If there is one watchmaker on earth who truly deserves this prize, it is Philippe Dufour. His service to keeping centuries of horological savoir-faire alive couldn’t be rewarded enough. As the watchmaking industry has become more and more reliant on technology, those who know how to make a timepiece entirely by hand are on the brink of extinction. Dufour is one of the last of them, making almost every single component by hand, down to the last screw, using the same tools as watchmakers did centuries ago.
Each of his timepieces – and he produces only 25 per year – is a work of horological art that has been crafted by his expert hands, combining all the passion and know-how that he has accumulated over the years into pieces that have a real soul. It is no wonder that the waiting time for one of his pieces currently stands at three years.
Funnily enough, Dufour didn’t dream of becoming a watchmaker. He actually wanted to be a mechanic, but at the age of 15 his father was unwell and there was no money to go off to study elsewhere. His teacher suggested watchmaking, so he went to the École Technique in Le Sentier. Fortunately, destiny had its role to play as he immediately became fascinated with this minute mechanical world. After college, he worked for Jaeger-LeCoultre, travelling to Germany, England, the Caribbean and the Virgin Islands to visit different watchmaking facilities. On his return, he worked for Gérald Genta and Audemars Piguet, but it soon became apparent to him that being a cog in a large machine was not for him.
In 1989, he started his own company, first by restoring complicated old pocket watches, and then by making grande sonnerie movements, of which he sold five to Audemars Piguet. He then made his very own grande sonnerie timepiece and took it to Singapore where he secured a number of orders, allowing him to flourish as an independent watchmaker and continue his passion.
In 2007, Dufour worked on an incredible project called La Naissance d’une Montre, The Birth of a Watch, along with watchmakers Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey. This ambitious project was set up to transmit all their combined knowledge to a watchmaking professor, Michel Boulanger. Over a number of years, Boulanger learned how to make his own watch from A to Z with a view to pass this precious knowledge onto his students. The project was filmed and documented so this knowledge would never be lost. Dufour’s generosity in sharing and transmitting his knowledge has secured centuries of horological knowledge forever, and for that, sir, we salute you. ■