A Conversation with Daniel Roth, Master Watchmaker

By Breguet Blog
August 19th, 2019

Daniel Roth © 2019 Kieran Shea
“Should watchmakers be called superheroes? Absolutely.”
Daniel Roth © 2019 Kieran Shea

Every now and again a world-class craftsman appears: meet Daniel Roth, master watchmaker of the Vallée de Joux. Born in Nice, Roth apprenticed in the 60s, including learning his craft at Audemars Piguet, and steadily progressed to the ranks of master watchmaker. His long tenure at Breguet (1973-87) left an indelible mark on the Maison, followed by a very successful period as one of the first truly independent watchmakers under his own name. Daniel Roth’s company began in 1989 and produced many fine watches and complications, including a tourbillon with an 8-day power reserve; the instantaneous perpetual calendar; and the Westminster Grande Sonnerie Carillon. The Bulgari Group finally acquired Daniel Roth in 2000.

Mr Roth now produces equally fine, high horology pieces under the name of Jean Daniel Nicolas, an amalgamation of the names of Daniel Roth’s wife Nicole, son Jean-Daniel, and himself. These watches are extremely limited in number, including masterpieces such as the Jean Daniel Nicolas Two-Minute Tourbillon.

The following conversation with Daniel Roth focuses primarily on his time at Manufacture Breguet during the 1970s and 80s.

Q. When did you first become interested in clocks and watches?

A. I must have been very young. My grandfather was a Swiss watchmaker born in Chaux-de-Fonds and had a small watch shop in Nice. I loved going to him – it was fascinating for me. I was predestined to take over his shop, that’s what determined my professional future.

Q. Where did you apprentice and who was your master?

A. I did my apprenticeship at the vocational school of Nice. Now that I am able to judge, I had an exceptional teacher.

Q. After your apprenticeship, how did you transition from watch repairing to watchmaking?

A. After my apprenticeship, I wanted to know about the high level of watchmaking. France not being equal to my ambitions, I looked in the direction of Switzerland and was lucky to be hired by Audemars Piguet. Although I had to push my limits further, for me it was a consecration. I was trained on extra-flat watches by the greatest watchmakers of the time with great meticulousness (of the time also). But before creating, I had to learn to work.

Q. You joined Breguet during the Quartz Crisis. How did you get the job and when did you start?

A. While I was at Audemars Piguet, the Chaumet brothers noticed me and asked me to revive Breguet. I discovered it at that time and was subjugated by Breguet’s work and genius. It became the common thread of my career. And against rare and exceptional watches, quartz has had no impact.

Q. When did you complete your first wristwatch?

A. The first watch I made for Breguet was a perpetual Pocket Calendar entirely handmade and my first wristwatch was also a Perpetual Calendar.

Q. What was your role and what was your first major task at Breguet?

A. My role was to create the first Breguet wristwatch, miniaturising the famous pocket power reserve watch. I worked alone for two years and little by little, hired other watchmakers.

Q. How big was the team and were there many specialists?

A. We were four watchmakers, all specialised and passionate.

Q. Who was buying Breguet at the time and were there any models that were particularly popular?

A. They were bought mostly by wealthy customers of Chaumet Paris. We had a very small production and cannot speak of just one popular model, however, the power-bracelet was a great success and still is today.

Q. Did you have creative control?

A. For 14 years I freely controlled the technical sector and design of the Chaumet house.

Q. Describe your working relationship with Monsieur François Bodet, Chaumet executive. Where did both of you look for inspiration?

A. I was very inspired by the works of Breguet, technically, it goes to infinity, it is practically inexhaustible. Breguet invented watchmaking and I sometimes go back to it for fun.

Q. It can be said that you and Monsieur Bodet ushered in a renewed Golden Era at Breguet, which predated the revival of Blancpain and several other major watch brands. What were some of your proudest moments?

A. It is true that the Breguet revival has motivated and awakened many dormant brands and I still feel proud to have participated a little.

Q. Your work has had a lasting impact and your designs continue to shape the DNA of the manufacture to this day. Did you devise the famous coin edging, which has since become a hallmark of Breguet casemaking, and what other iconic design contributions can you tell us about?

A. I did not conceive the famous coin edging, it is the Breguet Empire style as well as the design guilloche of the dial and the needles. Very typical of that style.

Q. When did you design the first tourbillon wristwatch for Breguet?

A. Later when I did my own DR tourbillon in parallel, just after the Chaumet breakup.

Q. Did you design any other Grand Complications for Breguet, such as a minute repeater, split-seconds chronograph, and perpetual calendar?

A. I only designed the Perpetual Calendar bracelet and watch with the power reserve.

Q. What was the most challenging project at Breguet and did it succeed?

A. For Chaumet, resuscitating Breguet was a challenge and they did it!

Q. Did you design any sports watches for Breguet, such as the famous Type XX or Marine collection? What is your opinion on these in general and do you think they fit into the Breguet aesthetic?

A. I had already left Breguet when these watches were created, I don’t know them.

Q. Do you have any favourite pieces by Breguet, past or present?

A. Watches that were designed in the past always arouse my admiration and emotion. They triumph over time. They are immortal.

Q. What are some of your favourite complications in watchmaking and why?

A. I particularly like tourbillons, this is a technical feat. They move – they are alive.

Q. Why is Abraham-Louis Breguet so revered and which of his contributions to watchmaking do you consider historically important?

A. Unanimously in the watchmaking industry, Breguet is considered the “inventor” not only for his technical advancement, but he also invented a style of immediately recognisable high purity.

Q. What attracts you to Breguet?

A. Of course, what attracts first and foremost is the classicism of style that has gone through time and remains timeless.

Q. When did you leave Breguet and were you able to keep a watch designed by you as a memento?

A. Unfortunately no. The watch I designed and wore was requested by the director.

Q. Do you have favourite books on the subject of time and timekeeping?

A. Of course, I have many books on all celebrities, Leroy, Defose, George Daniels etc. They helped me a lot and I consult them frequently.

Q. Is there a pocketwatch or wristwatch you still want to make?

A. I would like to have time to make them all.

Merci beaucoup! Mr Roth, thank you for an excellent conversation.

Breguet Blog would like to thank the Roth Family for making this interview possible. No part of this interview may be reproduced without the express written permission of BreguetBlog.com.

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