Watches: Independent Watchmakers in 2013 - Part 1

By Thierry Ané on December 3, 2013

The watch industry is no exception to the trend towards consolidation. Dominated by a few groups that grow larger every year, watchmaking today is organized like any other industrial activity in our globalized and standardized world. If it is good for economies of scale and general efficiency, it is not ideal (to say the least) for creativity. On the altar of improved productivity, things tend to be so normalized that many final competing products look just the same.

Where is the farmer-watchmaker working alone with hand-crafted tools behind a bench in a Swiss chalet during the winter months? Although this idealized image is no longer the reality of the watch industry, a few small brands remain the stronghold of traditional watchmaking and picked up the torch where all the illustrious legends of horology left it.

By the techniques and tools they use, the concepts and ideas they manage to put into production, the originality and rarity of their creations, these individuals keep this ancient art alive and captivating.

Not without admiration, we usually refer to this group as the “independent watchmakers”. The moniker encompasses brands or individuals producing classic-looking or avant-garde watches able to arouse the interest of the most jade connoisseurs. Their stunning watches reflect their personalities and are the reason we love horology so much.

In a two-part article, we will review some of the best examples of what these extremely talented watchmakers unveiled this year. In no particular order, here are the first five timepieces of this best-of. Wait until tomorrow for the other five models of this brief overview of another approach to watchmaking.

Frédéric Jouvenot Tour de Force

After the amazing “Solar Deity” models (see for instance the Amaterasu), Frédéric Jouvenot is back with an original complication that redefines the power reserve indicator. The Tour de Force timepiece counts the revolutions of the rotor while indicating the power reserve in units. Three discs are necessary to display this unique complication. Starting with a display of “0 0 0” when the watch is not wound, the counter increases by one unit at every revolution of the rotor to reach “9 9 9” when the watch is fully wound. The total power reserve is 50 hours or 3,000 minutes so if you did the math you have already guessed that each rotor revolution produces 3 minutes of power reserve. It is absolutely amazing to be able to count it this way on the watch!

The watch is a perfect mix of innovation (the amazing power reserve indicator but also the shape of the case with slightly curved horns that follow the natural shape of the wrist) and watchmaking tradition (you can rely on Frédéric Jouvenot’s know-how to deliver a movement technically reliable and aesthetically beautiful).

Find out more about the Frédéric Jouvenot Tour de Force Black DLC Titanium

Laurent Ferrier Galet Traveller

You can’t get any closer to traditional watchmaking than with this highly regarded independent watchmaker, producing less than 150 watches per year. Awarded at the 2010 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in the “Best men’s Watch” category, Laurent Ferrier was head of product development at Patek Philippe before leaving this prestigious manufacture after 37 years to create the brand that bears his name. Whatever the model, expect an outstanding movement and superlative finishing.

This year, the brand houses a second time zone complication in its already iconic “Galet” case. The Galet Traveller shows a second time zone in a window at 9 o’clock that is slightly larger than that of the date a t 3 o’clock so that no confusion is possible. The LF230.01 calibre is chronometer certified by the Besançon Observatory. This movement with no ball bearings and a natural escapement draws its 80 hours of power reserve from a micro-rotor like the Galet Micro Rotor.

Find out more about the Laurent Ferrier Galet Traveller Red Gold

Maîtres du Temps Chapter Three

This haute horlogerie brand brings together all-star teams of talented watchmakers to produce original, collaborative pieces. Introduced last year in rose gold the Chapter Three watch presented this year in a white gold version is the fruit of a collaboration between two acclaimed independent watchmakers: Kari Voutilainen in charge of the movement design, the finishing and decoration, and Andreas Strehler, responsible for the technical interface between movement, the complications and the case as well as the open-close mechanism for the second time zone.

In addition to the time and date indication, the watch displays the phases of the moon and a second time zone with a day-night indication. The latter two indications appear on rollers located at 12 and 6 o’clock respectively and can be hidden on demand to produce an unobstructed dial showcasing a beautiful blue Sunray and “Clou de Paris” guilloché. Again, this watch offers the perfect balance of tradition and innovation.

Find out more about the Maîtres du Temps Chapter Three White Gold

Romain Gauthier Logical One

The impressive Logical One by Romain Gauthier features a triple patent-pending flat chain-and-fusée style constant force system with ruby chain links, ergonomic push button winding system, dial-side visible balance, mainspring barrel with sapphire inserts, plus a 60-hour power reserve indicator.

The principle of constant force has always been imperative to horology and with the Logical One, Romain Gauthier re-invents one of the oldest and most traditional methods of supplying constant force to a watch movement, the chain-and-fusée, making it more reliable, more effective and more constant. The “Logical One” watch is a stunning piece of mechanical art also available in a red gold version.

Find out more about the Romain Gauthier Logical One Platinum

Urwerk EMC

The Electro Mechanical Control (EMC) watch is a mechanical timepiece with a uniquely designed electronic module that acts as a rate measuring tool. Indeed, the watch verifies its own precision via an electronic mechanism that tells how accurate it is and if its timing needs to be adjusted via an integrated calculator that compares the watch’s oscillations to a highly precise 16,000,000 Hz electronic reference oscillator to determine any difference.

The brand known for its satellite displays goes one step further this time by introducing electronic components in an otherwise purely mechanical timepiece.

Find out more about the Urwerk EMC Titanium and Steel

This concludes the first chapter of our brief presentation of the most interesting timepieces produced this year by independent watchmakers. Come back tomorrow for the second part of this article with five brands or watchmakers as talented and imaginative as the ones we have just discussed.