What drives the craftsmen who actually ‘make’ a watch all by themselves

Masters of Contemporary Watchmaking. By Michael Clerizo. Published 2009 by Thames & Hudson Inc., New York, NY. (USA). ISBN 978 0-500-51485-6. Hardcover, dustjacket, 292 pages, 30x30 cm. 672 illustrations, 493 in color.With a Glossary, Bibliography, Source List and Index. Available through www.amazon.com for $54 plus postage (list price $85.-) or borrow from the NAWCC library.


Watchmaker and watchmaking must be two of the words in the English language that are used most frequently in a sense far removed from their original meaning. How many people who are alive today have actually ever ‘made a watch’, all by themselves? A few such people exist; but even if we are generous and do not insist that the individual has also made the case and the dial him- or herself there are precious few.

The book under review explores the achievements of a significant sample from among the few contemporary artisans who actually make watches all by themselves – but more importantly, it tries to answer the question: What drives them in their seemingly quixotic quest? Michael Clerizo has conducted lengthy visits and interviews with 29 independent watch creators, exploring their motivations, their biographies, their work styles, the philosophies behind their products, and he describes the resulting masterpieces. 220 pages of the book are devoted to 11 chapters describing on 20 pages each the 11 craftsmen he found most fascinating, as well as their work. All these chapters are structured identically: Starting with a portrait page, then 8 pages of narrative, followed by 11 pages of large color photographs illustrating the oeuvre. The artists covered here are: George Daniels, Svend Andersen, Vincent Calabrese, Philippe Dufour, Antoine Preziuso, Franck Muller, Aniceto Jimenez Pita, Alain Silberstein, Marco Lang, Vianney Halter and Roger Smith.

The final section of the book contains shorter chapters (either 2 or 4 pages each) on 18 additional craftsmen, who are introduced only through pictures of themselves and their creations, but without a text section. The list here includes Felix Baumgartner, Aaron Becsei, Nicolas Delaloye, Romain Gauthier, Paul Gerber, Greubel Forsey, Richard Habring, Beat Haldimann, J & S McGonigle, Rainer Nienaber, Thomas Prescher, Daniel Roth, Stepan Sarpaneva, Peter Speake-Marin, Andreas Strehler, Christiaan van der Klaauw, Kari Voutilainen, Volker Vyskocil.

The 29 creators covered in this book account only for a miniscule portion of the high-grade watches produced today in the world, but in many ways their stories condense the essence behind the resurgence of the high-grade mechanical watch. The individuals covered range from those who by choice remain single practicioners, who produce less than a handful of pieces a year, to some who have grown into small brands like Silberstein or Franck Muller. But no matter how small or relatively big their businesses are, these craftsmen are all incredibly passionate about their work and hold stong and interesting opinions about contemporary horology.

Unlike other publications on extremely exclusive timepieces this book avoids the platitudes crafted by the image consultants of the brands and rehashed endlessly by their public relations advisers. It speaks in the voice of the creative geniuses behind these innovative watches, and the reader gets a good sense about the personalities involved. This reviewer found the book entertaining, inspirational and educational. It is a large and heavy book, not conducive for bedtime reading. It is also a pretty and nicely designed book, in some regards too much so: The bulk of the text is printed in ‘white on gold background’, admittedly elegant, but rather hard to read in less than perfect lighting conditions. The choice which individuals to cover in this kind of book is a subjective one; this reviewer would have prefered to hear more from the ones doing all the work themselves, and less from makers like Alain Silbersstein and Franck Muller who really belong more to the corporate world than to the sphere of craftsmen. In spite of these shortcomings this title is probably the most engaging description published recently on the smallest, but also most interesting sector of the contemporary watchmaking industry.

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ. (May 2010)