By Rebecca Doulton
Visiting Baselworld, the world's largest and most influential watch and jewellery fair, is an overwhelming experience, even for the initiated. A tour of the big watch brands exhibiting their 2015 collections in multi-storey booths, which look more like five-star hotels, overseen by cautious PRs and strict protocol, can lead to a sensation of acute vertigo. Which is why stepping out of the main hall and entering the Baselworld Palace - a tent-like structure reserved for independent watchmakers - is a breath of fresh air.
Not only is there natural light, there are far fewer brands on display, making for a much closer rapport with the watchmakers. In this greenhouse of independent watchmakers, those without massive marketing budgets and plenty of enthusiasm are on hand to show you what creative horologists do when they are not overseen by a board of directors.
De Bethune watches ignored the Year of the Goat fever and settled on a far more mysterious creature to decorate the dial of its DB25 Quetzalcoatl watch.
A coiled gold serpent with feathers instead of scales represents the Mexican deity Quetzalcoatl, whose name is an amalgam of the sacred quetzal bird and the coatl, or snake. The plumed Aztec serpent rotates around the centre of the solid gold dial and indicates the hours with its head and the minutes with its tail. The sculptural work of the snake and the interpretation of numerals, fashioned like an aerial view of Aztec temples, attest to the remarkable creativity of co-founder David Zanetta and the expertise of De Bethune's hand-wound calibre, which animates the mythological serpent for stretches of six days at a time.
The great thing about the Palace is that you can journey from pre-Colombian iconography to an anemometer, used for measuring wind speed, in a matter of seconds.
Breva watches, founded by whizz-kid Vincent Dunpontreué, surprised the watchmaking world with its groundbreaking Génie 01 barometer watch in 2013, followed by an altimeter watch in 2014. This year, Breva watches officially presented the Génie 03 anemometer watch - the world's first mechanical automatic wristwatch with a functional instrument to measure wind speed.
A dream gadget for sailors, these men's watches feature a mechanism that rises 6mm from the surface of the dial to measure wind speeds of 5 to 65 knots with their miniature Robinson cups. The best part of the Breva watches' presentation - which was previewed in January - was watching Dunpontreué's young toddler run up and down the corridors of the hotel with the watch to get the anemometer spinning.
A visit to the Urban Jürgensen watches stand is like travelling back in time to the 18th century, when the talented Jürgensen family of Danish independent watchmakers was consolidating its reputation as one of Europe's most illustrious horological families.
Classical to the core, the beautifully hand-crafted men's watches and movements feature the new Reference 1140L collection of five gold watches, with elaborately executed hand guilloché silver dials and an in-house mechanical Lever escapement movement. The white gold model with a blue guilloché dial is particularly attractive and the kind of watch that will go on ticking for centuries to come.