A NEW EQUILIBRIUM
Independent watchmakers are pushing out accessibly priced watches that remain innovative.
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.”
FOR OUR COLLECTORS, PRICE IS LESS IMPORTANT THAN THE UNIQUENESS OF WHAT THEY ARE BUYING. HYT CEO GREGORY DOURDE
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...