Watchmaking goes beyond the numbers for resolute independents

Individuals work with brands and other watchmakers, but keep their own names and products.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 December, 2015, 11:47am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 December, 2015, 11:48am

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A few years ago, when the watch industry hit some hiccups, something changed. The independents were being talked about.

Not just from themselves, in their small shops and boutiques and workshops. The talk of independents and their importance was in the offices and booths of the big brands and watch groups.

Sometimes it was the big bosses themselves, who would say that independent watchmakers were the backbone of the horological world. Or it was friends in the industry who opened up about what they saw happening.

Even independent watchmakers who were bought out by watch groups, felt that people were finally starting to look past the numbers.

Most of the watch names we see are associated with groups, the big watch or holding companies that have put boutiques and shopfronts all over the world. This has brought support, structure and strength to a community that needed it to grow. Watchmaking has always been about collaborations, about one person good at making certain parts while another was better at making bridges.

It was rare that anyone other than the final assembler or the person who put everything into the case would see the finished product. Even the watchmaker who did most of the final work himself was rarely the right person to bring that piece out into the world.

So watches had patrons in the form of royal fans or big-money finance or marketing savvy or even the boat owner who knew someone somewhere else that might be able to sell.

As the world progressed, more products ended up under the same roofs. Brands and groups began taking control of full production and of distribution down to the last transaction in an attempt to bring order and system to what used to be a multi-link chain.

Not everyone wanted to be that way. The end of the last century saw many influential watchmakers and personalities strike out on their own only to find they needed support.

Gerald Genta, Daniel Roth and Franck Muller were names well-known to watch collectors and enthusiasts as individuals, then as parts of a group then as names owned by a group.

Modern horological independents work to remain independent. They act as entrepreneurs and inventors and craftsmen, often helping each other out or collaborating with like-minded souls.

They may well work with large companies or brands on projects, but they seem dedicated to keeping their names and products their own.

Some independent watch companies and watchmakers have the industry in their blood, as is the case with Laurent Ferrier, who is the son and grandson of watchmakers.

He launched his own brand in 2010 and describes his pieces and his philosophy as creatively classic. His Galet Square is an exercise in clean, classic design that focuses on aesthetic harmony visually and includes its own in-house movement equipped with a silicon escapement featuring double direct impulse on the balance.

Christophe Claret chose to bring out his own company in 2009, just when the industry was in the middle of crisis. He made one piece that has a fully functioning roulette wheel and a Texas hold’em poker game.

Maîtres du Temps is a collaboration company started by Steven Holtzman. His vision was to connect the watchmakers to the product, and the name translates into “Masters of Time”.

At any given time you could walk in on him meeting with such illustrious names as Claret, Daniel Roth, Peter Speake-Marin, Kari Voutilainen and Andreas Strehler, who still collaborate with Holtzman in the different “Chapters” of Maîtres Du Temps.

Maximilian Büsser and Friends is a collaboration at the extreme of watchmaking. Even their most classic pieces look like no other timepiece, and their wildest can resemble anything from Japanese robots to frogs to spiders and the starship enterprise. Their Mad Gallery shop in Geneva has artwork from gifted individuals that they feel are important. The friends believe that the story of their existence and the process that artists and the values they defend are as important as the creations themselves.

“They resonate with our 10-year battle defending our unique artistic view on high-end watchmaking,” Büsser says. “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man,” he adds, quoting George Bernard Shaw. “We are very unreasonable people.”