Operating somewhat anonymously within the watch industry, this company keeps its impressive client list confidential. Yet, if you are into watches, there’s a good chance the name Dubois-Dépraz will be familiar. That’s because it is one of the most prominent suppliers in the industry. The company has made a name for itself manufacturing parts and additional mechanisms (in particular chronographs and perpetual calendars) for some of the world’s most famous watch brands. Today, we take a closer look at this company – and a peek at its first integrated chronograph movement.
There are essentially two ways of getting a complication into a watch. It can be an integrated construction or it can be a modular construction. With an integrated construction, the different functions are incorporated within the movement architecture. With a modular construction, the additional functions/indications are provided by a separate mechanism (i.e. a module) that is grafted onto a base movement, with the latter providing the basic timekeeping functionality.
The advantage of a module is that it is built separately and can be coupled with a variety of movements. It is generally more economical to produce and allows brands to use the module on top of an existing calibre. On the other hand, this extra layer means added thickness and other possible disadvantages, such as the positioning of the chronograph pushers or a date indication that is sometimes deeply recessed on the base calibre.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF DUBOIS-DEPRAZ
It all started over a century ago in the Vallée de Joux, the cradle of complication watchmaking… In 1901, Marcel Dépraz, who had been working for Aubert & Fils on their complication watches, created his own company. The Société Individuelle Marcel Dépraz soon specialized in chronographs, serving companies such as Breitling, Excelsior and Minerva. In 1910, a second entity was founded with Marius Guignard, his stepbrother, focusing on part manufacturing.
In the 1930s, Reynold Dubois, Marcel’s son-in-law, joined the company (the Dubois and Dépraz names would later be combined). In 1937, the calibre 48, a 13 ‘’’ 1⁄4 chronograph was presented. Over 3.5 million mechanisms would be delivered!
Among other highlights in the company’s history is the creation of the calibre 11. In the 1960s, four companies teamed up to create the first automatic chronograph: Heuer-Leonidas, Breitling, Büren and Dubois-Dépraz. The technical specifications were written by Gérald Dubois and Hans Kocher (Büren). The development based on a Büren micro-rotor movement and a Dubois-Dépraz chronograph module started in 1966. It would give birth to the famous ‘chronomatic’ calibre 11, one of the first automatic chronograph movements together with the Zenith El Primero and the Seiko 6139 (read our article about the history of the El Primero here). The calibre 11 would go on to power iconic Breitling and Heuer chronographs.
During the 1970s, new, more accurate quartz watches gained popularity, plunging the Swiss watch industry into a deep crisis. Dubois-Dépraz survived this difficult period by diversifying its activities (always in the field of micro-mechanics). But with the revival of the mechanical watch during the 1980s and 1990s, demand climbed fast. In particular, the creation of the chronograph module 2000 in the early 1980s marked a milestone in the company’s history. At the time very few mechanical chronographs were produced, and the DD 2000 provided an efficient solution to do so, coupled
either with ETA or manufacture movements.
Today, Dubois-Dépraz is managed by the fourth generation of the family. Pierre Dubois (the General Manager) joined his brother Jean-Philippe and Pascal at the helm of the company in 2017. About 380 employees are scattered across four different production sites. The three activities are: additional mechanism manufacturing; parts manufacturing, and; customized developments for third-parties. Although the production of parts is becoming increasingly important, the production of additional mechanisms remains the principal activity. Chronographs and perpetual calendars are the main products, but the company’s portfolio incorporates many different modules.
NEW INTEGRATED CHRONOGRAPH MOVEMENT – CALIBre 540
Exactly 50 years after the presentation of the calibre 11, Dubois-Dépraz unveils the calibre 540, a superb integrated fly-back chronograph movement. The chronograph is among the most complex mechanisms to design and manufacture. Very few makers manufacture chronograph movements, and there are few chronograph calibres available on the market. So, when we learnt that a chronograph specialist – one that had been manufacturing only modules for the past several decades – was presenting a new movement, it naturally caught our attention.
With the calibre 540, Dubois-Dépraz opted for a high-grade construction with column-wheel and horizontal clutch. All of its modules feature a vertical clutch design, but Dubois-Dépraz chose this traditional solution for its chronograph movement. It is paired with a shock-protection device efficient up to 1,500G. This 32mm x 6.60mm calibre allows for a large date indication that jumps instantaneously. The calibre 540 ticks at 28,800 vibrations per hour with an assortment coming from Nivarox. The power reserve is in excess of 72 hours. Naturally, different finishing options are available.
For more information, please visit www.dubois-depraz.biz.