By Rebecca Doulton
Far from the madding crowds visiting the big brands and their luxurious booths in Baselworld's main hall, the Baselworld Palace is the domain of independent watchmakers, giving visitors a chance to meet the makers. The Palace, which is far from palatial and more like a wedding tent, is buzzing with indie creativity and the watches are as varied as they are surprising - from classical iterations to those that would look perfectly at home in a science fiction setting.
Louis Moinet watches are one of my indie favourites. The alchemist behind the brand is watchmaker Jean-Marie Schaller, whose fervid imagination and passion for Jules Verne have led to the creation of a watch universe of elaborate mechanical engines and sophisticated steampunk aesthetics. There is a story behind every timepiece, often with dials made from the most unusual and out-of-this world materials, including meteorite from Mars and fossilised dinosaur bone.
Read more on independent watchmakers at Baselworld 2016
This year, Louis Moinet watches presented an extraordinary chronograph - the Memoris - a watch that has turned the conventional chronograph upside down and inside out. The reasons are compelling: two years ago, Schaller discovered evidence that the founder, the genius watchmaker Louis Moinet, was in fact the true inventor of the chronograph in 1816, a distinction many watch brands would love to possess; the other reason being to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the brand's rebirth.
Schaller decided to invert the standard approach to chronographs and display the entire chronograph mechanism on the dial as the star of the show, with the time function relegated to second place. This complex 46mm mono-pusher, presented in limited editions of rose and white gold, is the first chronograph watch - as opposed to a watch with a chronograph - in history.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are the incredibly elegant timepieces from Laurent Ferrier watches - the kind you can't imagine tiring of. The maker, Laurent Ferrier, comes from a lineage of watchmakers and worked at Patek Philippe for 37 years before deciding that his talents merited their own showcase. Simple, elegant and inviting to the touch, the Galet models of Laurent Ferrier watches - galet means pebble in French - are like beautifully worn gold pebbles with smooth surfaces, chaste dials and seductive contours.
Read about the subtle colours of Laurent Ferrier watches
Celebrating the brand's fifth anniversary, Monsieur Ferrier treated himself - and his fans - to a birthday cake in the form of appetising chocolate brown dials decorating the dials of four exclusive movements. The Galet Micro-Rotor in a 39mm rose gold case is sublime. Minimalist, yet rich in texture and colour with white chocolate-toned hour markers, it is good enough to eat. Inside the smooth, round case is a superlative Laurent Ferrier movement with an 80-hour power reserve. The other watch that caught my eye in the birthday series is the Galet Square, a sumptuous 41 x 41mm cushion-shaped rose gold watch with a small seconds counter and enough style to see you through the century.
Laurent Ferrier watches are celebrating five years of watchmaking success. Monsieur Ferrier decided to celebrate with a special treat in the form of delectable chocolate dials on four of his exclusive movements. On the left is the 39mm Galet Micro-Rotor and, on the right, the 41mm Galet Square watch.
Laurent Ferrier Galet Micro-Rotor Chocolate 39mm rose gold watch. With its minimalist dial that is rich in texture and colour, it is almost good enough to eat. Inside the smooth round case is a superlative Laurent Ferrier movement with an 80-hour power reserve.
The Laurent Ferrier Galet Square Chocolate 41mm rose gold watch features a satin-brushed, chocolate-coloured dial with hours, minutes and small seconds functions. Inside the case is one of Ferrier's distinctive movements with an off-centred micro-rotor providing a double-direct impulse for greater power reserve.
Louis Moinet's Memoris chronograph comes in a 46mm rose or white gold case, is a limited edition of 60 pieces and displays the entire mono-pusher chronograph movement on the dial. On the back of the case, the richly decorated rotor reveals some of the 302 components that animate this masterpiece.
The Louis Moinet Memoris chronograph lets the chronograph function occupy centre stage, an original and indeed world-first approach to the chronograph, which usually takes second place to the time functions.
Louis Moinet's Memoris watch took three years to conceive, as explained by Jean-Marie Schaller: “Our starting point was the opposite: sweeping away the past and making the chronograph the heart of our design; the central component to which we then added a time function, rather than the other way round.”
The Louis Moinet Memoris chronograph stands at a crossroads for the brand, celebrating the bi-centenary of the world's first chronograph, invented by Louis Moinet in 1816, and the brand's rebirth a decade ago in the hands of Jean-Marie Schaller.