The Independents

By A Collected Man

In the afterglow of this year’s Baselworld, it would be naive not to address the elephant in the room; though it’s a topic which comes with both positives, and negatives. It’s no secret that new watch sales have been in decline for some years now, with latest reports suggesting an even gloomier state in the near future. The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH) reported that February showed a decline of 26.2% in the USA, with overall Swiss exports sitting at 10% lower than February of last year. While this segment of the industry continues to suffer, the vintage and pre-owned market appears to be increasing year on year; particularly in the case of the top auction houses, who are delivering records hammer figures left and right. This increased consumer interest in vintage, along with pieces of ‘limited availability’ has lead to a period of ‘homage design’ and limited editions at such a rate that it defy’s the point. One sector which appears to be in a period of relative expansion is the watchmaker-lead independent brands, from which we are seeing an abundance of originality and innovation. With that said, the first of the independents we’re highlighting comes from the hand of Rexhep Rexhepi through his brand Akrivia.

The Akrivia brand emerged in 2012, making quite an immediate impression on the industry. So much so, that master watchmaker Kari Voutilainen elected to publicly compliment the young watchmaker’s competence, having prior knowledge of Rexhep’s skills, garnered at Patek Philippe and F. P. Journe, where he worked on minute repeaters and chronographs among other high-complications. The first piece Akrivia presented was a tourbillon wristwatch, which Rexhep explains:

“For me as a watchmaker, a tourbillon will always remain one of the most challenging and beautiful types of escapement mechanisms to create - and this is the reason why it is at the heart of my first AkriviA timepiece.”


Akrivia AK06 stainless steel watch at A Collected Man - approved seller of independent watchmakers

Akrivia AK06 in stainless steel

His ambitious approach to watchmaking didn’t stop at ‘merely’ designing his movements with, what many watchmakers consider, the most complex escapement mechanism, but would add to that a mono-pusher chronograph. He describes having been very interested in the mono-pusher for its ease of use by comparison to the more regularly seen two pusher examples.

His latest reference, the AK-06, is his first movement not to use a tourbillon escapement, enabling a very sleek case by contrast to the thicker cases of his previous models. This manually wound movement, with an interestingly exposed power reserve indicator, has been received with much positivity among collectors; many of whom counting it as the watch of Baselworld 2017.

 

Akrivia AK06 movement watch at A Collected Man - approved seller of independent watchmakers

Akrivia AK06 movement

The second notable independent piece comes from the atelier of Beat Haldimann; a watchmaker whose relationship with horology dates back through numerous generations of his family, all the way to 1642 in fact. His ancestors were highly regarded pocket watch and clockmakers, a route Beat opted to follow. One complication in particular has been the centre of Haldimann’s attention for some time; the resonance escapement. The resonance phenomenon was first discovered in 1665 by a Dutch Mathematician named Christiaan Huygens, who reported that two pendulum clocks hung from the same beam would beat in such perfect duplicity, that the sound of the escapements were indistinguishable from one another. This complication has been attempted by few, mastered by fewer still, with Haldimann fitting into the latter. What first started with pendulum clocks, was developed for use in a wristwatch. The H2 model features two balance wheels working in perfect resonance around a flying dial-mounted tourbillon.

 

Haldimann H2 Flying Resonance watch at A Collected Man - approved seller of independent watchmakers

Haldimann H2 Flying Resonance

Somewhat coincidentally, the piece we present from Haldimann, much like the Akrivia AK06 also represents the watchmaker’s first foray into non-tourbillon wristwatches. The Haldimann H12 was first launched some years ago, and is a rare breed in that it’s crafted without any electronically assisted CNC milling machines. The term handmade is certainly thrown around by many brands, but the entire Haldimann range can absolutely make that claim proudly. The H12 was previously only available in precious metals, pushing the price point to a level which may exclude some. The brand has launched both the H11 & H12 models in stainless steel at Baselworld this year, entering an entirely different price segment, not to mention the increased durability. It would be safe to expect big things from the Haldimann brand in the near future.

 

Haldimann H12 with sub-seconds watch at A Collected Man - approved seller of independent watchmakers

Haldimann H12 with sub-seconds

Up next is a rather intricately decorated piece from the previously mentioned Kari Voutilainen. While the Voutilainen name should be familiar to many, his rise to popularity has been a long time in the making. Kari was born in Finland, where he initially studied watchmaking at the school of Tapiola before moving to Switzerland to further his horological education. After completing his studies, Kari was picked up by Parmigiani Mesure et Art du Temps, where he was entrusted with restoring some of the most rare and delicate high complication watches for ten years. His eponymous brand wouldn’t launch until 2002, and the first series of watches he produced were made using unused Peseux 260 ébauches. These movements were created for observatory testing, but would remain unused until Kari repurposed them, creating an entirely new escapement for each.

 

Kari Voutilainen AKI-NO-KURE watch at A Collected Man - approved seller of independent watchmakers

Kari Voutilainen AKI-NO-KURE

With his watchmaking prowess as a given, one thing the Voutilainen brand has become known for is their ability to craft incredibly intricate dials, using traditional techniques like guilloche, enamelling and lacquering. This unique piece was created in collaboration with famed Japanese lacquer studio, Unryuan. Many of Kari’s unique pieces have used this incredibly time-consuming technique, with it being said that each dial takes well in excess of 1000 hours to complete. This technique has existed in Japanese culture for hundreds of years, first emerging during the Edo period, being applied to paper, small boxes and other decorative objects. This pairing of techniques is intended to bring together and highlight two age old industries which work with unparalleled levels of intricacy and detail. The movement utilises a direct impulse mechanism, which was designed to negate the requirement of lubricants. This type of mechanism was first created by Abraham Louis Breguet, during a time when quality oils were unavailable. The need for servicing and re-oiling became such an issue, that a different approach was necessary. The second, incidental advantage of this type of escapement is that it puts significantly less stress on components, enabling a longer overall lifetime for the mechanism.

The penultimate piece represents a major innovation on a complication which has remained almost entirely the same for 150 years; the perpetual calendar. The concept for the perpetual calendar was initially conceived by an English horologist named Thomas Mudge, a watchmaker who studied under George Graham, who would invent many of the necessary components for the perpetual calendar to exist. This approach has remained almost entirely untouched until master watchmaker Stephen McDonnell teamed up with MB&F to create an entirely original approach. The aim of the project was the create a user friendly version of the complication, which could be adjusted without damaging the movement. Many perpetual calendars can only be adjusted at particular times in the cycle, and in most cases have to be set by a trained watchmaker; not the most practical situation. This modern day approach uses 581 components in a similar design to the Legacy Machine series; which many would consider to be their most iconic.

 

MB&F Legacy Machine Perpetual watch at A Collected Man - approved seller of independent watchmakers

MB&F Legacy Machine Perpetual

MB&F over the past few years has grown to become a major player in the watch industry, gaining the respect of collectors and scholars alike. The refreshing approach of MB&F founder Max Busser stands apart from almost any brand that comes to mind; their aim being not just to create watches, but to make kinetic sculptures, based on the traditions of watchmaking. In addition to making wristwatches, the brand quite famously makes desk clocks in the form of rocket ships, robots and spiders.

Our final independent comes from the legendary Laurent Ferrier. The man behind the brand has had a long and respectable history within the horological and motorcar worlds, spanning decades. Four of those decades were spent with Patek Philippe, for whom Ferrier became the Technical and Product director; a prestigious achievement by anyone’s standards. All the while, managing to find the time to race in the 24hr Le Mans, earning himself a podium position in 1979, right behind Paul Newman. The Ferrier brand has risen in popularity in recent years, largely due to their tastefully minimal designs, paired with absolute attention to technical detail. These two pieces we have selected were actually first presented back at SIHH in January, but both represent bold moves, for two separate reasons. The first of the two caused some controversy for seemingly going against their understated reputation. The tourbillon is ordinarily a complication which is ‘shown off’ on the dial side, but up until this point, Ferrier had opted to conceal it behind a minimal enamel dial. While this piece may not be to everyone’s tastes, the sector dial with a bridged aperture to reveal the tourbillon cage is breathtaking in the metal.

 

Laurent Ferrier Galet Classic Tourbillon watch at A Collected Man - approved seller of independent watchmakers

Laurent Ferrier Galet Classic Tourbillon

The second piece is the Galet Micro Rotor ‘Montre Ecole’, based on what is undoubtedly the brand’s most successful movement. The aim of the ‘Montre Ecole’ was to highlight Laurent Ferrier’s entry to the watchmaking community, through Patek Philippe, where he crafted a pocket watch under the guidance of tutors within the firm. The design of this pocket watch is very recognisable in the modern incarnation, and is quite noticeably designed to appear like an evolution. The choice of case-type is in line with the style of a pocket watch conversion, with straight lugs and ‘riveted’ lug fixings, creating a sleek and understated overall look.

 

Laurent Ferrier Montre École watch at A Collected Man - approved seller of independent watchmakers

Laurent Ferrier Montre École

The movement features a double direct impulse escapement, which is not too dissimilar from the escapement Kari Voutilainen developed. Again, the goal was to negate the requirement for lubrication and eliminate unnecessary parts in the escapement mechanism. The overall friction is lowered, due to less force required to activate the balance, meaning the stress on the components is reduced to the point that life expectancy is increased; genius.

 

A Laurent Ferrier Montre École movement watch at A Collected Man - approved seller of independent watchmakers

Laurent Ferrier Montre École movement

In summary, it would appear as though the mainstream brands could take a leaf or two out of the books of the independents. There is a distinct difference of approach; using the past for inspiration on modern pieces versus using past designs as sales gimmicks. The result of overplaying the latter strategy could lead to a ‘crisis of image’ within the mainstream brands, which would be a tremendous shame indeed.

 

To find out more about AkriviA, Haldimann, Laurent Ferrier, MB&F and Kari Voutilainen, please visit their websites.


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