There’s been a lot of talk in the watch world about the independent brands surviving COVID-19. Here, we take a look at a few of the top brands that not only are surviving but also have good things in store for 2021.
Let’s face it, 2020 was a tough year for all businesses with COVID-19 shutdowns and reduced production in the watch world. Everyone speculated about which watch brands would survive the pandemic and which would succumb to its impact. Naturally, the independent brands were those that most industry pundits worried about. The big group-owned brands have big money backing them and can hold on during a maelstrom. Similarly, large-brand independents, such as Patek Philippe, Chopard, and Audemars Piguet have deep pockets, and being family-owned and operated can make quick decisions to control damages.
The smaller independents, though, have been a concern. Interestingly enough, though, many have figured out not only the way to weather the storm – especially as 2021 continues to be a virus-ridden year – but also to come out on top. Some of the best established independent brands even have some big things in store for 2021. Much of this is still under wraps as we write this piece, but take it from us, there are some good things coming our way from a few top independent brands. So, for 2021, we take a closer look at just a few of the independent watch brands you should be watching.
Despite COVID-19 in 2020, in a release issued by MB&F in the first weeks of 2021, the brand ended the year on a high note. Its sell-out rate increased by 30 percent, translating to 260 watches being sold. “These critical times have had an unprecedented – and surprisingly positive – impact on our horological lab,” says Busser in the newsletter. “They have forced us to be even more agile than before, to adapt quicker, to dare more, and to embrace more.”
MB&F is definitely worth taking a closer look at. Already 15 years old (the brand was founded in 2005), MB&F is coming up on some milestone moments as it will most likely phase out some older production lines and bring in the new. It was just at the end of last year that the brand wowed us with the new made-for-women Legacy Machine FlyingT. This line, first unveiled to the world in 2019, has been a great success for the brand, and the newest edition was the Legacy Machine FlyingT Lapis Lazuli watch with a lapis stone plate and a tilted lapis stone watch dial. Additionally, last year the brand celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Horological Machine 3 – The Frog — by unveiling a new piece: The HM3 Frog X. It also released the HM10 Bulldog last year. Thanks to the creativity and passion of Max Busser and friends, the brand is sure to bring some real hype to the 2021 scene.
In fact, it starts the year off by bringing sapphire to the forefront. The new Horological Machine No. 9, Sapphire Vision (SV), watches launched on January 21, are inspired by the brand’s first Horological Machine No. 9 nicknamed Flow, and paying tribute to the automobiles of the 1940s and ’ ’50s. Now the new versions feature an outer case made of sapphire crystal and precious metal. The larger sapphire crystal surface allows for viewing of what MB&F thinks may be its most beautiful movement ever. It retails for $440,000. So, folks, MB&F is definitely on the top of the list of brands to watch in 2021.
Founded just before the turn of the new millennium in 1997, Urwerk has become an important player in the independent watch world. Watchmaker Felix Baumgartner and designer Martin Frei realized they had similar dreams when it came to creating watches and struck out together to offer some of the most unique timepieces in the world. They have done exactly that over the years, releasing watches that have space-age-like looks and incredible mechanics inside.
This is another brand that has managed to keep its creativity levels high during the pandemic and unveil some pretty cool timepieces. As we enter into 2021, the brand doesn’t disappoint. It just released on Tuesday, January 19, the Urwerk UR-100V T-Rex watch. The distinctive timepiece features metal textured to recall the scales of the eight-ton Tyrannosaurus rex. Hence the name. While no one knows exactly what that texture would have been, Urwerk captures what the imagination thinks when thinking of T-Rex. Even better than the texture is the fact that the case is made in solid bronze and darkened via several treatments, including Urwerk’s proprietary burnishing method – offering a rich and unique patina.
The watch offers a wandering hour indication via the brand’s signature satellite system, wherein three satellites each with four hours on it, rotate on the carousel – displaying the hour. A red pointer indicates the minutes on a minute scale. The watch is being created in a limited edition of just 22 pieces – as is typical of Urwerk. Limited editions equate to rarity and that equates to demand. We expect to see a lot more from this dynamic brand throughout 2021.
Founded 10 years ago in 2010, Maison Cyrus is owned by a Swiss entrepreneurial family that specializes in global luxury goods. By partnering with master watchmaker Jean-Francois Mojon, the brand creates unique calibers that include the masterful vertical tourbillon escapement and more. Its Klepcys – with the aforementioned vertically position tourbillon — is easily the most coveted line, and the brand has released skeleton versions and more. Cyrus didn’t let COVID-19 slow it down last year, either. Late in the year, Cyrus unveiled the Klepcys GMT Retrograde watch which received great fanfare.
This year, before launching any new timepieces, the brand announced a partnership – naming acclaimed Formula E motor racing driver Maximilian Gunther as a brand ambassador. Gunther competes in the BMW Andretti Motorsport factory team and at the age of just 22 is the youngest ever Formula E race winner. It is an interesting partnership for Cyrus that we are certain will lead to more visibility and creativity in 2021.
Of course, these are not the only independent brands to watch in 2021. There are a host of others that include H. Moser & Cie, Grönefeld, De Bethune, and others. But they are food for another article.
About the Author
Roberta Naas is a veteran watch and jewelry journalist who began her career in the early 1980’s, and was the first female watch journalist in the United States. She is the editor and founder of the authoritative watch blog, ATimelyPerspective, has written six books on watches, writes for numerous consumer publications (including Forbes and Elite Traveler) – and always brings forth in her work the essence of what makes watches tick. She tirelessly travels the world in search of watch news and stories that she turns into compelling and enlightening articles.