Dean Owen

5 years ago · 2 min. reading time · visibility ~100 ·

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Portrait of a Living Legend

Portrait of a Living Legend


Deep in the heart of Switzerland’s Jura mountains lives an unassuming but extremely charismatic gentleman by the name of Philippe Dufour.

It is quite possible, and highly probable that the name does not ring a bell. He has no need to advertise his creations in any shape or form. He maintains an almost invisible online presence with no official website, and yet has a waiting list, likely a decade long, of customers eager to part with upwards of $50,000 for each single hand-crafted masterpiece.

Philippe Dufour is well known amongst watch collectors as simply the greatest living watchmaker in the World.

Dufour started his career close to 50 years ago having attended a watchmaking school in the Vallée de Joux. In 1967 he was picked up by la Grande Maison, Jaeger-LeCoultre and apprenticed under the tutelage of master watchmaker Gabriel Locatelli. In 1974 Dufour moved on to work at Audemars Puguet and Gerald Genta before turning independent in 1978. Dufour remained close to his ex-colleague and mentor Locatelli, indeed Locatelli was one of the first people he invited to his new Atelier. The very first watch to roll off the workbench was actually assembled by Locatelli, but unfortunately a few months later he lost his life in a car accident.  To this day, Dufour often wears that very same watch, simply named Simplicity.

For decades, Dufour worked tirelessly on restoring old pocket watches and marveled at the complications contain within.  In the early 1990’s, Dufour launched his brand and stunned the world of horology with the creation of a Grande Sonnerie.  Incidently, it is extremely rare that Dufour watches turn up at auctions, but needless to say they perform extremely well when they do. In 2012, one such Grand Sonnerie achieved a hammer price of HKD 4.82 million (around $630,000) at a Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction.  

With each watch taking close to 2,000 hours of work, production was extremely limited. In 1996 he launched the Duality, a world first double escapement wristwatch, once again produced in tiny numbers. By this time, Dufour enjoyed almost legendary status half-way across the planet following a documentary that aired in Japan. To cater to his growing fan base, Dufour once again shook the world of horology by presenting a basic 3-hand watch at a mere 34mm that was hand finished to perfection. Dufour initially only intended to produce a run of 100 Simplicity watches, but with so many people willing to lay down a deposit to get on a waiting list, he eventually expanded the line to a further 100 watches, increasing the case size to 37mm, in total producing a mere 200 watches over a 12 year period.

In order to appreciate the attention to quality of a Dufour masterpiece, one really needs an eye loupe, or better still a microscope to examine the movement. Finishing is done by the master himself using old watchmaking techniques such as chafering, anglage and black polishing. It is a meticulous attention to detail that makes the Simplicity perhaps the most perfect watch ever made.


To this day, Dufour can often be found at his workbench during time off from his children.


I leave you with a wonderful video glimpse into the world of Dufour brought to you by the guys over on Hodinkee.com.

The Road to Basel Episode 2: Inside the Atelier with the Legendary Philippe Dufour.




Dean Owen is Co-Founder of Quimojo, a revolutionary new concept in Global Campus Recruitment


Photo and Video Credits: www.hodinkee.com


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Comments
Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #19

#21
Also just read this charming article on Japan and their love of fruit that might spark some memories: http://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/japan-luxury-expensive-fruit/index.html

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #18

#21
Thanks Jena. As you may see from your time in Japan, there are quite a few parallels between the Swiss and Japanese. I have not had the pleasure of meeting Dufour, but I did catch up with another unique watchmaker and if you enjoyed this, you might enjoy: https://www.bebee.com/producer/@dean-owen/exceptional-artisans-of-the-21st-century-martin-pauli

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #17

#16
Indeed, no website, no retail outlet, all word of mouth, and as you saw in the video, one might have to wait 6 years before receiving your watch (if you are lucky). Much appreciated Praveen Raj Gullepalli

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #16

#15
I am glad that this article insights passion that is not materialistic, but more of an appreciation of dedication and craftsmanship. Thanks for stopping by Ali Anani. The Simplicity is a grail watch for many collectors, and a grail that many will never achieve as they are simply too rare. They are certainly not the most complicated of watches, lacking much sought after complications such as perpetual calendars or tourbillons, but in terms of finishing, the techniques involved are exceptional. http://quillandpad.com/2016/03/02/behind-the-lens-the-philippe-dufour-simplicity/

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #15

#13
Thanks for stopping by Sara Jacobovici. The Quartz crisis in the 1980's almost wiped out the Swiss watch industry and CNC machining took the soul out of mechanicals. The industry had to adapt, and it's survival is often credited to Nicolas Hayek, Co-founder of the Swatch Group, but credit must also be given to the numerous independents like Dufour, who created desire by innovating and perfecting arduous and old techniques in finishing.

Ali 🐝 Anani, Brand Ambassador @beBee

Dean Owen- a great buzz and you convinced me time is an investment and an input. It takes Dufour nearly 2,000 hrs to make a watch that reads time! Time is patience and time is Simplicity- simplifying complicated processes with patience and sheer creativity.

Sara Jacobovici

Sara Jacobovici

4 years ago #13

@Dean Owen tells a timely story.

Sara Jacobovici

Sara Jacobovici

4 years ago #12

I echo the words of your readers Dean Owen wrote #8). It never ceases to amaze me how we express our creativity and reflect what we're drawn to or what awes us. Time is definitely a shared human experience, a universal, cross-cultural, cross-generational part of our existence and we have always tried, and continue, to make sense of it. The combination of creativity, artistry and craftsmanship that produces these watches, objects/devices, that measure time, have the power of transcending their function.

Paul Walters

Paul Walters

4 years ago #11

Dean Owen thanks for re posting as I would have never found this post. Great article !!

Lisa Gallagher

Lisa Gallagher

5 years ago #10

Such an interesting read Dean Owen, really enjoyed this article.

Qamar Ali Khan

Qamar Ali Khan

5 years ago #9

#7
Dean! Actually they are the people who have kept the traditions alive, real human traditions based on principles. They never compromise on principles. They're not only great craftsmen but role model human beings as well. If somebody wants to know how to be inspired, they just look at these living legends.

Kevin Pashuk

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #8

It is always inspiring to read about true artisans... in this case a watchmaker, but I have found them in every arena of life. For example, I watch (and am amazed at) the skill my wife has in dealing with people going through crisis. In my eyes, she is an artisan of compassion. Great posting Dean Owen!

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

5 years ago #7

Too true Qamar Ali Khan. Dufour left the established watch industry to go independent because he felt the industry had lost it's focus and became a huge marketing machine. He could easily now turn his reputation into a multi-million dollar brand, but is just happy to churn out around 5 watches a year now making no compromise on the quality of the product. There are watchmakers like Richard Mille lead hugely lavish lifestyles with models, race cars, speed boats and movie stars. Not Dufour. Thanks for reading and sharing! Much appreciated.

Qamar Ali Khan

Qamar Ali Khan

5 years ago #6

Brilliant work Dean Owen! It's so mazing to read your post and to watch the clip. People like Dufour are the symbol of real craftsmanship in this technology-driven era. Thank you for such a great knowledge!

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

5 years ago #5

Ahhh, a lesson to be learnt here that the best don't need to advertise. The ones that do, typically LVMH or Swatch group companies like IWC, understand that many luxury watch purchases are made overseas so a plane makes perfect sense.

Ken Boddie

Ken Boddie

5 years ago #4

Your impressive list puts my Casio Edifice to shame. I must admit, however, to perusing the photographs of impressive watches on flight magazines on my business trips. I wonder why they always appear to advertise there, since flying is no longer a luxury by any means? Good to know what makes you tick, Dean. :-)) #3

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

5 years ago #3

Indeed Ken Boddie, but not just the Swiss, but the Germans (Lang & Heyne, A. Lange & Sohne), but also the Brits, (Roger Smith), plus a number of highly skilled watchmakers in Russia (Konstantin Chaykin), Japan (Hajime Asaoka), Ireland (the McGonigle brothers) just to name a few.

Ken Boddie

Ken Boddie

5 years ago #2

L'Horlogerie Suisse, c'est magnifique, n'est ce pas? Thanks for sharing this great story and video, Dean. ⏱

Pascal Derrien

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #1

I like watches even though I dont wear any :-) great craftmaker !!!

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