About time: state of independence
Given the saturation coverage the Twilight Saga is getting at the moment, it may surprise some to know that the film franchise, based on Stephenie Meyer's vampire-themed romance books, is considered "independent". Curious, but as those films were made outside the Hollywood studio system, then strictly speaking, it's true. In the watch world, the definition of what makes a brand independent is much clearer: you have the big luxury conglomerates and then you have everyone else.
Independent watchmakers are a disparate bunch. There are some brands that have the heritage and the technical credentials yet can-not compete with the all-singing, all-dancing marketing campaigns of the larger brands. Eberhard & Co is one such company, established in 1865 and still going strong, with watches such as the Extra-Fort Grande Taille (above right). Coming in a 41mm steel case, this timepiece is a reinterpretation of more storied watches from Eberhard's past. The styling is both classic and sporty, with the dial featuring a chronograph with two subdials, one counting small seconds, the other 30 minutes. And perhaps the best thing is the pricing, which at HK$38,300 makes this watch a steal. Not to eulogise too much about a specific brand, but if you're looking for something a little less ubiquitous that has quality and a history, then you can't go far wrong with the Extra-Fort Grande Taille.
A more recently established independent watch manufacturer is a French-Swiss brand with a distinctly Anglicised name: Bell & Ross. Having started out in 1992, for many years the company was partnered on the production side with cult German watchmaker Sinn but it went totally independent in 2002, with all production and design moving in-house. Famed for its square-dial aviator watches, Bell & Ross can also do subtle and has mastered the use of precious materials, as with watches such as the WW1 Argentium (below right). Coming with either a silver or ruthenium dial, this 41mm watch is stripped of design pretention for a classic and clean look, with the only feature being the small seconds hand at the six o'clock position. Topping off the vintage look is the wonderful silver-grey leather strap and the domed glass covering the dial. The Bell & Ross WW1 Argentium is priced at HK$51,000.
Our final independent watchmaker is FP Journe, perhaps one of the most widely respected and innovative in the industry and the eponymous label of Francois-Paul Journe, a master watchmaker who decided to strike out on his own with dazzling results. The newest FP Journe to get tongues wagging is the Chronometre Optimum (below left), part of the Souveraine collection. Priced between HK$662,000 and HK$708,000 (depending on the case size and material), the timepiece is a wonderful exposition of the art of watch design and FP Journe's ability to make the incredibly difficult look playful and easy. The Chronometre Optimum is respectful of history while co-opting modern design features, including two barrels in parallel, which give it 70 hours of power reserve, a constant-force remontoire for greater efficiency and other clever and patented features. Despite all the brilliance inside the watch, though, the most arrest-ing thing about the Chronometre Optimum is its unique dial design - unmistakable to any watch connoisseur and likely to draw admiring glances and praise from the lay watch person, too. The FP Journe comes in either platinum or red gold and case sizes of 40mm or 42mm.