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Making their presence felt
APART from Rolex and Patek Philippe, most of the well-known brands in luxury watches – Omega, Cartier, Panera, Longines and IWC among them – have been bought and are now owned by two giant Swiss luxury groups: Swatch and Richemont. Yet there remain many unattached brands out there – and many such new independent brands have also surfaced in recent years.
Names like Armin Strom, AkriviA, HYT, Gronefeld and Greubel Forsey – mostly Swiss – are unfamiliar to the average watch buyer, but their presence is increasingly felt in the world of watches.
Greubel Forsey was the 2015 grand winner of the Grand Prix D' Horlogerie De Geneve (GPHG), the watch industry's equivalent of the Oscars. Gronefeld took the GPGH men's watch prize last year.
Greubel Forsey is already known for its ultra-high-priced tourbillons, while Moser's perpetual calendars are popular with sophisticated watch collectors. HYT, whose creations make use of liquid to tell time, is almost synonymous with hydro mechanical watches. And Armin Strom is identified with "resonance" timepieces.
Independent watch brands are a permanent attraction at the mega annual Basel Watch fair. They are now also a fast-growing fixture at the Salon International de La Haute Geneve, another gigantic yearly watch event.
Many of the independents have in the past year found their way to Singapore, which is seen as a sophisticated and discerning market for fine timepieces. Among retailers here, Sincere is fast becoming the leading dealer in brands with no affiliations to big owners.
We offer a glimpse of the new watches presented by some of the independent brands in 2017.
Greubel Forsey's Grande Sonnerie
The brand has displayed its watchmaking virtuosity in tourbillons and, more recently, perpetual calendars. Now, it has joined that rare breed of watchmakers who boast a grand sonnerie – a timepiece that combines a quarter striking mechanisn and repeater – among their creations.
It has taken Greubel Forsey 11 years of research and development before completing the 855-part Grande Sonnerie, which is not just a chiming complication; it is also one of very few grand sonneries to have room in its 43.5 mm titanium case for an automatic winding mechanism instead of the smaller handwound equivalent.
The Grande Sonnerie also has 11 safety features, which should be comforting to the watch's owner. Any mis-steps made in operating the chiming timepiece, deemed to be the most challenging complication to make can result in very costly repairs.
The acoustics of the chime are reported to be "remarkable", being loud and pure despite the fact that the watch is water-resistant to 30 m. The Grande Sonnerie, which will be limited in production and includes a 24-second inclined tourbillon, has a US$1.13 million price tag.
Gronefeld's 1941 Remontoire
The 2016 GPHG Men's Watch of the Year is now offered in steel with a choice of bespoke guilloche dials made by renowned watchmaker Kari Voultilainen and enamelling specialist Ines Hamaguchi. The standout feature of the watch, produced by two brothers from the Netherlands, is a remontoire, a constant force mechanism which provides superior precision in timekeeping.
Production of the 1941 Remontorie is limited to 25 pieces with a basic price of 44,990 euros (S$69,577). Another 7,500 euros or more will be charged for the dial and 5,000 euros or more for the enamel finish. The watch was previously available only in red gold (49,500 euros) and white gold (50,850 euros).
Armin Strom's Mirrored Force Resonance
Resonance is a phenomenon of physics demonstrated by "two oscillating bodies in close proximity influencing each other and eventually synchronise". It is "a sophisticated and demanding horological technique that has rarely been attempted, let alone mastered".
Resonance was first applied in pendulum clocks in the 17th century. It offers three advantages in time-keeping: stability; energy conservation; and reduction in negative effects. Armin Strom's Mirrored Force Resonance is thus a rare watch which also showcases the resonance in action. The watch is a limited edition of 50 pieces, and comes in a 43 mm steel (54,000 Swiss francs or S$76,892) or rose gold (67,000 Swiss francs) case.
The brand was started just five years ago by then 27-year-old Rexhep Rehepi who has been hailed as the next Philippe Dufour, perhaps the most revered watch-maker alive today.
Before AK-06, AkriviA's creations were the gravity-defying tourbillons – all are highly regarded.
This 100-hour power reserve complication is the brand's first non-tourbillon model, but it still bears the hallmarks of what AkriviA believes in: a highly precise timepiece powered by a beautiful movement, handmade one at a time.
Like the AkriviA tourbillons, the new watch is also not cheap: 79,000 Swiss francs for a steel piece; 83,000 Swiss francs for titanium; 87,000 Swiss francs for rose gold; and 91,000 Swiss francs for platinum.
These hydro mechanical horologists employ liquid to tell time on a watch but until now, they have done it only on outsized timepieces. With H0, the folks at HYT – who include scientists and a nuclear engineer – have pared HYT's hydro mechanical watch to its bare essential. The titanium case is downsized to 48 mm – still big but it now looks less ridiculous and is more wearable on the wrist.
Reflecting the watch's minimalist design, only part of the sophisticated system within it is revealed through the dial – unlike past models which offer greater exposures. The price of the timepiece is also reduced to an entry-level US$39,000 for all the three colours that it comes in – black, silver or orange.
The H0 is equipped with the same hand-wound movement which drives H1.
The watch runs non-stop for 65 hours when fully wound.