Five New Kids on the Independent Block
Independent watch brands are loved for their creativity, their differences, and the human bond they create, a feat as rare as it is enjoyable. Here is a look at five standout independents.
As an independent watch brand, one can make their story his/her own, fall in love with their design and assert one’s identity through them. They are multiple and varied. This is what makes them highly sought-after. Today we focus on five very different yet impactful independent brands.
Triton, rebirth of a mythical diver
It is the passion for the extraordinary dive watches of Philippe Friedmann and Jean-Sébastien Coste that enabled the rebirth of this iconic brand. In 1963, the Triton Spirotechnique was THE watch of professional divers. It was the most expensive on the market, offering a robust quality and an unparalleled comfort. The new Triton Subphotique is the true heir of its predecessor. Its screwed-down crown and unmistakable crown guards are there at 12 o’clock. Same as its superior quality, it boosts a water resistance to 500m coupled with a helium escape valve. The comfort has been optimized by bracelets with an inner synthetic rubber lining sewn on black rubber with a single buckle or a made to measure brushed stainless-steel bracelet with double pusher deployant clasp. The finely fluted 60-minute bezel is highly actionable even while wearing diver gloves and is enhanced by SuperLuminova C3 for perfect legibility.
A personalized Triton caliber, based on the high-end Soprod M100 movement, powers this marvel of a divers’ watch. Two 63-piece limited editions were introduced at Baselworld this year. First, the Navy Green Triple Black with its army green dial on a matching NATO strap as an homage to its military past. Second, the Sport Black Redline with its matte black dial, stainless steel case and black synthetic strap for a total ‘dark chic’ look. They will be gone fast since they are wisely priced at under CHF 4’500! You have to love passion when it generates distinctive, robust, reliable, and affordable timepieces with inimitable style.
Reservoir, Swiss Made with French flair
When a strong concept, supported by a competent team of entrepreneurs, meets Swiss watchmaking quality, it gives birth to Reservoir. The founders, passionate about instruments of the past, wanted to be able to wear them on their wrists. They have created a resolutely different way of displaying the time inspired by the functionalities of such vintage instruments: RPM counters, gas gauges, and speedometers. All these aesthetic codes are transferred into 43mm dials. They smartly combine 3 watchmaking complications. Minutes are displayed in a 240° retrograde sector evoking a manometer or RPM counter. A very legible central window counts the jumping hours as so many kilometers. A large power reserve indicator at 6 o’clock inspired by oil or gas gauges prevents any risk of ‘machine failure’. It’s clear, efficient, and most of all, functional.
The ultra-robust ETA 2824-2 base caliber is used for optimum reliability. This proprietary module of 124 components was created for the brand and patented. Founded in 2016, the young brand, unveils yet another model this year, the Longbridge in 39mm. Inspired by the Mini Cooper and its highly recognizable counters. The dials – black, English green or two-tone cream white, offer an elegant work of textures and volumes. The satin brush finish brings a racy chic to the timepiece. Little details like the precious stones cabochon reminding of the diodes of the emblematic counters make all the difference. For less than CHF 4’000, Reservoir offers beautiful timekeepers with an asserted, yet different style, while remaining sporty and chic. The Longbridge British Racing was a true favorite of mine from the fair.
MONTA Watch, A US twist on ‘Swiss Made’
Inspired by watches from the 50’s and 60’s, MONTA Watch is a young brand created by three American watch lovers based in St. Louis, Missouri. Founders Michael DiMartini and David Barnes got their start in the strap business with their popular Everest Bands. Together, they decided to revive the spirit of true ‘tool watches’ by revisiting their classic beauty, real usefulness, legendary reliability, and all at an affordable price way below their perceived value.
The new Monta Oceanking presented at Baselworld 2018 is a great example of this philosophy. It boasts all the features of a true diver! A resolutely classic and elegant look which comes with a matte, lacquered black, sunburst blue, or deep blue dial. A modern refined rehaut with applied indexes lend a refinement seldom seen at this price point. In addition, ‘sword-shape’ rhodium plated hands coated with Swiss Luminova BG W9 grant a very classy touch that completes the look.
Powered by an automatic winding caliber Sellita SW300 movement. This chronometer certified caliber makes these pieces reliable and robust with an extended 42-hour power reserve. With a water resistance to 304 meters (or 1000 feet), it will be as comfortable in the great depths as in society. But it is the small details that count once more: the fully-lumed and highly legible ceramic bezel, and the profiled crown protectors. These kind of comfort and finishing are rare at this price range. The multiple surfaces on the 316L stainless steel case are polished and/or brushed; the articulated links of the bracelet are beveled and polished for optimal comfort, all wrapping gently around any wrist thanks to its fully adjustable diver clasp. The solid crown is adorned with the vintage engraved logo of the brand. Since distribution is through their own website, prices are extremely aggressive: Priced at $1,730 USD in their existing pre-order for a delivery in August 2018. Each watch comes with a second NATO strap included for a total vintage look! What are you waiting for?
L&JR, a New Watchmaking Adventure
Who said Quartz had to be boring? In fact, Quartz is honored with this new brand. Through the spirit of three creative entrepreneurs’ and experts in watchmaking comes L&JR. Which offers sophisticated yet affordable time-keepers. This group is made of; Philippe Cros on the production side, Jörg Hysek Jr and his network of distribution and promotion, and Lionel Ladoire for design. The result? A commanding first collection, dubbed the Step 1, with two lines boasting useful complications: a day-date and chronograph.
The design is appealing, complex, distinctive and high-end. The various levels of the dial bring forth an elegant yet modern depth. Three themes are offered: white, black or black-and-grey. Each timekeeper has a strong personality housed in their proprietary 45mm case with a domed sapphire glass. Partially open-worked plunging lugs are ‘arched’ towards the bracelet to enhance the graphic and technical look. The alternated brushed and polished finishes, as well as the finely fluted case between the edge and the bezel, bring an undeniable touch of elegance. A great work powered by a Swiss Quartz movement. Prices range from CHF 1’180 to CHF 1’480. The founders already talk of mechanical models to satisfy the numerous demands they have received. Definitely a brand to keep an eye on in the future.
Hajime Asaoka, the Japanese philosopher of watchmaking
Not really a new kid on the block, but his timepieces are always head-turners. Mr. Asaoka has been among the rising independent stars of Japanese watchmaking from the first day he started making his own watches in 2005. He became a member of the AHCI (Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants - Horological Academy of Independent Creators) in 2015. Hajime produces most of his components himself apart from hairsprings and mainsprings. All are hand-made in his tiny atelier in Tokyo with century-old machines. No wonder he barely produces only 5 watches a year! But what is most striking is his philosophy of watchmaking. Manufacturing a watch is like solving a math equation or playing chess. The best solutions are always the simplest and often the most beautiful.
His goal is to create the most accurate timepiece without apparent complexity, so he builds them with a constant effort to appear effortless. A very Japanese approach indeed.
At Baselworld this year, he presented his latest achievement, a declination of his Tsunami timepiece. A three hands with small seconds model sized at 37mm of pure timeless beauty.
Sharp as a Japanese sword with Art Deco accents: the clean railroad minute track, the font of the indexes, the shape of the hands. Nothing superfluous…but so many details when you look closer. The small disk at 6 o’clock has tiny holes which mark the seconds with precision. Every tenth hole is filled with a tiny dot of red paint. Paint? Nooo! Urushi lacquer! The ancient Japanese technique which gives a profound depth to all the colors of the dial: the black circle for the hours, the outer white railroad for the minutes, the inner dark grey of the center, the light grey of the small seconds, the red of the seconds hand. All Urushi lacquer! Layers upon layers upon layers, each time milled then polished, until he reaches the texture and color required and the surface is as hard as enamel. Work of Art.
And don’t get me started on the movement with its big balance wheel taking center stage inspired from old US pocket watches. The finishings are beautiful and precise, beveled and polished with his very own interpretation of Geneva stripes. I could go on forever.
But as Hajime Asaoka puts it himself: “the interest of my watches cannot be summarized by their finishings.” His philosophy of watchmaking runs much deeper. He creates rare and precise timepieces that touch on the essence of universal nature: purity and simplicity expressing timeless beauty. And it works wonders.