WatchTime New York 2016 is underway, and the show’s exhibitors will include a large contingent of independent watch brands. Some you may know, others not so much. Here’s a rundown.
Romain Gauthier is a watchmaker based in Le Sentier, the same town, in Switzerland’s famed Vallée de Joux, where he was born 41 years ago. He launched his brand in 2006 with the introduction of a watch called the Prestige HM. His best-known watch is the Logical One, for which he won the prize for best men’s complicated watch at the 2013 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. The watch’s most important feature is its chain-and-snail-cam mechanism, designed to provide a constant level of torque to the movement throughout its running time, and modeled on the chain-and-fusée devices once used in pocketwatches. In addition to making watches under his own name, Gauthier does contract work for other brands.
Armin Strom, based in Bienne, Switzerland is named for a now-retired Swiss watch and clockmaker who specialized in skeletonizing movements. In 2006, Strom sold a majority interest in his company to the Michel family. Serge Michel is now Armin Strom’s CEO; its technical director is watchmaker Claude Greisler. The company is still focused on skeletonized movements, in the tradition of its founder. Most of its collections are organized according to the “four elements” principle, with different case metals representing fire, water, earth and air. This year the brand launched the Edge Double Barrel, 47 mm in diameter, the brand’s biggest size so far, and featuring an eight-day power reserve.
“RGM” are the initials of WOSTEP-trained American watchmaker Roland G. Murphy, who founded the RGM Watch Co. in 1992. It’s based in Mount Joy, Pa., in Lancaster County, once a watchmaking hub. (Hamilton Watch Co. was based there: Murphy served as technical manager there until he started RGM.) He specializes in American-made watches containing American-made movements. In 2008 he introduced his in-house-developed Caliber 801, whose components are made by suppliers in Lancaster County. Then, in 2010, came another American-made movement, the Pennsylvania Tourbillon. His latest in-house movement is Caliber 20, so-named because it marked the 20th anniversary of RGM. Murphy decorates his watches with hand-guilloché using rare, antique engine-turning machines.
Watchmaker Peter Speake-Marin, born in Essex, England, unveiled his first watch, a pocketwatch with tourbillon movement, in 2000. It bore several of the features that would later become hallmarks of his brand; for that reason, Speake-Marin dubbed it the “Foundation” watch. These features included a cylindrical case, hour hand with heart-shaped tip and a tourbillon cage shaped like the wheel of a watchmakers’ topping tool, a shape Speake-Marin now uses as a decorative element in all five of his collections. He unveiled his first wristwatch, the Piccadilly, in 2001. (It was named for the section of London where Speake-Marin had worked for several years doing timepiece restoration.) His watches now range from the nearly classical (e.g., some models in his Resilience collection) to the outright outré (including, but not limited to, the more exotic members of the Cabinet des Mystères collection).
“MB&F” stands for Maximilian Büsser and Friends, which makes small series of very high end, avant garde watches and clocks. Büsser is a longtime watch executive with a masters degree in micro-technology engineering. Before he founded MB&F, in 2005, he had been the CEO of the timepiece division at Harry Winston. The “Friends” are a large group of watchmakers, watch designers, artists, marketers and others behind what the company calls, not watches and clocks, but “machines.” Some of these machines are relatively conservative, such as the Legacy Machine Perpetual, a perpetual calendar watch designed by the Irish watchmaker Stephen McDonnell. (We use the term “relatively” advisedly: the watch is anything but plain vanilla.) Others, like the Balthazar robot-clock launched earlier this year, are sci-fi-inspired fantasy pieces.
Based in Glashütte, Germany, the Moritz Grossmann brand bears the name of the one of the pillars of the German watch industry in the 19th century. Grossmann (1826-1885) was born in Dresden and studied watchmaking in Germany and Switzerland before setting up an atelier in Glashütte, just south of Dresden. Grossmann is famous as the founder of Glashütte’s German School of Watchmaking and for various technical innovations, including the Grossmann curve, which is applied to the inner coil of some balance springs to improve precision. In 2008, a German watchmaker named Christine Hutter, who had bought the rights to the Grossmann name, established in Glashütte a new Moritz Grossmann company. Using movements designed and made in-house, it produces elegant, three-handed dress watches (there is one tourbillon model).
The modern-day Nomos brand was founded in the formerly East German town of Glashütte in 1990, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. (The name “Nomos,” Greek for “law” or “rule,” had been that of a short-lived, early-20th-century watch company.) At first, the company used ETA movements in its watches, but in 2005 began making its own movements. It now has 10 in-house calibers, the latest of which is an ultra-thin (just 3.2-mm thick) automatic called the DUW 3001. Since 2014, Nomos has been incorporating into its movements an in-house escapement which it calls the “swing system” escapement. All the brand’s watches have simple, Bauhaus-inspired dials and cases. One of the brand’s selling points is its affordability: most models are priced between $2,000 and $4,000.
Tutima was founded in Glashütte, Germany in 1927. During World War II, it made pilots’ chronograph watches for the Luftwaffe, establishing the aviation-watch identity it has today. The bombing of Glashütte at the end of the war put an end to the Tutima brand until it was resurrected, in the 1960s, in the West German town of Ganderkesee. The brand returned to its pilots’-watch roots in the 1985 when it introduced the NATO Chronograph. The pilots’-watch theme stuck, and in 1994 Tutima launched what was to become its best-known watch, the Fliegerchronograph, a replica of the watch that Tutima had made for the Luftwaffe. A parade of pilots’-style chronographs and non-chronograph automatic watches followed. In 2011, Tutima relocated back to Glashütte, marking its move with the launch of a very uncharacteristic model: a limited edition minute repeater in gold or platinum.
Urban Jürgensen (1776-1830) was a Danish watchmaker; the son of Jürgen Jürgensen, founder of the Jürgensen watchmaking dynasty. Since 2014, the brand, based in Bienne, has been owned by a group of Danish investors that include its CEO Soren Petersen. The brand’s points of distinction include its UJ-P8 movement, which incorporates a detent, also known as a chronometer, escapement. Such escapements, known for their extreme precision, were used chiefly in marine chronometers. Urban Jürgensen was the first company to use one in a wristwatch, introducing in 2013 a limited series of watches with the UJ-P8 movement. The escapement was developed, assembled and finished by Jean-François Mojon, owner of Chronode, and independent watchmaker Kari Voutilainen. It is now used in two Urban Jürgensen references, 1140C and 1142C. Another of the brand’s notable features: the dials, which are finished in house using a technique called grenage, which involves hand-brushing onto the dial a mixture of silver, salts and other ingredients, thus imparting a granular texture and frost-like look.
Bell & Ross
Bell & Ross, headquartered in Paris, was founded by Carlos Rosillo and Bruno Belamich in 1994. The company name is an intentionally American-sounding elision of the founders’ two last names. Rosillo handles sales and finance; Belamich runs the company’s creative operations. At first, Bell & Ross specialized in rather traditional-looking pilots’ watches and other tool watches. Then, in 2005, it introduced a model quite different from other aviation-themed watches. It had a square case and round dial, and was meant to resemble a cockpit instrument. It was called the BR01. It was a runaway success and provided the brand with a signature look. Since then, Bell & Ross has come up with many variations on the square-case, round-dial theme, including tourbillons and a titanium-and-ceramic, deluxe version called the BR-X1. Bell & Ross assembles its watches in La Chaux-de-Fonds in a factory named G&F Chatelaine. The facility is owned by Chanel principals Alain and Gérard Wertheimer, who have held a minority interest in Bell & Ross since 1997. (Chanel also assembles its watches at Chatelaine.) Bell & Ross buys its movements from suppliers in Switzerland.