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.
In 1995, Daniel Roth joined forces with The Hour Glass Group and the example you see here today is part of that period. While any early Daniel Roth piece is considered hugely desirable, there are still a few pieces in the Hour Glass period that I think is great and worthy of being included, maintaining the spirit of early Roth pieces.
This particular model is just that- a complicated and rare Perpetual Calendar that has been Openworked to perfection. 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 eventually resulted in what you see here, a highly modified Girard Perregaux caliber which succeeded an earlier Lemania ebauche with day, date, month, and leap year wheels using hands that jump instantaneously.
While the more ‘common’ models are of those with Roth’s classic grey guilloche dial, a few special examples were made with movements that had been skeletonized. Finished excellently and decorated with skill- this is not a watch that you will see every day, combining ingenious watchmaking engineering that is displayed like a work of art.
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 are coming back into the fore, getting the recognition it has always deserved.