Roger Dubuis Excalibur Diabolus In Machina: Cursed Inspiration?
BAM! POW! THWACK!
Loud and brash is sometimes the best way to make the world sit up and take notice; you can show your more refined side later. For many, if not most of us, getting just a bit of attention is the hardest part.
It is often the case that people, products, and ideas need to be bold and defiantly divisive to garner enough attention to open dialogue and debate. This concept reminds me of Dee Snider of Twisted Sister when, as a vocal opponent to the push for ratings labels on music albums, he testified in congress, eloquently and fervently defending his music and lyrics as well as general musical expression against government censorship.
But unlike the two other musicians also testifying, John Denver and Frank Zappa, Snider did not dress up in a suit and tie and play the role of “good little recording artist,” but rather arrived with tight jeans, a sleeveless denim vest, giant hair, snakeskin boots, and his signature eye makeup.
He was not invited to testify because he was likely to give moving testimony, but because he had shocked people with his style and band’s persona, and senators may have assumed he would be an easy target to prove their point. But the exact opposite happened: Snider made it clear that not only did his appearance not dictate who he was as a Christian, father and songwriter, but it also showed that outward assumptions could be incorrect and as such a federal requirement for labelling based on surface-level assumptions was woefully misguided.
Thirty-five years later the point still rings true.
Snider and Twisted Sister are just one example of boldness preceding nuance; many recording artists start off with gimmicks to capture the public’s eyes and ears and later go on to become very respected among their peers. Visual artists do the same, looking for an edgy niche to fill that allows them recognition to start making more meaningful and thought-provoking pieces (think Banksy).
Sometimes products themselves need to be divisive to make a statement, and this leads to wild concept cars, fashion shows full of clothing nobody would ever realistically wear (or in Rick Owens’ case, models wearing other models as accessories), and crazy limited pieces designed to spark controversy. Because getting your name attached to viral content is a guaranteed way to boost sales.
The same could be said about the halo watches often found in the watch industry, pieces designed to be ludicrously impractical or mind-bogglingly complicated so that attention is captured and the brand’s meat and potatoes keep moving off retailers’ shelves. And that brings me to the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Diabolus in Machina, a watch created as much for shock value as to display watchmaking prowess.
Roger Dubuis Diabolus in Machina
The Roger Dubuis Excalibur Diabolus in Machina is, at its literal heart, an outstanding example of an automatic minute repeater with flying tourbillon, a grail watch for any brand. The RD0107 caliber is a knockout, perfectly executed to meet the Geneva Seal standards and to provide the wearer with a unique piece of horological mastery.
But based on the popular perception of Roger Dubuis, the brand usually focuses on hyper aggressive styling, unique materials, extreme skeletonization, and collaborations with like-minded brands and individuals.
So a minute repeater is a bit out of the norm, and the design of this watch shows it.
And even if we’ve seen Roger Dubuis flying tourbillons (or four) before, that was largely it. It may add a jump hour, or a simple date, or a power reserve (and usually not all three together), but as the brand has pursued its aesthetic trajectory, the likelihood of seeing a chronograph, a perpetual calendar, or any chiming watch has fallen off dramatically. There is no chronograph currently in the lineup of a racing-oriented brand, something that surprised me when I double checked my findings.
I can understand not having a perpetual calendar or a grand sonnerie, but a chronograph should be a staple for this type of styling and the brand’s typical demographic. But that isn’t the goal for Roger Dubuis, and the brand has the watchmaking chops to opt out without having to prove itself.
Nearly every watch that comes out of the Roger Dubuis workshops is now stamped with the Geneva Seal, a time-consuming and difficult standard to hit, showing that even amidst the wild styling and experimental materials, fine watchmaking is thriving.
And that brings us back to exactly what the Diabolus in Machina is: a mighty hard horologic flex. While the movement is much more traditional when compared to the brand’s typical skeletonized Excalibur movement, it is, save maybe one model, the most complicated watch currently available from Roger Dubuis.
What’s more: when brands get to the point of making a one-off or ultra-limited edition grail watch, most will make sure it is in a form factor that will be widely coveted to ensure quick orders from the wider collector community.
Even when brands like MB&F and Greubel Forsey launched perpetual calendars or grand sonneries, they were in versions of the respective brands’ most widely beloved styles. But Roger Dubuis is different, clearly. Instead of going for a more subdued format, or even a more “old-school” Roger Dubuis style from five, 10, or 15 years ago, the brand decided that the Diabolus in Machina needed to be incredibly stylistically distinct and extremely polarizing. Or at least that is what it seems like from the outside.
Shattered glass as inspiration
Roger Dubuis describes the aesthetic as an implosion of the star shape commonly seen across many of its pieces and labels the design as a sassy move on the part of the brand. Interesting for sure; sassy, perhaps not; distinct, definitely.
The dissected and seemingly randomly distributed shards of the star shape remind me of a carefully curated pile of shattered glass (that also happens to be blue), which aesthetically creates a bit of a frantic-feeling dial.
That is something usually completely the opposite of haute horlogerie as most brands present a minute repeater as a gentle expression of mechanical ingenuity and then design a watch that meets those expectations. But as Roger Dubuis states very clearly, “creative irreverence is a temptation that Roger Dubuis finds irresistible.” So meeting expectations probably isn’t high on its priority list.
Roger Dubuis doesn’t even let the case material remain an average one, opting to use the incredibly tough and shiny CarTech Micro-Melt BioDur CCMTM, a cobalt-chromium alloy made using powder metallurgy. First seen in the Excalibur Quatuor Cobalt MicroMelt, the CarTech Micro-Melt BioDur CCMTM is a bio-compatible super alloy with incredible whiteness and the ability to achieve a lasting polish, staying shiny even when scratched. It’s been used in a few Roger Dubuis pieces and as someone that holds stainless steel over white gold and platinum as my metal of choice, this material is easily top of the list for a shiny yet durable case material.
This piece is a mechanical flexing of its watchmaking capabilities and an aesthetic flexing of “we don’t play by your rules” attitude. On that point, it clearly has succeeded.
Since the Excalibur Diabolus in Machina is also a unique piece, the aesthetic only has to appeal to one individual who appreciates the frenetic nature of the design yet still wants a fantastically top-notch minute repeater.
If you look at Caliber RD0107, it really looks to be an impressive movement. Partially hidden between 10 and 11 o’clock is an indicator wheel that, when the minute repeater is activated, slowly rotates and displays what is being stricken – be they hours, quarters, or minutes. This is a clever function to add to an already rotating component; it’s an horological double dip.
Elsewhere on the caliber, near the minute repeater pusher on the left side, we find an “all-or-nothing” component that prevents the mechanism from activating due to a less-than-complete press of the button. This saves the mechanism from chiming the incorrect time, but also from partially going off after being bumped accidentally.
These types of mechanisms can sometimes be found on the most impressive examples as brands attempt to address the delicate and finicky nature of minute repeaters.
But probably the most impressive feat is squeezing a minute repeater into a caliber that also has a rather large flying tourbillon taking up a significant portion of the movement, as well as not one but two micro rotors for automatic winding.
As minute repeaters go, this is a very capable caliber that is finished to Geneva Seal standards but in a style that is still very Roger Dubuis-esque; a perfect example of the Roger Dubuis design exercise.
Doing its own thing
You may be divided on the new dial design, a sentiment you might share with many across the interwebs, but it is hard to overlook the incredible movement that has only been seen in one other unique piece from the brand. This is a movement that, if it was put into a more restrained design from Roger Dubuis, would probably be hailed as one of the best of the year, if not among the top minute repeaters of the decade.
That is what you get with Roger Dubuis: style that is definitely meant to catch attention and start debate, all wrapped around some of the best watchmaking in the industry celebrating tradition in its own way.
Even the name is a nod to tradition that shows Roger Dubuis likes to be different. “Diabolus in Machina” refers to the “diabolus in musica” (“devil in the music”), a famous tritone chord that comes with a (mistaken) legend that it was outlawed in medieval music because it would invite the devil into the church.
The real story is that the chord, which is usually a tritone that uses a flat or sharp in the fifth position, is rather dissonant and difficult for people to sing because we naturally want to harmonize. So those writing music would often avoid these chords simply because it was easier to sing other chords within a choir.
It wasn’t outlawed, and if we look to historical music we find examples all over the place. But legends are their own thing,
In this case the two gongs within the repeater have been tuned to a C and a G flat (or F sharp), a famous tritone that can be found in Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, which is often associated with ballet or Goethe’s staged Faust.
Clearly this association is supremely traditional, yet the execution is not, and that may describe the essence of Roger Dubuis. Nothing that it creates is supposed to be nostalgic or subdued, and the Diabolus in Machina is a great example of taking what you need from history and doing with it what you will.
This piece proves definitively that Roger Dubuis wants to be different, bucking tradition, yet understands where it came from. The Excalibur Diabolus in Machina is a terrific example of horological juxtaposition if I’ve ever seen one.
- Wowza Factor * 9.9 There is no one that wouldn’t say wow with this piece, though their meaning may vary!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 67.98» 666.666m/s2 The lust is strong, so strong that it is devilish!
- M.G.R. * 66.6 A minute repeater with flying tourbillon and twin micro rotors should definitely have a higher rating than this, but I’m sticking with the theme!
- Added-Functionitis * Moderate While the minute repeater is extraordinarily difficult to create, it still only counts as one added function, so with the addition of a setting indication, this piece should require a dose of regular-strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream to prevent demonic possession.
- Ouch Outline * 10.8 Dropping a razor blade onto an exposed toe and having it impale you a very tiny amount! It may not be a serious wound, but that can really sting. Yet I’d take it over and over again for a shot at this piece on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * Hear the demons calling! Okay, two little chimes in a watch are not a hellish chorus, but that tritone chord is unique and makes this piece endearing in the way a kitten trying to attack your foot is more adorable than scary.
- Awesome Total * 666 First take the number of components in the caliber (588) and add that to the number of hours in the power reserve (60), then add the thickness of the watch rounded to the nearest millimeter (16.8 becomes 17), and finally add how many pieces will be created (1) for a supremely devilish awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.rogerdubuis.com/en/excalibur-diabolus-in-machina.
Quick Facts Roger Dubuis Excalibur Diabolus in Machina
Case: 45 x 16.8 mm, CarTech Micro-Melt BioDur CCMTM
Movement: automatic Caliber RD0107 with one-minute flying tourbillon, dual micro rotors, 21,600 vph/3Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; minute repeater, chiming indicator, function indicator
Limitation: unique piece