Independent watchmakers: the names you need to know

A primer on the most collectable makers and models, from traditionally crafted marvels to avant-garde designs inspired by science fiction — illustrated with lots offered at Christie’s

De Bethune + Urwerk. A unique Moon Satellite wristwatch for Only Watch 2019

De Bethune + Urwerk. A unique Moon Satellite wristwatch for Only Watch 2019. Sold for CHF 300,000 on 9 November 2019 at Christie’s in Geneva


Benoît Mintiens initially worked as an industrial designer, with a career that spanned from cars to furniture. But, after a friend asked him to create a wristwatch, he became obsessed with the idea of reinventing the traditional functionality of a timepiece.

The result of his research was a watch with a dial that told the time, from seconds to days of the week, with a series of separate, orbiting discs. ‘Putting one piece of information per sub-dial affords simplicity,’ he explained of his creation.

Mintiens called his new venture Ressence — a portmanteau of ‘renaissance’ and ‘essence’ — and unveiled his first watch at BaselWorld in 2010. Since then, he has worked to continuously innovate; subsequent models have added shock absorbers and microprocessors and done away with screws and even the crown. And — in a first for watchmaking — some editions include oil in the upper half.

By adding oil to the space between the dial and crystal not only are the discs constantly lubricated, but light is also absorbed, which means every display can be read reflection-free from any angle — even underwater.

To combat they way oil expands under heat, Mintiens added seven bellows to the watch that self-balance its internal pressure. ‘We design for the 21st century,’ he said. ‘With the technology available today, I feel it shouldn’t anymore be the user’s responsibility to learn how to use a product. It should be clear and intuitive.’

Atelier Akrivia (Rexhep Rexhepi)

In 2012, the brilliant young watchmaker Rexhep Rexhepi fulfilled his childhood dream of founding his own watchmaking atelier, Akrivia — a name that means ‘precision’ in Greek.

The idea was to express his own vision of haute horology by combining traditional artisanal methods with contemporary style. In 2014, Akrivia’s first watch, the Tourbillon Chronographe Monopoussoir, was revealed at the Baselworld trade show, and in 2018 its Chronomètre Contemporain won the men’s category prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG).

In 2019, Akrivia teamed up with the celebrated casemaker Jean-Pierre Hagmann, and today the small team produces fewer than 30 watches a year. To date, only two have been offered by Christie’s at auction: the Chronomètre Contemporain Only Watch, which sold for in 2019 for CHF 360,000; and the Chronomètre Contemporain II illustrated below, which realised CHF 800,000 in 2021.

Akrivia, Chronomètre Contemporain II. Calibre: RRCC II. Diameter: 38 mm; thickness: 8.75 mm without sapphire. Sold for CHF 800,000 on 6 November 2021 at Christie’s in Geneva

Certified by the Besançon Observatory, the Chronomètre Contemporain II is focused on performance while also representing the highest possible quality of finishing and construction. As with its predecessor, the platinum case was hand-made by Hagmann.

Philippe Dufour

Operating out of his own workshop in Le Sentier, Switzerland, since 1978, Philippe Dufour is venerated by a dedicated circle of collectors. His exceptional watches include the grande and petite sonnerie minute-repeating wristwatch, the first ever to incorporate such a complex mechanism, which was presented at Baselworld in 1992.

Philippe Dufour, a unique Simplicity model, manufactured in 2021. Case: 38 mm diam. Sold for: CHF 945,000 on 6 November 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

This has since been joined by models such as the Duality, which has two escapements, and the Simplicity. Today, Dufour works with his daughter Danièla, also a master watchmaker. Watches signed Philippe Dufour rarely appear at auction and are highly sought-after.

De Bethune

From headquarters in L’Auberson, in the Swiss canton of Vaud, De Bethune’s team of 50 staff — including micro-mechanical engineers, developers, polishers and decorators — produce just a few hundred watches each year. The company was founded in 2002, with technical innovation as one of its pillars: tourbillons, perpetual calendars, chronometers, deadbeat seconds, bridges, wheels and balance springs are all individually designed and crafted in house.

The business has developed no fewer than 31 calibres and filed multiple patents, including a pioneering spherical moon-phase display specially optimised for wristwatches. De Bethune is known for its blue components, made by oxidising titanium at 700°C, as well as its matching photo-luminescent dials.

Thanks to this stream of innovation, De Bethune has received more than 20 awards, including the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève for best watch of the year in the tourbillon category in 2021.

Its most radical range is the Dream Watch collection. Unveiled in 2008, it is currently produced in five models using space-age materials including palladium, silicone and meteorite. The latest version, the Dream Watch 5 — a manually wound jump-hour with a rotating moon-phase — is housed in a titanium shell more akin to a gadget from Star Trek than a traditional watch case.

Greubel Forsey

Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey describe themselves as ‘sculptors of time, choreographers of the passing hours and architects of watch movement — with a screwdriver for a brush, a propelling-pencil for a quill, and steel or gold as our supports’.

They founded their eponymous brand in 2004 to improve the performance of existing complications and invent groundbreaking models such as the Double Tourbillon 30°, the Quadruple Tourbillon and the Tourbillon 24 Secondes. They make fewer than 100 timepieces a year.

Greubel Forsey, a titanium limited edition semi-skeletonized high-precision wristwatch. Balancier S Incline model, no. 1 of 8, circa 2022. Case: 45 mm diam. Sold for: CHF 163,800 on 6 November 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

In 2006, Greubel Forsey joined forces with Philippe Dufour, Vianney Halter and Kari Voutilainen to found the Time Æon Foundation, an organisation that works to preserve outstanding craftsmanship in watchmaking. Initiatives include Naissance d’une Montre (‘Birth of a Watch’), whereby a young and talented watchmaker is taught the skills necessary to construct a watch by hand. In 2016, the first prototype, a collaboration between Greubel Forsey, Philippe Dufour and Michel Boulanger, sold for HK$11,296,000 at Christie’s in Hong Kong.

Vianney Halter

Vianney Halter graduated from the Paris watchmaking school in 1981 and devoted the first few years of his professional life to the restoration of antique clocks, pocket watches and wristwatches.

Vianney Halter, a platinum Antiqua Perpetual model, movement no. 12P, case no. 12P.82.A, 2005. Case: 40 mm wide, 45 mm overall length. Sold for CHF 225,000 on 10 May 2021 at Christie’s in Geneva

Having set up his own atelier in Sainte-Croix, Switzerland — named Janvier SA in honour of the great French watchmaker Antide Janvier (1751-1835) — he designed and made a number of timepieces for other companies. In 1998 he launched a collection based on his own technical patents and trademarked designs, and joined the AHCI. He has since created around a dozen models and won nine awards, including the prestigious Gaïa Prize in 2016.


In 2005, after decades in conventional watchmaking, Maximilian Büsser launched a totally new artistic concept called MB&F — Maximilian Büsser & Friends. The idea was to assemble groups of independent watchmaking artists to develop radical timepieces.

While continuing to respect traditional watchmaking at the highest level of craftsmanship, MB&F creates futuristic, resolutely unconventional timekeeping devices dubbed ‘Machines’: beautifully finished sci-fi creations in highly sculptural cases, which have won several prizes at the GPHG.

MB&F, a platinum Legacy Machine perpetual model, ref. 03.Pl.W, no. 8/25, circa 2015. Case: 44 mm diam. Sold for: CHF 207,900 on 6 November 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

In 2011, MB&F opened the first M.A.D. Gallery in Geneva, followed by others in Dubai and Taipei. The galleries showcase the full range of MB&F Machines as well as a variety of carefully curated ‘Mechanical Art Devices’ capturing the magic of kinetic art. Monthly output is very low. To maintain quality, the company offers a free service and one-year guarantee for all watches sold through Christie’s.

Laurent Ferrier

In 1979, Laurent Ferrier and his friend François Servanin competed in the Le Mans 24-hour race. Finishing third — behind legendary film star and driver Paul Newman — the duo decided that instead of racing, their future should be dedicated to making watches together.

Ferrier, the son and grandson of watchmakers, had already completed his watchmaking studies at the Ecole d’Horlogerie in Geneva a decade earlier, graduating top of his class aged just 16. This was followed by 37 years — fit around racing — at Patek Philippe. There, Ferrier was part of the team that developed Gérald Genta’s iconic Nautilus model, eventually rising to become the company’s technical director.

Laurent Ferrier, titanium cushion-shaped automatic wristwatch with date and bracelet, Sport Auto model, circa 2022. Case: 41.5 mm. Sold for: CHF 63,000 on 6 November 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

In 2009, Ferrier and Servanin launched their watchmaking business, Laurent Ferrier, with the Classic Tourbillon Double Hairspring, which featured a double balance spring. It won the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in the men’s watch category.

Today, Laurent and his son Christian Ferrier run the company’s creative department while Servanin is the president. The company hand-produces a small range of watches whose classic and discreet styling belies their technical mastery. For example, one model features a tourbillon with two balance springs mounted opposite one another in order to eliminate isochronal errors.

‘In art, a baroque period is always followed by an era of renewed classicism,’ Ferrier once said. ‘That is the type of the watchmaking I wanted to reintroduce to the world. Classic watchmaking as I loved it.’


Ur was an ancient Sumerian city in which sundials were used for timekeeping; Werk is the German word for creation. Together (in a variation on Uhrwerk, meaning ‘clockwork’) they make Urwerk, a company founded in 1997 by the watchmaker Felix Baumgartner and designer Martin Frei. They presented their first timepieces, the UR-101 and UR-102, at Baselworld the same year.

Urwerk, a unique black coated platinum 103 ‘Black Bird’ model, Ref. 103, circa 2007. Case: 36 mm wide; 50 mm overall length. Sold for: CHF 30,240 on 6 November 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

Baumgarten and Frei are admired for their avant-garde designs inspired by space travel, yet their signature time display of rotating satellites is based on a watch that dates back to 1656. They produce only around 130 to 150 pieces per year and have won a number of awards, notably the 2019 GPHG Audacity prize for the AMC (Atomic Master Clock).

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Kari Voutilainen

Born in Finland in 1962, Kari Voutilainen studied at the famous Finnish School of Watchmaking in Tapiola, before completing a post-graduate course in the restoration of rare watches at the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Education Programme.

In 2002, he opened his own workshop in Môtiers, Switzerland, before presenting his first watches at Baselworld in 2005. His success was immediate and his popularity has continued to grow.

Voutilainen, a unique 18k white gold decimal minute repeating wristwatch, circa 2013. Case: 39.5 mm diam. Sold for: CHF 378,000 on 6 November 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

Voutilainen’s watches are classic timepieces built on solid technical foundations. He produces every watch himself, shaping each detail, and has won several awards, including seven GPHG prizes and, in 2014, the prestigious Gaïa Prize for craftsmanship and creativity. Production numbers are low, with each watch incorporating its own specific characteristics and functions, making Kari Voutilainen’s timepieces a joy for collectors.

Explore Luxury at Christie’s in Hong Kong, Geneva, London and Paris, November and December 2023

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