When we think of the big independents today, names such as Kari Voutilainen, Philippe Dufour, F. P. Journe, and Roger 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, which in my opinion, sits right at the top of the pyramid amongst the very best when it comes to independent brands.
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 Ref. 3130, with its guilloche dial and its straight-lugged case, set the tone for Breguet and was created by 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 calibres.
Following that period in Roth's life and with the arrival of the 1990s, the independent watch brand 'Daniel Roth' began to take shape. Among the early models introduced by Roth, the most iconic one is arguably the 2187 Tourbillon, which is showcased and offered here today. This particular example, though not explicitly known, appears to be a unique execution (piece unique) with salmon guilloché dials on the front and back. While it bears unmistakable Daniel Roth design elements, one can undoubtedly observe how his previous experience working at Breguet influenced the stylistic and technical savoir-faire in his designs. This fantastic example here features an elegant 35mm x 38mm 18-carat white gold ‘ellipso-curvex’ case and houses a beautifully finished one-minute triple-armed tourbillon at the lower half of the dial. Attached to the cage are three heat-blued hands of differing lengths that act as a second counter corresponding to the three-tiered display positioned right above the tourbillon cage. Not only was showing a tourbillon at the front not done back in the day, but the display of seconds was another original Roth idea.
The primary dial at the front itself is another marvel all on its own, featuring a few nuanced components including a rich salmon-toned top half with a delicate hand engine-turned vertical ligne (pinstripe) guilloché pattern, as well as a sub-dial hosting black Roman numerals that is knurled over the edges, adding a multitude of depth and visual contrast to the dial. On the reverse side, there is a second dial (also salmon-toned) that also features all of the aforementioned details, displaying the date and the power reserve.
Generally, tourbillon watches these days are often perceived as slightly crude and lacking elegance, but this 2187 Tourbillon defies that notion entirely. From the beautifully polished tourbillon bridges to the overall layout and conservative proportions of the watch, it is, in my opinion, a true benchmark of great watch design. Furthermore, everything from the choice of font to the contrasting guilloché patterns really contributes to giving the 2187 Tourbillon a real ‘hand-made’ feel.
Coming back to the story of Daniel Roth, there are three distinct stages that defined his legacy as an independent watchmaker. Beginning with the early period when he was in full control and at the helm. Of course, this period is the most collectable not only because of its historical importance but also because of the quality of watches that came out was the best. With pieces made only of precious metals, no corners were cut. Later on, after much success, 1995 marked the second chapter of the brand. It is unknown why, but The Hour Glass, one of the biggest watch retailers in the world bought a majority stake in the brand and that is when things started turning sour. While there certainly remain some pieces from that era that are beautiful, the quality began dropping with some questionable designs. The whole story cumulates in the final chapter where The Hour Glass was forced to sell Daniel Roth to Bvlgari due to the Asian Financial Crisis, marking the end of any involvement by its founder.
In the past, I’ve repeatedly expressed my utter disappointment in the direction and reality of Daniel Roth today which was taken over by Bulgari, who absorbed his distinctive case design and branded it under their own. Oversized, gaudy, and inelegant – these reiterations were clearly a far cry from the original. But with the brand’s recent revival featuring the new Tourbillon Souscription, I am elated to see that Daniel Roth is finally getting the recognition it deserves, and is now one step closer to regaining its footing in the industry once again.
On a side note, having pursued some of the world's most elusive and extraordinary timepieces over the years, I must confess that this example of the Daniel Roth 2187 Tourbillon stands out as one of the most exceptional timepieces I've come across and handled, if not the most exceptional one, period. The unique combination of the salmon-toned dials and the mesmerizing guilloché pattern, encased within a Roth signature ‘elipso-curvex’ case creates an unmatched allure, especially when worn on the wrist and you see its dial shimmer under different lighting conditions. It is a genuine delight and my absolute pleasure to be able to offer this elusive example of a mechanical work of art on the site today.