Philippe Dufour

« Saper rivivere con piacere il passato è vivere due volte » Marziale, epigrammi

Still with a pipe in his mouth, although he is neither a sailor nor a spinach eater, Philippe Dufour shares surprising characteristics with the famous Popeye: he is blunt and touchy, but also generous and loyal.

However, he is not a cartoon character but an exceptional watchmaker.

« Fumer la pipe est une source d’inspiration » instagram @philippe_dufour_officiel

Let's revisit the career of someone who captivates minds and intimidates the greatest collectors in the watchmaking world. 

Since his 44 years old, Philippe Dufour has gone against the tide of an industrial market focused on mass production, preferring to create his own vision of luxury and Haute Horlogerie.

A living artist, compared by some to the Michelangelo of watchmakers, Philippe Dufour stands out for his authenticity and perfectionism. His assertive character has allowed him to say no and to express his genius by pushing the limits of his inhouse complications movements.

To better understand his creations, let's draw a parallel with fashion. In a haute couture house, designing an outfit involves a stylist sketching the silhouette, its shape, movement, and color. Pattern makers then construct the garment while adhering to technical constraints yet remaining faithful to the stylist's vision. 

Inverting this process, there are "independent designers" in fashion, pattern makers who conceive and sculpt the garment with their technical expertise, pushing it to the realm of artwork.

This same process applies to watchmaking and Philippe Dufour's creations.

Upon visiting his website, one is surprised by the format reminiscent of a personal blog. 

Written in the first person, the narrative of his story is intertwined with anecdotes and dialogues. His frankness is as enjoyable as the detailed schematics and explanations of his three masterpieces:

  • The Grande and Petite Sonnerie, Minute Repeater wristwatch
  • The Duality wristwatch
  • The Simplicity wristwatch

How did this atypical character, who "never chose to become a watchmaker one day," become a virtuoso revered by the watchmaking world? Was it a series of conscious, premeditated choices, or was he guided by a higher force?

These questions will remain unanswered, but they invite us to delve into his career and his works, reflections of his person and his story.

He has created only three models under his name, in limited series, with fewer than 250 pieces in total throughout his career. 

Like the greatest artists, he started with the most complex model to end with the simplest, focusing on the essence and purity of the fundamental movement.

Chapter 1: The Vallée de Joux

It all begins in this central valley of the Jura Mountains, the cradle of watchmaking and the largest Swiss manufactures.La Vallée - with the courtesy of Vallée de Joux, copyright of Claude Jaccard.

Philippe Dufour, born into a modest family working in the watch industry, with a watchmaker grandfather, enters the technical school of the Vallée at 15. His academic shortcomings and mediocre math skills, combined with his parents' choice to keep him in the valley, offer him only one path: "he is just good enough to become a watchmaker."

The school, which trains him from the first months to create his own tools, made him like the profession. Creating life from a scrap of brass and remanufacturing what the ancients did pushed him to be the watchmaker he is today.

L’Ecole d’horlogerie de la vallée de Joux 

Répétition Minutes - Publication by the Association of Directors of Swiss Watchmaking Schools

A young man driven by the desire to travel, he undertakes his first experiences abroad with the Jaeger-LeCoultre manufacture in after-sales service and watchmaker training. Tired of his last position, Philippe Dufour decides to respond to an advertisement in the Virgin Islands, seeking a watchmaker to take over a movement workshop, marking the beginning of an adventure that broadens his horizons.

After stints at Genta and Audemars Piguet, notably as a flat movement adjuster, his work at Comor Watch, aimed at improving the decoration of minute repeater movements, becomes the turning point of his career. The difficulties encountered by Comor Watch allow him to buy the workshop, marking the beginning of his independence.

Chapter 2: Independence

"Independence at all levels has almost become a motto for me."

His journey begins with the Galerie d'Horlogerie Ancienne in Geneva, now known as Antiquorum. For five years, he restores complicated pocket watches, noting that 7 out of 10 times, the movements come from the Vallée de Joux, regardless of their style.

This revelation marks a new turning point in his career. Philippe Dufour aspires to create his own movement, inspired by the Vallée's complications that he has restored. He embarks on creating the Grande Sonnerie for pocket watches, using his tools and knowledge to manufacture, assemble, and adjust his own components.

He manages to sell his entirely handcrafted mechanism to Audemars Piguet, which orders five of them. Each piece requires 2,000 hours of work. However, the mishandling of two of his pieces by Audemars Piguet employees leads him to decide never to work for anyone else again. He secretly embarks on creating his first work, the first ever Grande Sonnerie Minute Repeater wristwatch in the world, presented in 1992 at the BaselWorld fair.

Chapter 3: Three Works

"The intelligence of the hand is the only guarantee of watchmaking excellence."

Philippe Dufour's methodology resembles that taught in the great art schools: analyze a master's painting, study his technique, colors, and then reproduce them. In watchmaking, a watch's components are like a painting's colors, while complications equate to the technique used by a painter.

Dufour take inspiration from movement created by farmer watchmakers produced between 1850 and 1920  in the Vallée de Joux, using the same tools as at the time and manufacturing the components himself. This approach differs from Breguet's, who engaged in elaborate mathematical calculations to design his movements. Dufour, on the other hand, manipulates, dissects, and conducts tests directly with the material.

This process echoes the themes addressed in Hugues Jacquet's "The Intelligence of the Hand," which explores the Western divide between manual and intellectual activities. It questions the value of "handmade" in our hyper-industrialized contemporary society and examines the influence of this practice on our being.

Philippe Dufour's works illustrate his intelligence, fully manifested through his hands in his creations.

In an interview with the Swiss Horology Journal in the fall of 2011, Philippe Dufour poses the question: "How to sell a useless product?"

His first work: The Grande and Petite Sonnerie, Minute Repeater

Originally, in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, striking watches were created out of necessity to indicate the time in darkness. However, the invention of the match in 1845 made them scarce, making them even more fascinating. They saw their first peak thanks to the invention of the spiral balance wheel in 1675 and the introduction of the minute hand, allowing them not only to strike the hours but also the quarters. Their sound improved in the 1710s with the use of circular tears as gongs, which also allowed for a considerable reduction in case size. They reached their peak with the invention of the Grande and Petite Sonnerie.

The complexity of this complication lies in the energy required to strike the hours and quarters on the passing with a quarter-hour reminder, as well as for the petite sonnerie function (striking the hours and quarters - without a quarter-hour reminder - triggered by the bolt). Therefore, this type of model is often equipped with two barrels (one for the striking mechanism, the other for the movement).

Diagram, horizontal section of the Grande Sonnerie, with the courtesy of Philippe Dufour

Philippe Dufour took on the challenge of miniaturizing this movement and fitting it into a wristwatch. Composed of 480 components, it represents 28 months of work, or 11 hours a day, 7 days a week, 8,500 hours in total. Produced in ultra-limited series in white, yellow, rose gold, and platinum with a white dial in 1990, he repeated the feat in 1999 with his most remarkable model,  with a view of the ringing mechanism, at the front, equipped with a sapphire dial of which only four examples are known, in white gold and rose gold.

La Grande et Petite Sonnerie, Répétition Minute, with the courtesy of Philippe Dufour

His second work: The Duality

Similar to the tourbillon, which does not seem to be of great use for a wristwatch, the Duality was inspired by a pocket watch with a double balance wheel made at the Ecole d'Horlogerie de la Vallée de Joux in the 1930s.

Operating independently of each other, the two balance wheels mutually compensate. They are regulated by a gear arranged between them, with a compensating effect, allowing an average of their speed to be obtained (by adding or subtracting the oscillation speed differences), so that each rotational speed error is divided by two when the two balance wheels operate together. The goal of this complication is to cancel out, or at least reduce, the rate errors by two.

Drawing, side view of the two balance wheels connected by the gearing, with the courtesy of Philippe Dufour

Based on this principle, in 1996, Dufour created this movement to be inserted into a 34mm wristwatch. The Duality was produced in 9 examples.

La Duality, with the courtesy of Philippe Dufour

Note: The same principle is used by the Legacy Machine 2 from Maxime Busser and Friends

His third and final work: The Simplicity

The idea was suggested to him by his friend Antoine Presuzio to create a watch for the Japanese market, where he is the icon of a fan club in Tokyo. 

Starting from a 12-line movement inspired by watches produced between the 1950s and 1970s that he had already restored, he designed the Simplicity wristwatch in the 2000s. This one features the same gear and pivot proportions as its ancestors, offering a durability against the passage of time. His predictions were correct: ten years after their purchase, returning to the workshop for service, a good cleaning and an oil change were enough to restore them to perfect condition.

It is in the attention to detail, craftsmanship, and handcrafting that his pieces reach the level of Haute Horlogerie. 

The Geneva stripes decoration provide a refined finish to the movement, giving it different reflections and a changing brilliance depending on the viewing angle. Playing with light is also a technique used by painters to capture the eye.

Close-up of the Geneva stripes decoration, with the courtesy of Philippe Dufour

The Simplicity pays homage to Japanese culture, which values handcraftsmanship, respects traditions, quality, and simplicity. Among the first 200 pieces made, 120 were sent to Japan. To date, a total of 215 models have been counted.

La Simplicity, with the courtesy of Philippe Dufour


Philippe Dufour creates his works from scratch, taking the necessary time to elevate them to the level of Haute Horlogerie as he conceives it: with refinement, without compromising on the quality of the mechanism or the accuracy of its assembly, in a relentless quest for perfection. He honors his origins and traditions, creating products with a narrative and soul.

The beauty and purity of his three works challenge the contemporary luxury market, often focused on marketing and price growth at the expense of quality.

In an interview with the Swiss Horology Journal in the fall of 2011, he reminds us not to forget that, nowadays, customers are educated; in the internet age, information is readily available.

It is the connection he maintains and offers to his customers that transcends him, knowing the history of his pieces with their new owner. He does not manufacture finished products, he infuses them with life.

By creating his pieces, Philippe Dufour accomplishes an extraordinary feat: traveling through time. He uses tools and methods from previous centuries to design unique pieces that will remain relevant through the ages.

Author: Fiona Galati