Available in The Shop: An Early Roger Dubuis Masterpiece, The Sympathie Bi-Retrograde Perpetual Calendar

As part of the Revolution Curates series, we present the Roger Dubuis Sympathie Bi-Retrograde Perpetual Calendar.

Today, the Roger Dubuis two-register Hommage Chronographs are some of the most salient timepieces in neo-vintage watch collecting, and for good reason. Roger Dubuis was an independent watchmaker who made only 28 pieces of every configuration. It housed the legendary Lemania 2310 that was finished to meet the standards of the Geneva Seal, along with being chronometer certified by the Besançon Observatory. Most of all, as the name “Hommage” implies, the watches drew inspiration from the Patek Philippe reference 130 and the reference 1463 “Tasti Tondi,” yet bore an imprint of Dubuis’ beautiful artistic flair.

1950 Patek Philippe chronograph ref. 1463 in steel (image: Phillips)
Roger Dubuis Hommage H40 chronograph in white gold (image: A Collected Man)

If the Hommage was Roger Dubuis paying respect to the Genevan master watchmaker where he spent 14 years of his career, then his other masterpiece which is antithetical to the Hommage but merits an equal amount of appreciation is the Sympathie. Before developing high complications for Patek Philippe from the mid-60s onwards, Dubuis spent his formative years at Longines in the after-sales department.

The sensual cushion-shaped case of the Sympathie with its pointed corners is charmingly idiosyncratic in its baroque yet avant-garde duality. It bears remarkable resemblance to a Longines watch that was introduced in the 1950s and produced in very limited numbers, the reference 846 5094. While Dubuis never confirmed before his passing, the origins of the Sympathie’s silhouette, it would not be a stretch to imagine that he would want to celebrate his time at Longines as well with a design sympathetic to the uniqueness of the 846.

The Longines reference 846 5094
The Longines reference 846 5094 (Image: Time to Times)

Time-only Sympathies would eventually make room for high complications and the strength of the Sympathie’s design was displayed none better than in the Sympathie Bi-Retrograde Perpetual Calendar. Aesthetically and mechanically, the watch was a paragon of creativity unleashed in the most unorthodox, poignant fashion. It typified the watchmaking exuberance of the ’90s yet stands apart from complicated watches of any era. There is nothing in the least generic about it, encapsulated by its unusually spirited dial design, which is part of its appeal. But more than that, this was a watch that played host to a landmark innovation developed by two great watchmakers during a particularly challenging time for the industry.

A quartet of time-only Sympathies
A quartet of time-only Sympathies (Image: European Watch Company)

Up until then, and even today, perpetual calendars predominantly rely on multiple subdials to display the day, date, month, leap year and moonphase. However Roger Dubuis, along with Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, the mechanical poet who later founded the revered complication specialist Agenhor, sought to renew its characteristic appearance by incorporating a pair of mobile displays in the form of two retrograde indicators — one pointed out the day and the other the date. In so doing, they elevated the complication to an art form and created the world’s first perpetual calendar module with a double retrograde display. It was built on top of a self-winding Frédéric Piguet movement and first made its debut in the 1989 Harry Winston Bi-Retrograde Perpetual Calendar.

1989 Harry Winston Bi-Retrograde Perpetual Calendar in platinum
1989 Harry Winston Bi-Retrograde Perpetual Calendar in platinum

Produced in various configurations, the watch preceded, yet was every bit conceived in the mold of Max Büsser’s monumental Opus series. Its openworked dial revealed the ingenious retrograde mechanism for the day and date. While it employs a classic rack and snail cam system, the rack lever has an extended finger perpendicular to the teeth of the rack. Mounted in opposite directions, each rack finger engages a snail cam mounted on a seven-point star wheel and a 31-toothed wheel for the day and date respectively. This finger is in constant contact with the cam, and as it drops from the highest to the lowest point of the cam, the retrograde action occurs. It’s an ingeniously simple and compact solution to achieving a retrograde display in an already complex calendar.

The double retrograde mechanism developed by Roger Dubuis and Jean-Marc Wiederrecht
The double retrograde mechanism developed by Roger Dubuis and Jean-Marc Wiederrecht

When Roger Dubuis founded his brand with Carlos Dias in 1995, he incorporated this bi-retrograde perpetual calendar module — built atop a self-winding Longines caliber L990 base movement this time — in a 37mm Sympathie case, which is the present example. The model was produced in several configurations, each in an extremely limited run of just 28 pieces. The present example is in white gold paired with a glossy, off-white lacquered dial. It features printed numerals, with hands and faceted indexes made of white gold while the skeletonized day and date hands are flame-blued steel. Notably, the distinctive outward facing arcs for the day and date retrogrades were further emboldened by a stylized typeface that flares outwardly towards the perimeter of the dial. The month and leap year are indicated by co-axially mounted hands in a subdial at 12 o’clock, mirrored by a moonphase display at six.

Roger Dubuis Sympathie Perpetual Calendar

What’s immediately apparent is how the four-sided case counterbalances the layout of the indications beautifully. The watch proudly proclaims its quality by wearing the Poinçon de Genève hallmark on the dial side. At that time, only Patek Philippe movements carried the seal and Dubuis saw it as a necessary point of parity in asserting Genevan watchmaking. As with all early Roger Dubuis watches, it also earned a chronometric certification from the Besançon Observatory in France.

The audacious yet delicate shape of the watch is further emphasized by a multi-stepped, high polished bezel while the case flanks are vertically satin-brushed, which helps accentuate its height and presence on the wrist. In the same vein, it features thick, elongated welded lugs with distinctive fixing screws. It’s worth noting that in his early watches, the bezel and crystal conform to the complex shape of the case while in later examples, the bezel would have a rounded inner circumference to accommodate a simpler crystal.

The Poinçon de Genève is the seal of quality issued by the Office of Inspection in the Geneva Watchmaking School
A chronometer certified by the Besançon Observatory is tested as a fully-cased watch, not just the movement, and its accuracy cannot exceed a daily deviation of -4/+6 seconds.

Although bold case designs are typically associated with large watches, the Sympathie Bi-Retrograde Perpetual Calendar cuts an exceedingly elegant figure — again a pleasing duality that only adds to its charm. It measures 37mm wide and just 9.8mm high, making it highly practical to wear.

More so than his other watches, the Sympathie Bi-Retrograde Perpetual Calendar has a gloriously singular character whereby exotic case design and visuals are an extension of a creatively engineered movement within. And although idiosyncrasy certainly isn’t for everyone, it’s tough finding a watch with a sufficient degree of aesthetic and mechanical noteworthiness that can turn skeptics into converts — with startling instantaneity — the way this does.

This watch is fully inspected and authenticated, and come with 24-month warranty from WatchBox.

Tech Specs

Movement: Self-winding caliber RD 5772
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, perpetual calendar with day, date, month, leap year indicator and moonphase
Case: 37 x 47.5 x 9.8mm; 18K white gold; water resistant to 30m
Dial: Glossy, off-white lacquered dial
Strap: Blue alligator with white gold tang buckle
Price: USD 54,950

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