Re-Introducing Daniel Roth, the Cult Watchmaker Revived by Louis Vuitton
When Daniel Roth launched his namesake atelier in the late 1980s under the mantra, “La Montre Objet d’Art,” the watch world was a very different place than it is today. The major Swiss brands were rebuilding following the quartz crisis, but the future of high-end Swiss watchmaking was still very much in question. That makes Roth’s decision to push ahead with his own brand specializing in small numbers of extremely high-end mechanical watches all the more significant. Producing just a few hundred watches per year, Roth made a name for himself alongside luminaries like F.P. Journe and Roger Dubuis before all but disappearing from the industry. This year, however, thanks to its recent acquisition by Louis Vuitton, Daniel Roth’s name is poised to resume its place in the highest echelons of Swiss watchmaking.
Born into a family of watchmakers in France, Daniel Roth honed his trade at Audemars Piguet before being recruited to lead the renaissance of Breguet in the 1970s. After helping to revive this historic brand, however, Roth was thinking bigger still. After producing a run of 25 hand-wound double-faced tourbillons for revered accessories brand Asprey of London Roth launched an eponymous brand over which he’d have complete creative control.
While there are many noteworthy single-maker brands today, demand in the 1980s for the kind of highly specialized — and highly labour-intensive — watches they make was far from what it is now. In the pre-internet, pre-social media era, few people knew what a tourbillon or a minute-repeater was, and even fewer would go out of their way to buy one. Despite this, Roth believed in his dream and would blaze a trail for many independent watchmakers to follow. Roth’s ambitions matched his talent, and he was soon working on making a name for his brand with creations like a tourbillon housed in an “ellipsocurvex” case — a unique hybrid of an oval and rectangle that would become a design signature of his brand.
Unfortunately, Roth was not immune from the unique economic challenges of running a high-end watch brand. He sold his management stake in the company in the mid-nineties, before exiting in 2000 when his eponymous brand was sold to Bulgari. In 2023, however, the brand is poised for a renaissance. The new Daniel Roth will be run under the supervision of Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini, the pioneering craftsmen behind Louis Vuitton’s La Fabrique du Temps watchmaking atelier. Details are scarce as to what the new Daniel Roth collection will look like, but Louis Vuitton has teased a return to form, with production capped at just a few hundred pieces per year.
The brand’s first release under Navas and Barbasini’s direction will be a 20-piece “souscription” series inspired by Roth’s the watches Roth created for Asprey of London in 1988. Dubbed the DR001, it features a double-ellipse case, hand-finished tourbillon movement and a uniquely-styled retrograde minutes counter. Priced at CHF 140,000 (about $207,000) it will be available by “subscription,” to select clients who register online and provide an up-front deposit, and is expected to be delivered in early 2024. Roth himself has given the piece his blessing in a recently-released interview. “Modern watchmakers are remaking the watch with just as much taste, just as much passion in reconstructing it,” he says. “It’s great to see. It’s all I could ask for.” It also makes a fitting conclusion to Roth’s long and storied career, and a vindication for a watchmaker who was consistently ahead of his time.
Learn more about the Daniel Roth relaunch here.