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The Best Independent Watchmakers Every Collector Needs To Know
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The Best Independent Watchmakers Every Collector Needs To Know

By Nick Kenyon
26 Oct 2023
8 min read

Independent watchmakers have never been more popular to collect but it wasn’t always this way. Here’s  a look at some of the best Indies that every enthusiast should own

Manufacturers such as Rolex and Patek Philippe have been popular among collecting circles for decades, but the phenomenon of independent watchmaking is a much younger trend in the horological universe. Yes, independent watchmakers have been a part of the industry for many years, but it’s only in the last half-decade or so that the very best of them have found professional acclaim and international appreciation.

Perhaps it’s that most of the more desirable watch manufacturers are concentrated in ownership by either LVMH, Richemont, or Swatch Group, but the surge in enthusiasm for independent watchmaking has been seismic. From the unique story behind each watchmaker to their distinctive individual styles, it’s a category rich in craftsmanship, creative vision, and personal ambition.

No matter if you’re a collector at the beginning of your journey or a veteran of the auction circuit, independent watchmakers have managed to capture the imagination of thousands of watch enthusiasts around the world. So if you’re curious about who the key players are in the independent watchmaking space, let’s take a look at some of the very best of them.

F.P. Journe

F.P. Journe Chronomètre à Résonance
F.P. Journe Chronomètre à Résonance

You’d be hard-pressed to find any watch collectors worth their salt who didn’t think François-Paul Journe is one of the very best independent watchmakers alive today. After creating his first commissioned timepiece at the age of 25 in 1983, Journe launched his eponymous brand in 1999 and hasn’t looked back since.

Blending the best of late-18th century watchmaking with cutting-edge modern technology, Journe’s distinctive style was inspired by the great George Daniels, and has been expressed through a number of innovations. One such boundary-pushing exercise is the F.P. Journe Chronomètre à Résonance, which takes advantage of the phenomenon of resonance (where two oscillating objects will eventually synchronize) for more accurate timekeeping, as well as delivering a dual timezone indication.

Journe isn’t exclusively interested in mechanical watchmaking, however, with the F.P. Journe Élégante one of the most sought-after quartz-powered watches in the world today. Only producing around 900 watches per year, the F.P. Journe owners club is a special one to be a part of.

Roger Smith

Roger W. Smith's First Series 2 Open Dial Watch Housed In A Prototype 40mm White Gold Case
Roger W. Smith's First Series 2 Open Dial Watch Housed In A Prototype 40mm White Gold Case

Another of the world’s best independent watchmakers, and another gentleman inspired by George Daniels, Roger Smith continues a legacy of almost entirely handmade watches. Following what has become known as the Daniels Method, Smith’s watches are made in a small workshop on the Isle of Man in extremely small quantities — around 10 per year — with every component meticulously crafted from raw materials and finished to the highest standards.

Thanks to both the rarity and quality of Smith’s watches, they have been known to command a seven-figure price tag on the rare occasion that one comes to market, with the Roger W. Smith First Series 2 Open Dial Watch Ref. 02-OD is an excellent example of his more recent work. Boasting a prototype 40mm white gold case (the first of its kind), the open dial is a mechanical marvel powered by the Daniels-inspired manual winding Mark 1 Co-Axial Escapement. Truly a horological treasure. 

Richard Mille

Richard Mille RM67-01 TI Extra-Flat
Richard Mille RM67-01 TI Extra-Flat

While Journe and Smith remain relatively unknown to the general public, Richard Mille is a name that has well and truly penetrated the collective cultural consciousness. Worn by athletes, rappers, world leaders and anyone with elevated taste and deep pockets, Richard Mille has made an immeasurable impact on the world of watch collecting in only two decades.

With an emphasis on material and technical innovation that approaches the philosophical, Richard Mille’s design language has been expressed in many forms over the years, but the RM67-01 TI Extra-Flat is a quintessential example thanks to its tonneau case shape and slim profile. Another example is the Richard Mille Titanium Diver 47mm Openworked Dial ref. RM028, with a robust 300m of water resistance and an eye-catching open-worked dial. 

Gérald Genta

Gérald Genta Bi-Retro Titanium
Gérald Genta Bi-Retro Titanium

If you’ve followed Wristcheck for a little while, there’s almost no chance you will have missed the name Gérald Genta, a legendary watch designer, artist and watchmaker. His best-known designs are without a doubt the Nautilus from Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak — each collectable categories unto themselves — but timepieces that bear the Gérald Genta name have become hot property in recent years too.

An excellent example of Genta’s interest in sporty, expressive timepieces is the Gerald Genta Bi-Retro Titanium, hewn from 43mm of brushed titanium and featuring a rather unusual dial design. With a retrograde display for both the minutes and date, while the hours are communicated via a jump hour complication, this calibre BVL 300-powered timepiece will only turn the heads of the keenest watch enthusiasts. 

Greubel Forsey

Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Edition Historique
Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Edition Historique

Launched in 2004 by Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey, the Greubel Forsey watchmaking workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds is a place where unlikely ideas become micro-mechanical realities. Unconventional in their approach, but uncompromising in their execution, Greubel Forsey watches have become known for their multiple tourbillons and balance wheels in pursuit of timekeeping mastery.

With a wrist presence that’s impossible to miss, watches such as the Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Asymétrique Edition Historique have an architectural depth to them that draws the eye from the very first glance. Featuring a 44mm rose gold case and a dial that has been engraved with 3D lettering, the bulging tourbillon at 7.30 is a sight only a few have witnessed in the metal.

Daniel Roth

Daniel Roth Ellipsocurvex Moonphase White Gold Diamond White Dial
Daniel Roth Ellipsocurvex Moonphase White Gold Diamond White Dial

The name Daniel Roth is another that has exploded in popularity over the last few years, after being underappreciated for several decades. Eponymously founded in 1989, Roth’s distinctive stadium-shaped cases are instantly recognizable, while his often heat-blued arrow hands are a nod to the clock and watchmakers of antiquity.

While Roth’s chronographs are highly sought after (crafted in a range of metals that include steelrose gold and yellow gold), his more complex watches are true works of horological art. Timepieces such as the Masters 8-Days Tourbillon or the Ellipsocurvex Moonphase are brilliantly technical and meticulously finished, representing a generation of watchmakers that is only now receiving the praise it deserves. 

MB&F

MB&F M.A.D.1 RED
MB&F M.A.D.1 RED

MB&F is an independent watchmaker that represents the very best of the horological community — standing for Maximilian Büsser & Friends as a nod to those who believed in the project since its inception. Futuristic, highly unusual and relentlessly innovative, the watches that leave the MB&F workshop are delightful in their playful creativity.

At its core, MB&F is known for creating some of the weirdest and most wonderful watches of all time, with pieces such as the HM9 "Flow" Ti Road Edition exemplifying how far they are willing to push the boundaries of form and function. Prices for MB&F watches are understandably steep, but for those without a bank account balance that resembles a phone number, the team launched the M.A.D.1 RED to give everyone the opportunity to own a true mechanical marvel. 

H. Moser & Cie.

H. Moser & Cie. Endeavour Centre Seconds Rose Gold Funky Blue Dial
H. Moser & Cie. Endeavour Centre Seconds Rose Gold Funky Blue Dial

Despite being founded by Heinrich Moser in the 19th century, H. Moser & Cie. remains one of the most energetic and provocative watchmakers in the game today, creating timepieces that range from classical to unexpected. Helmed by the Meylan brothers, whose Schaffhausen-based family owns the watchmaking firm, the most popular collections today include the Endeavour, PioneerSwiss Alp, and Streamliner ranges.

Of the best of the Endeavour collection, the Flying Hours shows the time via an unconventional trio of rotating discs, while the Endeavour Centre Seconds is a more classic watch with a fumé dial to die for. With just 3,000 watches leaving the factory each year, H. Moser & Cie. is a brand for the thoughtful collector. 

De Bethune

De Bethune DB28 Steel Wheels
De Bethune DB28 Steel Wheels

Another of the best independent watchmakers founded near the turn of the millennium, De Bethune is as space-age as timekeeping gets. A favorite among celebrities such as Michael Jordan, Robert Downey Jr, and American record producer Swizz Beatz, De Bethune is led by industry veterans Denis Flageollet and Pierre Jacques who have worked hard to create a brand that is as visually distinct as it is committed to traditional watchmaking.

Often featuring skeletonized lugs and a color scheme that revolves around blue and white, fine examples that show the breadth of De Bethune’s offering include the Steel Wheels Tourbillon (created to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the brand), and the 120-hour power reserve DB28 Digitale

Honorable Mentions:

Philippe Dufour

No list of the best independent watchmakers would be complete without mentioning the legendary Philippe Dufour, whose watches arguably deserve the adjective “perfect”. After deciding he wanted to be a watchmaker at the tender age of 14, Dufour cut his teeth working for manufacturers such as Jaeger-LeCoultre, before debuting his eponymous brand in 1992 with a Grande Sonnerie wristwatch. In the three decades since, Dufour has only released two models—the Duality and the Simplicity—which are praised for their balanced design and truly peerless movement finishing.

Philippe Dufour Duality, circa 1996 Photo: Phillips
Philippe Dufour Duality, circa 1996 Photo: Phillips

Rexhep Rexhepi

Among the latest wave of independent watchmakers, Rexhep Rexhepi is among the most celebrated and a man who many industry insiders believe could be the next Philippe Dufour. He began his career at 15 as an apprentice at Patek Philippe, worked at F.P. Journe, and eventually founded his own brand Akrivia in 2012. While appreciation for Akrivia continues to grow, it was the Chronomètre Contemporain with the name Rexhep Rexhepi on the dial that caught the attention of the entire watch world, winning the GPHG in 2018 and setting him on a path that has most recently seen him collaborate with Louis Vuitton on a world-first chiming chronograph. With a long career ahead of him, Rexhepi is a name everyone should know. 

Louis Vuitton x Akrivia LVRR-01 Chronographe à Sonnerie
Louis Vuitton x Akrivia LVRR-01 Chronographe à Sonnerie

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