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Throwback Sundays: Six Watches from Independent Watchmakers for Under S$250K, from Our Archives

Nearing the Summit.
by Robin Lim on June 7, 2020

For the fourth instalment of this series, we will be taking a look at some of our favourite (and sometimes, lesser-known) watches from independent watchmakers.

In the first three instalment, we covered six watches that were priced below S$25,000, S$60,000, and S$125,000. For today, we will be looking at an even higher price point of under S$250,000. Scroll down to take a look at what we have selected today!

Charles Frodsham Double Impulse Chronometer

Charles Frodsham & Co. is one of the longest continuously trading firm of chronometer manufacturers in the world, and are synonymous with precision timekeeping instruments of the highest quality. However, due to its extremely low production numbers, is not a familiar name to many.

The Double Impulse Chronometer, notably, is one of the brand’s most fascinating piece of work. Beneath its subtle elegant appearance, the watch features a movement that was developed from the plans that were drawn up by George Daniels. As its nomenclature suggests, the watch features a dual train which are powered independently by its own barrels. This supposedly helps to improve the accuracy and efficiency of the mechanism.

The construction, from the dial to the movement, is superb. There is a high degree of independence, with majority of the components built in-house. In addition, the finishing of the watch is stunning especially with its frosted finishing and the use of a special copper-nickel-tin alloy for its main plates.

Priced at £68.500 (approximately S$121,028), the Charles Frodsham Double Impulse Chronometer is the epitome of the English character. It is unassuming and quiet on the surface, but the end result is simply amazing.

Roger Smith Series 2

Following the previous watch, we have another British watchmaker that continues to carry the torch for the country in the field of watchmaking. Cue Roger Smith.

An apprentice of the legendary George Daniels, Roger Smith is an independent watchmaker that had set up his atelier in the Isle of Mann. The Series 2, notably, is one of the only two collections of watches that he has to offer. The Series 2 is indeed a very special watch – almost all of its components are made or finished in his workshop. In addition, the watch is also constructed using Daniels’ Method. This includes the three-part case, as well as the movement which features the famous co-axial escapement system (which Roger Smith continued to work on and improved on it).

Priced at £100,890 (approximately S$178,415), the Series 2 is indeed an exclusive timepiece – and one with an extremely long waiting list. However, few watches come close in terms of how special it is, and it definitely shows that traditional watchmaking is something that is still highly treasured and sought-after by collectors these days.

Hajime Asaoka Chronograph

There is something about Hajime Asaoka and the watches that he produces. A self-taught watchmaker, Hajime had garnered some cult following with collectors who were impressed by his novelties over the last few years.

The Chronograph is perhaps one of our favourite timepieces from the Japanese watchmaker. Using the Tsunami as the base, Hajime worked around the movement and built the chronograph works entirely new – from the ground up. It features an open-work design, which allows collectors to view the movement and the operation of the chronograph function.

Movement-wise, Hajime opted for a more traditional approach. The watch has utilises the column-wheel mechanism, with a horizontal clutch system. It is also fitted with a large 15mm balance wheel that beats at 18,000 bph. The icing on the cake is the finishing – with a combination of bevelling, circular graining, and polishing – that is certainly captivating.

The 38mm Hajime Asaoka Chronograph is priced at ¥12,000,000 (approximately S$152,751). This is a very beautiful watch, and the narrative behind Hajime Asaoka is an impressive one. He is certainly one of the best watchmakers from Japan, and perhaps Asia while we are at that.

Romain Gauthier Logical One

Hailing from the famous watchmaking region of Vallée-de-Joux, we have Romain Gauthier. The Logical One is one of the flagships in his repertoire, and certainly a timepiece that showcases his talent and knowledge in this field of watchmaking.

The Logical One focuses the fusée and chain system, which helps to provide constant even force to the escapement to ensure consistent and stable provision of power to the escapement. One of the greatest differences between the conventional fusée and chain system, and that of the Logical One, is the fact that the fusée in the latter is not in the conventional hyperboloid shape where the chain winds up from the base, but a single layer. Romain Gauthier thought that by having a single layer, the chain line is improved, and lateral tension on the chain is eliminated. The traditional hyperboloid-shaped fusée is flattened to a snail cam. You can read the technical discussion of the problem and Gauthier’s solution here.

The watch, in terms of its aesthetics and finishing, is excellent as well. We love how the watchmaker had paid tremendous attention to minute details. One interesting bit, we reckon, is the process of winding up the watch. Instead of utilizing the crown, the user would be required to push a button that is located at the 9 o’clock position of the case. We were told that approximately 40 pushes is sufficient to fully wind the mainspring.

With the award of the Best Men’s Complication watch at the 2013 GPHG, the Logical One is a brilliant timepiece that challenges the norms and seek improvements to age-old mechanisms. Price of the watch begins at CHF 108,000 (approximately S$156,554) for the titanium model, with additional premium if one opts for more exclusive materials such as precious metals.

Voutilainen Vingt-8

When it comes to independent watchmaking, master watchmaker Kari Voutilainen has always been touted as one of the most talented individuals in the business. The Vingt-8, a mainstay in the Voutilainen repertoire, showcases that point beautifully.

One of the latest variations of the Vingt-8 was launched in SIHH 2019. This particular example comes with a plain grand feu black enamel dial, unlike most of the other pieces that features either striking colours or guilloché patterns. The 39mm timepiece also features other signature touches, such as the teardrop lugs and a superbly finished movement. The latter is one of the key selling point that allows Voutilainen to be considered one of the best watchmaker in modern watchmaking.

The Vingt-8, with the grand feu enamel dial, is priced at CHF 86,500 (approximately S$125,388). This is a little steep for a time-only watch, but this is what one has to pay for such superlative craftsmanship. Granted, this watch is not for everyone. But if one is lucky enough to be able to afford it, we would highly recommend this sublime watch any day.

F.P. Journe Chronographe Monopoussoir Rattrapante

Finally, we round up the article with a provocative sports watch from F.P. Journe, with its Chronographe Monopoussoir Rattrapante.

Known as the first split seconds to be produced by the maison, the timepiece combines a very traditional complication with a very contemporary sports-inspired case design. Despite that, the watch still has the signature Journe design cues with its smooth and sleek design.

Besides its design language, the movement is another aspect of the timepiece that deserves a huge mention. Powering the watch is the in-house Calibre 1518, a manual-winding movement that boasts a power reserve of approximately 80 hours. Interestingly, the movement is produced in either red gold (for the precious metal case variants) or aluminium (for the titanium case). As per the other F.P. Journe watches, the movement is highly embellished with traditional haute horlogerie finishing.

Prices begin at CHF 58,000 (approximately S$84,075) for the titanium model, to CHF 106,000 (approximately S$153,655) for the platinum model. We reckon the one in titanium is very well-priced for what it is, but we will opt for the precious metal variants (red gold or platinum) for that extra bit of wow-factor.

Concluding Thoughts

Today’s selection includes some of the very finest in the field of independent watchmaking. They may not be the most expensive timepieces, but the six watches today are exceptional pieces in terms of the quality and execution. These are the characteristics that are typically found in watches that are produced by such independent maisons.

We have come to the end of the instalment, and we hope that you have enjoyed reading the past few articles and learnt more about the world of independent watchmaking. These brands occupy a special place in the industry, and they definitely add a lot vibrancy in this scene. We do hope that more collectors will consider looking at purchasing watches from such maisons in the future, and celebrate the art of fine craftsmanship.

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