Roger Dubuis is an interesting brand on so many levels. At a technical level the brand has always focused strongly on developing movements that are both innovative and visually appealing. On the flip side when you look at the finished product there’s no denying they’re a total “love them or hate them” brand. Much like Hublot, many of RD’s timepieces are big and bold statement pieces that aren’t for everyone. On a personal level, I viewed them as something that I could appreciate in concept, but had little ambition to own personally. This past year was a pretty light one for RD when it came to new releases for men, but this carbon-cased gem — a variation on their “entry-level” Excalibur 42 Automatic — paired their funky and beautifully simple automatic micro-rotor caliber with a material that continues to skyrocket in popularity among brands of all shapes and sizes. The piece caught my attention enough for it to be added to my list of favorite releases from SIHH, and given that it wasn’t a 45+ millimeter monster.
Skeletonized movements are a tough sell unless they’re executed to a particular standard. We’ve all seen the horrible bargain-basement timepieces that are sold from time to time. That said, there’s been a resurgence of the skeletonized watch scene over the last 5 years, and by all accounts the more brands that make these pieces, the more each brand is upping their game to outdo one another.
Looking at the piece in question, one of its most fascinating elements is its simplicity. As much of a watch geek as I am, I have never gone out of my way to learn the basics behind what makes a movement tick. I understand the main components, but drawing out the power flow from crown to rotor to mainspring to hands is a topic mechanical engineers will have to explain to me. What I found most intriguing about the Excalibur Skeleton is the fact that you can basically see every last bit of the movement and more or less figure it all out on your own. Granted, a couple of basic watchmaking classes would teach you all this for much less than the $63,900 sticker price this watch commands, but that’s not the point.
Beyond its technical geekery, the finishing of the movement really makes the Excalibur Skeleton shine. Each of its 167 components are hand-finished on all sides, as no part of the movement is hidden from its observer. The brand claims each movement — that’s right, just the movement and not the complete watch itself — requires a total of 530 hours of manufacturing to complete. It’s no wonder the brand’s new “entry level” watch can command a $60k+ price tag when you take these factors into consideration.
Though the execution of the movement is a key element to the Excalibur Skeleton’s design, there’s no way to gloss past its carbon composite case. Originally available in DLC titanium and pink gold, the use of carbon as a case material here works out well. A carbon fiber weave wouldn’t have worked out, nor would have methods like Linde Werdelin’s 3DTP carbon. The movement design is far too asymmetrical for any structured carbon to really make sense. The use of carbon definitely gives the watch more of a casual feel, and smartly Roger Dubuis opted for a different set of hands that match the red minute markers on its chapter ring, giving the piece just a subtle hint of color to complement the few jewels scattered throughout its movement.
In The Field
I’m surprised to say that I warmed up to the Excalibur Skeleton a fair bit quicker than I had anticipated. I like watches that are bold and make a statement, but I was a little concerned that this watch would be a little too flashy for me. Yes, it catches a lot of light, but the combination of its charcoal-grey rhodium plating and the matte textured case make it a little less “in your face” than it appears in imagery. Handling it, and then slapping it on my wrist, the first thing that stands out is how light the piece is. In titanium the Excalibur isn’t particularly heavy either, mind you, but at only 71.598 grams or about 2.5 ounces, this watch is a true featherweight. Paired with a slim leather strap, the combo wears quite comfortably (even when New York was hit with a heat wave in the high 90s).
The specs do say the watch case is 42mm, but the Excalibur Skeleton wears a reasonable amount larger. It’s still a comfortable size, and thanks to its form-fitted rubber strap it remains quite wearable on smaller wrists. Thankfully both this piece and the Skeleton Flying Tourbillon come in a 42mm case, rather than the 45 and larger cases we see throughout most of the Excalibur range. There’s no hope in hell of those larger models fitting a 6.75” wrist without looking oversized. The overall proportions of the Excalibur Skeleton are just right on all counts. The case is just thick enough to showcase the movement properly without adding unnecessary volume and heft, and its lugs have a nice gentle curve to them that suit the balance of the piece’s design perfectly.
On the topic of lugs, those with a penchant for alternate strap choices won’t have much luck with anything in the Excalibur collection from Roger Dubuis. The case of this and every other piece in the line (and three of their five collections for that matter) all use protruding case details that inhibit the ability to use anything other than an OEM strap from Roger Dubuis. The 3rd “lug” doesn’t serve any kind of purpose, but visually it‘s an interesting little detail — not to mention disrespect to aftermarket strap makers. As previously mentioned, the stock rubber is definitely comfortable enough that I wasn’t itching to try it on other configurations.
As outlandish in design as the piece is, there’s something weirdly charming about it that made me want to keep wearing the piece. We’re talking just as much in shorts and t-shirt mode, right through to a day at the desk, or a dressed up night out for dinner and drinks. The best way I can frame it is it’s kind of like finding a t-shirt you love, only to find out it’s from Ed Hardy or Affliction. Some will be immediately put off by its association with a particular style, but those who take a moment to take in the details of its design will be want to wear it everywhere. After all, this watch isn’t your average skeleton.