It’s easy to immediately think of Switzerland when it comes to fine watches, but kind of unfair. In some ways, watchmaking and Switzerland are synonymous, like chocolate, or cheese fondue. Yet, despite being the industry’s epicentre, it’s far from the only place on earth where watches are made. There are countless brands and individuals doing some really inventive stuff, especially in the independent watchmaking scene. Chatting amongst the team regarding this very topic, we decided it was again time to go through some of the most interesting indies outside of Switzerland. And some come from quite unexpected countries!
J.N. Shapiro Watches – USA
We start things off with an independent watchmaker that should definitely be on your radar, for a number of reasons; J.N. Shapiro. First off, he is doing some really interesting things in his workshop in California. Secondly, he tries to do as much as possible by himself or on US soil at least. Thirdly, he just launched a watch with the first-ever Tantalum case produced outside of Switzerland.
The Infinity Tantalum comes with a case of, well, tantalum. This blue-grey metal is rarely used in watchmaking and is notoriously hard to machine. It gives the watch some serious heft, as Tantalum is a very dense material. It’s not only used for the case, as Josh Shapiro also incorporated it into the dials, which is made in-house. The guilloché decoration features three different patterns and a combination of finishes and colours. The movement also isn’t overlooked, even though it’s sourced externally (for now). The hand-wound UWD Calibre 33.1 is finely decorated and can be seen through the sapphire crystal caseback. For more information, please visit JNShapiroWatches.com
Quick Facts – 39mm diameter – tantalum case, brushed and polished – sapphire crystal front and back – 30m water-resistance – palladium base dial with engine-turned guilloché in three versions – handmade hands – J.N. Shapiro UWD, based on UWD Caliber 33.1 – hand-wound – 19 jewels – 21,600vph – 53h power reserve – hours, minutes, hacking small seconds – alligator leather strap with tantalum pin buckle – limited to 26 pieces in total – USD 33,000
Naoya Hida & Co – Japan
While there are several intriguing independent watchmakers coming from Asia, we focus on Naoya Hida & Co for the time being. Naoya Hida & Co is located in Tokyo, Japan and crafts very refined, classically styled watches with impressive attention to detail. The designs by the indie watchmaker aim to bring back the refinement and elegance from watches made in the 1930s and 1940s. As you can see, there’s a distinct aura of “Calatrava” about them.
One of the most interesting watches in the collection, to us at least, is the Type 3A Moon Phase. It was introduced last year and was the first model to incorporate an indication other than hours, minutes and seconds. Measuring 37mm in diameter and 10.7mm in height this watch will no doubt be a joy to wear. The German Silver dial has a very fine grainy texture, with engraved and lacquered numerals, a gold moon phase disc and a pair of polished and heat-blued hands. For more information, please visit NaoyaHidaWatch.com
Quick Facts – 37mm x 10.7mm – stainless steel case – concave bezel – brushed and polished – solid caseback – domed sapphire crystal – 30m water-resistance – German Silver dial, micro-bead blasted – hand-engraved and lacquered Roman numerals – 18k gold moon phase disc – polished and blued hands – Calibre 3021LU, Valjoux 7751 base – 18 jewels – 28,800vph – 45h power reserve – limited to 15 pieces – JPY 2,640,000 (approx. EUR 20,000 at time of publishing)
Holthinrichs Watches – The Netherlands
Right now, Dutchman Michiel Holthinrichs is perhaps our countries fastest rising star in watchmaking. Shure, he’s not the only one making really cool watches but he has a very unique style, incomparable to others. His philosophy is to look at watchmaking from an architectural perspective and uses 3D printing technology to create unorthodox shapes. Don’t think 3D printing is used as a gimmick, it is actually far more than that. It extends into a case design that cannot be recreated by conventional case making methods. It also allows for truly bespoke watches, with an individual’s name or personal message set in the caseband for instance.
We recently had the pleasure of handling his Raw Bronze, his latest creation. The full bronze case, combined with a patinated solid copper dial and a copper-plated movement is nothing like you’ve ever seen before. This watch, which Michiel labels as “Horlogerie Brut”, will evolve with you as it gathers a unique patina through contact with your skin, moisture or even air. In essence, the watch almost becomes a living, breathing entity. Which happens to tell the time in the process. For more information, please visit Holthinrichswatches.com
Quick Facts – 38mm x 9.9mm height – full 3D printed bronze case – aged finish with hand-polished details – screw-in caseback with sapphire crystal – aged solid copper dial with solid Breguet numerals – handmade copper hands – Calibre HW-S01A, Peseux 7001 base – handwound – copper-plated skeleton bridges with hand-applied englage – 21,600vph – 42h power reserve – green nubuck leather strap – limited to 10 pieces available in 2022 – EUR 12,700 excluding taxes
Garrick Watches – United Kingdom
Independent watchmaking company Garrick has been hard at work earning its place at the independent watchmaking table. The brand has grown from creating affordable, original designs using outsourced movement, to a true advocate for traditional British watchmaking. What started with watches like the relatively affordable Shaftesbury, the Hoxton and the Norfolk, has since turned into a high-end watchmaking delight. Models like the S1, S2 and S3 cost a pretty penny, mostly due to a big step-up in complexity and craftsmanship.
The most recent model to emerge from Garrick’s atelier is the S4, which quickly became a big success for the brand. It is positioned as an entry-level piece but upholds the brand’s standards in every conceivable way. It still features plenty of craftsmanship, mainly in the dial and movement, and its design follows the previous S-designated collections. The Garrick S4’s dial can be made to order, in a vast range of colours, guilloché patterns and finishes. The movement might be a modified ETA 6498 at heart, but Garrick completely changes its look with a large three-quarter plate and a hand-engraved barrel cover. And the price? It starts at a very reasonable (for what you get) GBP 4,995. For more information, please visit Garrick.co.uk
Quick facts – 42mm x 10mm – steel case (18k gold on request) – sapphire crystal front and back – onion style crown – gold-plated or rhodium-plated dial – applied Breguet-style chapter ring with ink-filled numerals – hand-turned guilloché or frosted finishing – central hour and minute hands, small second subdial – Calibre BF03, modified ETA 6498 – hand-wound – in-house made three-quarter plate and hand-engraved barrel cover – 19 jewels – 50h power reserve – multiple strap options available – bespoke options available upon request – GBP 4,995 with frosted dial or GBP 5,995 with guilloché dial
Marco Lang – Germany
Marco Lang started working as a restorer of clocks and scientific instruments, before completing a three-year apprenticeship as a precision mechanic in Glashütte. By 1999 he started his first company on the sale and repair of antique watches. By 2001 he started Lang & Heyne, with Mirko Heyne (who left a year later). Quickly making a for crafting fine watches, he also started movement company Uhren-Werke-Dresden, or UWD. By 2019 he left Lang & Heyne and late in 2020 he presented the first-ever watch under his own name, the Marco Lang Zweigesicht-1.
The Zweigesicht-1 (German for two-face) is a remarkable watch, as it is essentially two watches in one, driven by a single movement. A convertible watch isn’t something entirely new, but on this level, it is extremely rare. The case has a clever construction with a detachable lug module, allowing you to wear both sides face up. One side has a typically German styled dial, while the other reveals a far more complex face. All technical elements can be seen floating above the mainplate, including a second timing indication, the regulating organ and the special shock-indication system developed by Marco. For more information, please visit MarcoLangWatches.com
Quick Facts – 40mm x 12.5mm steel, rose gold or platinum case – sapphire crystal front and back – special case with removable lug module – 1st dial in silver with roman indices, guilloché decoration and pencil hands – 2nd dial openworked, white-fired skeletonized elements, translucent “grand feu” enamel, cathedral hands – Calibre ML-01, in-house – hand-wound – lever escapement with free four-legged balance, blued Breguet hairspring – 70h power reserve – dual time indication, shock-indication system – alligator strap with interchangeable system – limited edition of 18 pieces – priced from EUR 51,500 excluding taxes
Bradley Taylor – Canada
While Germany and the US might be expected when it comes to independent watchmaking outside of Switzerland, Canada surely is not. Yet, through the efforts of Bradley Taylor to name just one, there’s plenty to be discovered. Bradley Taylor studied and worked in watchmaking in Switzerland before returning to his home soil and launching his eponymous brand. The first product by his hand is the Paragon, another very refined, elegant time-only watch.
The Paragon is Bradley Taylor’s take on the classical time-only dress watch, but with a little twist. The dial has applied numerals, designed by a famous Canadian typographer named Ian Brignell. The small seconds indication, as well as the outer perimeter of the dial, are decorated with an engine-turned guilloché pattern. The hands are made in-house, and finished to a distinct purple hue. As the dial does come in classical black, Bradley Taylor also presented the Paragon with a playful light blue or purple tone. The movement comes from Vaucher, and uses a guilloché-decorated micro-rotor. For more information, please visit BradleyTaylor.ca
Quick Facts – 39mm x 9.8mm – steel case with scalloped bezel – fully polished – sapphire crystal front and back – 120m water-resistance – light blue, purple of black dial – guilloché small seconds and outer ring – handmade hour indices and hands – Vaucher Calibre 5401/32 – automatic with micro-rotor (22k gold, guilloché) – 29 jewels – 21,600vph – 48h power reserve – bespoke leather strap per clients request – limited to 12 pieces – USD 22,000
Konstantin Chaykin – Russia
Last on the list is Konstantin Chaykin, from Moscow, Russia. This master watchmaker is perhaps best known for his Wristmon collection of watches, while he does far more than that, often much more complex in terms of watchmaking. Remember the Cinema watch for instance or the Genius Temporis. And there’s also his clock-making side, which is right up there with the very best in the business. There are few watchmakers as talented as Mr Chaykin.
But if we have to single out one watch, it comes as no surprise it is a Wristmon piece. The recently introduced Minion watch is the perfect showcase why this whole range of character watches is so popular. It’s about fun, and having a connection with childhood, or perhaps one of your all-time favourite movies. And it does tell the time of course, with the hours set in the left eye, the minutes in the right, and the moon phase in the mouth. For more information, please visit Chaykin.ru
Quick Facts – 40mm x 13.5mm – steel case, 38 components – sapphire crystal front and back – 30m water-resistance – yellow “face” dial – eye-like discs for hour and minutes – miniaturized goggles – two-tone irises – mouth-shaped moon phase indication – Calibre K07-3 – ETA 2892.A2 base movement with in-house module – 61 module components – 29 jewels (8 for the module) – 28.800vph – 42h power reserve – blue denim “coverall” strap – limited edition of 38 pieces – EUR 13,800