The world of huate horologie is either dominated by huge groups that house numerous watch brands under their umbrellas like the Swatch Group which owns Omega, Breguet and Blancpain and the Richemont Group which owns A. Lange & Söhne and Cartier, or by privately-held behemoths like Rolex and Patek Philippe.
However, in the upper echelons of the watch collecting world hide the “independent watchmakers”. These watchmakers have limited/non-existent marketing budgets, but are celebrated and lauded by collectors for their craftsmanship and their ingenuity. Some of these independents preserve the classical art of timekeeping and some go as far as invent new ways to tell time.
Here are 6 independent watchmakers you absolutely need to know if you really like watches:
1. F.P. Journe
F.P. Journe has been a personal favorite of ours for quite some time now. Founder and master-watchmaker Francois-Paul Journe founded his eponymous manufacture in 1989 in the heart of Geneva. The manufacture delivers just 900 watches per year to clients all over the world. Mr. Journe is hailed as a technical genius by collectors all over the world and has numerous patents to his name (the Sonnerie Souverain has 10 patents!). Legend has it that, as a young man, Mr. Journe wanted a tourbillion watch but couldn’t afford them, so he made one.
Pictured here is F.P. Journe’s Tourbillion Souverain Bleu, a unique piece made for chariy auction Only Watch and sold for 550,000 Swiss Francs.
2. Ressence Watches
What’s the first thing you notice about the Ressence Type 3? If your answer is “Wtf, this watch has no hands”, you’d be right. Ressence’s patented time display is unlike any other in that instead of having hands rotate around the dial, the dial itself rotates and the wearer uses two laser-etched arrows to tell the time. At first glance, you’d think that the watch resembles a smart watch but Ressence watches involve some serious engineering and mechanics. If that’s not enough for you, the Ressence Type 3 won the Horological Revelation prize at GPHG when it was released in 2013.
3. Philippe Dufour
Philippe Dufour is regarded by many as the best watchmaker in the world; a master-watchmaker of the highest order. Dufour started his watchmaking career at Jaeger LeCoultre and later worked at Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin where he honed his craft. At his Geneva HQ, Dufour makes 15 to 18 watches per year… and he makes them entirely by hand, only using hand-operated machines that sometimes date back to the 1930s. The reason Dufour’s watches are extolled by collectors and connoisseurs Dufour puts in so much time and effort in hand-finishing his watch cases and movements.
Philippe Dufour’s Simplicity was launched in 1998 and each piece was made to order and completely by hand. It took Dufour 12 years to produce and deliver 200 Simplicity watches to their owners. He will not make more.
Urwerk was founded by Felix Baumgartner (if the name sounds familiar, then you’re slightly offtrack) and Martin Frei, a watchmaker/artist combo that shared a passion for time keeping. Known for its futuristic, avant-garde design, Urwerk has quickly become a modern brand that collectors and watch aficionados truly appreciate. Urwerk even won the “Best Design Watch” award at the 2011 GPHG for the UR-110 (pictured below).
5. Kari Voutilainen
Like F.P. Journe and Philippe Dufour (who are both on this list), the Finnish watchmaker Kari Voutilainen spent much of watchmaking career at a famous antiques/restoration shop restoring some of the greatest and most complicated watches ever made. In 2002, Voutilainen decided to become independent and opened his atelier. And than God for that! Most of Kari Voutilainen’s watches are custom orders made directly to his atelier. Customers can custom order their watch in the case metal and the dial color of their preference. Complicated watches are also made upon request of the customers. That is if you can afford the hefty price tag.
No list of Independent Watchmakers is complete without Maximillian Busser & Friends. Look at the HM4 pictured below and you’ll understand why MB&F’s creations are aptly named Horological Machines.
Built on the concept of “develop[ing] radical horological masterpieces”, MB&F has been shaking up the world of modern horology with each and every creation. Sometimes, we wish we had the friends Max Busser has.