may prefer the previous version. I don't care that it's the new vision or not; if the client prefers the old version, it's possible to find one in the secondary market.”

Dubuis has mentored Bruttin well. He recalls that there is so much advice he gave him, but the one thing that sticks with him is: Be innovative, shake the watchmaking industry and respect tradition. Bruttin admits that this is a “bit of a schizophrenic approach” as it forces them to respect the watchmaker and at the same time to respect the creative process. To him, the respect for tradition resonates with him the most. Bruttin remembers Dubuis as a very kind man who taught him a lot about respect for the watchmaker and the people you work with. “I think this is why we are successful because each one is a part of the company. That's the most important element,” he says.

Bruttin’s life would have been different if Dubuis had not gotten him off the sofa and into the manufacture. We too are glad that Dubuis had found a portege with the skills and the personality that he nurtured until his passing in 2017.

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Time to express yourself

If there is a watch brand that can get its fans’ adrenalin rising, it has to be Roger Dubuis, which proudly describes itself as impertinent, excessive and slightly mad. Yes, it is about the ability to laugh, scream, roar and create. Can this cutting-edge Maison live up to this hype?

With the launch of Excalibur Monobalancier at this year’s Watches & Wonders 2022, yes. This timepiece is considered a must-have for a true Hyper Horology aficionado. In other words, a timepiece that “surpasses the norm. With highly admired complications and innovative mechanisms, this is a design that stands out with pride”, according
to the Roger Dubuis website.

Roger Dubuis watches are both hyper durable and hyper expressive. The striking ceramic cases prove the Maison's determination to master advanced hyper materials while showing what’s possible when reinventing a classic. Roger Dubuis’ ceramic is solidly black inside and out, four times harder than stainless steel.

Ceramic watches are not new and have been around for a while, but in the Roger Dubuis collection, ceramic timepieces stand out with a display of true prowess for one reason: a refusal to compromise when it comes to Maison's signature shape. Achieving the desired design result meant the entire overhauled manufacturing process, something unheard of in the watchmaking universe.

Nevertheless, Roger Dubuis made it work by taking ceramic from its raw form to the distinctive case it’s known for. This requires remarkable talent in dealing with the transformative grinding that takes 10 times as long as any other of its pieces. Only the boldest, most dedicated and skilled watchmaker would take on such a task.

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Here’s the technical explanation: It begins with a blend of powders made of zirconia combined with 3% stabilising yttrium, resulting in its hyper-resistant hardness. The hyper-skilled engineers transform these powders first into a blank and then through a machining process six times lengthier than the standard.

The subsequent sintering and heating take up to 48 hours. The final stage involves hand-finishing this hard material, which demands extreme craftsmanship and meticulous care. The effort is worth it; not only is the case hyper-resistant to daily scratches, but this step also achieves the immutably bold black finish.

Refusing to tarnish or reduce in intensity over time, Roger Dubuis’ radiant black ceramic is where hyper durability meets hyper expressivity in a single timepiece.

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