My favorite part of Baselworld every year is when I get to take a few hours to leave Hall 1.0, with its grandiose booths and internationally recognized names, for the comfort of what has come to be called "Les Ateliers." Each year its physical location seems to move, but Les Ateliers is where you'll find many of the high-end independent watchmakers. These are the guys who, for the most part, are making tens or hundreds of watches per year, mostly by hand, and with distinct points of view. Names like Urwerk, MB&F, Kari Voutilainen, and the like are all there. The booths are at a slightly more manageable scale and the person you're sitting down with is likely the person whose name is on the sign out front. It's awesome.
Yesterday was my day and I found more than a few incredible things. Some are crazy, some are conservative, and some are totally out of left field. We'll have tons more coverage of these watches over the coming days and weeks, but I wanted to give you a small peek at what I found in Les Ateliers at Baselworld 2019. Enjoy.
Sarpaneva Lunations

Finnish watchmaker Stepan Sarpaneva is known for his distinctive moon phase design, with its arched eyebrows and intense gaze. here, Sarpaneva puts it at the very center of the watch, both physically and theoretically. This is his first truly in-house movement, and he started by designing the moon phase complication first before then designing a caliber around it. The moon phase indicator uses an optical fiberglass display that appears to "project" the rear Super-LumiNova disc right up to the front of the caliber. You can set the moonphase down to the second via a set of scales on the back and the hacking seconds and once set it's accurate to one day every 14,000 years. Yeah, years. While I'm not sure this is a watch I could personally wear on a regular basis, I'm really darn glad Stepan made it.
Learn more here.
Grönefeld 1941 Principia

Okay, I'm kind of cheating here, since this isn't actually a new new watch. The 1941 Principia was introduced back in October 2018 but I hadn't got a chance to spend time with one in the metal until today. While it still comes in a hair over $30,000 in stainless steel, it's the entry point into the Grönefeld line-up and a damn good one at that. The watch has the same case at the 1941 Remontoire but with a time-only automatic movement inside. The caliber is finished to the same standards as the horological brothers' other movements, which is to say to a level bordering on insanity. The black polishing, graining, beveling, etc. are all dramatic and striking, and the caliber has a familiar-feeling radial design that gives them tons of room to show off their skills. There are a few dial and case metal options, but I'm all about the steel case/salmon dial combo. If you want a very serious wristwatch that you can wear and enjoy every day, this is it.
Learn more here.
Urban Jürgensen The One

When Cole introduced us to The One by Urban Jürgensen a few weeks ago, I wasn't quite sure what to think. I tend to like what the brand does (especially watches like The Alfred), but this is quite the departure for them. No intricately sculpted dress watch case, no fine grain dial, no scrolling numerals. Instead, this is UJ's take on something like the Nautilus or the Royal Oak, a luxury stainless steel sports watch. In the metal, I must admit the results are quite impressive (despite the skepticism with which I went into the meeting). There isn't a single straight line on the entire case, with the entire design being based on a series of overlapping circles and ovals. The geometry of those middle bracelet links alone is worth a story (don't worry, it's coming). If this is the sort of watch you're at all predisposed to like, I highly recommend you find a way to get one on your wrist for a few minutes. It's an experience you won't regret.
Learn more here.
Voutilainen 28ti

What if I said to you, "Kari Voutilainen, only inside out"? That's exactly what this watch is. The familiar Vingt-8 gets a reversed and slightly re-engineered caliber while the dial has been all but entirely removed, giving you an unobstructed view of the incredible movement right there up front. The hour and minute hands glide over the top of what you'd normally admire through a sapphire caseback, and while legibility might not be ideal I don't think anyone is going to complain here. The depth of Kari's movement is incredible and he's arguably one of the greatest movement finishers of all time – like I said, no complaints. When you turn the watch over you still get a surprise, this time in the form of the running seconds and power reserve indicators. Only eight pieces will be made in this configuration with a titanium case, and I think they're likely going to become the stuff of watch nerd lore down the road.
Learn more here.
Hautlence HL Sphere

Is this something I would wear on my wrist? Nope. Is it something I would put on my wall or my desk as a clock? Maybe. Am I glad that this watch exists and that someone was mad scientist enough to create it? You're damn right I am. The new HL Sphere from Hautlence is a retrograde minutes, jumping hours watch, but in a way you've never seen before: The hour indicator is a sphere that spins 450 degrees every time the minutes hands reaches the bottom of the dial and jumps back up to the top, revealing the next hour. It's crazy to see in person, and I don't even want to start thinking about what Hautlence's watchmakers had to consider in terms of power management here –*I'm sure it was one heck of a headache. If you ever have a chance to see this watch in action, you'd be a fool not to take it.
Learn more here.