Rebels With A Cause

Rebels With A Cause

Watchmaking’S Renegades Eschew Tradition For Innovation

As the watch world has become dominated by corporate conglomerates, a few fiercely independent mavericks have little interest in what marketers say will sell. Instead, they pursue their own creative visions of what, cultivating an ardent fan base with deep pockets who prefer to stand apart from the crowd rather than follow it.

“We are probably the only company where the owners are a watchmaker and an artist,” Urwerk co-founder Felix Baumgartner has said, noting that watch companies today are rarely owned by people who can actually make watches.

Founded in 1997, Urwerk has delivered some of the most otherworldly pieces the market has ever seen. Last fall, it unveiled the UR-220, code-named the Falcon Project. “The UR-220 is above all a natural progression from our UR-210 model,” explains Martin Frei, Urwerk’s designer and co-founder. “It meant the death of the UR-210, so that it could be resurrected in a new guise. The differences are subtle but noticeable to the practiced eye.”


The latest addition to the UR-Satellite collection recalls its ancestors, but with a lightweight Carbon CTP (carbon thin ply) case (US$162,000) or an all-black titanium and steel case (US$145,000), both of which are sleeker and more ergonomic than their predecessors. Urwerk fans will recognize the patented satellite time display with “wandering” hours indicated by three rotating cubes. A retrograde minutes pointer sweeps along a 60-minute scale at the bottom of the dial, before snapping back to zero at the end of each hour.

Another familiar feature from the UR-110 models is the case-back “oil change” indicator, a counter that tracks the months since the movement has been running, alerting you to when it is time for the machine to be serviced and lubricated.

Maximilian Büsser, another pioneer in iconoclastic watchmaking, was also determined to break free from the corporate mind-set. After seven years as managing director at Harry Winston Fine Timepieces, he left to establish MB&F with his own values and vision. The name is an acronym for Max Büsser & Friends, summing up the mantra of a man who loves to pool various creative resources to make his fantastical horological visions come to life.

Last fall, MB&F marked its 15th anniversary with the LM Perpetual EVO (US$167,000), a sporty evolution of the brand’s retro-futuristic Legacy Machine Perpetual, a technically ingenious perpetual calendar with a user-friendly mechanism designed by Stephen McDonnell. But Max wanted to wear his to the beach. And that involved far more than just fitting it with a rubber strap. It called for a new streamlined, ergonomic case in corrosion-resistant zirconium and for building in shock- and water-resistance. “What started off on a whim has actually turned into a new milestone for the company,” says Büsser, noting the EVO tag refers to evolution. “It’s not a new line—but it gives a totally different attitude to the piece.”

As avant-garde as watches by Urwerk and MB&F may be, they are still based on classical concepts of mechanical watchmaking. Benoît Mintiens of Antwerp, Belgium, however, took a novel approach when he founded Ressence in 2010. The brand’s name is a portmanteau of renaissance and essence. Ressence’s dynamic, rotating-disc time display is a bit disorienting at first glance. Based on the Ressence Orbital Convex System (ROCS), the patented mechanism uses hours, minutes, and seconds discs in perpetual motion, continually orbiting around one another, to convey the time.

MB&F’s LM Perpetual EVO.
MB&F’s LM Perpetual EVO

The new Type 1 slim X (US$21,500) marks the company’s decade milestone with four models, each limited to 40 pieces, fitted with dual-finished olive-green dials.

One half of the dial has a matte finish, and the other has a circular-brushed finish, so as it spins, the light play evokes sand passing through an hourglass. This graphic expression of the passing of time reminds us of the ancient essence of timekeeping, despite the futuristic packaging.

Type 1 slim X
Type 1 slim X

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