Is Patronizing Independent Watchmakers Asking for Trouble?

Watch Snob on Independent Watchmakers

Watch Snob Explains the Potential Risks of Buying From Independent Watchmakers

Independent Service


Thank you for your many informative and entertaining reviews. I have been on the fence regarding a watch purchase from an independent [watchmaker]. Specifically, the Ottica model NHC by Vincent Calabrese. Are you familiar with this maker and would you recommend purchasing a timepiece that might be difficult to have serviced in years to come because of its unique additional complications to an ETA movement?

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I have nothing but the greatest respect for Mr. Calabrese, an independent watchmaker whose many contributions to modern horology ought to be more widely recognized. Among his accomplishments was the development of the carousel tourbillon first used by Blancpain, and which is now shamelessly copied, but it never hurts us to remember that there are the brains and hands of real people behind these things.

While it happens frequently that someone writes in to express, as you do, simultaneous interest in an independent maker’s work and concerns about future serviceability, I think you stand as good a chance of enjoying a long life with the Ottica as with any other watch. The wandering hours complication does indeed add to the complexity of the watch, but the most essential components are in the 2892 base caliber and that movement has been made, in whole and in part, in such huge numbers that I can’t see servicing and parts being an issue in the foreseeable future, outside of some scenario involving the apocalypse, at which point we will all have other problems.


Your Horlogerie Is Haute


Can you mention any independents with whom you did not have a very good experience? Especially if they don’t take the client’s money seriously. Also, would you recommend URWERK, MB&F, and Vianney Halter as Haute Horology maisons for watchmaking? They make great designs with retro-future models, but is that just mechanical art or top most level of watchmaking also?

I have not personally had any negative experiences with any of the independent watchmakers whose work I know directly, but of course, it can happen. In the many years in which I’ve enjoyed watches I have seen or heard of, secondhand, some instances of rather egregious dereliction of one’s responsibilities. But quite honestly, I have found often that a bigger culprit than an irresponsible watchmaker is a client with unrealistic expectations.

URWERK, MB&F and Vianney Halter all do, and have done in the past, some extraordinary work; whether or not you would call it haute horlogerie really depends on how you define the term. The advent of the avant-garde watchmaking that all three represent, in the years since the turn of the century, have made a working definition of haute horlogerie much more difficult. However, I would argue for it being apt in all three instances. Certainly from a movement design and engineering standpoint, all three have claims to be significant innovators, and with respect to aesthetics as well. While there are some instances of work from all three that do not necessarily meet the highest possible criteria for movement finishing, I think that there are other considerable strengths that need to be considered and which justify according them the honor.


Tyranny of Round Proportions


You recently wrote about some of your favorite movements mentioning Longines Caliber 9L. I like form shaped movements and had two questions. I used to love Arkade from Lange but it’s difficult to find one in a good condition. Did Lange ever make an Arkade watch with a complication (other than just date and time)? Second: Are there any other Tonneau shaped movements (modern or vintage) of real interest?

Oh heavens yes, there are a whole plethora of them; just to pick one possibility from vintage watchmaking, Gruen made a watch called the Quadron in the late 1920s which has a wonderful rectangular movement made by Aegler, the caliber 877. It’s not exactly a complete secret to collectors as the same movement was used by Rolex for the first Prince wristwatches, but if you can find one in good condition, you’ll have a piece of real watchmaking history on your hands.

Tonneau shaped movements from modern producers are very thin on the ground but off the top of the Snob’s head, I can recommend the very beautiful 25-21 REC PS caliber from Patek Philippe, which it uses in its Gondolo models. One of the most wonderful tonneau-shaped movements anyone is making today is made by Parmigiani Fleurier: the caliber PF110, with an eight-day power reserve and enough really breathtaking hand-finishing to satisfy any movement fetishist.

I remember the Arkade with great fondness and have never really forgiven Lange for discontinuing it. I do not believe they ever used it as a vehicle for any major complications but there is of course the Cabaret Tourbillon, which I have also never really forgiven Lange for discontinuing. Their watches are as wonderful as ever but I feel that their rectangular watches lent some much needed diversity to their collections and if there is a flaw to their modern efforts, it is that they have tended in recent years to lapse into a somewhat predictable design language. The dear Lord knows I wouldn’t want them to start doing black PVD cases with anthracite skeleton dials or anything, but the sense that there is something of a tyranny of round cases in their collections is hard to escape.

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