“I fell in love with that watch,” he said. “I had to have that watch.” he said. His parents bought it for him, but as he was proudly showing it to his classmates, one asked, “ ‘Why did you get the quartz version and not the mechanical’?” he recalled. “It was like an arrow to my heart.”
After spending years, and lots of money, collecting the big brands, both men have turned to independents. Their interest, they said, was triggered by meeting the watchmakers.
“I met Paul Journe” — known as François Paul, or F. P. Journe, to non-pals — “at Basel in 2000,” Mr. Hickcox said. “Paul talked about his Chronomètre à Résonance. It was stunning, groundbreaking.” He bought one.
Mr. Rahman met the watchmaking great Philippe Dufour at a symposium organized by the online watch site Hodinkee. “He gave a presentation about the finishing of watches,” the executive said. “He spoke about up-and-coming brands. It was fascinating.”
The days of having to track a watchmaker to his chalet on some snowy mountainside are over; today, the independents appreciate the importance of making personal connections with potential buyers. “These days it easier to get to know these guys,” Mr. Hickcox said. “They’re on planes doing worldwide tours.”
Such connections are especially important to a generation of “20-somethings that don’t even wear a watch,” he continued. “But when they do, they’ve studied it. They’re on social media. Their desire for authenticity plays into the popularity of independents. They don’t want a watch put together on an assembly line conveyor belt.”
Mr. Rahman added: “Sitting with a watchmaker discussing your particular watch is a great feeling. You feel justified in paying the price tag. You know where your money has gone, and you feel part of the process.”
Two years ago Mr. Hickcox bought his first watch from Kari Voutilainen, an Observatoire model — and he still speaks with awe about it. “Kari himself got into his car and drove to Besançon to get my watch tested and get the certificate,” Mr. Hickcox said, referring to the 1.5-hour drive from the watchmaker’s home in Môtiers, Switzerland, to the observatory in France where Mr. Voutilainen has the accuracy of his timepieces certified. “He himself did all that.”
Being independent does have its advantages, Mr. Rahman said: “They can push the limits. They aren’t driven by the bottom line. They can strive for the best.”
For example, it can take Mr. Dufour nearly a year to make a watch, by himself, by hand. “He has an old-fashioned idea of how to finish a watch,” Mr. Hickcox said, with apparent admiration. (But then he was wearing a Philippe Dufour Simplicity, widely considered one of the most refined watches ever made.)
“Philippe Dufour,” Mr. Rahman added, “is the Yoda of watchmaking.”
Mr. Hickcox commented on one of the watches that Mr. Rahman had brought with him: the MB&F Legacy Machine 101. “I love the blue dial,” he said.
“Yes,” Mr. Rahman echoed, “I love the blue with the platinum; it’s limited to 33” pieces.
And quickly the talk turned from the watch to the watchmaker, Maximilian Büsser, the “MB” in MB&F (the “F” is for Friends). “Max is a terrific guy,” Mr. Rahman said. “He’s given a lot of young watchmakers the kick to start their own brands. My favorite is his Legacy Machine series; it’s traditional watchmaking. One good thing is the size of it,” — 40 millimeters, or about 1.6 inches — “it’s more wearable …”
MR. HICKCOX “some of his timepieces …”
MR. RAHMAN “ … are out there.”
Mr. Rahman picked up his F. P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Seconde Morte. “It encapsulate what Journe is all about,” he said. “And I have a weakness for salmon dials,” referring to the face in red gold.
As he mentioned before, he’s also fond of blue dials; he displayed his Laurent Ferrier Galet Traveller that was made in a limited edition for Hodinkee. “It’s one of only 15,” Mr. Rahman said. “Laurent Ferrier is one of the true independent master watch makers.”
He turned to his friend. “Tell me about the Bexei,” referring to Mr. Hickcox’s Bexei Dignitas Power Reserve.
MR. HICKCOX “It’s Hungarian. For a long time independents were all in Switzerland. Now they are in America, Austria, Belgium, Japan. It’s no longer one culture.”
MR. RAHMAN “You’ve been collecting independents for a long time. I’m thinking about a Kari going forward. What is it about the Vingt-8 you like so much?”
MR. HICKCOX “He’s the real deal. He’s technically brilliant. The finish is important to me. His guilloché dials are beautiful. He bought a factory to make the dials himself. It has a lot of Kari’s DNA in it.”
MR. RAHMAN “I love the fact that the lugs are gorgeous.”
MR. HICKCOX “The case is super functional. It’s rounded so it rolls off surfaces and hardly ever scratches. Andrew has the same watch, but with orange hands.” [A reference to Andrew Luff, a collector based on Jersey and known for having a touch of orange in all his watches.]
MR. RAHMAN “What are your thoughts on De Bethune? It’s one of the brands I’m thinking about.”
MR. HICKCOX “There’s a whole cult of De Bethune out there.”
MR. RAHMAN “I’m considering buying De Bethune and Kari.”
Then he paused, and sighed. “Watch collecting is a disease and it keeps on spreading.”