The Independents often offer a different perspective than the major brands. Being small, independent, and sometimes driven by dreams and passion rather than the pursuit of financial goals, their take is interesting. In my top 5 from Baselworld 2017, I included 3 independents, viz Fabergé, Kerbedanz and Sinn. But the cohort of Independents this year is so large, that I had to do a separate one highlighting the stars. Here are my picks for the Best of the Independents for Baselworld 2017. In alphabetical brand order.
Full review, with more photographs, hands-on analysis and commentary of all the watches featured here will follow soon.
Akrivia’s main protagonist, Rexhep Rexhepi was a child prodigy, having started his career at Patek Philippe at the tender age of 14, and becoming independent in 2012 after stints in BNB and Franck Muller. Since then, in the last 5 years, he has created 6 calibers. We reviewed his Akrivia AK-02 Tourbillon Hour Minute favourably earlier. For Baselworld 2017, he introduced the AK-06, the first watch from him without a tourbillon.
The watch is time only, with a power reserve indicator, and with sapphire glass on both sides of the case, it showcases the entire movement. The regular plates, train, bridges and escapement from the back, and a view into the keyless works and power reserve mechanism from the dial side. Finishing is immaculate, with the effort to ensure the traditional finnisage like inward and outward angles are taken care of with an obsession to detail.
Rexhep himself is an interesting young man. Only 30 years of age, he carries himself with the air and confidence of a much older master. We will carry an article on our visit to his workshops in Geneva and a detailed hands-on review of the AK-06 soon. The AK-06 is available in Stainless Steel for CHF 79,000, in Titanium for CHF 83,000, in rose gold for CHF 87,000 and platinum for CHF 91,000; all before taxes.
Hajime Asaoka is an unassuming gentleman. Shy and taciturn almost to a fault, he delights in his creations like no other watchmaker we know. Self taught, by mainly reading the work of George Daniel’s monumental volume Watchmaking. Asaoka has shown that he has good staying power with his earlier creations making suitable waves in Baselworld. We covered him in detail in our introduction article here, with our review of his Tourbillon #1. And again in his Tsunami project. We highly recommend you refresh yourself with a quick read. For 2017, he introduced his first chronograph.
The chronograph is built from ground up, and designed over the base movement developed for Project Tsunami, the chronograph is not modest in proclaiming its providence. The chronograph works are visible on the dial side, and the time indication for hours and minutes is relegated to a sub-counter at 9. In reflecting its Japanese origins, some of the bridges are covered in urushi, the Japanese artisanal laquer.
The Hajime Asaoka Chronograph is currently market as a limited edition of three watches, priced at ¥ 12m or about US $108,000. For a ground up, hand made chronograph, the pricing is in line with the offerings of the major brands, like the Vacheron Constantin Harmony Chronograph and Lange Datograph Auf/Ab. Asaoka may increase the number depending on demand, though the following watches will probably have different finishing specifications to the first 3.
Candaux 1740 First 8
David Candaux is not new to the world of watchmaking. Yet this is his first outing with his name on the dial. He had previously worked on complicated watches for Jaeger LeCoultre (including the Hybris Mechanica Grande Sonnerie) , and also was responsible for the movement in the MB&F HM6. He is also the man behind the somewhat unusual brand Fonderie 47. Impressive CV. And the first watch to bear his name on the dial is no less impressive. Two series will be offered. The first is a limited edition of 8 pieces called simply First 8. This is the version you see below. And when these have been taken up, a second series will be released which will be known as LA 1740. Despite several discussions with David and his business development person Frédéric Bôle, no further details have been provided on the differences between the First 8 and the LA 1740. We will report back if/when we get clear answers from them by the time we go live with the hands-on review.
The date 1740 is in reference to the year the first watchmakers settled at the Valée de Joux. David has 3 patents and 8 design registrations for this watch.
The watch is asymmetric. The case, in stainless steel is higher at 12 than it is at 6. The dial is thus tilted towards the viewer by 3°. And the asymetry is extended to the dial layout. The main time dial is small and made with grand feu enamel no less, is laid to one side, with a tourbillon, which itself runs on a 30° incline, occupying the space on its left. The crown is in an unusual position, at 6 o’clock, and is activated by pushing it once to release it. Once released, it extends and offers the traditional two position of winding and time setting.
The movement, made of polished titanium and stainless steel, is also tilted at a 3° angle, with the gear train and bridges set at the same angle. A 5 second remontoir to the tourbillon ensures a constant force to the escapement.
Finishing is top grade, on the case back, a special striping is made by hand. Called Côtes du Solliat, in reference to the tiny village he makes the watches. His workshop is no more than a few hundred meters from the atelier of most famous Le Solliat master – Philippe Dufour.
Though the design is asymmeteric, it is curiously harmonious. And exudes a effortless beauty. A full detailed hands-on review will follow. At the time this article went live, David Candaux was not able to confirm the retail pricing, despite several emails.
We covered the base philosophy of Czapek in an earlier article found here. And find the honesty and directness of the brand to be very refreshing. Czapek offers full transparency such that all their suppliers are named and credited for the beautiful creations. The only other company we know who openly credit all their suppliers is MB&F.
Not only were we impressed with the business philosophy, the watches are also magnificent. See our review of the Quai de Bergues Fleur de Lys No.33 here. This year, they introduced their first tourbillon.
The new watch, called the Place Vendôme Tourbillon Suspendu “Ici et Allieurs” (loosely translated Place Vendome Suspended Tourbillon “Here and Elsewhere”), a curious name, but the visual imagery is striking. The dial side shows the time at 12, a one minute tourbillon at 8, and a second timezone at 4, a day/night indication at 6. A power reserve indicator is shown in a aperture within the time sub-dial.
A first series of 10 watches each in platinum and rose gold will be offered and called “Lumières”, and will retail at CHF 88,000 for rose gold and CHF 99,000 for platinum.
Haldimann H11 and H12 in steel
Beat Haldimann, the creator of such interesting timepieces such as the H1 and the H11 which we waxed lyrical over. He even makes a watch with a tourbillon movement, but with no time indication and a blank dial. The H9 Reduction, to showcase the art of watchmaking without the ability to show the time. In 2014, he came up with an entry level watch. No tourbillon, time only, two hands. He called this the H11. This was announced in platinum and gold. And for 2017, he lowered the entry gate another notch, and presented the H11 in a steel case. And added a model with a subsidiary seconds hand, called the H12, also in steel. Perhaps an affirmation to our observation that the market is moving down stream, with less expensive offerings.
The movement features the same central balance wheel for both the H11 and H12. The only difference is the H12 carries an additional subsidiary second hand. Both models are offered in 39mm case, with a 42mm case available on request.
Priced at a relatively affordable CHF 31,000 for the H12, and CHF 30,000 for the H11 in steel.
Pellaton Chronomètre Royal de Marine
Perhaps bucking the trend of modest pricing, and entry level watches is another resurrected name…Jämes-César Pellaton. The brand came into being in 2009 by Michel Dawalibi, although the first we heard of it was this year. We popped into the little booth tucked at level 30 of Ramada Inn, now called Hyperion Hotel, just beside the large halls in Baselworld and were pleasantly surprised at the offerings. The philosophy is to follow the tradition and exactly reflect the philosophy of Jämes-César Pellaton. And we were shown a pocket watch and a wrist watch with the same base movement.
The layout of the movement seems to us to be very close to the architecture of the famous Pellaton watches of yore. The development of the movement was in collaboration with Audemars Piguet Renaud et Papi who manufactures the movement components. Dawabili works on the finishing and assembly. And the finishing was indeed quite remarkable, and perhaps one of its main selling features.
The watch features the tourbillon chronometer, with a retrograde date and power reserve. The one minute tourbillon is handwound and looks very classical. More in a detailed review with hands-on analysis later.
The watch is offered in a limited edition of 36 pieces. 12 in white gold, 12 in rose gold, and 12 in a customisable execution (addition of diamonds, jewels, hand engraving on case, skeletonising, etc). Price for the white gold and rose gold is at CHF 298,000 before taxes, and the 12 customisable will be priced according to the final specification.
As mentioned, the Independents are usually the place to look for the next generation of novelties. What do this crop of Independents tell us of the state of the industry? We see three main threads of trends. ONE. The more established Independents are focusing on entry level watches. Witness what Haldimann, Sinn, Akrivia, HYT are doing. Though ideas of what might be entry level might not be the same across the brands. TWO. The newer players are more ambitious, with bigger projects. In this category we can see brands like Czapek, Kerbedanz with more complicated offerings. But even for these brands, the dictum of #ComplicationsForLess applies, as it did with the big global brands across SIHH and Baselworld. THREE. Although we do see a few passionate players like Candaux and Pellaton, bucking this trend with high complication watches, together with the new Greubel Forsey Balancier which is priced at CHF 205,000 for a time only watch. (Review coming soon as well!). Likewise, the Richard Mille RM50-03 at more than CHF 1M butts the trend, but RM is one of the few brands which seem to defy gravity, and becoming even more successful as the prices escalate.
We also see the disappearance of one of our favourite brands, De Bethune, which we understand is undergoing the throes of ownership change. We understand David Zanetta is at the final stages of selling the company and the new owners will retain technical genius, Denis Flageollet at the technical helm.We also see veteran Indies like Philippe Dufour and Vianney Halter staying at the sidelines, with no new watches to show, perhaps waiting for the storm to pass.