As younger generations have started becoming increasingly more interested in high-end watch collecting, we’ve seen the birth of a new age in independent haute horology. This is best characterized by unconventional futuristic designs and the use of captivating methods to display the time. By taking modern and unfamiliar approaches to an age-old craft, these new independent watchmakers have been able to catch the eyes of a new breed of collector and inspire the watchmakers of tomorrow. Let’s take a look at some of the prominent names that are making a splash in this exciting area of the market.
MB&F, which stands for Maximillian Büsser & Friends, is a brand that is as much about the people involved, as it is about the watches. Büsser founded the company in July of 2005 and has since assembled a star-studded collective of some of the industry’s most highly-acclaimed industrial designers, master watchmakers (including Kari Voutilainen), and advanced material specialists. Together, they’re producing a new breed of watches that the market has never seen before.
The first result of this collaboration was a futuristic-styled offering known as the Horological Machine 1, or HM1. This piece displayed the time in a deconstructed fashion, with hour and minute indicators located on opposite sides of the central one-minute tourbillon. This was accomplished with the help of the famed English watchmaker Peter Speake-Marin, of Speake-Marin, and Laurent Besse, the co-founder of Les Artisans Horlogers.
Following the success of the HM1, MB&F developed and released eight more horological machines, all of which were inspired by science fiction and the “childhood dreams” of Maximillian Büsser and lead designer Eric Giroud. Additionally, they’ve launched a second collection of more classically designed “Legacy Machines,” which they describe as the “machines MB&F would have created 100 years ago.”
Many would agree that the two most notable creations from these collections include the HM6 Space Pirate, a biomorphic-cased, tourbillon-equipped timepiece that features twin spherical turbines to regulate the winding system, and the LM Perpetual, which features the brand’s first in-house perpetual calendar movement, visible through the dramatically domed sapphire crystal.
Another brand that is taking a similar, yet arguably more technically daring approach to independent haute horology is Urwerk. If you’ve seen their watches, you’ll know that in their 19-year history they’ve already redefined what it means to be avant-garde. With the technical abilities of watchmaker and co-founder Felix Baumgartner and the artistic vision of co-founder and lead designer Martin Frei, Urwerk has amassed a collection of timepieces that look more like alien technology than mere wristwatches, many of which have proven to be quite popular with collectors.
Above all, the brand is best known for displaying the time using a multi-axis “satellite display,” which features minute and hour indicators that orbit around the dial of the watch and simultaneously revolve in place to advance the time.
Although Urwerk’s striking and mechanically complex designs have put them on the map, what really sets this independent watchmaker apart is the way their watches communicate with their owners. Beginning with the Urwerk EMC (Electro Mechanical Control), the brand launched what some would call the very first mechanical “smart watch” movement. This new calibre allows its owner to easily calculate and adjust the timing rate of the watch to ensure optimal precision.
This dialogue between Urwerk’s watches and clients is truly one of the most innovative developments in modern watchmaking to date. It certainly seems like the GPHG agrees with this notion, seeing as the EMC won both the Mechanical Exception Watch Prize and the Innovation Watch Prize in 2014.
When he founded Ressence just over 6 years ago, industrial designer Benoit Mintiens had no formal background in watchmaking or watch design, but that didn’t stop him from creating something truly beautiful and special. Approaching watchmaking and watch design from a fresh perspective allowed Ressence to create a watch that genuinely looks and functions like nothing else that’s currently available on the market – in the best possible way.
Case in point: Ressence’s first offering, the Type1001, stunned collectors of independent watches with the extremely flat appearance of the dial and its lack of conventional, centrally fixed hands. Shortly after the release of the Type1001, Ressence began developing a host of new pieces, including the Type 3, which features a crownless time-setting system and an oil-filled case that helps increase overall legibility.
It’s also worth noting that Ressence has played a role in the debate over in-house movements. Their watches are made using a highly modified version of the ETA 2824/2 that has been reworked to accommodate the ROCS (Ressence Orbital Convex System), Ressence’s patented, 107-part, “3 dimensional complication” used to display the time. While some may view the presence of an ETA movement in a watch of this caliber undesirably, it’s important to remember the extensive work that went into the development of the ROCS, the integration of the ROCS into the base movement, and the fact that reliability — an area in which the 2824/2 certainly excels — is not to be overlooked in a complicated wristwatch.