8 Under-The-Radar Independent Watchmakers You Should Know
In the past couple of years, independent watchmakers have gone from being a niche industry to becoming exclusive alternatives for the collector who has everything
The name Rexhep Rexhepi might not be one that is familiar outside hardcore enthusiast circles, but when one of the great independent watchmakers of our time, Kari Voultilanen says that Rexhepi is “the most promising youngster he'd seen in a while”, it's not something that can be easily ignored. And for good reason. Rexhepi, the man behind Akrivia, was trained at Patek Philippe, worked there for a while before heading over to another hallowed watchmaking institution, FP Journe.
It was only in 2012 that he set up his watchmaking atelier, Akrivia, which means precision in ancient Greek. Although trained at one of the most traditional watchmaking manufactures, Rexhepi’s designs are anything but. The first Akrivia watch signed with his name on the dial was launched in 2018, and it represents a modern and pure expression of watchmaking; it also went on to win the men’s watch prize at GPHG that year.
Ochs Und Junior
Ochs Und Junior was founded in 2006 by two veterans of the Swiss watch industry: Dr Ludwig Oechslin and Beat Weinmann. While Weinmann was a veteran in watch retailing, Oechslin is the man behind its watchmaking. If you’re unfamiliar, Oechslin was instrumental in the development of Ulysse Nardin’s Freak movement and the Trilogy of Time series of watches.
For Ochs Und Junior, however, the goal was to move as far away from the complex nature of movements as possible, distilling its construction down to the least parts possible. This means a perpetual calendar with only 12 additional parts or a moon phase indicator with only 5 components. These watches represent elegant solutions to the complex mathematics of watchmaking and as such should be on the list of any watchmaking enthusiast.
Imagine the level of passion and dedication needed to build a praise-worthy tourbillon with no formal training and only by reading George Daniels' Watchmaking book, fiddling around with alarm clocks, and watching Youtube videos. This is how Japanese independent watchmaker Hajime Asaoka debuted his Tourbillon #1 in 2009.
Initially a product designer by trade, today, Asaoka’s watches attract attention from all over the world. On top of that, he has also just recently launched a more affordable collection called Kurono by Hajime Asaoka, for those who want a feel of his watchmaking philosophies before moving on to the real thing.
Roger W Smith
Where Asaoka learned from George Daniels’ book, Roger W Smith was mentored by the man himself. Smith famously said: “I make no apology for being a purist. Ours is the purest of mechanical art.”
This quote perfectly demonstrates the ethos of the watches he makes. The British watchmaker set up his studio in 2001 in a remote part of the British Isles, the Isle of Man where to this day he continues to craft watches by hand to a peerless standard of horological excellence. If you want one of his pieces, however, you are in for quite a long wait as Roger W Smith can only produce about 10 pieces per year.
Kudoke’s eponymous founder Stefan Kudoke brings a very German style of watchmaking to the independent watchmaking scene. Everything in a Kudoke piece has been meticulously thought out, obsessively handmade, and you won’t find a smidgen of unnecessary detailing anywhere on the watch.
Its collection is broken down into three categories, HANDwerk which means "handcraft" in German, KUNSTwerk which is an artistic collection of hand skeletonised and engraved watches, and YOURwerk where unique pieces are for special customers. In 2018, Kudoke presented its very first in-house movement and last year, the company released the Kudoke HANDwerk 1 and 2 offering a minimalist dial with an exceptionally finished movement.
For the Grönefeld brothers, Bart and Tim, watchmaking is in their blood. They grew up playing in their grandfather’s workshop amongst the metronomic sounds of ticking clocks and watches. And although they spent time working in the Swiss watchmaking industry, they ultimately decided to return to their home country of the Netherlands to start their eponymous brand.
The brothers specialise in imagining immensely complicated movements including tourbillons, dead-beat seconds, and the remontoir. It was only last year that they released their simplest watch, the Grönefeld 1941 Principia. Although they say it's their simplest watch yet, it still features a 226-part movement, giving you just an idea of what their more complicated ideas bring to the watchmaking table.
Konstantin Chaykin is the only Russian member of the Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (ACHI), a professional body for independent watchmakers. And perhaps it is because he comes from an unorthodox location for watchmaking that he can dream up quite unorthodox complications for his watches.
These days, he is most known for his Joker collection that, quite literally, is a new way of displaying time on a watch’s face. Beyond that, Chaykin has also made a watch with a mini ‘cinema’ using the rudimentary zoöpraxiscope that showed a galloping horse at a push of a button.
As a child, Vianney Halter says he remembers how his father, who was a train driver for the French National Railways, would bring back old machines and mechanical parts that sparked his interest in mechanics. When he was 14, he enrolled himself at the Ecole Horlogère de Paris (Paris Watchmaking School) to pursue this fascination.
Looking at most of his watches including the Trio and Classic Janvier, it's easy to see the influence his early life have on his watchmaking. For his Deep Space Tourbillon watch, however, Halter says it was his love for sci-fi shows like Star Trek that inspired him. This watchmaker builds new and strange worlds on the wrist, and by extension, he is inviting all his customers to experience them with him.