Falling in love with independent watch brands

EDGAR's horology expert shows some appreciation for the watchmaking little guys.

June 20, 2016

In the world of haute horlogerie there are two kinds of watchmakers. 

The vast majority of watch brands are part of one of the three huge consortiums: the Swatch group, the Richemont group or LVMH. But off the beaten path, struggling on their own are the other kind – the truly independent brands.

There are exceptions, to be sure. Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe are not part of those super groups. But what I mean by an independent watchmaker is the little guy – the master watchmaker who can design, craft and assemble a watch entirely from scratch. The one who goes off on his own to make his mark on the watch world with no big corporate help.

These are the watchmakers who introduce revolutionary ideas, break the rules and aren’t afraid to take on the giants. They produce a very limited number of watches every year, and each one is handcrafted with love and attention. Without the hype and overheads of the big name brands, they’re often relatively affordable too, considering what you get.

Romain Gauthier
In Romain Guathier’s Logical One range of watches there is an element of watchmaking genius at work. The design started out with something which was already unusual – a fusée and chain. This is normally a cone-shaped crank that is wound with a chain attached to the mainspring barrel, and it’s not often used. You can see the chain on the left side of the dial. 

But Gauthier’s design innovation uses a completely unique snail cam to keep the chain and barrel on the same plane, solving a lot of reliability issues. Then, to top it off, all of the rollers within the chain are actually synthetic rubies, reducing the friction and making the mechanism even more accurate.

The Logical One Secret Kakau Höfke uses this same movement, but adds the workmanship of Gauthier’s friend and acclaimed artist Kakau Höfke. 352 miniature tiles of jade and agate overlap and cascade in two delicate layers of marquetry to create the famous Corcovado scenery of Rio de Janeiro. 

Christiaan van der Klaauw
Since he was a youngster, van der Klaauw was fascinated by the celestial bodies. It led him on a lifetime journey to create the smallest mechanical heliocentric planetarium in the world. You can wear it on your wrist in the form of the Masterpiece CVDK Planetarium. 

All of CVDK’s works of engineered art are inspired by the harmonious dance of the planets. In fact, for many years he concentrated only on making astronomical clocks. At the Baselworld watch fair of 1992 he received the award for the most innovative watch design for his Pendulum Variable – an astronomical clock unlike any other.

His first wristwatch, the Satellite du Monde appeared in 1994, and soon after he offered the Planetarium watch. It quickly became one of the favourites of watch collectors, and I can see why.

Vianney Halter
One of the forefathers of the independent watchmaking movement, a self-professed "crazy French watchmaker," Halter is so passionate about his art that he’s been known to shed tears of joy when he sees one of his watch projects come to conclusion. It’s the fire and dedication to the craft that I enjoy most about these brands.

He’s most famous for his steampunk inspired masterpiece called the Antiqua – Vianney might have developed his love for the style early on when his father worked on the French railways.

But steam era antiques are not his only design passions. He is also a sci-fi fan, and his Deep Space Nine and Satellerium watches are a celebration of where high tech meets art. Just like the others, only a few pieces are produced each year. 

Tariq Malik is owner of Momentum Dubai, the UAE's first and only vintage watch boutique. Visit momentum-dubai.com.