We got our hands on a Roger Dubuis Symphatie Chronograph Perpetual Calendar Bi-retrograde in rose gold with a magnificent black dial. And are happy to share our impressions and photographs here.
The watch is owned by a Deployant Friend who kindly loaned it to our Chief Editor for a couple of weeks. Though he had it for a rather extended period of time, the watch stayed mainly in the winder, and was not worn. Yes, he keeps even manually wound watches in the winder. We had it out on the wrist for photography. However, in that time, we had good opportunities to examine the watch, the build, the case and dial and the movement in great detail, and we bring you this close look.
Roger Dubuis Symphatie Chronograph Perpetual Calendar Bi-retrograde
The RD Symphatie is from the early days of the brand. Mr. Roger Dubuis started out on his own circa 1995 and was at the helm as a watchmaker and creator. Prior to independence, Roger had spent considerable time in his watchmaking career in the Patek Philippe Grandes Complications workshop. And when he struck out on his own, the ideas he applied are clearly a reflection in the tradition of Patek Philippe. The choice of a Lemania base movement is one such example.
But the standout feature, even on first glance is the Symphatie case. A complex shape of curves and sharp points – an angular case, with elegant elongated lugs. This wonderfully shaped case also carried a front crystal which is a tracing of the same shape. We understand this is a very complex crystal to manufacture, and can only imagine the incredulous looks Roger must have seen when he proposed this to the crystal cutter. As expected, the crystal is rather expensive, and later versions of the Symphatie did away with this complicated glass and replaced it with a simple round one.
We suspect the inspiration for this work was likely the Patek Philippe Ref. 3970, an icon of the industry and itself a chronograph perpetual calendar. To this, Roger Dubuis added the twist of a bi-retrograde calendar indication, which came from some work he had done several years after he left the grand maison.
Roger had earlier worked on a Harry Winston perpetual calendar with retrograde display with Jean-Marc Wiederrect . This watch made world premier as the world’s first perpetual calendar with a bi-retrograde indication in Baselworld 1989. See Revolution’s excellent article on this history, where Jean-Marc tells the story of how this complication came about. He had originally submitted the idea to Roger when they were members of a general partnership society known as PME Developments Horlogers. This was an informal collaboration formed to tackle the development, production and commercialization of shared realizations, intended for prestigious watch brands. While Jean-Marc was involved in the development, the manufacture of the complication was the responsibility of Roger.
We understand that the work done to develop the Harry Winston Bi-Retrograde Perpetual Calendar was used in the Symphatie.
The dial and hands
The dial is made out in the same shape as the case. And in this review watch, is in black with printed indications in gold. Hour markers are four sided pyramid appliqués in 18k rose gold. A railway track, following the complex shape is on the perimeter. The leap year and moonphase display are at 12 and 6 o’clock respectively. The chronograph indicators are bi-compax style, with the central chronograph hand being a long sleek needle shaped affair and a minute counter on a sub-dial at 3 o’clock. A continuous seconds sub-dial rests at 9 o’clock.
The hour and minute hands are large lance shaped with a central crease to present two planes to the viewer. All the hands are finished in a grained high polish, which picks up light, easing the visibility of the indicators over the black lacquer canvas of the dial. No lume is applied to any of the dial elements.
But the magic of the dial layout is the bi-retrograde date and day of week display, with two pierced swallow shaped hands pivoted at the 3 and 9 o’clock markers.
As Jean -Marc recounts, the original idea proposed for the Harry Winston piece was based on a simple mechanism, allowing an aesthetic and a readability previously unknown. It called for two retrograde indications, one on the left and one on the right of the dial, to replace the small day of the month and the day of the week sub dials.
This very same system is used in the Symphatie, and though the dial still remains quite busy, it is makes legibility easier, and simpler than it would have been if all the information were all to be displayed on separate sub-dials.
The movement Cal. RD 5637
The movement is the Roger Dubuis Cal. RD 5637, which is built on a base of the time tested the Lemania 2310. The bi-retrograde perpetual calendar module that was developed for Harrry Winston was used over the base.
The Lemania is the same base movement as what Patek used as the CH27-70Q for their perpetual calendar chronograph Ref. 3970 and many of their later chronographs until they created their own.
Movement finish is excellent. All traditional haute horlogerie elements are well executed. The anglage shown on all edges are expertly done with a high gloss finish and are even throughout. Sharp points are well done. However, although there is an abundance of outward pointing ones, especially on the chronograph works, there seem to be a lack on inward points. We think this is a pity, given how well the the outward points are executed.
The brushed finish on the steel chronograph works are beautifully executed and contrasts nicely to the black polished parts on the screws and the rhodium plating on the base plates and bridges. The movement carries a Poinçon de Genève seal as well as a chronometer certification from the Besançon Observatory.
The chronograph operational feel is excellent. Each push to start, stop and reset the mechanism is felt as a positive pressure which is light but with good feedback. The pressure needed for each activation is even and judged to be equal, and to us, this is a sign of a well designed and tuned chronograph works.
We had no opportunity to test the perpetual calendar as we only had it for some weeks, but the owner tells us that works flawlessly.
The Roger Dubuis Symphatie Chronograph Perpetual Calendar Bi-Retrograde is an absolute gem from the annals of haute horlogerie. Roger Dubuis himself was probably one of the first to emerge as an independent watchmaker with his own name on the dial, and paved the way for other independents years later. He was an icon of the industry, and we find it a bit sad that his legacy was marred during the years where he was ousted from the company (the Carlos Dias years of extreme extravagance), and later somewhat restored when he was asked to return as the brand was bought by Richemont in 2008. Initially with a 60% stake, which was later raised to 100% in 2016. Roger passed away in October 2017.
But above this historical baggage and luminance, is the brilliance of the man Roger Dubuis. And the magnificence of this watch is representative of that genius. The unique, complex and very beautiful case shape and execution makes this an icon. And that dial. The layout is near perfect to display the complications of both a chronograph and a perpetual calendar. Made more difficult by a black canvas, but the watch remains rather legible. And top that with a beautifully executed movement.
A legendary watch by a legendary maker.
Most of the photographs (all photos have EXIF data intact) on this page were taken with the Canon EOS R5 and EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro lens with an adapter. The extreme macro shots were photographed with a Linhof Technika 45, Hasselblad CFV 50c back and the Rodenstock Apo Sirornar Digitar 55mm f/4.5 lens.
Brand: Roger Dubuis
Model: Sympathie Chronograph Perpetual Calendar Bi-Retrograde – limited edition of 28 Ref. S34 5637 5
Movement: mechanical manual-winding Cal. RD5637
Functions: perpetual calendar, bi-retrograde date, chronograph, hours, minutes, sub-seconds
Features: black lacquer dial, display back, rose gold hands
Case: 37 mm 18-carat rose gold, Symphatie case shape
Crystal: sapphire front and back
Bracelet: Paris grained calfskin strap, Roger Dubuis alligator strap, with 18k rose gold deployant buckle
Year: manufactured circa 1998