The Rulebreakers: Treasures from Independent Watchmakers

Irreverent, innovative and daring, independent watchmakers are the rock stars of the world of horology. The name of their game is creativity, and they are known for breaking all the rules. Some invent new ways of telling time, others reinvent traditional complications, and all are known for taking quality and finish to a whole new level. Independent watchmakers are generally defined as those who do not work for one of the large corporate brands, but many of them have paid their dues with the big brands and have moved on to another level.

Aside from new concepts of tourbillons that steal the show, thrills are flinqué enamel works on wide casebands. Tilt a rulebreakers watch on its side and you can’t miss the bright blue translucent enamel with textured white gold shining through. Processes involve depositing the enamel over a surface that has been hand engraved or guilloched.

Rulebreakers are putting together crack teams of independent players – watchmakers, case makers, dial makers – to create their new inventions. The result may be that time and moon phase are read through a prism placed perpendicular to the case, while the dial showcases a skeletonized rotor. Pieces may contain components such as annual calendars, an affordable alternative to the perpetual calendar. The difference is that an annual calendar has to be reset once a year on March 1 to account for February 28th.


There are very imaginative watchmakers among the independents, which can sometimes overshadow the considerable technical genius. Specialties such as minute repeaters and gaming watches (you can play poker against the movement with 4,000 possible hand combinations) are legendary. You may find part mechanical innovation with unusual pairing of complications, such as a double-cone date display and a “memo” function that, in a certain position, is meant to remind the wearer of something.

Inspired by marine chronometers, pieces of rulebreakers may be powered by a fusée-and-chain mechanism rather than a typical mainspring barrel. Designed as a modified split-function regulator, the dial may be dominated by a central seconds hand – watchmakers originally used a regulator as a reference time when resetting the time for other watches. Hours may be displayed in an arched window at 2 o’clock and minutes shown in a subdial at 12 o’clock. A complex power reserve display may occupy an opening between 8 and 10 o’clock.

Rulebreakers craft their own movements, generally by hand, making components, even hairsprings, from scratch, often paying a level of attention to chronometry that isn’t feasible with commercial production watches. Independents produce watches in very small quantities, which gives them even more cachet among the kind of collectors who rank as true aficionados.

Source: Adapted from Forbes

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