Up Close: Daniel Roth Tourbillon Souscription

Refined execution and thoughtful (re)design.

Announced a year ago as only a computer-generated rendering, the Daniel Roth Tourbillon Souscription finally arrived in tangible form earlier this year with a finished prototype that was exhibited at LVMH Watch Week.

At a distance the Tourbillon Souscription is practically indistinguishable from the originals that inspired it. But up close it stands out for the high quality of execution, which in many respects is superior to the originals, as well as the subtle tweaks to the design. The Tourbillon Souscription certainly bodes well for the revival of the brand, though its future will hinge on novel and original creations.

Like all future Daniel Roth watches, this was produced by La Fabrique du Temps (LFT), the Geneva manufacture owned by Louis Vuitton that has vertically integrated itself at a rapid pace in recent years.

Initial thoughts

I was surprised when I first examined the Tourbillon Souscription prototype. It manages to capture the feel of the originals, but even surpasses them in some aspects, most notably the guilloche dial.

It’s worth noting the dial is done in-house by LFT’s recently-acquired guilloche workshop, though the production examples will have a dial made by Voutilainen. This level of quality certainly raises exceptions for future watches from Daniel Roth and the wider LFT stable, which includes Gerald Genta.

Amongst the other visible upgrades are the decoration on the base plate visible below the tourbillon. This reflects the new calibre within that is unfortunately not visible due to a solid back; the regular production version will have a display back though.

As with the rest of the watch, the DR001 movement inside is an upgrade over the original, which contained a Lemania cal. 387. Though a high-end movement for its time, the cal. 387 in the original was essentially an off-the-shelf with little modification. The new DR001, however, has been conceived as a high-end movement by today’s standards so it includes decorative flourishes like a steel cock for the centre wheel and linear winding click, both black polished.

But besides decorative improvements, the design has been adjusted, with nips and tucks here and there. The result is an improvement over the original, even in terms of practicality; the new crown is more ergonomic and particularly thoughtful. However, I am unsure about the redesigned lugs. While the rounded lugs certainly fit the design better – and importantly sit better on the wrist – some of the Breguet style elements are lost with the curved lugs.

The only element I would change is the printing on the dial. It’s done in a sophisticated dark blue, but the typography is too bold, resulting in numerals and letters that feel too heavy.

In short, the Tourbillon Souscription is impressive. In fact, it exceeds expectations. The attention to detail in the watch is notable, and that’s often quality often missing from watches made by big companies. Daniel Roth, despite being a small brand, is the subsidiary of a big company.

But Daniel Roth will have to go beyond homages to the past, even if they are as finely wrought as this is, if it is to become a brand with longevity. It will need to create new designs that channel the spirit originals, but not reproduce them. If LFT can achieve that – and maintain the quality of build found in the Tourbillon Souscription – then the brand will have more success and longevity than before.

The familiar face

The outline of the Tourbillon Souscription is predictable – all of the elements that characterise Daniel Roth watches of the 1990s are present. In terms of design, it replicates the original, which is the point of the watch. On closer examination, however, many of the details are more refined than on the original. This is most evident with the dial, which has a finer clous de Paris engine turning as well as more depth. And the dial is also solid 18k yellow, which no doubt adds to its lustre.

The guilloche dial stands out instantly in the metal. Specifically, the fineness and sheen of the hobnail guilloche as well as the neatly detailed borders mark this out as a first-rate dial. Amongst the details worth noticing are the sharply executed borders, particularly those that follow the arched panels on each side of the tourbillon.

Also interesting is the noticeable step upwards for the time sub-dial and seconds scale. On the originals the different is height is less apparent; here the raised plane for the indicators give the dial a greater sense of depth.

That said, multi-part dial means that the joints between the dial panels are visible. This example is the prototype, however, and I except the production watches will have seamless dials.

Another element I would change is the printing. The numerals, both Arabic and Roman, feel heavier than they should be. The dial would appear even more refined if the typography was two or three steps lighter in terms of weight.

This dial in the prototype was made at LFT’s own guilloche workshop, which arrived by way of an acquisition of a guilloche specialist. All the engine turning equipment has been moved into the LFT premises in Geneva, so the dial is literally made in the same “house”.

Ironically, the production version of the Tourbillon Souscription will feature dials made by Voutilainen, identical in style and also solid gold – this was promised in the original announcement for the watch. While Voutilainen’s dials are equally first rate, I think it’s a shame not to install LFT-made dials in this.

The double ellipse

Though it is not obvious at a glance, the case has been reworked more substantially than the dial vis a bis the original. Amongst the important changes are a more rounded, slightly larger crown, curved lugs, a narrow raised band on the case flank, as well as a flatter case back.

The new crown improves usability substantially as the crowns on the original were small and recessed, making them difficult to grip efficiently.

The other changes, on the other hand, are cosmetic refinements that cumulatively leave the case feeling a little bit thinner and marginally more refined.

But, as I mentioned above, I am unsure about the lugs. According to its designer, the arched lugs are intended to be both ergonomic and visually coherent – both of which I agree with. However, I liked the straight lugs of the originals, which admittedly did not quite blend into the rounded lines of the case, but which did convey the Breguet inspiration well.

Another variance in the design of the case lies in its construction. The original Daniel Roth cases were uniform in having snap-on backs, while here the back is secured by four screws. Each of these approaches has its merits and neither is “better”.

What matters more is the movement below. Though concealed beneath the solid back, the movement can be observed from the photograph supplied by Daniel Roth. As with the rest of the watch, the DR001 has clearly been executed to a high level. It’s done well enough there isn’t much to improve with the movement, save for the typography, which doesn’t match the classical font used on the front.

The DR001 was constructed specifically for the Daniel Roth tourbillon, making it a movement specific to this watch, unlike the Lemania movement of the original. It’s a form movement with a double-ellipse shape that echoes the case, making it a rarity amongst tourbillon calibres. That said, some elements do look familiar and are perhaps shared with the past tourbillon calibres constructed by LFT (which include the Laurent Ferrier FBN 916).

The DR001. Image – Daniel Roth

Examining the details of the DR001 indicate it was conceived as a high-end movement, and has many of the requisite details. Amongst them are the black polished steel parts – linear winding click, third wheel cock, crown wheel, and cover for barrel ratchet wheel – and the elegantly shaped bridges that incorporate inward and outward angles along their outlines.

In fact, the movement might have too much decoration. The gold chatons for the jewels of the going train, for instance, are not historically associated with the Vallee de Joux movements that inspired to the original Daniel Roth watches (except on the pivots of the tourbillon).

The upgraded decoration is also evident on the front. The recessed area around the tourbillon cage is actually the base plate, and here is the finished with Cotes de Geneve, whereas the originals made do with an industrial sandblasting.

The tourbillon itself is finished as it should be. A rounded, polished steel arm secures the carriage, which is black-polished steel. Stylistically, it takes after the original in almost every detail, except for a subtle detail in the three-armed seconds hand.

On the originals, the arms of the seconds had to be bent downwards due to the relative heights of the tourbillon carriage and the seconds scale (because the Lemania movement was designed for another watch with a raised seconds scale). But on the Tourbillon Souscription, the movement was constructed from the ground up to fit the dial, allowing the hands to be flat.

Concluding thoughts

The Tourbillon Souscription is impressive in execution. Tangible quality is excellent, while the eye for detail in its (re)design is apparent. It is certainly a promising start for the brand and perhaps a sign of great things to come. In order to become a notable brand, Daniel Roth will need to form its own contemporary identity, albeit one rooted in the philosophy of the originals, but it has gotten off the ground in style.

Key facts and price

Daniel Roth Tourbillon Souscription
Ref. DR0011YG-01

Diameter: 38.6 mm by 35.5 mm
Height: 9.2 mm
Material: 18K yellow gold 3N
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: DR001
Features: Hours, minutes, seconds, and a one-minute tourbillon
Frequency: 21,600 beats per hour (3 Hz)
Winding: Manual winding
Power reserve: 80 hours

Strap: Calfskin strap with pin buckle

Limited edition: 20 pieces 
Only available through selected retail partners of Daniel Roth with delivery in 2024
Price: CHF140,000 excluding taxes

For more, visit Daniel-roth.ch.


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