The Unusual Suspects – The Daniel Roth Masters Chronograph is a masterful piece by a legendary watchmaker for under $10,000Borna Bošnjak
High-end, independent watchmaking has become difficult to come by in recent times, as many have begun to realise that paying huge mark-ups on mass-produced watches isn’t that cool. The problem is, however, that even when you do discover a niche independent that produces something that you like, it’s increasingly common that they already have a waitlist a few years long. But what if I told you that you could pick up an automatic, hand-finished chronographs with gorgeous guilloché dials, made by a legendary watchmaker that jointly created an instantaneous perpetual calendar with Philippe Dufour – for less than US$10,000? That’s where the Daniel Roth Masters Chronograph comes in.
On the maker
Descending from a line of watchmakers, Daniel Roth cut his teeth at Audemars Piguet and Breguet, after completing a diploma at a watchmaking school in Nice. His influence was particularly notable at Breguet, where he worked closely with movement supplier Lemania, fitting co-developed movements into the ref. 3237/3230 Chronograph, while finely finished Piguet 71 movements found their way into the ref. 3050 Perpetual Calendar. He also adapted two famed Breguet pocket watches into wristwatch forms, including the predecessor of the recently updated Classique 7337.
The year 1988 was significant both for Daniel Roth and the Breguet brand. As his magnum opus, Daniel Roth would develop the ref. 3350, the first-ever tourbillon watch produced under the Breguet name. Such a feat, paired with the fact that Breguet flourished under Roth’s leadership, would make you think that the future was bright, particularly considering how special of an achievement this was in the late 1980s. However, a scandal involving over $100 million in debt by the Chaumet brothers, who were caught unaware by spiking diamond prices, meant bankruptcy and the sale of the Breguet name to Investcorp in 1987. The following year, Breguet released the ref. 3350, while the master watchmaker that created it left the brand.
This wasn’t the end for either master or the ref. 3350, as Daniel Roth set up his eponymous brand the very same year in Le Sentier. Production began swiftly, with a dozen watchmakers in his employ and a series of time-only and complicated watches released in a short couple of years. The Frederic Piguet 71 calibre made a return in the C107 Extra-Plat, graced by a solid gold guilloché main dial, which, along with the iconic double ellipse case, became a Daniel Roth signature. This first series also contained a two-register, manually wound chronograph, the reference C147. As you can see from the example above – it’s absolutely stunning. The blued arrow hands contrast against the clous de Paris guilloché salmon dial, while the white-gold case employs rose-gold pushers and crown. Powered by a Lemania 2320, it’s one of many examples of Roth’s love of Lemania calibres, shown off in skeletonised examples of this very same watch. This isn’t the chronograph in question however, as, being an early Daniel Roth creation, examples of the C147 are still underrated, but certainly not a bargain.
The brand’s holy trinity were certainly the C117 Perpetual Calendar, C187 Tourbillon and C189 Minute Repeater. For the tourbillon, Roth again used the Lemania-derived calibre originally developed during his Breguet days, while the minute repeater and its Lemania 389 are basically unicorns, with less than a handful produced, and almost never seen in public. The most interesting of the three, in my opinion, is the C117 perpetual calendar. Remarkably complex in its finishing, the C117 was somewhat of a failure, as it was conceived to be the world’s first instantaneous perpetual calendar. However, the initially suggested aperture display required too much power, and was replaced by two sub-dials with teeny hands. The difficulty in its execution is even more evident when considering it was co-developed with up-and-coming young watchmaker Philippe Dufour. Wonder what he’s up to these days.
As a result of poor business decisions hand-in-hand with a particularly unfortunate stroke of luck, Roth was forced to look for outside investment, which first came in 1995 through The Hour Glass. Many of the pieces produced under THG ownership were far from the haute horlogerie of their predecessors, before the group’s folding in 2000. Our gem, the Daniel Roth Masters Chronograph came from the late independent period, where Daniel Roth and Girard-Perregaux co-developed a new modular chronograph movement, though the pieces continued to be produced after Roth gave up the majority of his shares. The Daniel Roth name was sold once again, this time to Bulgari. Along with Gerald Genta’s, the Daniel Roth name eventually disappeared, with only the ghosts of past masterpieces remaining in Bulgari’s current offering.
A master’s Masters Chronograph
I admit – that was quite a lengthy introduction, but for a (relatively) unknown brand of such high importance, I could only advise you to dig even deeper – the incredibly deep dive from A Collected Man, being a personal favourite. Finally – onto the watch. The Masters Chronograph followed the Masters S247, released during The Hour Glass era, sporting a Zenith El Primero 400 movement. Compared to the clean, two-register aesthetic of the originals, the El Primero-equipped masters never really took off, and the same can be said for most of the new pieces during the THG era. Instead, we look to the Masters Chronograph, with a simpler, two-register layout evoking the C147 and with a lovely Girard-Perregaux and occupying this weird spot of uncertainty.
The double ellipse cases also became available in stainless steel for the first time, further helping with their affordability, while the dials retained familiar, intricate guilloché that graced Daniel Roth’s models in the past.
The calibre was built on top of a Girard-Perregaux GP3000, equipped with a column wheel and lateral clutch, running seconds at 9 o’clock and 30-minute totaliser at 3 o’clock. Denoted as a GP030C0 in Girard-Perregaux’s naming scheme, the 38-jewel movement featured a 38-hour power reserve and pleasant finishing throughout, though, admittedly, not to the standard of Roth’s prior work. The same GP base calibre was also later used for a further expansion of Bulgari’s Daniel Roth offering, including the awesome Datomax, and its big date window with overlapping discs and flame-blued steel hands.
Another quirk of this modular chronograph calibre is the placement of the chrono module. It was positioned underneath the dial, its position perfect for revealing the intricate workings of the chronograph mechanism, though only a few Daniel Roth and Girard-Perregaux models ever made the most of it. One of the rare few are the examples above, and despite way fewer produced when compared to the regular Masters Chronograph and solid gold cases, they are incredible value propositions, regularly selling for under CHF 20,000 at auction.
Daniel Roth has already seen a huge uptick in interest, featuring in more and more auctions and articles as time goes on. The brand’s early offerings have long been out of reach of the “bargain” term, but the few references that remain affordable are certainly worthy of the unusual suspect status. I can only hope nobody reads this article, as I’ve still not saved up enough to buy one.