The Best Watchmakers You Haven’t Heard Of

The watchmakers to watchmakers, these independent companies prove you needn’t require the backing of a conglomerate to get the industry ticking.

By Richard Brown 25/07/2023

It’s true, these days the majority of major-label watch brands belong to the portfolio of huge parent companies—Swatch Group, Richemont and LVMH having spent the previous 30 years feverishly acquiring large swathes of the industry. Yet, behind the household dial-names taking up jewellery-shop windows, a cornucopia of independent companies is busy producing some of the most interesting, elegant and downright bat-shit crazy watches out there. If you’re looking for a watch with real talking-point status, these are the watchmakers’ watchmakers.

F.P. Journe

F.P. Journe is the only watchmaker to have won the Grand Prize at the hallowed Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix three times over. The cinematic equivalent would be for a filmmaker to be named Best Director at the Academy Awards on three occasions. It’s an even more impressive feat when you consider that F.P. Journe is an independent brand lacking the backing of a multinational parent company. A doff of the cap.

fpjourne.com

Laurent Ferrier

Having served at Patek Philippe for 37 years—a four-decade tenure that saw him rise to creative director—you might have forgiven Laurent Ferrier for putting his feet up. Not so for this third-generation watchmaker. In 2010, aged 63, Ferrier decided that the time was right to launch a watch brand of his own. He debuted with the Galet Classic Tourbillon Double Spiral, an elegant piece that was named Best Men’s Watch at that year’s Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix. The rest, as they say…

laurentferrier.ch

MB&F

MB&F doesn’t call itself a watchmaker: it prefers to be known as an “artistic concept laboratory”. That’s because MB&F doesn’t make watches. Nope, what the brand makes is “horological machines”. And so we get robotic clocks, time-telling music boxes, and timepieces shaped like spaceships, jet engines and jellyfish. Occasionally, the maddest brand in watchland will come out with something you can actually wear on your wrist.

mbandf.ch

H. Moser & Cie.

The main advantage of being independent is, surely, autonomy, and therefore the freedom to pursue your dreams—regardless of how outré and commercially perilous those ideas might be. Never one to let convention get in the way, H. Moser & Cie. has, in its two-decade history, given us a mickey-take of the Apple Watch named the Alps Watch Zzzz; a timepiece with a case made of actual cheese; and an equally irreverent number from which real plants sprouted. Somehow, it works, often spectacularly—as with 2019’s Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black, which featured no hands and no hour indices. Go figure.

h-moser.com

Bremont

As British as a Beefeater eating a cucumber sandwich, Henley-on-Thames-based Bremont has been spearheading the mission to bring back mass-scale mechanical watchmaking to the United Kingdom since 2002. Two decades on, and the brand, with the backing of billionaire celebrity hedge-fund manager Bill Ackman since the beginning of 2023, is close to achieving that mission, manufacturing components for its own proprietary movement in a space-age technology centre close to the banks of the River Thames.

bremont.com

Parmigiani Fleurier

Michel Parmigiani began his career restoring historic clocks and watches, including many pieces from the Patek Philippe museum. After rebuilding a number of exhibits for the Watch Museum of Le Locle, in 1996 he began manufacturing watches of his own. King Charles III, a champion of traditional crafts, has proven himself an admirer, having been photographed wearing the now-discontinued Toric chronograph on several occasions.

parmigiani.com

HYT

HYT made a splash in 2012 when it became the first watchmaker to display the time using mechanical components to regulate coloured fluids inside cylindrical tubes. If you think that sounds crazy, you’d be exactly right. After a brief hiatus, HYT is back and as experimental as ever, so expect big things in the very near future.

hytwatches.com

Arnold & Son

When English clockmaker John Arnold presented his Arnold No. 36 to the Greenwich Royal Observatory for review in 1778, the clock proved so precise that it was the first timing device to be denoted a “chronometer”; and the term is still used today to signal a supremely accurate timepiece. Continuing in that vein—although now operating from Switzerland’s La Chaux-de-Fonds, instead of London’s Chigwell—is the clockmaker’s latter-day incarnation, Arnold & Son, creator of 19 proprietary movements and counting since 1998.

arnoldandson.com

Speake-Marin

Last year, Speake-Marin celebrated 20 years in the watchmaking business with its first timepiece with an integrated bracelet. Inspired by architectural elements of London’s financial district—a geometric case recalls a church clock tower and the dial sports “Big Ben” hands—the sporty Ripples collection points towards a more contemporary direction for the low-volume brand. The watches might take the English capital as their muse, but the movements inside are all manufactured within the company’s workshops in Geneva.

speake-marin.com

Franck Muller

Launched in 1991 between Franck Muller and watchcase designer Vartan Sirmakes, Muller is best known for exquisite timepieces that often defy logic and land with a heavy sense of “wow”. A watch boasting 36 complications and comprising 1,483 components? Please meet the Aeternitas Mega 4. Require a ten-day power reserve? Grab yourself the Giga Tourbillon. For all the complexity and wonder—Muller is rightly known as the “Master of Complications”—there are also softer moments such as the current Cintrée Curvex collection. Muller’s edge, though, is the crafting of something new and innovative—here’s an out-of-the-box thinker who has found incredible global success with tangible anticipation framing each year’s releases, and what is, ultimately, a unique take on watchmaking and one that’s become immediately recognisable.

franckmuller.com

Richard Mille

If you had to name the most successful independent watch brand of the 21st century, Richard Mille would surely appear near the top of your shortlist. It’s certainly the only name on this register of which non-watch folk will have heard. Mostly, that’s down to the strategic sponsoring of big-draw sporting events, everything from tennis and golf, to polo and Formula 1—hell, for several years now Richard Mille has sponsored the F1 teams of both Ferrari and McLaren. Yet there’s also the watches, including a handful of timepieces that have broken records for their physics-defying, lightweight construction.

richardmille.com

Jean Daniel Nicolas

There’s limited edition. And then there’s Jean Daniel Nicolas. The second independent brand founded by legendary watchmaker Daniel Roth—his first company, simply Daniel Roth, was established in 1988 and acquired by Bulgari in 2000—produces a grand total of just two watches a year. Having cut his teeth at Audemars Piguet, Roth spent 15 years spearheading artistic direction at Breguet. Save for springs, rubies, glasses and cases, everything inside the brace of watches produced each year by Jean Daniel Nicolas is manufactured by hand within the company’s own workshops.

jeandanielnicolas.watch

Grönefeld

Grönefeld’s first watch was a statement of intent. Resurrecting a Dutch dial-name first established by their grandfather in 1912, Bart and Tim Grönefeld relaunched the family business in 2008 with the GTM-O6. Not only was the brand’s maiden timepiece powered by an in-house movement, it was also equipped with a minute repeater—broadly considered the most challenging of all complications to execute. This year saw Grönefeld release its first sports watch proper, the water-resistant, shock-absorbent 1969 DeltaWorks. Testament to the popularity of the independent brand, the customisable collection sold out shortly after launch.

gronefeld.com

Greubel Forsey

The holy grail for any independent watchmaker is to lay claim to its own proprietary movement. To successfully design, manufacture and put into production just one “in-house” calibre is a feat of micro-engineering that typically takes years, if not decades, to achieve. Since its launch in 2004, Greubel Forsey has developed more than 20 of its own branded movements, leading to more industry awards than you could shake a quadruple-tourbillon-regulated GMT hand at.

greubelforsey.com

Philippe Dufour

Manufacturing a minuscule number of watches each year by hand from his workshop in Le Sentier, a sleepy, lakeside village in the foothills of the Jura Mountains, white-haired, pipe-smoking Philippe Dufour is straight out of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. The Father Christmas of independent watchmaking, if you will. In 2021, Dufour’s Grande et Petite Sonnerie No. 1, the watch he used to launch his brand in 1992, sold at a Phillips auction in Geneva for US$5.21 million (approx. $7.86 million), making it the most expensive timepiece ever sold by an independent watchmaker.

philippedufour.ch

Thomas Prescher

Before turning his hand to watchmaking, Thomas Prescher was a captain in the German Navy. These days, following stints at IWC, Audemars Piguet and Blancpain, Prescher creates super-complicated wristwatches—including triple-axis tourbillons and perpetual calendars—on the shores of Lake Biel. Models such as the Nemo and the Nautica nod towards his former life.

prescher.ch

Roger W. Smith

Waiting lists for Rolex Daytonas have nothing on those commanded by watches by Roger W. Smith. Put your name down for one of the five models the company currently produces, and it could be a decade until the Isle of Man workshop is ready to ship your order (although we’re guessing Ed Sheeran and his wife Cherry, who had a pair made for their wedding, didn’t wait that long). The cause of the lag? Every single element that goes into a Roger W. Smith watch enters the company’s boutique studio as a raw material. As such, only a dozen or so timepieces emerge each year.

rwsmithwatches.com

Armin Strom

During the 1970s, Armin Strom made a name for himself skeletonising watch hands. That talent was demonstrated in his own timepieces, which began appearing in 1984, and continues to be a hallmark of the brand today under the stewardship of Serge Michel and Claude Greisler, who used to frequent Strom’s workshop when they were kids—although the company’s penchant for skeletisation has spread from hands to the rest of the dial. The brand, boasting a handful of its own movements, produces all of its main plates, bridges, levers, springs, wheels, pinions and screws in-house at their fully integrated manufacture in Biel—more than can be said for many of the industry’s big boys.

arminstrom.com

Kari Voutilainen

You might not have heard of Kari Voutilainen, but the judges at the annual Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix have. In the 20 years since the Finnish brand’s inception, critics at that prestigious awards body have bestowed Kari Voutilainen with eight awards—the most recent in 2022 for his stunning Ji-Ku piece (Artistic Crafts Watch Prize). Few brands, even among watch-world heavyweights, can claim such a substantial, and sustained, medal haul. Interestingly, in 2021 Kari Voutilainen acquired another star of the independent watchmaking scene, Denmark’s Urban Jürgensen.

voutilainen.ch

ADVERTISE WITH US

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Stay Connected

You may also like.

The Boldest, Most Exciting New Timepieces From Watches & Wonders 2024

Here are the highlights from the world’s biggest watch releases of the year.

By Allen Farmelo, Carol Besler, Paige Reddinger, Oren Hartov, Victoria Gomelsky, Cait Bazemore, Nick Scott, Justin Fenner 10/04/2024

Watches & Wonders, the world’s largest watch show, is in full swing in Geneva. The highly anticipated cascade of new releases is marked by confident individual brand identities — perhaps a sign that watchmakers are done scrambling through the violent collision of restricted supply and soaring demand for high end watches. All seem to be back on solid footing.

Steady confidence is a good thing. Consider Jaeger-LeCoultre offering up traditionally styled grand complications or Vacheron Constantin revamping the classic Patrimony with smaller cases and vintage-inspired radially brushed dials. Consider TAG Heuer celebrating the 55th anniversary of the square Monaco with a skeletonized flyback confidently priced at US$183,000, or Moser similarly showing off a fascinating skeletonized tourbillon in its distinctive 40 mm Streamliner at US$86,900. IWC has leaned hard into their traditionally styled Portugieser line, including an astounding Eternal Calendar complication. We find the storied French houses of Cartier, Chanel and Hermes blurring the lines between jewelry and watchmaking with the technical prowess and artistic whimsy that originally earned these brands their exalted place in the hearts and minds of sophisticated aesthetes. Confidence abounds in 2024.

We could go on and on with examples, but the watches below will demonstrate that for 2024 the big watch brands dared to be themselves, which appears to have given them the confidence to take some seriously compelling horological risks. We have separate coverage of off-show releases and, of course, Patek and Rolex, so keep and eye out for those.

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

Patek Philippe Brings Back Collector Favourites at Watches & Wonders 2024

Both the Nautilus Chronograph and Aquanaut Travel Time receive a welcome return.

By Josh Bozin 10/04/2024

If you’re a watch fan, there’s every reason to believe that a Patek Philippe Nautilus, Patek Philippe Aquanaut—or both—would be high on your wish list. Both collections are of historical significance, helping pave the way for the influence of the steel sports watch category—and subsequent chokehold on the market today.

So, when Patek Philippe unveiled its newest releases at Watches & Wonders in Geneva, it was a pleasant surprise to see the return of two of the best past iterations of the Nautilus and Aquanaut collections.

Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe Nautilus Chronograph

First, we get a new Nautilus Chronograph, with the return of the revered 5980, now replete with a new case in white gold and a denim-like strap (a contentious issue among watch pundits). Discontinuing all Nautilus 5980 models earlier this year, including the collector-favourite 5980/1AR in Rose Gold, left a sombre feeling among Nautilus fanatics. These celebrated chronographs, renowned for their distinctive porthole-inspired design and air of sporty elegance, are some of the most sought-after watches in the Patek Philippe catalogue. Thus, the revival of the 5980, now in white gold, is a cause for collectors’ celebration.

The new offering retains its chronograph function with mono-counter tracking 60-minute and 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock on the dial, but now comes on a new denim-inspired, hand-stitched fabric strap with a Nautilus fold-over clasp in white gold—some will love it, some won’t.

Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe

The Calibre CH 28‑520 C/522 powers this new Nautilus with its flyback chronograph, all of which is visible through the transparent sapphire crystal caseback. The dial is also incredibly eye-catching, with a beautiful opaline blue-gray hue accentuated by white gold-applied hour markers with a white luminescent coating. It is priced at approximately $112,000.

Also returning to the fold is the Patek Philippe Aquanaut Travel Time, now with its own bluish hue dial—similar to its Nautilus counterpart. After discontinuing the Aquanaut Travel Time 5164A this year, as well—a watch often regarded as the greatest Aquanaut to date—Patek Philippe surprised all with the new 5164G in white gold. Its greatest attribution is the clever Travel Time GMT function, which clearly rivals the Rolex GMT-Master II as perhaps the travel-friendly watch of choice (if acquiring one was that simple, of course).

For those who prefer the Aquanaut’s sportiness and easy-wearing rubber strap, this newest iteration, with its Opaline Blue-gray dial and matching rubber strap with a deployant clasp, is undoubtedly an icon in the making. The new 5164G has a 40mm case and features the Calibre 26‑330 S C FUS movement, which can also be viewed via the transparent sapphire crystal caseback.

Expect to pick up the new Aquanaut Travel Time for around $95,250.  

Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe Aquanaut Travel Time

 

Follow @robbreportau for all your Watches & Wonders coverage, and more!

 

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

Rolex Kicks Off Watches & Wonders 2024 with a New GMT-Master II

The new stainless steel GMT-Master II has already been dubbed the “Bruce Wayne”.

By Josh Bozin 09/04/2024

It may not be the GMT that watch pundits were speculating on—or that collectors were hoping for—but the new Rolex GMT-Master II with a new grey and black ceramic bezel adds dazzle to the revered Rolex collection, which this year celebrates its 70th anniversary.

The idea of a new Rolex GMT launching at the world’s biggest watch fair is cause for a little madness. While the watch community eagerly awaited what was thought to be the discontinuation of the highly sought-after GMT “Pepsi” and the return of the GMT “Coke,” the luxury Swiss watchmaker had other plans.

Instead, we’re presented with a piece that, on paper, hasn’t changed much from previous GMT releases. That’s not to say that this isn’t an impressive release that will speak to consumers—the new GMT-Master II ref.126710GRNR, dubbed the “Bruce Wayne,” is definitely a sight for sore eyes.

Rolex
Rolex

This new GMT retains the same dimensions and movement as the other watches in the GMT collection, along with its 40mm size case and the option to fit either an Oyster or Jubilee bracelet. The obvious changes, albeit subtle, come in the way of its mostly monochrome return; a fact that will appease traditionalists. If you’re opposed to the attention-drawing “Pepsi”, “Sprite”, or “Batman” iterations, this model is a stealthier pick—much like pseudonymous Bruce Wayne.

The other noticeable change is the “GMT-Master II” now applied in green text and a 24-hour hand in green; perhaps a nod to the 2007 Basel World GMT release.

Like many Rolex timepieces, this will generate great hype and attention, so don’t expect allocations to come easily.

Rolex
Rolex

Model: GMT-Master II
Reference Number: 126710GRNR

Diameter: 40mm
Case Material: Stainless steel
Dial Colour: Black
Lume: Chromalight on hands and hour markers
Water Resistance: 100m
Bracelet: Oyster or Jubilee

Movement: Caliber 3285
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, GMT
Power Reserve: 70 hours
Winding: Automatic

Price: $17,150 (Oyster); $17,500 (Jubilee)
Availability: Now. Non-limited edition

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

Moments in Time

Silversea’s Kimberley adventures transport passengers into a different dimension.

By Vince Jackson 09/04/2024

Whoever refuted the theory of time-travel has clearly never set foot in the Kimberley, a geological relic where craggy landscapes forged hundreds of millions of years ago remain untouched, and dinosaur footprints are still etched into the ochre terrain. And while traversing one of the planet’s last great wildernesses in a 4X4 holds rugged appeal, a more refined way to explore the Western Australian outback is by cruise liner. 

Enter the Silver Cloud, one of Silversea’s most luxurious vessels, available for 10- or 17-day expeditions. Upon arrival via private executive transfer, expect a level of intimacy that’s often conspicuous on other cruise experiences. With a maximum of just 200 guests, attended to by 212 staff, the Silver Cloud can lay claim to the greatest passenger-to-crew ratios operating in the Kimberley. Twenty-four-hour butler service is standard for every suite, along with ocean views—no matter if you plump for a modest 22 m² Vista Suite or supersize to a 217 m² Grand Suite.

Yet bigger is not necessarily better on water; the ship itself is compact enough to manoeuvre into isolated coves and waterways that larger vessels—or, indeed, four-wheel-drive Land Cruisers—are unable access. Each sunrise brings the promise of an unforgettable adventure, whether hopping on a Zodiac at Koolama Bay to witness the cascading thunder of the 80-m-high, twin King George Falls, or embarking at Swift Bay to scramble over rocky standstone and view the disparate rock-art forms on display at the sacred Wandjina art galleries—some reckoned to be up to 12,000 years old.

Another example of the Kimberley’s ability to propel you back through time.

Prices from $15,500 pp (10 days) and $23,900 pp (17 days); June 9-19, and August 8-25 or August 25- September 11 respectively; silversea.com

Click here to subscribe to Robb Report ANZ.

Click here to subscribe to Robb Report ANZ.

 

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

Kelly Slater’s Hawaiian Hideaway Hits the Market for $30 Million

After seven years of ownership, the legendary surfer is selling his beachfront compound on Oahu’s north shore for $20 million.
Published on April 5, 2024

By Wendy Bowman 08/04/2024

Always wanted to live like a surfing legend—specifically, a pro shredder with countless accolades under his board? Now’s your chance, because the picturesque Hawaiian spread that Kelly Slater has owned for the past several years has just popped up for sale on Oahu’s north shore, as was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The asking price is an impressive $30.3 million—or around $18.2 million more than the 11-time champ dolled out for the beachfront digs seven years ago, back in spring 2017. Acquired largely for personal reasons—he fondly remembers crashing at a nearby house with teen surfing buddies in the 1980s—Slater has long floated the place on the rental market, once for as much as $121,500 per month.

Sited amid a gated parcel spanning just over a half-acre, alongside one of the most sought-after streets in the Haleiwa area, the property was built in the early 2000s, and offers a main home and pair of guesthouses—for a total of six bedrooms and eight baths sprawled across a little more than 706 sqm of Asian- and Hawaiian-infused living space, all with access to 101 feet of secluded shoreline.

Though interior photos are scarce, previous listings show the primary dwelling is showcased by a soaring living room displaying an open-trussed ceiling, a curving hardwood staircase tucked off to the side and glass doors spilling out to a covered lanai. Other highlights include a formal dining room, media room, and kitchen outfitted with natural wood cabinetry and an expansive island. Two bedrooms include an upstairs primary suite, which boasts an ocean-view balcony, a seating nook, walk-in closet, and bath equipped with dual vanities and a soaking tub.

Outdoors, the garden-laced grounds host a boardwalk spanning a pond, along with an infinity pool and hot tub bordered by a grassy lawn; and topping it all off are the aforementioned ancillary accommodations, which consist of a three-bedroom guesthouse with its own kitchen and living area, plus a one-bedroom apartment resting atop the detached three-car garage. There’s plenty of Polynesian artwork left behind by a previous owner that’s reportedly part of the sale, too.

The 52-year-old Florida native, who told WSJ he is wrapping up what may be his final year as a pro surfer, also operates numerous business ventures ranging from a private surfing ranch to a sustainable footwear brand, and coming soon, a skin care and sunblock line.

In addition to his for-sale compound, Slater and his longtime partner Kalani Miller also maintain a primary residence he calls a “small beach shack” on Hawaii‘s Banzai Pipeline reef break, plus homes in Florida, California and Australia.

The listing is held by Paul Stukin of Deep Blue HI, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate | Southern California.

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected