Independent thinking: Six amazing and cool watches from independent watch brands

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There is always something special about independent watch brands.

Ever since the creation of Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (or more commonly known as AHCI) in 1985, as well as the launched of the Opus-series by Harry Winston and the highly influential Maximilian Büsser, the world of watches had changed for the better. These are some of the key pivotal moments that have allowed the word of independent watchmaking to come into prominence.

For regular readers and collectors, most are likely to be familiar with this incredible group of individuals (or brands). What is special is that most of these maison are operated independently, unlike the conglomerates which have to report to the owners and shareholders – many who would prefer the brands to take a more conservative path to ensure profitability (nothing wrong, but it gets a little boring at times).

Given the autonomy, we have seen some rather incredible watches over the years. In this week’s article, we thought that we would like to take this opportunity to celebrate this group of individuals and some of their stunning work.

Ferdinand Berthoud FB1L

Ferdinand Berthoud is an intriguing project by Karl-Friedrich Scheufele of Chopard. The idea behind the brand is to recreate watches by the late master clockmaker Ferdinand Berthoud – but re-imagined and modernised.

The FB1L is one of the latest pieces from the brand itself. While initial pieces feature a large negative space, the FB1L comes with both the patented power reserve indicator and “age of the moon” complication, aside from the large central seconds hand and a sub-dial indicating the time. This is all packaged in an octagon-shaped case, with a round bezel and face. The idea is bold, but it works rather well on this watch.

The surprise does not stop only at the dial. The movement – Calibre FB-T.FC.L. – is certainly a treat, with brilliant finishing and different technical bits incorporated. It also features some of the most sought-after complications, such as a giant tourbillon (measuring 16.5mm) and fusée and chain system. This is a visual treat for watch collectors.

Not surprisingly, the FB1L comes attached with a hefty price tag. Price for the titanium model with white gold bezel begins at CHF 250,000 (approximately S$360,110), while the full white gold variant retails at CHF 265,000 (approximately S$381,710). This is, however, an extraordinary watch – and one that will impress even the most unforgiving collectors and critics.

MB&F HM9 “Flow”

In the world of horology, MB&F has certainly cemented itself as one of the luminaries for independent watchmaking.

One of the brand’s more recent creations under the Horological Machine collection – HM9 “Flow” – continues from where Maximilian Büsser had left off previously. The HM9 draws its inspiration this time from classic cars and planes, most notably the Mercedes-Benz W196 race car and the sleek De Havilland Venom plane. The end result is an organic-looking sculpture, which admittedly looks more like a piece of art than a device that tells the time. But then again, that is where MB&F offers something different from pretty much the rest of the crowd.

The titanium-cased HM9 “Flow” powered by an in-house manual-winding movement. The movement also incorporates two fully independent balance wheels with planetary differential, as well as a vertical timing display. The HM9 “Flow” is priced at US$182,000 (approximately S$260,790), and is a good option for anyone who wants to wear a piece of art on their wrist.

Urwerk UR-120 

Urwerk, the brainchild of Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei, is another staple in the independent watchmaking scene with their uber-cool and ultra-modern watches.

The UR-120 aka Spock is the brand’s latest creation, with an interesting tribute to the Vulcan salute. Here, instead of the usual satellite hands (or wandering hours display), Urwerk had incorporated another element to the hour markers: It is now able to split into two, seen in the picture above (focus on the leftmost marker that states 11). Beyond that, the latest novelty is also now fitted with a slimmer case and a new movement.

This is just not a rehashed version of the UR-110; it is a complete rework given the technicalities that are required to bring about the changes. Priced at S$156,000, the new UR-120 aka Spock is an impressive work of art that pretty much puts it amongst the very best in the scene.

De Bethune DB28 Steel Wheels

De Bethune DB28 Steel Wheels oblique

When it comes to independent watch manufacturers, De Bethune is a brand that is mentioned on the same breath as the likes of MB&F and Urwerk. The stunning DB28 Steel Wheels will show you why.

The DB28 collection from De Bethune has attained a certain cult status amongst collectors, for its contemporary and avant-garde take on watchmaking. This includes the exposed movement, crown at the 12 o’clock position, as well as the patented floating lugs. The finishing is also as spectacular as it can get. This includes the Côtes De Bethune on the triangle bridge, black polishing on the concave dial plate, as well as blued moonphase sphere that the brand is often known for. In fact, we are certain that mere words cannot do justice to the finishing this piece.

Overall, the DB28 Steel Wheels is simply mind-blowing. It is stunning, but the finishing is on another level altogether. The watch is priced at CHF83,000 (approximately S$119,555), and we believe that this is something truly incredible – especially for someone who appreciates the finer things in life.

Vianney Halter Antiqua Perpetual

The Vianney Halter Antiqua Perpetual is a classic in the world of independent watchmaking, for the fact that it is one of the pioneers that have set the cornerstone for this genre of watchmaking.

With portholes being used as an inspiration, the esoteric-looking timepiece notably features five circles: four are being used as indicators (time, date, day, and month), while the last one serves as a base to hold the “deconstructed” dials. The concept is highly unusual even by today’s standards, but one can certainly imagine the sort of reaction that the Antiqua would have received back in those days where independent watchmaking was at its infancy stage.

Since its first preview in Baselworld 1998, this steampunk timepiece – which is more than two decades old – is no longer in production. Despite its age, the Antiqua still has its charms, and it is still very relevant in today’s context. This polarising timepiece is indeed a very special watch, and one that many collectors will continue to hold in high regard.

Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Architecture

Touted as one of the finest manufacturers with some of the best finishing techniques, Greubel Forsey naturally produces some of the most incredible timepieces that we have ever seen. The new Tourbillon 24 Secondes Architecture, which debuted earlier this year, is no exception to that.

Based on the concept of cities and its architectures (hence the namesake), the watch features a rather intriguing construction that sees the movement fully exposed and integrated into the design of the timepiece. This also allows the collector to fully enjoy the legendary finishing work of the timepiece, in which most are featured on the components of the movement.

The imposing 47mm features the brand’s now signature curved case, and it is priced at an eye-watering S$706,200. Every element of the watch is indeed excessive – but then again, Greubel Forsey operates at the extreme end of the spectrum. The good end, of course.

Concluding Thoughts

There is no denying that each and every of the six watches – amongst the many other more pieces out there – are incredible in their own ways. But there is certainly something special about them.

This is the reason behind our adoration for independent watchmaking. The creativity is almost endless, and the craftsmanship for some of these watches are literally out of this world. It is almost unparalleled, and it makes you respect them for their bold endeavours – and bearing in mind that it comes with a very high risk of failure. Even successful brands such as MB&F have also gone through dark times in its early days.

The world of independent watchmaking is incredible, and we have only covered the tip of the iceberg. For collectors, especially those who can afford it, we will highly recommend one to consider buying a timepiece from an independent watchmaker – we promise that you’ll be amazed with the watch and the entire experience altogether.


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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for the article, Robin. These are all gorgeous, and drool worthy. You said it right with the UR 120 – at first I thought it was just another 110, then I saw it in the metal and it really is something special. That new case and lugs work so well.

    If I could suggest one more for the list, it would be the FJ Journe Chronometre Optimum. It’s not as eye catching as the rest of your suggestions, but I think as an independent ‘cool’ watch, it’s certainly up there.