London-based American author and journalist Michael Clerizo is the author of two books, Masters of Contemporary Watchmaking and George Daniels: A Master Watchmaker and His Art.
From 2010 to 2023 he was a contributing editor at The Wall Street Journal Magazine. For three years he wrote a monthly column on watches for WSJ’s ‘Off-Duty’ section. He has also written for numerous specialist watch magazines and websites. Here he picks his ten favorite timepieces and explains why he loves them so much.
“I tend to favour independent watchmakers because when you buy a watch from an independent you can reach out and actually touch the maker. You can talk to him or her and find out why they did certain things in a certain way.” says Mr. Clerizo.
“Unlike with big brands – and I mean this with respect as I love Rolex, Omega and Patek Philippe – but you can’t sit and talk to someone like you can when you buy a watch from an independent maker.
“I used to talk to George Daniels for hours and he would explain why he used a certain finishing, for example, and you simply can’t do that with the media relations department of a huge company. Stephen Forsey, Roger Smith and everyone mentioned here would be able to tell you immediately why things were done and explain all the little quirks and unique touches.
“The other thing I love to see in a timepiece is a maker’s personal journey – especially ones that have chosen to do it their own way, no matter what tradition dictates.”
George Daniels ‘Edward Hornby’ Tourbillon
While the Space Traveller is one of the pinnacles of George Daniels’ watch journey, the Edward Hornby, like all of his first six watches, represents the start of the journey – the most important watchmaking journey of the 20th century and one that has still not been equaled in the 21st century.
It all started with a man deciding to make his own watches and ending up inventing a new escapement. That is remarkable and I don’t think it’s happened at any other point in watchmaking history since Breguet died in 1823.
The dial of the watch is simple, elegant and perfectly proportioned and I love the retrograde function. If you look at the movement, it is geometrically perfect. It’s just beautifully done and I think that level of simplicity and harmony is rarely achieved in horology but George did it from the start.
Although all of the first six are simple, they also prove one of George’s theories, which is that the mechanical watch should be historic, intellectual, technical, aesthetic, useful, and amusing.
One of my favorite quotes from him is: “I am sometimes asked if a watch is a works of art. It depends on your definition. To me a work of art is an artificially constructed object with integrity and the ability to amuse, intrigue and educate the human mind.
“Putting a cow in formaldehyde is not a work of art. It might intrigue and amuse, but it doesn’t educate.”
Philippe Dufour Duality
Most collectors will talk about the Simplicity and the Grande Sonnerie when they come to Dufour, but for me it is always the Duality. What I love about this piece is that the inspiration for it was a 1930s’ school watch from the Vallée de Joux.
While everyone at the time was making tourbillons, Dufour had a desire to do something different and, based on the school watch, came up with the idea of using a differential.
When he was making the watch, he would regularly go to flea markets and buy old watchmaking tools. Often, he had no idea what they were for but he would experiment and work it out or visit old watchmakers in the Vallée and ask them what the tools were used for.
He was born in the Vallée and is very much steeped in the culture of the place. When I asked him once where he would most like to go on vacation, he said there wasn’t a place that he wanted to travel to but a time.
He would love to go back to the Vallée in the middle of the 19th century and talk to the watchmakers and see how they did things. With the Duality, he did just that – he recreated a watch using old tools from the 1930s. And he did it by the sweat of his own brow.
That shows an enormous amount of dedication and love for the craft and for mechanical watches. It’s just extraordinary what he achieved.
Vacheron Constantin Toledo ‘Cioccolatone’
The Vacheron Constantin Toledo was introduced in the 1950s and had a unique curved square case, Because of its resemblance to a particular chocolate bar, it was quickly nicknamed ‘Cioccolatone’ by Italian collectors.
I come from a big Italian family and the name of the watch takes me back to the candy that was around during my childhood – particularly at Christmas time.
The case seems to ooze from the center of the dial, although it is a hard metal, it gives the impression of being very soft and fluid. I like the idea that others could also see the familiar shape, even though it was never the intention of the designer to make it look like chocolate.
Beyond the nostalgia, I like the combination of metal that looks liquid that appears to be moving – almost like melting chocolate, like it could spread across your wrist or across the table.
Like all good design, if defies time and is always in fashion.
Greubel Forsey Architecture 2022
Architecture is one of the key components of Greubel Forsey movements – in the best way, they have depth and they have dimension – you almost feel you could walk around them if they were at a larger scale. And this watch seems to me to be the pinnacle of Greubel Forsey architecture.
It literally looks like a city if you’re gazing down on it. You see streets, street furniture and buildings. And it has all of the perfect Greubel Forsey finishing – the curved bridges look like real bridges, connecting parts of the city, like those that cross the Hudson River in New York or the canals in Venice, but on a much smaller scale.
If we go back to George and what he said about watches being historic, intellectual, technical and aesthetic, useful and amusing, it’s all there in Greubel Forsey’s Architecture.
Konstantin Chaykin Cinema Watch
The Cinema watch is inspired by Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 stop-motion animation The Horse in Motion, which amazed viewers of the time with its horse galloping across the screen.
On the watch, the horse appears to gallop within an aperture at 6 o’clock using 12 sequential black and white images of a horse and rider on a disc that rotates in under a second when activated by a pushpiece in the side of the case.
This watch is just an incredible technical achievement to have the actual movement of the horse in there. To get that little piece of film into a watch and to do it mechanically – because it’s not done with any electronics. I think it’s extraordinary, in addition to being an excellent timepiece.
The way he designed the case to look like a period camera without it being clunky, cheesy or corny in any way, is so clever. There’s a lot of thought to it and a lot of work to make it look that way and I think that’s really exceptional.
Also, I love it when a watch links to popular culture or to other important developments. Back in Muybridge’s day, cameras, projectors and film were properly mechanical – it was way before electronic cameras and Chaykin has stayed true to the roots by keeping everything mechanical and keeping history alive in a very intriguing way.
So many watches claim to have a link to movies and it’s always something really superficial like ‘oh look, we put a superhero on the dial’, but this is really linked to the Genesis moving pictures. I don’t think anyone else has ever done it so well.
Again it is part of Chaykin’s own personal history – it was one of his first watches, yet it was such a blockbuster to announce his arrival and to say, ‘look what I am capable of doing’.
Vianney Halter Antiqua
Vianney is a genius who describes himself as a “crazy French watchmaker”. Evidence of that can be found in how he taught himself English – he watched every episode of Star Trek in French seven or eight times until he knew the lines by heart. When he knew the French dialogue he would switch to watching the English the versions.
About 10 years ago, he told me he had read 800 science fiction novels – I didn’t even know there were 800! When I asked him about the Antiqua, he said: “Travelling through time like in HG Wells The Time Machine, is a very difficult journey, so you would need a very tough watch.”
So that’s how this watch came about; he wanted a watch that would survive time travel. People often refer to the watch as ‘steampunk’ but Vianney has always said that it is a time-travelers watch.
For someone so involved with science fiction to be able to take that love and turn it into a watch, going against all the established rules of watchmaking and taking it in a completely different direction is remarkable.
Like all of his watches, it’s a highly personal piece and again it started his journey. He may be a crazy French watchmaker, but he is one who creates incredible timepieces.
Roger W. Smith Series One
Here I am referring to the round Series One, not the rectangular version that he created very early on in his career. For me, these watches exhibit craftsmanship on a par with that of George Daniels and represent Roger proving that there is a future for British watchmaking that can exist at the same level as George.
If you look at Roger’s watch hands, they’re different to George’s but they are just as elegant are just as beautiful with that very slim, tapered shape.
And then there is the engine turning on the dial. Now, Roger won’t like me saying this, but I think he’s a better engine turner than George and, in fact, George once told me that he thought Roger was better.
Of course, we have to remember that Roger learned the skill from the master himself. Again, the achievement of simplicity and elegance of look in this watch is supreme and all achieved with a great deal of complexity and multiple steps that give a depth. That’s real fine luxury watchmaking
The movement is architectural with flat beveling on the bridges, polishing and exceptional engraving. It’s just a superb piece of work.
Itay Noy Part Time
Something I admire enormously is that he is, in large-part, self-taught. I think because he’s an original thinker and thinks in his own way, and he comes up with very unusual designs, which you have to admire.
And, one of the things I like about him the most, is he has a philosophical approach to time and he wants to get that into his watches – something I think he does very well with Part Time.
As you’re looking at it, one half of the dial works in the daytime and the other half works in the night time, which first of all is quite an achievement mechanically speaking – it’s as if there’s two watches there and then there’s the philosophical idea that we experience and think about time differently, depending on whether it’s day or night.
This is something that we all experience but there aren’t any watches that acknowledge and express that apart from his. So I think it’s quite an achievement and a way of dealing with the philosophy of time through a mechanical watch.
He has the artistic and intellectual ability to deliver and he does it all the time, not just with this one watch. But I think this is where he did it the best. He’s great and I really like his work.
Svend Andersen Kamar
Svend is a very creative watchmaker. Kamar – a version of the Arabic word qamar, meaning moon – is an homage to ancient cultures. The moon is not so important to us these days, but there was a time when it meant a lot to people and that’s why he has made the moonphase display so big.
There’s always an enormous contrast between the colours of the dial and the moonphase, which is very dramatic.
He accentuates and enlarges certain numerals. On the jade dial version (shown here and sold by Antiquorum in 2013), the 2 and the 10 are both smaller than the 6, giving the dial even more drama. And dynamism – even to the parts of the dial that don’t need it and I think that’s very impressive.
And also the hands, as is often the case with Svend, they are his name, his signature and I like the way he marks the watch.
But the main reason is the drama and trying to reposition the moon and its importance in our lives as it was hundreds of years ago in many different cultures. I think Svend is a very creative watchmaker – I like all of the versions of this watch and the ones with guilloche dial are particularly spectacular but it is the simplicity and legibility of this piece that I love.
This is another deceptively simple watch with blue or white dial and a large sub-seconds at 9 o’clock balanced by the brand logo in a curved plaque between 3 and 6 o’clock. We’ve established that I love simplicity, and I love it even more when there is an interesting little twist in it, that makes it somehow more intriguing – and this watch does it with the hour and minute hands.
The anchor-style counterweight on all three hands draws you in and I could stare at them for hours as they travel around the dial and then at 12 o’clock, the hour and minute hands become one and then gradually separate.
It feels like there is a link to Britain’s Maritime history and also its watchmaking past. The movement too is fascinating. The bridges have a grid that resembles the markings on a globe and feature straight lines, which we are not used to seeing but somehow it makes everything more elegant here.
And then there’s that beautiful snailing on the barrel cover. It’s just one little touch that makes everything more intriguing and also shows great skill – and that’s part of what a great what should do in my view.
And of course, it’s another British watch, which is great. If you ask me to do this again I’ll name a few American watches. There are some great watches coming out of the US these days.