The Purists (TP) : Mr. Dias, you have a doctorate in political science, you were a furniture designer and you owned a publishing house. How did you come to watches?
Carlos Dias (CD): Passion brought me to watches. I bought my first watch when I was 18. I was always fascinated by the watch my grandfather had bought in Brazil, it was a minute repeating pocket watch and the chimes mesmerized me.
I left Portugal when I was 17 for Paris to complete my studies, and thatís where I bought my first watch for my 18th birthday. It was a Reverso and from that day on I was bitten by the watch bug. I was particularly attracted to vintage and antique pieces. I started collecting pocket watches and progressively came to wrist watches.
Anyway, I left Paris for Italy to open my apparel company and from there to Geneva. I became an avid visitor of the Galerie díHorlogerie Ancienne which later became Antiquorum and thus perfected my knowledge of horology. Its there that in 1980 I met Roger Dubuis who was doing restoration work for them after having spent 15 years at Patek Philippe. By then I was really getting into watches and was thinking more and more seriously in making a business out of my hobby.
In 1990 I created Mondial Art which dealt with antique pocket watches and in 1993 I helped a friend of mine who wanted to create his own watch brand, a brand which today in encountering many problems (note: Frank Muller). In 1994 I decided to launch my own brand and contacted Roger Dubuis as to work together. In honor of a man, which I respect and due to the friendship I have for him, I decided to name the brand Roger Dubuis. We started off with one employee in the summer of 1995 and Roger joined us about 4-5 months later.
TP: Was it easy creating your own brand with regards to supplies and movements?
CD: Very, very difficult. Today we are here because of many sacrifices but also of enthusiasm and perseverance. If I was to start anew Iím not sure I would, since all that I went through has left many scars. I am a happy man because of all that we have achieved. In the beginning I had such high goals that reaching them was almost superhuman but it was a gratifying personal challenge.
TP: What about the fact that you were not born Swiss?
CD: Its already not easy when you are Swiss but imagine for a foreigner. Take the difficulties and multiply by 10!
TP: What is exactly your position within the company?
CD: I am founder, owner and designer. Ever since the first day, nothing has been done without going through me first. Its 100% Carlos Dias!
TP: How do you explain that in 10 years you have acquired such a reputation in the closed world of Haute Horlogeries?
CD: We created the brand in 1994 but presented our first watches in 1996. Why our success? Well, I think that we took the dust off some aspect of high horology. For me it was a must to create watches with movements bearing the Geneva Hallmark and this at a time where many brands were abandoning it. I believe that we contributed in rehabilitating the Geneva Hallmark. Anyway, we should not see everything in big to start and to have a successful business you should take one step at a time. The company did not start off as Manufacture Roger Dubuis but as SOGEM: Sociťtť Genevoise de Montres. I wanted to create a manufacture and verticalise the production but out of respect to those who are true manufactures and not to usurp this term I did not use this word. The day we became a true manufacture I had the name changed from SOGEM to Manufacture Roger Dubuis, and I believe this was deserved. All this to say that we have been honest since the beginning. We never presented ourselves as an haute horlogerie brand and did not make any extravagant promises. The seriousness of our venture opened the arms of the public, journalists and dealers.
TP: I have heard that you are working on creating your own hairsprings.
CD:(laughing) Letís say that we have been a manufacture for some time and are 100% independent for the past year and a half!
TP: Can the leave of Roger Dubuis for retirement have an effect on the brandís future?
CD: Roger was responsible for the technical aspects and not creation or design and this will have no negative effect on the brand. Roger left because after many years of hard work he wanted some rest, but he is still greatly implicated in the company.
TP: What is your annual production?
CD The maximum (big smile). We are far from where we started and not yet where we want to be! To answer your question, last year we had a 3-digit increase in our sales even with the war in Iraq, SARS and the economic uncertainties. This year as of April 2004 the orders represent double of last yearís production!
TP: Talking about designs, who chose the names of your different models which I find quite original. I can guess where Follow Me comes from but what about the others?
CD: The first line was the Hommage , a tribute to my friend Roger Dubuis, the second was the Sympathie, I drew the first sketches of this watch, a circle in a square, while at a restaurant with friends and I considered that the name went well with the occasion. Then came the Much More, after my tribute and sympathy what can I give? Well, I give Much More, then I give Too Much and put it all in a Golden Square! Those are the ideas behind the names.
TP: For the past years the size of your watches are getting bigger and bigger...
CD True, but in our collection we propose all sizes we have Arnold Schwartzenegers and Woody Allens as clients and each can find a suitable sized watch within our collection. I do not think there will be a return to smaller sized watches just because bigger cases offer an unequaled legibility. The most important is to maintain proportions within a certain limit. There is a fine line between extravagance and bad taste.
TP: Why do you limit each version (dial/case combination) of each of your models to only 28, and why 28?
CD: Aha! In the beginning I wanted to limit each combination to only 25 pieces. I remember very well, it was in 1997, the 23rd of December. I was alone in the workshops cleaning up before leaving on Christmas vacation with my family when I received a call from the director of one of the big hotels in Geneva telling me that he had a client who wanted to buy my watches. I told the person on the other end of the line that I had absolutely nothing in the workshops but he insisted and sent me the client anyway.
A few minutes later a couple of cars park in front of the workshops, bodyguards came out and I recognized the personality and greet him. He asked me to sell him some watches to which I replied I had no stock and actually had to show him the empty safe!
He orders a few watches and specifies that he only wants the ones with the nį1 but tells me that to bring me luck I should make 28 pieces and not 25. 28 being a lucky number, and thatís what I did.
TP: It was the Sultan of BruneÔ?
CD I greet many important people and never publish any photos of them and never mention them without their request.
TP: This year you have a new communication campaign. You mix your horology image with a more fashion oriented one, are you not afraid to scare away both the horology enthusiasts and those more fashion oriented?
CD: I rather talk of lifestyle rather than fashion. I do not claim an ancient history for my brand but rather a young and contemporary one. Our motto is a contemporary watch, inspired but not bound to the past. The world changes very fast, and as you may have noticed we anticipate changes in the shapes of our watches and the complications. This new campaign interests many people and was never done before in the haute horlogerie segment, but many brands are starting to see things the way I do.
I needed to conciliate two aspects. For Roger Dubuis it is almost impossible to have a catalogue due to our limited edition policy and the numerous combinations and communicating on this would have been very difficult. Imagine by the time the campaign would start the watch presented would probably be sold out. So I had to find a concept that would incite to buy the watch and which would be a communicating vehicle of the companyís image.
It is also my way of telling the watch enthusiast that a timepiece is not only an object that gives time that should be kept for his grandchildren but an accessory that should be given a lot of importance. Let me use the automobile industry to illustrate this. A few years ago the prestige of a car was that it was 20 years old, that it had 300 000 km and that the engine was trouble free and there was no leakage of oil! So the automobile brands often offered the same model for 10-15 years, today itís more like 15 days! People have integrated the idea to change cars often where before it was a long-term expense. Its the same with watches, people used to buy a timepiece to pass on and thatís why in the 70s the Swiss watch industry was on the verge of extinction. Watches were not considered as accessories, only very recently do people purchase a watch for the office, one for sports, one for the week end etc..
TP: You just stated sports watches. Can you tell us more about the new SAW (Sport Activity Watches) line?
CD: This is the first time Iím telling this story: last year I was in Sardinia and had to take my watch off to go swimming and I got really frustrated since all the other people I was with were swimming with their watches on. I told myself I would never return to that beautiful island without a diving watch and decided to create a sports watch in steel, a first for us, within the traditional line of the Roger Dubuis timepieces. So here we are in SIHH with the 3 new SAW models, the Aqua Mare, the Sea More and the Easy Diver.
SAW: Aqua Mare
SAW: Easy Diver
SAW: Sea More
TP: Do you still collect watches?
CD: No, I collect other things such as modern art or wines. Sometimes tastes change and today I get much more pleasure in creating watches than buying them.
TP: What do you do when youíre not heading Roger Dubuis?
CD: I enjoy cooking, wines and try to spend as much time as possible with my family. I have a baby grandson who gets all my attention and free time (big smile).
TP: Thank you.