Philippe Dufour, "Simplicity"

For a watchmaker who is apparently just approaching the construction of the 60th copy of his only series-production watch, a remarkable lot has been written about Philippe Dufour and his work, and his thoughts on watchmaking. A professional watchmaker for over 20 years at top manufactures such as Jaeger-LeCoultre and Audemars Piguet, he began independent design of his own watches in 1989. Details of his other (more complicated) work, and many links to illustrative pictures and articles are available at The Non-official Philippe Dufour website.

What has Mr. Dufour accomplished with his Simplicity, and why is it distinguished, and what factors would lead a person to purchase such a watch? Most who are many times more qualified than I testify that his work with larger watchmaking houses was somewhere between excellent and extraordinary, that his subsequent designs are horologically significant, soundly conceived and properly executed, and that his watches, even at the most exalted (and expensive) levels, deliver on their promises. Within the contemporary watch- and clock-making industry, many of the most respected makers are honored with membership in the Horological Academy of Independent Creators (AHCI); Philippe Dufour is a member of that extraordinarily diverse group, and a survey of their collective accomplishments would ultimately lead to what distinguishes the Simplicity amongst the riotous choices available; in a few words, refinement, balance, serenity, uncompromised craft.

In the marketplace of contemporary independent watchmaking, there are included unique complications and new solutions to old problems, prolifically successful businessmen and near-anonymous individuals, meticulous crafters and rather more casual constructors, producers who start with little more than sheet-metal and those who no longer touch most of the product. Within the large manufactures it has become understood that only the most expensive and complicated pieces will receive the personal attention of their top watchmakers (this only makes sense, for otherwise the production levels are too high, and the market prices too low). Where it seems to me that Mr. Dufour's Simplicity fits in is that there is no pretense of novelty, no egocentric expression of the individual and no distractions from testing if he has met his own crystal-clear goal: the design and execution of a nearly-perfect time-only traditional watch, in an honorable and traditional fashion, on a scale suitable to "high retail" rather than "sheer fantasy" pricing and availability, all performed by an acknowledged master.

The specifications of the current watch thus hold no surprises: 37mm diameter, 6mm thickness, 30mm movement, 18kbph ticking, 21 jewels, 52 hours power reserve. The movement features a large, free-sprung balance with adjusting weights at the 2 arms and a Breguet hairspring. The dial is solid silver, and features white gold Dauphin hands and applied numerals and markers. The case is platinum, while the crown and buckle are white gold. The design of this watch may seem familiar, but it is Dufour's own, and although the movement does no new tricks, it was purpose-created by Mr. Dufour. In what is now centuries-old Swiss tradition, the bridges and wheels are produced as blanks to specification, and then finished in Dufour's small workshop, variously amongst his daughter, his assistant, and himself. Philippe personally is responsible for all aspects of this watch, from initial conception through final assembly.

Due to the nature of the Simplicity, there is not call for much explanation of what is pictured below, so I offer just a few personal observations. I have done my best to examine the case, dial, features and movement with a critical aesthetic eye, although this is hardly my specialty; if there are any flaws in the execution, they have eluded me. To my sensibilities, the proportions of the design are impeccable, not that this is truly a unique accomplishment, but it is still a meritorious one. The movement, ahh, this is where one's heart must skip a beat, if one is to love this watch enough to purchase it. That it is soundly designed and executed in a technical sense, I will take on faith, there is no reason why it should not be. Does one like the 4 bridges, their relative areas and shapes? There is a touch of whimsy in the heart-shaped curves, and their matching polished points. The rubies are sublimely clear and everything that isn't softly striped or matted is polished; the edges of the bridges are roundly beveled, and mirrored. The overall color scheme is finished silver, with touches of gold, transparent pink and just 4 very blue screws. I should call special attention only to the fabulous click-spring, which is fastened to the end of the main bridge but disappears into the winding wheels, it makes a lovely rhytmic movement and thrumming while at work.

Philippe Dufour speaks about the Simplicity in this recent interview with Europa Star.

Click the pictures for even larger!

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I hope you enjoyed this!
April, 2004

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