Best of 2021 – Our Favorite Watches of the Year by Independent Watchmakers
MONOCHROME's top watches coming out of the indie scene!
Independent watchmaking has always played an important role in MONOCHROME’s content. While we look at the entire spectre of the (mostly mechanical) watchmaking industry, we always had a tendency to love what creative and indie watchmakers produce. Original, different, complex and soulful, it’s one of our most important topics. So, when the editorial team had to agree on what were the best watches presented by independent watchmakers in 2021, believe me, it hasn’t been easy. But, here we are, after quite some discussions, with our favourite watches of 2021 from the indie scene.
Editor’s note: this list reflects the preferences of MONCHROME’s editorial team and results from an internal vote. This list is, of course, non-exhaustive and remains subjective. If there are other watches by independent watchmakers launched in 2021 that made an impression on you, feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comment section.
Bernhard Lederer Central Impulse Chronometer
To quote one of the comments regarding this watch, one of the “most impressive casebacks in the business.” And, to be honest, we won’t even try to argue with that… Simply look at the movement side of this Bernhard Lederer Central Impulse Chronometer and you’ll understand. Intricate, architectural, ultra-detailed, but also highly complex, with a combination of two barrels, two independent gear trains, two remontoires, two escape wheels and a central impulse escapement. Now in its final form, Lederer’s watch also becomes visually highly attractive, and while maintaining a certain toned-down look dial side, the movement remains a true piece of mechanical art. We could go on for hours about this watch and its movement, but you can read all the details in our in-depth article here. The Central Impulse Chronometer deserves a place of choice in this list.
Quick facts: 44mm 18k white gold case – guilloché dial with two circles interlocked in a figure-eight – calibre 9012, in-house, hand-wound, 42-hour power reserve – two barrels, two independent gear trains, two remontoirs d’égalité, central impulse escapement – limited editions of 25 pieces per colour (silver and blue) – CHF 128,000
Czapek Antarctitique Rattrapante
Czapek has become in a few years one of THE independent watchmakers to follow. Not only the concept behind the brand was properly interesting, but the creations to come out of this manufacture are, without a doubt, more than notable. The latest watch to surface is combining many attractive features. First, it’s based on the Antarctique, the brand’s (very good) vision of a luxury sports watch with integrated bracelet. Second, it inaugurates an entirely new movement developed with Chronode, an automatic split-seconds chronograph (often regarded as the pinnacle of chronograph technology), and a movement that has been developed upside-down, with all the chronograph parts – gears, levers, column-wheels, rattrapante clamps – entirely visible through the opened dial. So, yes, the Czapek Antarctitique Rattrapante is one of the most attractive watches of its kind in 2021. More details in our hands-on article here.
Quick facts: 42.5mm steel case – sapphire crystal glass-box – water-resistant to 120m – openworked dial with blued sword hour and minute hands – proprietary calibre SXH6 (made in partnership with Chronode), automatic split-seconds chronograph, 4Hz, 60h power reserve – integrated stainless steel bracelet – limited edition of 77 pieces – CHF 46,000
De Bethune DB Kind of Two Tourbillon
De Bethune is the brainchild of one of the most prolific watchmakers of his time, Denis Flageollet – a man often considered as a genius, with everything it implies. We’ve seen multiple new DB watches introduced this year but the most impressive one is, without a doubt, this “Janus” watch, the “Harvey Two-Face” of horology, the DB Kind of Two Tourbillon. A watch that combines past and future, it is equipped with a reversible case showing an ultra-classic side and, turning it around, a highly modern and technical face. The contemporary side reveals most of the movement, with its fast 30-second tourbillon with all of DB’s technology and patents, and the brand’s usual high-end decoration. A superb demonstration of all the savoir-faire of Flageollet and his team. More details to discover in our article here.
Quick facts: 42.8mm grade 5 titanium reversible case with floating lugs – two dials, one modern with blued titanium hour markers and hands, and 30-second tourbillon; one classic in silver with guilloche pattern, blued titanium hands – calibre DB2579, in-house, hand-wound, 5-day power reserve, ultra-light De Bethune 30″ tourbillon in titanium, De Bethune balance spring and titanium balance wheel – CHF 215,000 (excl. tax)
Garrick S4 Model
Being produced by small teams, in small quantities, watches by independent watchmakers are often quite expensive (to say the least). But, looking a bit deeper, you can also find handsome watches with soul and attention to detail for the same price as a Rolex. Nothing wrong with the latter, but let’s agree that these are quite generic. Garrick, one of the most active watchmakers from Great Britain, has recently presented the S4, a typical British watch with a highly upgraded Unitas movement (there’s not much left of it…) finished with hand-engraved parts, frosted surfaces and a very personal design. The watch itself is also highly attractive, specifically the most accessible of all styles, the present frosted dial with applied chapter ring. Almost all the parts are executed in the UK, by hand, with pride. And the result, at just shy of 5K pounds, is very rewarding. More details in our article here.
Quick facts: 42mm steel case – multi-level dial with frosted central part, applied chapter ring brushed with ink-filled numerals, hand-turned guilloché small seconds, heat-blued hands – calibre BF03, highly modified ETA 6498 hand-wound movement, hand-crafted three-quarter plate and hand-engraved barrel and crown wheel cover, 50h power reserve – non-limited edition, customizable – from GBP 4,995 in steel with frosted dial
Moritz Grossmann Tremblage
If the name Moritz Grossmann is one of the most important in the history of German watchmaking, the brand to bear this name is rather young. But the watch to come out of this small atelier of Glashütte are delightful, specifically the brand’s latest creation, the Tremblage. Based on the classic Benu watch, Grossmann here delivers a dial with a unique texture named “tremblage.” Done by hand, it consists of applying minuscule indentations on a metallic surface, resulting in a fine, detailed texture – that here decorated a German silver dial with numerals, tracks and logos engraved in relief. Intricate yet discreet, and mostly full of charm, this new watch is also equally attractive on the movement side, with its beautifully decorated in-house movement with hand-engraved captions and frosted surfaces. More details in our introducing article here.
Quick facts: 41mm steel case – German silver dial, hand-engraved with tremblage technique, Arabic numerals, tracks and logos engraved in relief, hand-made and hand-polished blued steel hands – calibre 100.1, in-house, hand-wound, hand-finished bevels, engraved floral decorations, polished chatons and frosted surface – 42h power reserve, manual winder with pusher system – available from the brand’s online boutique – EUR 31,000 (excl. taxes) in steel
Urwerk UR-100 Full Titanium Jacket
The beauty of independent watchmaking lies in how diverse the scene is. Moving from the ultra-classic Grossmann to this sci-fi Urwerk is a perfect demonstration of this diversity. The latest creation of Frei and Baumgartner is named the Full Titanium Jacket, and is based on the UR-100 collection. But what’s most notable is the coherent, monochromatic look that has long been part of the brand, already with the UR-210 Full Metal Jacket. And yes, it’s a watch that we always loved at MONO and we’re truly happy to see it back! The rest of the watch is everything the brand stands for; a display based on hours with rotating satellites and retrograde minutes, combined with spacetime indications with distance travelled on Earth’s equator in 20 minutes, distance Earth travels around the Sun in 20 minutes… More details about this watch to discover in our article here.
Quick facts: 41mm width x 49.7mm length sandblasted titanium case – monochromatic dial and display with hours with rotating satellites, retrograde minutes, spacetime indications with distance travelled on Earth’s equator in 20 minutes, distance Earth travels around the Sun in 20 minutes – calibre UR 12.02, automatic winding system regulated by Urwerk’s proprietary Windfänger system – limited to 25 pieces – CHF 55,000
Agreed on all counts – superb list.
My favourites are the Czapek and Urwerk, with the Garrick impressing me with its dial, as always.
How about the obtainable independent watch makers.
How about Lorier?
That’s also very subjective. My obtainable range would be under 100. But, I can’t imagine too many ‘independent ‘ watch makers at even close to such price ranges anyway. Casio and, if they still exist, timex, come to mind as just fine.
@Matthew Richter – we’ll have other buying guides soon with what we name ‘microbrands’ and also accessible watches. This list was about indie watchmakers (at least according to our definition here) meaning creative, high-end, hand-made watches by proper watchmakers.
Pretty awkward to consider these as ‘proper’ watchmakers and not nomos et al, who make both affordable in house independent watches and high end hand made ones…
Though this article still smells of poor knowledge of the industry rather than a poor use of definition to me.