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The world of independent watchmakers

by Hours and Minutes Australia

Going Solo

Luxury is not to be rushed they say. Their ultimate goal: to return watchmaking to its roots. Call it the rise of the independents.

Watchmaking started out as a passion by individuals who tested the boundaries of technology and creativity. As the field of watchmaking grew, it only made sense to form conglomerates. Today, there are big groups that have several maisons under their umbrella. But, there are also some passionate watchmakers traversing the watch-world solo.

Independent watchmakers are a rage among watch collectors. The world of independent watchmakers is very different from mainstream manufacturers. Through their creativity and personal attention, there is a different kind of communication and relationship they have with their clients. Their creative freedom and their efforts to retain it and take it much further is rewarded by the support and encouragement they receive by collectors and watch connoisseurs who look for more than just a timepiece. They want watch manufacturers to consider their wishes when creating new timepieces. And this is something the independents appear to be getting very right. Many of them also have a historical legacy being a family business passed down across generations.

‘Vortex’ by Hautlence is much more than simply a wristwatch; it is truly an exceptional timepiece featuring three patents in a mind- blowing three-dimensional case that offers a glimpse of its impressive movement from all sides. The first patent pertains to the 12-link chain of the half-trailing hours, which smoothly turns in 3 to 4 seconds every 60 minutes to display the hour. Such a system differs from an instant system that switches the hours too fast for one to truly appreciate and form a dragging system whereby time cannot be easily read between the hours. The half-trailing hours system rotates effortlessly without losing energy and offers the possibility to admire the beauty of the movement and its mechanisms in action. The second patent relates to the regulating organ integrated into the mobile bridge-type movement. Its constantly changing position, driven by the display, compensates statistically for the effects of gravity, thus enhancing its precision. The third patent concerns the operation of the movement’s two barrels. The main barrel is wound by the automatic-winding system of the movement and transfers the necessary energy to wind a second barrel that is dedicated exclusively to driving the complication. The main barrel continuously winds the second barrel so as to ensure that energy remains at an optimal level to change each hour. This ensures that complex systems remain powered independently without impacting the precision of the watch.

Hautlence Vortex Primary by Eric Cantona

Inspired by contemporary architecture, this unique case flaunts a new look every hour as the cage of the regulating organ rotates 60 degrees every 60 minutes, thus turning Vortex into a mesmerising mechanical piece of art.

Can you imagine tracing time’s inexorable progress with liquid? Could you picture liquid under the dial of a watch? What seemed totally unthinkable, has new become reality. With hydromechanics, HyT is writing a new chapter in the sage of exceptional watchpieces.

HYT H1 Azo Polyepoxyde

DeWitt’s 4th Concept Watch (Academia Mathematical) is one that has no hands. entirely designed and hand-assembled within the manufacture, the watch has its inspirational roots in the passionate interest in mathematics shown by its founder, Jerome de Witt. The numerals indicating the hours and minutes have been scattered, thrown into chaos so that in the end they give the precise time. There are no hands, but rather totally autonomous jumping numerals that come to life by lighting up in the centre of the watch to indicate the passage of time.

“There is a lot of competition of course, and less and less space. But I think it’s also a big opportunity because you can do things that are creative, innovative, so you are not blocked into one line. you can also react to your customers fast. you can evolve faster,” says Natalie Veysset, from Franc Vila.

When it comes to producing watches, there is another set of challenges that independents face. “Finding the right dedicated suppliers who can produce in smaller volume. Most big and strong suppliers have been bought by groups, so you have to find another space for them. Or, you have to find suppliers” says David Gouten from Manufacture Royale.

Popularizing the brand is also a demanding task. “We feel the pressure of the big groups. It is difficult to be known in the market. If people don’t know the brand they will not buy easily as they can have a well-known brand in the same price range. But, we have to change people. We have something exclusive and different” explains Guillaume Tetu, Co- Founder, CEO, Hautlence. Indeed, networking can be a challenge. As an independent, finding top retailers and ambassadors is not always easy.

But, despite these challenges there is a bright future ahead for independent watchmakers. Aletta Stas, Chief Operations Officer, Frederique Constant points out that while a challenge for the watch industry lies clearly in the consolidation of the big groups, it is also true that big groups may take up brands and then leave. There is a monopolistic situation and from the point of view of a retailer, “it is good to have security on Independent brands,” she says.

Even amongst watch buyers and collectors there is a lot of interest in these brands, “I have a feeling that there is interest for independent watchmaking, watches that are made in small workshops and the fact that we do not have an industrial approach. We will have an increasing interest in independent watchmakers because of many reasons. The world is getting bigger and the big companies are getting even bigger. Due to that you don’t know where things are coming from and it is very anonymous. In a small workshop you know where things are from, the customer can see the creator and the watch has a story. These things are important and an industrial product cannot provide that,” says Kari Voutilainen, from Voutilainen.

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