Ever since I started attending watchmaking events, I have paid special attention to independent brands. Manufactures like Speake-Marin, Bexei, Voutilainen, Pita, De Bethune, Antoine Martin, Manufacture Royale, Badollet or Ressence offer unparalleled excitement due to two facts: being considerably smaller than their big brothers they have more personality and they possess the luxury of doing what they want to do. These ateliers want to be niche with the desire to grow limited sized, but loyal and zealous fan clubs. Baselworld again brought watch-lovers together, giving the opportunity to small manufactures to meet their enthusiasts from all over the world.
In 1770 Voltaire gave home to the exiles from Geneva on his Ferney estate and founded Manufacture Royale. Following a few successful years, after his death in 1778 the community and the business fell apart. In 2010, Arnaud Faivre breathed new life into the name, which has recently been taken over by the Gouten family. The first new model to appear since was the 1770 presented at Baselworld. Unlike the previous timepieces MR produced, the 1770 is not skeletonized, but just like those, the characteristic sword slashes over the dial pointing to the index markers. The workshop used silicon for the escape wheel and the pallet fork and with no intention of hiding their brave colours shine through the flying tourbillon. Beyond the classical models there’s a more technical version, where the circumference of the dial is open-worked.
Benoit Mintiens is a funny person and his watches no doubt reflect the same character. Although experienced in other fields of engineering, the complex nature of watches offered him a great field of research and as a result he encapsulated time in a fresh and humorous setting. In fact, Ressence Type 1 and Type 3 models are evidences of an engineering challenge accomplished while at once they hold a crooked mirror to traditional watchmaking. These creations bring TIME so into focus and so close to the wearer that it feels like it is not only projected but tattooed onto the skin. The optical cheat is perfected in Type 3 by a special fluid that the dial is swimming in, that lends the watch face a 2D effect. The illusion of touching time forces you to tap on the glass dome every minute. The dance of the painted hands on the sub-dials is like the weirdly moving eyes of an alien from Monster, Inc. The disks are rotated by the sealed movement via magnetism. Gravity is also called to help in setting the time; you need to face down the watch to be able to adjust it by turning the back panel. And here comes Mr. Practical again – the energy applied to set the time is used to wind the balance spring too, providing enough tension to keep it going until the rotor of the automatic movement generates the rest when worn. Amazing stuff! The timepiece received the Horological Revelation Prize of the 13th Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
Not far away from the brains-hub of the CERN, a new Génie was born. The black coated titanium Breva Génie 02 Air is the youngest of the brothers that became well-known for telling weather-forecast or altitude by measuring the environment’s air pressure. The Génie 02 Air specializes on heights again, but thanks to a more refined altitude scale this time it is intended for pilots. The power reserve meter has been exchanged for a radar-looking one and the technical image has been escalated by the serious black tones. I think Breva found an excellent design to the entire Génie collection that will not come in front of you anywhere you go. My personal winner though is still the golden brown Génie 01.
Badollet Ivresse is gifted with one of the most elegant shapes in my opinion. When we initially met, our first minutes were quiet – she, walking around with her dainty waist swinging, and me trying to absorb the sight and resist its charm. We remained speechless until she broke the silence with a peaceful tick-tack; love was instant. Under the deep, silk textured red dress she was made of 950 platinum, with her heart beating visible through the open window at her back.
This year the manufacture introduced diamond set pieces, what’s more Badollet showcased a unique high-jewellery watch too. The white gold case and the dial of the Tourbillon Stellaire is entirely covered by diamonds, however the real feat is that the upper bridge of the tourbillon is set with extra-terrestrial olivines sourced from meteorites and the base plate of the BAD1630 movement is made from the Cape York meteorite.
Inspired by the Age of Enlightenment too, each piece of De Bethune is a study as well, in which David Zanetta and Denis Flageollet imagine what the great watchmakers of that age would do with today’s materials and technology. The manufacture showcased their new patented chronograph clutch system in two models, the DB29 Maxichrono Tourbillon and the DB28 Maxichrono. The new combination of horizontal and vertical clutches allows the chronograph counters to function semi-autonomously while reducing the friction. Both timepieces have all hands in the centre and the time and chronograph numerals are set on concentric circles. The DB29 Maxichrono Tourbillon has a mere 0.18 gram 30-second tourbillon that oscillates at 5 Hz and only becomes visible by opening the case back. Another hit by De Bethune this year was the Dream Watch 5.2, which amazes by an unusual shape reminiscent of the cars of the ‘60s America that were born during the thrill of the space race. The coat is blackened zirconium nicely leading the focus to the bright hour and minutes disks. A cabochon-cut sapphire adorns the crown.
Photo credits: Manufacture Royale, Badollet, Ressence, Breva, De Bethune, Loupiosity.com.
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