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Behind the scenes of ultimate watchmaking: welcome to Dubois-Dépraz

For more than a hundred years, a family business has subtly made its way to the heart of mechanical watchmaking in Vallée de Joux. It has played a vital role in hard times and has reinvented the very design of mechanical complications.

By Benjamin Teisseire

Our story takes place at the heart of Vallée de Joux, which has been the cradle of watchmaking complications for over two hundred years now. The mountainous region is a hub of the most prestigious Swiss brands such as Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, Breguet, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and even Geneva-based Patek Philippe, both because its production facility is established there and for its historical wealth. In recent years though, the region has also become synonymous with some renowned names of the watchmaking universe such as Philippe Dufour, or even Romain Gauthier.

Photo © Dubois Dépraz

A family business of more than 115 years

On January 1st, 1901, Marcel Dépraz, great grandfather of the current directors, founded his first watchmaking workshop in Le Lieu. After some time, his brother-in-law, followed by his daughter and also his son later on, joined the company and the adventure became a family affair. In 1947, Dépraz & Cie was created and renamed `Dubois & Dépraz' in 1968 as the two families had been collaborating for more than 30 years by then. 

Photo © Dubois Dépraz

Today, Dubois Dépraz, and its DPRM division, which specializes in the profile-turning of pinions and wheels, employs more than 300 workers assigned to four different locations. It is THE partner of over fifty famous Swiss watchmaking brands, whose names must be kept a secret following the legendary tradition of discretion for which both Switzerland and watchmaking are renowned.

Photo © Dubois Dépraz

The main activity: Chronographs

The brand produces several complications, but it earned its excellent reputation at the beginning of the century with the introduction of the 13 3/4 chronograph, a.k.a. caliber 48 in 1937. Until the 1970s, over 3.5 million pieces were produced. It was the first adjustable module chronograph and it was later reinterpreted by several other brands. In 1967, the company designed the world's first automatic chronograph with a micro-rotor. The automatic modular chronograph, available in calibers 11, 12 and 15, was awarded the diploma and the vermeil medal at the 'Salon des inventeurs' (Invention Exhibition) in Brussels in 1969. In 1983, the modularity concept was given better definition, which resulted in the development of the amazing chronograph module caliber 2000,. The latter fitted any movement, be it mechanical or quartz. The whole watchmaking industry expressed a keen interest in the module, which rapidly became the flagship model of Dubois Dépraz. To this date, more than 2 million of these modules are housed in the chronographs of several brands. However, the brand's skills extend to broader horizons.

Photo © Dubois Dépraz

Independence and flexibility at the service of watchmaking excellency

The company develops the whole industrial process connected to component production, but also delves into other activities. An entire section of Dubois Dépraz's activity is dedicated to the detailed work that watchmaking excellence requires. Everything has to be accurate, including network operations that control, trim, draw and polish every component to be used in its calibers or unique complications.

The company produces its own cutting tools. Dubois Dépraz works with Wire-Cut EDM, which has a diameter of less than one-third of a strand of hair. Its accuracy is so effective that the sides of the pieces produced by these machines do not need to be corrected.

Photo © Dubois Dépraz

Throughout the visit, we noticed that the brand’s industrial process does not rely on extreme automation and standardization. In fact, employees are constantly carrying out operations by hand, the controls are multiplied, and most of the time the work is done piece by piece. Obviously, excellence comes at a high price.

The added value of expertise

They also develop entire movements according to the specifications of clients, or start from scratch with only the idea or vision of a brand to work on. However, the main activity is the production of the famous complication modules that have revolutionized modern watchmaking.

Photo © Dubois Dépraz

This expertise adds value to the work of the brand and Dubois-Dépraz understood long ago that it is the right direction for its development and that it would be futile to attempt to rival big names of entry-level caliber makers, be it Swatch with ETA, Sellita, Ronda or Soprod.

Seventy-five percent of the components of the modules are produced in-house or bought at their subsidiary DPRM. Only the screws are not included in this founding principle. Dubois Dépraz thus proposes a complete catalogue of adjustable modules to fit the exact requirements of every brand or client: GMT, simple or perpetual calendar, striking mechanisms and, of course, the star Chronograph module.

Photo © Dubois Dépraz

Key trend indicator

Throughout its long years of service to other brands, the company has become the best trend indicator. It has lived through changing trends of the industry – large to smaller dimensions, broad to ultra-thin sizes, and an over-the-top use of complications later toned down to a reasonable and useful number. Nowadays, brands are determined to make a difference, which seems to be a healthy balance in a saturated market. The Dubois Dépraz modules serve this purpose and provide some added value to timepieces ranging from 2,500 CHF to more than 100,000 CHF. Incidentally, we risked asking about their state of affairs. And since subtlety is key when it comes to subcontractors, whether in Vallée de Joux, or anywhere else in Switzerland, mum was the word as only a short 'things are good' was uttered when it was acknowledged that they have limited visibility. 

Dubois Dépraz SA is an institution. Its products are of the highest quality and are acknowledged and guaranteed by more than a hundred years of experience and reliability. Away from the public eye, the company still supplies components to leading Swiss brands to the delight of every watch enthusiast. In such a manner, the family business ensures its independence and does not seek the limelight. For Dubois-Dépraz, a behind-the-scenes recognition is just as satisfying and sufficient. For modesty is the mark of a great leader.

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