Some weeks ago, I was approached by Ms Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop of International Herald Tribune for some input on an article she was working on (see post below). Her questions were simple but the answers it deserves isn't.
She asked about master watchmakers who essentially exist as a one man-show. The kind of watchmakers who does almost everything themselves - from design to fabrication. She wanted my opinion as to why amongst collectors, they are interesting or good.
My considered reply was as follows and I thought it would be useful to share this -
"For me, the draw of the solo independent is the artist's desire to be pure to his ideals and designs and not compromise with (part) supplier's quality (or limitations). One expected quality of the independent watchmaker is the obsessive attention to details over every aspect of the watch.
For the obsessive collector, this is the holy grail of watches - to have a watchmaker who will obsessively make sure everything is made carefully and has his hands on every single element of the watch. Its almost akin to Leonardo Da Vinci drawing his invention and ultimately finish building it from scratch. Because the dial, case, movement is made from one pair of hands, it will never be repeated to the same level of (unique) quality by any team of watchmakers.
Using cars as a metaphor, the hand made Rolls Royce or Bentleys are always put together with a greater luxury feel. Very few cars have that same look and feel, even though the look may have aged, quality never goes out of style. However, the downside is extreme high cost of doing everything in house.
The economic laws of specialisation forces watch brands - even the premier brands to outsource or acquire many common parts such as screws, case, crystals, mainsprings etc. Economically it does not make sense to have these made in-house. Just as would Mercedes, BMW or even Rolls Royce will not manufacture their own tyres, spark plugs, brake pads. They are usually made better when produced by specialised businesses. So they are a lot more reliable and their cost considerably a lot lower. However, I have to say that there is a growing trend of brands pricing their simple luxury watches not far from those hand made by independents.
Finally, one very strong attraction of the sole independent who does everything - supply of the watches from him will be very low due to the constraints he makes on himself. Thus providing a key investment ingredient of rarity."
An addendum to this comment would be that, fortunately for collectors, there are a myriad of independents of differing strengths to cater to the demands of collectors. Some are truly solo, others work in teams or even have a few co-workers or employees.
There are independents who are world renowned for their finishing of watches such as Dufour and Voutilainen. Then there are ground breaking design independent watchmakers and Vianney Halter comes to mind. Then there are innovators who seek to find new solution to horological problems such as Roger Smith and Volker Viskosyl whose first masterpiece is still in the works.
The whole host of independents of both the AHCI and lesser known - each are fighting to remain pure to their ideals and strengths. I admire them all - too many to name. The great gift they have to the community of collectors is their passion and their willingness to cater to the growing demands of bespoke watches for that one off timepiece.
Best of all, not all independents are astronomically priced.