The watch industry, on occasion, is a weird and yet wonderful place. There is an ever-growing group of watch collectors that now seek out the sublime pieces made by the smaller independent watchmaking brands. Of course, this is for good reason. You see, there are a huge number of large and famous watch manufacturers that are owned by the likes of Richemont Group, i.e. IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre, or by Swatch Group, i.e. Omega and Breguet – just to name a few. There are also large watch brands that are not a part of any conglomerate, such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet or Breitling. They are probably an exception and would really qualify as an independent watch brand– they just produce too large of an amount to truly fit this bill.
Now, there are a few different tiers of independents, if you ask me. There are those who design a timepiece and then call on their friends, such as Max Busser who is very transparent about who does what, which I believe is a truly noble way of creating timepieces. I for one am a massive fan of their Horological and Legacy Machines. There are those who do the same but then use a base movement ETA or Dubois Depraz, heavily modify it and add different levels of finishing to suit their needs that fit the design of their timepiece. Now, in my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this and in some way it creates a more affordable independent timepiece – though this isn’t explicitly true.
Also, there are independent’s such as Moser & Cie and F.P. Journe who manufacture their own movements on a larger scale – though not as large as one may think. Take for instance the timepieces and movements that F.P. Journe creates, such as the Chronometre Souverain. It makes use of a remontoire d’Egalite, which is a small wheel that creates the constant-force applied to the escapement to make it balanced, it stores and releases energy to smooth out fluctuations in the power transferred. On top of that it also incorporates a High-Performance Bi-axial Escapement and dead beat seconds. Creating these technological advances is no mean feat, even for one of the large watch manufacturers, but the fact this was invented and made (excuse the pun) by F.P. Journe, this is the essence of true independent watchmaking, in my opinion.
There is an elite group of independent watchmaking brands such Roger Smith, Philippe Dufour and of course Laurent Ferrier – I would even put F.P. Journe into this category too. All these brands create the most beautiful pieces of watchmaking art. Take for instance the Laurent Ferrier Galet Travel Time: it is just a masterpiece! It’s simple, subtle but has been executed by a watchmaker that has savoir-faire in abundance. I think it is always these independent artisans that push the boundaries of watchmaking, but they are also mindful about the use of technology, making sure these timepieces can be repaired in the future. On one hand, you have these delicate timepieces that incorporate a movement that is so beautifully finished, but they’ve stayed true to watchmaking, using as little machinery as possible and relying on the good old-fashioned term of hand-made.
This is what collectors are now looking for, as these are the pieces that capture the mind and are appreciated more than ever before. And I think this is the most important part – “appreciate.” Watch collectors have always been a smart crowd and I think what is happening now is that collectors who own timepieces from the larger brands want more than just a new timepiece. They want watch manufacturers to consider their wishes when creating new timepieces. And this is something the independents appear to be getting very right.