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Hammer time | Five watchmakers that should be on your radar

Here are five watch brands whose watchmakers are far more than just names above the door – with collectors’ timepieces all up for auction this month

Roger Dubuis

It takes a lot to make a name for yourself in an industry that dates back to the early 16th Century.

Not only are you up against companies older than many countries, but you’re also fighting against marketing budgets larger than some national reserves.

So to make it in this town, you really have to shine.

These five watchmakers have done just that. They’ve taken the fight to the big boys, and beaten them at their own game – whether that’s in technical innovation, finishing prowess or outright creativity.

And now, their watches have become collectors’ items in their own right – up for sale with Phillips this month as part of its Retrospective: 2000-2020 auction.

Greubel Forsey

Rewind to Baselworld 2004, and two relatively young upstarts presented the watch world with a double tourbillon.

A Frenchman, Robert Greubel, and an Englishman, Stephen Forsey had shown the Swiss how modern high-watchmaking could be done.

Two years later, Harry Winston came to them to help collaborate on its exclusive Opus 6 release.

The brand only really bothers with high-end complicated movements often featuring multiple tourbillons and inclined balance wheels.

And the firm has understandably become highly sought-after by collectors for its innovative timekeeping and industrial design.

Greubel Forsey Handmade Signature 1

Estimate: CHF60,000 - 120,000

Greubel Forsey Handmade Signature 1

Known for its highly complex timepieces with double or quadruple tourbillons, Greubel Forsey answered the requests of collectors by finally presenting their vision of a “simple” time only watch in 2016 with the introduction of the Signature 1.

Simple is definitely misleading as absolutely nothing in this time piece corresponds to that adjective. The Signature Series is a collaborative collection between Robert Greubel, Stephen Forsey and different watchmakers from their team.

For the first piece, the Signature 1 they worked with Didier Cretin, a watchmaker that has been with Greubel Forsey since the creation of the brand. The latter’s name is visible on the dial and the movement.

More than six years in the making, this watch features a newly designed balance wheel and in-house balance spring.

Keeping with the design ethos of Greubel Forsey watches, the movement is an integral part of the design architecture, with the partially open dial allowing a view of some of the works including the impressive 12.6mm balance wheel held by a superbly hand polished tapering bridge.

The remarkable hand finish of the movement can be particularly appreciated when the watch is viewed from the back, the bridges have a frosted texture and spotted, with straight-grained flashed, polished beveling and countersinks, wide polished internal angles, a snailed click wheel and ratchet with polished and beveled teeth.

The Signature 1 is Greubel Forsey’s first non-tourbillon watch, limited to 33 pieces in steel, and 11 pieces respectively in platinum, pink gold and white gold like the present example.

For more information, see https://www.phillips.com/detail/greubel-forsey/CH080320/216/

Voutilainen

Kari Voutilainen is without a doubt one of the most talented living watchmakers of our time. His signature is complex mechanisms with superlative handmade finishing. Every component in his watches – from the bridges to the tiniest of screws – involves manual labour.

After spending a decade restoring the finest horological creations of the past three centuries, Kari Voutilainen became a rising star in the watchmaking scene in the early 2000s with his unique decimal minute repeaters. These watches were soon followed by his Observatory models with a movement finish often compared to that of the great Philippe Dufour.

Voutilainen created the world’s very first decimal minute repeater wrist watch, a horological feat and a very intuitive way of chiming time where the movement chimes the ten minutes and no longer the quarter hours contrary to all repeating wristwatches available at the time. For example, if the time is 6.47 then the decimal repeater will strike 6 low tones representing the hours, 4 sequence tones representing 40 minutes, and 7 high tones representing 7 minutes.

Voutilainen Ref. B.12.1038

Estimate CHF135,000 - 225,000

Voutilainen Ref. B.12.1038

This is a unique and superbly decorated white gold decimal minute repeater wristwatch with dual time zone indicators, engraved and enameled caseback.

Needless to say, the chimes of this piece are crisp, loud and incredibly pleasing to the ear.

The present unique piece in white gold - commissioned by a collector of impeccable taste - is a true piece of horology and visual arts combined.

The dial features a superb engraved GMT indicator representing the day and night, that advances in one hour increments via a push on the crown.

The officer style caseback is hand engraved with a theme inspired from Pleiades seven daughters of Atlas on an enamel background. The intricate hand engraving is done by Eddy Jaquet, an artist having worked with the greatest brands in the creation of unique bespoke pieces.

Only the most discerning aesthetes need apply.

For more information, see phillips.com

MB&F

Maximilian Büsser has been rocking the horological boat for close to 15 years now.

Prior to launching his eponymous – and gregarious – brand, he racked up an impressive CV as managing director of Harry Winston Rare Timepieces and a senior manager at Jaeger-LeCoultre before that.

Many of his wristwatches are heavily influenced by sci-fi and pop culture. But his Legacy Machines pay an incredible tribute to the horological greats of the 19th century.

MB&F Legacy Machine 101 Frost

Estimate: CHF32,000 - 60,000

MB&F Legacy Machine 101 Frost

The Legacy Machines all have a similar genetic code: domed crystal, extra-large 14mm balance suspended over the dial and held by an arch shaped bridge, and superlative finish.

Whereas the balance wheel takes – literally – centre stage, the time is read via an offset sub dial near 2 o’clock and a power reserve indicator is placed at 6 o’clock.

This Legacy Machine 101 “Frost” features a delicate frost finish on the top plate of the dial, an extremely difficult finish – originally used in pocket watches of the 18th century – that today only a handful of artisans can master.

The movement has also received a sand blasted finish, as opposed to the traditional Geneva waves.

An incredibly attractive timepiece limited to 33 pieces, the “LM101 Frost” manages the delicate balance of merging haute horlogerie and traditional techniques with the modern flair and panache.

For more information, see phillips.com

Roger Dubuis

First and foremost a watchmaker, Roger Dubuis had tirelessly worked for brands such as Patek Philippe and Longines, before setting up his own workshop.

It was in 1995 that Dubuis created his eponymous brand, teaming up with Carlos Dias.

Since then, the watchmaker has become a renowned specialist in architectural skeletonised movements and has developed no fewer than 33 exclusive in-house mechanical calibres in the last 25 years.

Roger Dubuis Hommage H40 monopusher in pink gold

Estimate: CHF20,000 - 40,000

Roger Dubuis Hommage H40 monopusher in pink gold

This highly rare, striking and attractive pink gold single button chronograph wristwatch is an early example made before the brand's sale to Richemont.

Originally made in a series of 28 examples, the H40 displays incredible details that would impress even the most fastidious watch purist.

Firstly, the movement is based upon the Lemania 2310 ébauche – just like the famed Patek Philippe Ref. 5070.

The movement proudly displays the Geneva seal – an exceptional feat for a small, at the time independent watchmaker.

On top of that, it was certified by the Besançon Observatory. Finally, the dial itself is beautiful. Displaying Breguet numerals, feuille hands and a grené black dial, it is reminiscent of the vintage chronographs in the past, while displaying its own aesthetic flourishes.

The watch offers even more than just technical prowess and good looks – it represents a period of time, when now-household names such as FP Journe, Philippe Dufour and Roger Smith were experimenting, producing their very first prototypes, pushing the boundaries of the art and re-defining the meaning of watchmaking.

Industry veterans will look back at this golden period of horology as the cradle of independent watchmaking, with doses of both pride and nostalgia.

For more information, see phillips.com

Ludovic Ballouard

One of the most talented watchmakers of his generation Ballouard started his career working on complicated timepieces for Frank Muller and F.P. Journe. Legend has it that while other watchmakers took close to four months assembling Journe’s Grand Sonnerie, Ballouard was so dexterous and gifted that it took him less than two months.

Since launching his own brand in 2009, he has become known for developing original and quirky time displays alongside technically complex movements.

In 2012, he launched the Half Time. As with his first watch the Upside Down he launched the Half Time using a subscription system whereby upon invitation, a client would make a down-payment that would finance the development of the movement and watch.

Ludovic Ballouard Half Time "Souscription"

Estimate: CHF20,000 - 30,000

Ludovic Ballouard Half Time "Souscription"

At first this very unusual limited edition jump hour watch may surprise – as there is only one visible retrograde hand and nothing else.

Nevertheless, the way of reading time is both simple and playful. The dial is composed of two rotating discs, each printed with half a Roman numeral.

The numbers are not lined up and appear closer to undecipherable hieroglyphics than numerals. However, at each hour one disc jumps clockwise and the other counterclockwise, perfectly aligning at 12 o’clock where the hour can be read. Minutes are indicated by a retrograde hand on the lower part of the dial.

The brand name and opening for the hour marker as well as the retrograde section for the minutes and the individual watch number are suspended on a hand-engraved plate giving the watch an incredible architectural appeal.

The movement also presents a fantastic three-dimensional architecture with the different gears, arms and clicks on different levels. The movement, fully conceived, developed and assembled by Ballouard consists of more than 300 components.

Ballouard made just 12 Half Time Souscription watches – all in platinum – and each individually numbered.

The platinum case, black dial and red accents give the watch a definitive bombastic appearance.

For more information, see phillips.com

Phillips Retrospective: 2000-2020 auction is being held on 8 November 2020. 

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