Edward Howkins, Dec 3 2021

Independent Watchmakers – The Modern Trailblazers

Independent Watchmakers – The Modern Trailblazers

Last week’s blog looked at the original high-end independent watchmakers, George Daniels and Philippe Dufour. This week, we’ll explore some of the most innovation modern independents: Voutilainen, MB&F, Laurent Ferrier and Czapek. 

Kari Voutilainen – The Finnish Master of Dials 

Kari Voutilainen has been making watches with his own name on the dial since 2002. His early career was spent at the independent brand Parmigiani, Fleurier, where he studied under a famous watch and clock restorer called Charles Meylan. Voutilainen says he learnt “everything they don’t teach you at watchmaking school” from Charles, and it was in fact Charles that encouraged Voutilainen to make his own watch. After a short period as a teacher, he was encouraged to set up on his own by Philippe Dufour, who we profiled in last week’s blog. The whole story of Kari Voutilainen’s career has been very well documented by A Collected Man – you can read it here

Voutilainen Vingt-8

Voutilainen Vingt-8

Every watch that Voutilainen makes is a unique commission, and the watchmaker works with every client to design their watches. He is famous for collaborating with some of the best craftspeople in the world, and the resulting watches are often awe-inspiring. 

His watches are often recognisable by the intricate dial designs and detailed movement finishing. My favourite feature of every Voutilainen watch is the hands – which are made from three separate pieces of metal, and are all handmade by Kari himself. 

If you ever get the chance to meet Mr Voutilainen, we would recommend jumping at the chance. We’ve met him a few times, and he is a genuinely nice and fascinating guy, who is generous with his time and knowledge. 

Voutilainen Vingt-8 Setsu-Getsu-KA

Voutilainen Vingt-8 Setsu-Getsu-KA

MB&F – Artwork on your wrist

Max Busser & Friends was founded by Max Busser in 2005, with the aim of making “Horlogical Machines” as he refers to them. He is a micro-engineer by training, and stumbled into the watch industry by chance. Whilst at university he had met the MD of Jaeger-LeCoultre whilst researching his thesis. A chance meeting once he graduated led to him being hired as the product manager for JLC, part of a small team that turned the fortunes of the brand around. His next job was as the CEO of Harry Winston Rare Timepieces. After 7 successful years, he launched MB&F, which would focus on combining his creativity with that of some legendary watchmakers, including Kari Voutilainen. 

MB&F LM1 - Designed by Kari Voutilainen

MB&F LM1 - Designed by Kari Voutilainen

Busser is a creative businessman, as well as designer. He didn’t want to sell any share of his company to set it up, so he pre-sold 25 of his first watch, the HM1, and got the retailers to pay 35% upfront, two years before the watches were delivered. He also keeps the number of employees to 20 or fewer, to ensure that layers of management don’t stifle the creativity of the brand. As you can see from the pictures, his watches are very usual, often turning watch design convention on its head. These are truly special and unique watches. 

MB&F HM1 - The first watch released by MB&F

MB&F HM1 - The first watch released by MB&F

Laurent Ferrier – Understated Elegance 

Laurent Ferrier founded his brand in 2008, having worked at Patek Philippe for 30 years. His father was a watchmaker, who worked on very complicated movements – so the young Laurent was able to gain an appreciation of the highest complexity of watchmaking. Having graduated at the top of his watchmaking school, he was hired by Patek Philippe. He ended up working in the department that dealt with the non-movement parts, for example the case, lugs and crown, and even worked on Patek Philippe’s most famous watch, the Nautilus. 

Motor racing and watches have a long-intertwined history, and Laurent Ferrier is a part of that. During the late 1970’s, he and a friend, François Servanin, competed in the Le Mans 24 hour race, finishing third in 1979. Remarkable, considering they were amateur drivers, competing against professionals. The two would later establish the Laurent Ferrier brand together in 2008. 

Laurent Ferrier Gallet

Laurent Ferrier Gallet

The first watch the brand released was an unusual, and expensive choice. It was a tourbillon movement, hidden behind a very simple white Grand Feu enamel dial. The gamble paid off, and the brand gained a lot of attention. 

From that very first watch, Laurent Ferrier has kept to the principle that “if there is nothing left to remove, perfection is achieved”. His watches are very simple, discrete, with soft corners. Their simple-ness hides some remarkable attention to detail. For example, the hands used on every watch are individually stamped out of gold as a single piece, a method which is 17 times more expensive than traditional manufacturing. Photographs struggle to capture the beauty of these watches – you’ve got to try one on! 

Laurent Ferrier Traveller

Laurent Ferrier Traveller

Czapek – A Legend Reborn

Unlike the other names on this list, Czapek is actually a very old brand. It traces its origins back to a partnership between two Polish immigrants François Czapek and Antoine Norbert de Patek. This partnership was called Patek, Czapek & Cie. It dissolved after 6 years, but Antoine Norbert de Patek would go on to found Patek Philippe. Czapek’s company grew throughout the 19th century, as supplied watches to lots of European royal families. However, in 1869, François Czapek mysteriously disappeared.

The brand was re-launched in 2015 by three entrepreneurs. They used crowdfunding to raise the necessary money to launch the first new model, allowing collectors to own part of a modern independent watchmaker. 

Czapek’s modern watches mix classical pocket-watch and cutting edge wristwatch designs. They proudly work with some of the best suppliers in Switzerland to manufacture incredible watches. 

Czapek Antarctique Passage de Drake - front

Czapek Antarctique Passage de Drake - front

Czapek Antarctique Passage de Drake - movement

Czapek Antarctique Passage de Drake - movement

We love exploring the variety that these independent watchmakers can show off by owning their own brands. The Watch Collectors’ club exists to help our members explore all types of watches, whether they are independents, or parts of large groups. 

If you liked this series, please tell your friends, and please make sure you are following us on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn to see more pictures of these fantastic watches. 

We are on social media

Share Post

More Articles
More Articles
Dark grey watch with black dial and large luminous numbers on dark grey strap.

We explore watches that can take a beating.

Squqare steel watch with aged white dial with Roman numerals and small Black Breguet style hands and sapphire on crown on black strap

We look at Pilot's watches from 1904 up to the present day.

Make the watch world simple

Make the watch world simple