The world of horology is often mistaken for being a lot more simple than it really is, like a lot of industries. On the surface, you have brands that almost everyone in the world would recognise, like Rolex, Seiko, TAG Heuer, Omega and others. These brands are what form the majority of the public's impression of the industry. Then, when you delve a little deeper, you uncover brands that you only become aware of when you look for them, like Blancpain, IWC and Panerai. The public isn't necessarily aware of these brands, but they could find out about them easily enough if they wanted to. Then, you've got the brands that only aficionados know about. In watchmaking, this might be MB&F, Urwerk and Armin Strom. These are your hypercar-like brands. Much like Bugatti, Pagani and Koenigsegg in the automotive world, these brands create extreme watches in limited scale and effectively forgo traditional marketing. Like every industry, though, there will always be brands that very few know about. Here, we're going to go through 4 independent watchmakers that you may, or may not, have heard of. Purnell
Founded in 2006 by Jonathan Purnell, this brand's story goes as far back as 1918 when Jonathon's grandfather, Cecil Purnell was wounded in World War 1. Fighting for Great Britain, Cecil became wounded and was cared for in Besançon, the home of French watchmaking. There, he developed a fascination in Abraham-Louis Breguet's work, namely, the tourbillon. Decades later, Jonathan started his own brand dedicated to created tourbillon timepieces in honour of his grandfather. Fourteen years later, Purnell has created 13 exclusive manufacture tourbillon calibres and has worked with Eric Coudray, one of the world's greatest modern watchmakers. One of Coudray's greatest achievements is creating the fastest triple-axis tourbillon, which is named "Spherion". The first Spherion was presented in Purnell's Escape collection, which debuted in 2017. Today, Purnell has become one of the world's most exclusive high-end watchmaking brands.
Carrying on with the theme of tourbillons, David Candaux is an independent watchmaker based in Vallée de Joux that started his brand in 2017 with a release called the "1740 The First 8". David began his watchmaking career a long time before that, however, as a watchmaker with Jaeger LeCoultre. Candaux was such a good watchmaker, in fact, that he became a designer watchmaker, a rare job even in Switzerland. This job wasn't to design watches, like Gerald Genta, but instead design their movements and any accompanying engineering.
Candaux's first watch, the 1740 The First 8 was inspired and named after the year a watchmaker was documented as working in Vallée de Joux. This watch contains a symmetrical dial with a power reserve indication at 12, a dial displaying hours and minutes at three which is controlled by a crown at 12 and a 30 degree inclined tourbillon at nine. Far from a simple watch, Candaux built his brand's reputation on these hyper-complicated watches for which he is now known.
Born from an idea following a skiing accident in 1996, Jorn Werdelin partnered with his childhood friend Morten Linde in 2002 to launch the brand Linde Werdelin. The concept was to create high-end sports watches that could be paired with digital instruments to provide real-time information about activities such as skiing or diving. Following 4 years of R&D, they released their first watch in 2006. This watch, the Founders watch, was a limited-edition release of just 50 pieces. It was offered as a GMT or traditional time-only display in an 18ct gold case. The dial colour options were red, black and white. These watches were made to order so any dial colour could be chosen for either of the two formats.
Linde Werdelin has evolved a lot since their early years. Between producing larger productions runs for their watches and no longer creating the devices that were originally envisaged to mount onto their watches, Linde Werdelin has become a true watchmaker. Out-done by the advent of sophisticated smartwatches, the brand was unable to compete with technological giants like Apple, Samsung etc. Today, Linde Werdelin is known for their unique designs and rugged mechanics which are both elements that have successfully carried on from the original idea for the brand.
Christiaan Van Der Klaauw
Born in 1944, in Leiden, Christiaan Van Der Klaauw's history as an independent watchmaker began with clocks. Founding a clock making business when he was 30, Christiaan designed clocks that had integrated astronomical complications. This would go on to become his brand's signature and not long after his first astronomical clock; he began to become a world-renowned clockmaker. Such was his reputation that in 1989 he became an honourable member of the Swiss Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (AHCI). Other members of the AHCI include F.P. Journe, Franck Muller and George Daniels.
After years of making astronomical clocks, he began to notice the market for them shrinking and in 1996 developed his first wristwatch, the Satellite de Monde. In the present day, the brand has moved fully to wristwatches with a wide selection of astronomical masterpieces. They also make custom orders where you can go through every element of the watch and have it made as you like.
While this is only a tiny fraction of the hundreds, if not thousands, of incredible independent watchmakers out there, hopefully, this can motivate you to look beyond the regular brands and look beyond your horological horizon. As we often get caught up in the hype of the industry today, it is important to appreciate the artistry that is so plentiful in it, which can take for granted.