The interest in independent watchmaking has had its ups and downs. And in these days of market uncertainties, and the flight to the familiar, the good old names of Rolex and Patek Philippe seem to be the safe choices. But among the hard core, and seasoned collector, the independents marketplace is still one which is able to present wonder and bewilderment. Here we explore six independent watchmakers whom you should know, but may not.
Of course, not the featured image behind the headlines – which is the Simplicity from Philippe Dufour. That watch is only too familiar with most of our readers. But everyday names in these neck of the woods are the likes of Kari Voutilainen, Rexhep Rexhepi, the Grönefeld brothers, Hajime Asaoka, Greubel Forsey, Vincent Calabrese, and Vianney Halter. All independent watchmakers operating at the very high end of haute horlogerie, and all familiar characters on this site. Today’s article, we are putting on the limelight six independent watchmakers whom we have full articles on, but may have slipped under the radar of all but our most dedicated readers.
Charles Frodsham & Co. are the longest continuously trading firm of chronometer manufacturers in the world, and are synonymous with precision timekeeping instruments of the highest quality; watches, clocks, regulators and wristwatches. And yet, because of the extremely low production numbers, is not a familiar name to many. Their Double Impulse Escapement wristwatch is a most fascinating piece of work.
It is a technical powerhouse, yet at the same time remains a study in restraint. That stiff upper lip, unfazed by anything which is the very core of the English character is apparent. It is as elegant and as well presented as an Englishman in a bespoke Savile Row suit. Like that Savile Row suit, there is more than meets the eye. It is the product of careful planning, meticulous execution and a very high level of skill.
The McGonigle brothers work their magic on the Gaelic styling from Ireland and Switzerland. Stephen McGonigle splits his time between Neuchâtel and Dublin. While his brother John is largely resident in Neuchâtel. Together they craft the magnificent McGonigle watches.
The watches bear the characteristic Celtic styling. “Irish by design, with Swiss engineering”, is their slogan, and is borne out fully in their line of watches, which range from the very complicated Ceol Minute Repeater to the time only Tuscar which we have reviewed in detail above.
Gaël Petermann and Florian Bédat started their little atelier in Renens, near Lausanne in 2017, and within that short period of time, they have made a new watch, with a new movement, featuring a jumping hour mechanism.
The movement was co-developed with Dominique Renaud, the 30mm caliber is regulated by a large “Breguet-style” balance wheel, and an impressive designed dead-beat ancre. The movement is constructed from untreated German Silver, and is magnificently finished. The fine detailing of the finnisage is outstanding, and the design overall is very attractive.
We are quite excited about Sylvian Pinaud and his work in the Monopoussoir Chronograph. This watch is a compelling persuasion to support the work of a single watchmaker, working alone, making almost the complete watch by hand.
While he starts with a base – the ETA 6497, a donor ebauche which is almost completely stripped to the base and reconstructed and rebuilt with new chronograph works into the monopusher. The bridges, the mainplate, the winding system and balance wheel which were completely rebuilt and manufactured to fully integrate the chronograph.
Overall, a sterling package. Aesthetically pleasing, as well as a haute horlogerie finishing.
Shane Tulloch is neither watchmaker nor machinist. But is a very determined former business consultant whose fascination with high watchmaking that he devoted 4 years to study micro-mechanical engineering. He also chose to work with one of the best designer in the business (Eric Giroud) and one of the top independent watchmaker (Kari Voutilainen). Together, they developed a remarkable first product – the T01 First Edition. A very special regulator.
We were very impressed with the stratospheric levels of finishing. The attention to detail in the design and execution of all the components is amazing. We gave a huge thumbs up in our review, and think its perhaps the lowest cost entry into the high end world of Kari Voutilainen.
Perhaps Raul Pagès is not as fresh a face as Gaël Petermann, Florian Bédat or Sylvian Pinaud. He cut his teeth in the restoration workshops of Parmigiani Fleurier, handling complex projects like the servicing and restoration of the original Breguet Symphatique clock and the Frères Rochat Singing Bird Pistols belonging to the Patek Philippe Museum. And ventured out on his own with the first project – a mechanical Automation Tortoise which uses a mechanism similar to a watch movement to allow the animation of the tortoise.
Starting with a vintage Cyma base movement from the 1950s, Raúl have built many components from scratch, focussing on the finishing on the movement. Combine this magnificent movement to the very restrained, sober dial side, the watch is spectacular for being a statement in understated quality. We understand the Soberly Onyx is nearing the end of its production run, so if you want one, its time to move quickly.
And then there were those who seemed to have slipped into the cracks and disappeared. We are not sure what happened to Jämes-César Pellaton, whose website seems to be operational, but not been updated for a while. They do not have a Facebook account which we know of, and their Instagram account was last updated in mid 2018. However, we have noted that the brand owner Michel Diwali have sometimes liked and commented on our posts, even quite recently. We also do not know the status of LeRoy whose website is still running but have not been updated. Their FB and IG accounts were last updated in 2015. And Dominique Renaud who have no official website that we know of, but whose FB and IG pages were updated mid 2019. And there are yet a few others which we know of, but yet to be able to spend quality time to give you a good review – like J.C.F. Gutkaes (yes, F.A. Lange’s father-in-law and master), Jean-Antoine Lépine and Derek Pratt, amongst others.