When we think of the big independents today, names such as Voutilainen, Dufour, Journe, and Smith come to mind. In fact, there is such a huge appreciation for independents today that it has become somewhat mainstream within collecting circles to own at least one watch from an independent brand.
Before all of this hype though, there was Daniel Roth. To be honest, in my opinion, the story of the Daniel Roth brand is a tragic one that could’ve worked out very differently.
To add some context, Daniel Roth was one of the most talented watchmakers of his generation and was responsible for many things you see today but do not realize. For one, he was a leading figure that established the design language of Breguet dress watches that you see today. In the 60s and ’70s, Breguet had become a below-average watch brand with no future, until they were acquired by Chaumet, who in turn brought in Daniel Roth to lead the helm. The reference 3130, with its guilloche dial and its straight-lugged case, set the tone for Breguet and was during the time of Daniel Roth. Moreover, he played a significant role in producing complicated movements for Lemania who may I remind you up until recently still provided the likes of Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin with chronograph calibers.
After that chapter of Roth’s life and entering into the ’90s, the independent brand ‘Daniel Roth’ began taking form. There are three distinct periods in the Daniel Roth brand, the early period when he was truly independent, the middle period when The Hour Glass was a stakeholder, and the final period when Bvlgari took over and Daniel Roth left the company.
This particular model is part of the revered first generation- a complicated and rare Perpetual Calendar. For a bit of historical context, this complication played a big role in Daniel Roth’s early days, with his goal to create the world’s first instantaneous perpetual calendar module. All perpetual calendars prior to this gradually shifted to their correct setting after 12 o’clock and to create one that created that magical ‘jump’ immediately required a huge amount of skill. Working together with none other than Philippe Dufour, the initial development that featured apertures did not work as well because of the power required to shift the wheels. The subsequent refinement resulted in what you see here, a highly modified Lemania 8810 ebauche with day, date, month, and leap year wheels using hands that jump instantaneously. This watch shares the same reference as the model with the aperture and is also considered a first-generation model and was released around the same time.
One of the persistent problems of perpetual calendars is the amount of information required to be displayed on a small dial of a watch and I do think that the 2117 executes this perfectly. With legibility and proportions a priority, this Daniel Roth Perpetual Calendar features a primary, silver brushed ring with elongated Roman numerals for the hour and minutes, with two sub-dials within it at 3 and 9 o’clock displaying the day and month. Overlaying this ring at 6 o’clock is a smaller sub-dial that displays the date and the leap year indicator inside it, all atop Daniel Roth’s signature grey ‘ligne’ textured dial.
I truly think that these Daniel Roth watches are hugely under-appreciated and it is a tragedy that the man himself does not get the recognition he deserves. Due to bad business decisions, several takeovers, and just pure bad luck, the brand Daniel Roth eventually ended up with Bvlgari, who today absorbed his distinctive case shape and branded it under their own. Compared to the original Roth pieces, which were elegant, understated, and beautiful, today’s reiteration by Bvlgari is a far cry from that- oversized and gaudy.
It does make me sad to see such a great watch brand tarnished, but as I have been an advocate for Daniel Roth for quite a few years now, it is great to finally see that early examples from the brand is coming back into the fore, getting the recognition it has always deserved.