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Roger Dubuis Orbis in Machina Central Monotourbillon Watch Review

Roger Dubuis Orbis Machina

For the better part of a decade now, Roger Dubuis has been the Excalibur, and the Excalibur has been Roger Dubuis. Sure, the occasional scattering of Arthurian knights has cropped up, but not in any form outside of an instantly sold-out novelty run. It’s not hard to see why the Excalibur has dominated their particular breed of watchmaking – everything from its distinctive star-shaped bridge and its skeleton nature to its size and propensity for tourbillons screams haute horology. The downside is that Roger Dubuis haven’t really been able to do much else – which is just one of the reasons that the new Orbis Machina is exciting.

I say one of the reasons because, context aside, there’s a lot about the Orbis to set it apart not just from Roger Dubuis, but from other tourbillons – which is impressive in an increasingly crowded market of supposedly gravity defying complications. Enough that I’m probably not going to review it like I would a more traditional watch. There’s little enough to compare it to that comparisons will be a bit meaningless. But, it is quite possibly my favourite Roger Dubuis watch in recent memory.

Roger Dubuis Orbis Machina
Roger Dubuis Orbis Machina

First up, central tourbillons are a rarity. The balance, the part of the watch that goes in a tourbillon cage, isn’t normally at the centre. The architecture of a classical movement moves it generally to six o’clock, hence that also being where you can find most tourbillon cages. Moving that dead centre requires a complete rethink of how the calibre’s laid out.

Indeed, there aren’t many watchmakers that would attempt it. Bulgari, Hysek, Franck Muller (of course) and a couple of others are the only ones that have bothered – not just because of complexity, but also because Omega had the patent for their De Ville until 2015.

Roger Dubuis Orbis Machina

Still, Roger Dubuis are no strangers to the not-so-humble tourbillon and while they’ve never particularly dabbled in multi-axis numbers a la Jaeger-LeCoultre, they have thrown multiple tourbillons into their watches. As long as they stick to one plane, they have some serious anti-gravity chops – and so, a central tourbillon makes a reasonable amount of sense for them.

Roger Dubuis Orbis Machina

The Orbis however makes more use of that central tourbillon than most. Instead of hands, the time is told on concentric discs around the central complication mounted with skeletonised hands. If you’re wondering which is which, Roger Dubuis have conveniently labelled them, ‘Hours’ and ‘Minutes’. Still, it doesn’t make for the easiest reading, but it is an OCD satisfying echo in shape – something that a star-shaped bridge would utterly ruin. Instead, Roger Dubuis’ architectural sensibilities are expressed in space. It’s not just its size across the board – and we’ll get onto precisely how big this behemoth of a timepiece is – but the space inside the watch, with veritable voids surrounding the timekeeping discs.

In fact, Roger Dubuis have taken that sense of space to the extreme, even going so far as to completely redesign how the crown interacts with the movement. Where you would expect to see a stem to set the watch, there’s nothing. Their watchmakers instead found a painfully complicated workaround, simply to avoid ruining the aesthetics. Now that’s dedication.

Roger Dubuis Orbis Machina
Roger Dubuis Orbis Machina

The Orbis is also going to take some dedication to pull off on the wrist. Not only does it measure in at 45mm across, but it’s a big chunk of heavy precious metal, even if the rose gold comes paired with a rubber strap rather than a bracelet. Said strap is integrated via three distinctive lugs rather than the usual two, amping up its wrist presence to grand proportions. The same goes for the notched bezel and equally notched but much chunkier crown, both of which aesthetically tie it back to the Excalibur. It also rises 14.41mm off the wrist. There’s not going to be any missing it.

And yet despite all of this obvious contemporary watchmaking, there’s actually something classical in the Orbis. It’s not classical as a whole, this isn’t re-treading what the Omega De Ville already laid down. But between actually having some approximation of a dial, and leaning on traditional watchmaking in both the complicated nature of the movement and the finishing across the back, it’s a welcome change of high-adrenaline pace.

Roger Dubuis Orbis Machina

Indeed, flip it over and the movement could come from any fine watchmaking pedigree. Not only is the manual-wind RD115 a solid performance piece with a 72-hour power reserve despite its novel display, but seals the deal quite literally with the Poinçon de Genève. It’s worth noting that the Poinçon de Genève is one of the few certifications that not only takes into account finishing, but measures performance once the watch has been completely cased up and finished. In short, it’s one of the best sureties of exceptionality there is.

Exceptional is indeed the word. We’ve come to expect exceptional watchmaking from Roger Dubuis in the past, but in a grandiose, very specific and often divisive way. I’ve personally never been a huge fan of the Excalibur’s skeletonised star or Roger Dubuis’ reliance on the model. So seeing them do something that’s exceptional in both the wider watchmaking world and their own canon is reassuring that they’ve not pigeonholed themselves. And on its own list of merits, the Orbis Machina is one hell of a watch. Which for nearly €201,000 (approx. £172,000), it should be.

Price and Specs:

Model: Roger Dubuis Orbis in Machina Central Monotourbillon
Ref: DBEX1119
Case: 45mm diameter, 18k pink gold
Dial: 18k pink gold
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Roger Dubuis calibre RD115, manual winding, 29 jewels, 277 parts
Frequency: 21,600 vph (3 Hz)
Power reserve: 72h
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, tourbillon
Strap: Black leather with pink gold clasp and quick release system
Price: €200,826 (approx. £172,000), limited to 88 pieces

More details at Roger Dubuis.

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About the author

Sam Kessler

Legend has it that Sam’s first word was ‘escapement’ and, while he might have started that legend himself, he’s been in the watch world long enough that it makes little difference. As the editor of Oracle Time, he’s our leading man for all things horological – even if he does love yellow dials to a worrying degree. Owns a Pogue; doesn’t own an Oyster Perpetual. Yet.