High Frequency

Philippe Dufour: The Custodian of the Spirit of the Vallée de Joux

He is the custodian of the spirit of the 18th century, by remaining a true Haute Horlogerie Master in the 21st century. The watchmaker who astounded the world with his simplest watch, shares with us the tranquillity of his Valley, which he so loves…

By Constantin Stikas
Photographer and journalist

First published on

Constantin Stikas: What do we gain with high frequency?

Philippe Dufour: I think that we gain in accuracy. In the ‘60s-‘70s there was only Switzerland that was winning in chronometry competitions, and when the Japanese arrived on the scene with the 36,000VpH, they won first prize in the competition, and that was how the Swiss discontinued the competition, since Seiko was winning with its high frequency watches.

CS: What is at risk with a high frequency watch?

PhD: I think that we risk at losing reliability in the long term. In the sense that they are movements that function faster, which produces more important couplings and more wear compared to an 18,000VpH movement. The more we increase the frequency, the more there is stronger pressure, producing premature wear. We can compare these watches to Formula 1 that necessitates more frequent follow-up by engineers, whereas a watch like the one I make at 18,000VpH with a good adjustment, it will work for 4, 5 even 6 years.

CS: In the sphere of high frequency, there was a single protagonist since 1969, the El Primero, which operated at 5Hz. In recent years we have seen watches operating at 5, 8, 10, 16 and even at TAG Heuer at 50, 500 and 1000Hz! What do you think about this?

PhD: It’s a trend. It’s a fashion. It’s a brand proposing a high frequency watch and everyone leaps into the breach. In order not to stay behind. It is primarily a marketing effect. However, I think that it is good for leading brands, which have the financial capacity to spend on R&D, work on this type of things. It is very good. I personally cannot allow it to myself. But fashion is like that, there was a whole tourbillon fashion, today it is less glamorous to launch a tourbillon, everyone has done it, the Chinese etc. and therefore the myth of the tourbillon has subsided somewhat, without having died out and that is where we create a new myth. That of high frequency.

Philippe Dufour Grande Sonnerie

CS: Time in the Vallée de Joux goes by more slowly? In general, Switzerland, to most people, is a ‘slow’ country. However, the CERN is located in Switzerland and today we have seen Watchmaking regularly beating high frequency records… What is your opinion on this?

PhD: We may be slow in expressing ourselves, but we are quick in our way of thinking and in our thoughts.

CS: In a watchmaking world travelling at full speed, you are one of the rare watchmakers who produces very limited quantities. We would say workmanship with greater affinity to the 18th century. What do you think?

PhD: It’s traditional Watchmaking. It is my way of expressing myself in Watchmaking, by trying to perpetuate a beautiful and true Watchmaking.

CS: You presented the Simplicity in 2000 and it took you 11 years to produce the 250 pieces of the limited edition. How much time do you need for presenting your next creation?

PhD: It took me an enormous amount of time to create the 250 Simplicity. I would never have thought that it would have taken me so long. That also stems from the fact that I did not manage to create the team that I would have wanted. It may be a disappointment. At the moment I am working on a Grande Sonnerie, which had been commissioned 4 years ago and then, alongside this, in the evenings I work on my new project, which I hope to present at the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014.

CS: What is your personal relationship to speed?

PhD: I like speed very much. I like downhill skiing. Then, I also like speed in a car to, if the roads are good. As for example at the Col du Marchairuz.

CS: Do you believe that a speed limit should be imposed on motorways and, if yes, that it should be set at how many km/h?

PhD: I think that it is necessary, for security reasons. There could also be hours where fewer limits are imposed. For example at night, when there is little circulation, we could be allowed to drive a bit faster.

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