In­de­pen­dent watch­mak­ers are push­ing out ac­ces­si­bly priced watches that re­main in­no­va­tive.

The Peak Selections: Timepieces - - Contents - TEXT Y-JEAN MUN-DELSALLE

High-end in­de­pen­dent watch­mak­ers face an uphill strug­gle. Firstly, the pool of wealthy col­lec­tors pas­sion­ate about the time­pieces they of­fer is rather small, and they do not ben­e­fit from economies of scale as their an­nual pro­duc­tion run is of­ten ex­tremely limited, pro­duc­ing no more than a few hun­dred pieces per year, while the large brands churn out com­ple­men­tary watch lines us­ing the same man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses in the tens of thou­sands that fur­ther bring down their costs. Con­cern­ing dis­tri­bu­tion, it’s not al­ways easy for in­de­pen­dents to get their prod­ucts to mar­ket ei­ther, as not all re­tail­ers are ar­dent ad­vo­cates of in­de­pen­dent watch­mak­ing, pre­fer­ring to stick to tried-and-tested brands.

In the light of these is­sues, cou­pled with the re­cent slug­gish­ness of the global mar­ket, one way some in­de­pen­dent names have been ap­peal­ing to buy­ers lately is by in­tro­duc­ing “sim­pler” time­pieces at lower price points, broad­en­ing their prod­uct range with­out com­pro­mis­ing on qual­ity and in­ven­tive­ness. But make no mis­take, even these new en­trylevel of­fer­ings can in no way be con­sid­ered cheap – in cer­tain cases, we’re talk­ing about a re­duc­tion in prices from six or seven fig­ures to those in the five-fig­ure range. A MAT­TER OF DE­MAND For 2017, Christophe Claret has made his low­est-priced watch to date by pro­duc­ing a sim­pler yet un­usual move­ment. The dis­tin­guish­ing fea­tures of the Mae­stro ($98,000 in ti­ta­nium; $109,000 in rose gold) are a unique large cone-shaped date dis­play, and a smaller but also cone-shaped “memo” dis­play, which has a sap­phire or ruby em­bed­ded into its side. This coloured gem can be piv­oted to face the wearer at the touch of a but­ton, re­mind­ing the lat­ter of an item on his or her to-do list.

Prior to the Mae­stro, most of Christophe Claret’s men’s com­pli­ca­tions were highly com­plex with the prices to match, whether it was the So­prano ($681,000) with tour­bil­lon and minute re­peater with West­min­ster chimes, or the Al­le­gro ($384,000) minute re­peater with cathe­dral gongs and GMT func­tion. Thanks to Claret’s dis­cus­sions with col­lec­tors world­wide, he learnt that there was a de­mand for a more af­ford­able com­pli­cated watch, es­pe­cially among younger buy­ers. “Lis­ten­ing to col­lec­tors lets us know the mar­ket trend and what they ap­pre­ci­ate the most,” says Claret, adding: “They are par­tic­u­larly fond of watches with in­no­va­tions.” Thus the idea for the Mae­stro was born – and it’s un­likely to be the last Christophe Claret of­fer­ing in this price range.

Sim­i­larly, ex­ter­nal feed­back prompted the cre­ation of more ac­ces­si­bly priced of­fer­ings by Lau­rent Fer­rier, an­other

re­spected name in in­de­pen­dent horol­ogy. In 2017, the brand is con­tin­u­ing to ex­pand its Galet Mi­cro-Ro­tor fam­ily, which was first cre­ated in re­sponse to re­tailer de­mand for a more af­ford­able time­piece, fol­low­ing the 2010 launch of the Galet Clas­sic Tour­bil­lon Dou­ble Hair­spring (US$208,000 or S$283,000). The new 40mm Galet Mi­croRo­tor Mon­tre Ecole (US$45,000 in stain­less steel and US$55,000 in white or red gold) ref­er­ences Fer­rier’s very first cre­ation as a watch­maker – a school piece in­cor­po­rat­ing 19th-cen­tury pocket watch codes. The three­hand time­piece fea­tures ex­cep­tion­ally handfin­ished move­ment parts vis­i­ble through the sap­phire crys­tal case­back.

Ac­cord­ing to CEO Vanessa Mon­es­tel, the brand be­lieves in lis­ten­ing and an­swer­ing to col­lec­tors, as long as it sup­plies prod­ucts that are con­sis­tent with its cre­ative line. How­ever, the big­gest chal­lenge is the high cost of R&D in­vest­ment that takes a long time to amor­tise, due to the small pro­duc­tion run. She says: “It is likely that the mar­ket re­quires lower price points, but with our limited pro­duc­tion and su­perla­tive stan­dards of fin­ish­ing and qual­ity, the cost will still be high.” BE­YOND THE PRICE TAG Even as they look to widen their ap­peal with lower-priced of­fer­ings, how­ever, these niche in­de­pen­dent brands are cog­nisant of the im­por­tance of stay­ing fo­cused on the unique qual­i­ties that make them so cov­eted by their fans. Distin­guished by its sig­na­ture fluid-based time in­di­ca­tors, HYT re­cently re­worked its sig­na­ture el­e­ments to cre­ate the H0 in ti­ta­nium, which has a pared-down de­sign with a full dial (save for two cut-outs show­ing part of its move­ment), as op­posed to the elab­o­rate open di­als and skele­tonised move­ments that char­ac­terise other HYT de­signs. Priced at $55,000 – about a third less than the brand’s next most ex­pen­sive model – the H0 has earned a pos­i­tive re­cep­tion from re­tail­ers, the press and cus­tomers.

As CEO Gre­gory Dourde points out: “Al­though the H0 is more af­ford­able than our other pieces, we wouldn’t de­fine it as af­ford­able per se. It is essential for us to lis­ten to col­lec­tors, and what we see is that they want rar­ity and truly ex­cep­tional time­pieces. Hence, for our col­lec­tors, price is less im­por­tant than the unique­ness of what they are buy­ing. Many of our cus­tomers wear a HYT on a daily ba­sis, re­gard­less of whether it is priced at 39,000 Swiss francs (S$55,000) or a unique piece at more than 200,000 Swiss francs.”

Sim­i­larly, re­spected watch­maker Ro­main Gau­thier is adamant that lower prices are just one part of a win­ning strat­egy, if at all. Best known for the Log­i­cal One, a Geneva Watch­mak­ing Grand Prix-win­ning watch that fea­tures a unique fusee-and­chain mech­a­nism, watch­maker Ro­main Gau­thier re­cently un­veiled the In­sight Mi­cro-Ro­tor, his sim­plest move­ment to date. Re­tail­ing for 75,000 Swiss francs in red gold, the time-only In­sight Mi­cro-Ro­tor is pow­ered by a beau­ti­fully hand-fin­ished in-house cal­i­bre with a gold bidi­rec­tional mi­cro-ro­tor. Gau­thier’s aim was to cre­ate an el­e­gant and er­gonomic “daily” time­piece with au­to­matic wind­ing that is easy and en­joy­able to wear. And if its smaller size of 39.5mm makes it more ap­peal­ing to a wider au­di­ence – such as fe­male horol­ogy en­thu­si­asts whose wrists might have been over­whelmed by the 43mm case of the Log­i­cal One – so much the bet­ter.

Says Gau­thier: “The In­sight Mi­croRo­tor is for knowl­edge­able col­lec­tors who ap­pre­ci­ate high-end watch­mak­ing, in terms of the qual­ity and thought that goes into its de­vel­op­ment. If the watch en­ables us to at­tract a wider client base, it won’t nec­es­sar­ily be thanks to the price tag. More likely, it will be be­cause its 39.5mm case di­am­e­ter might work well for a dif­fer­ent type of wrist – for ex­am­ple, ladies’ wrists – and its sim­plic­ity of use.”


In cer­tain cases, cre­at­ing time­pieces at new price points can of­fer the op­por­tu­nity to add a fresh facet to a brand’s story. In 2016, Greubel Forsey, top watch­mak­ers best known for in­cred­i­bly fin­ished mul­ti­tour­bil­lon time­pieces, un­veiled the Sig­na­ture 1 – a hand-wound piece with just hours, min­utes and sec­onds, and its first watch with­out a tour­bil­lon. The rai­son d’etre of the Sig­na­ture range is to give the com­pany’s watch­mak­ers – in this case, Di­dier Cretin – the op­por­tu­nity to front the cre­ation of an orig­i­nal watch. Fea­tur­ing for the first time an in-house, over­sized 12.6mm bal­ance wheel, and the brand’s well-known ob­ses­sive at­ten­tion to qual­ity and handfin­ish­ing, Sig­na­ture 1 took over six years to de­velop. So much for sim­ple.

At the SIHH watch fair in 2017, the brand show­cased the plat­inum edi­tion of the Sig­na­ture 1, re­tail­ing for 190,000 Swiss francs. It’s prob­a­bly the world’s costli­est time-only watch, but one that has Greubel Forsey writ­ten all over it, even in the ab­sence of a tour­bil­lon (or four).

Brand co-founder Stephen Forsey notes: “It’s im­por­tant to main­tain a unique and ex­clu­sive of­fer­ing in terms of cre­ativ­ity, re­li­a­bil­ity, ex­cel­lent crafts­man­ship and aes­thet­ics. It’s quite likely in the fu­ture that more af­ford­able time­pieces will broaden our cir­cle of col­lec­tors.”



04 01, 02 The hand-wound move­ment of the Mae­stro, de­signed by French-born watch­maker Christophe Claret. 03, 04 Lau­rent Fer­rier’s early watch­mak­ing days in­spired the lat­est ad­di­tion to the Galet Mi­croRo­tor fam­ily.




NOTE TO SELF The Mae­stro by Christophe Claret has a small cone­shaped dis­play with a tri­an­gu­lar gem that serves as a re­minder of a task at hand.

07 05, 06 For HYT CEO Gre­gory Dourde, the ap­peal of the H0 lies in more than its rel­a­tively lower price. 07-09 Ro­main Gau­thier’s In­sight Mi­croRo­tor fea­tures ex­cep­tional touches like a solid gold mi­cro-ro­tor and a bal­ance wheel with curved arms. 10, 11...





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