If your notion of a watchmaker conjures up images of a wizened man, loupe affixed to his face, tinkering with a variety of tiny cogs and wheels in the Vallée de Joux, Switzerland’s famed horological hub, think again.
There’s a new wave of independent watchmakers shaking up the timepiece world and gaining currency among both the wide-eyed newcomer and the seasoned, moneyed collector. Stretching across the globe, these makers and designers are bringing an untraditional twist to a very traditional industry. Unlike the marquee indies of recent vintage—Roger W. Smith, MB&F, Kari Voutilainen, Greubel Forsey, and Christophe Claret, to name a few—this crop is schooled in a number of disciplines, from art to physics, although not necessarily horology.
Eric Wind, a Florida-based watch dealer, says that while a number of these new indie microbrands have been percolating over time, they really exploded in the past year. “There are more of them, they’re making great-looking watches, and their construction has gotten better,” says Wind, who’s noticed that many of his clients, regular purchasers of six-figure watches from legacy brands, are adding these new indies to their collections. “I myself have bought a number in the past two years.”
The astute watch enthusiast has always been on the hunt for the rare and exclusive. These independents appeal in part because they produce small batches, champion distinctive aesthetic perspectives, can take advantage of the availability of quality components, and eschew traditional retail distribution chains. What’s more, price points can start at a reasonable $250 and go up from there.
“The only modern watches that get me excited are these indie brands,” says longtime vintage collector Kevin O’Dell, who estimates he has about 70 pieces, including those from Rolex, Patek Philippe, Panerai, and IWC.
“I feel like established watch brands lack inspiration,” he says, finding that the indies “are building a brand, not just a name.”