Three On Three: Comparing Independent Watches Under $15,000

Three on Three has returned. In our first head-to-head-to-head comparison, we took a look at three of what we deemed to be the very finest in-house, manually wound dress watches on the planet. Today we move into a broader category, but one that is very dear to our collective heart here at HODINKEE – independent watchmaking.

But even more interesting than the folks who craft an amazing piece of original horology and then charge you for it, like a Laurent Ferrier, Philippe Dufour, or Kari Voutilainen, there is a group of independents out there that make fantastic products with unique twists and don't ask for a ton of money. Today we are looking at three truly independent watches, each for under $15,000.

Read on for a detailed analysis of the Sarpaneva K1, the Speake-Marin Serpent Calendar, and the Habring2 Jumping Second Pilot.

The Sarpaneva K1

- By Kelly Jasper -


A few weeks ago, when reviewing the Hublot 692 Bang, I mentioned that the watch resembled “an inter-galactic communications device from an artfully produced dystopian anime film.” On second thought, that description may be a more fitting description of the Sarpaneva K1. This unapologetically bold watch is not for the faint of heart – or for lovers of traditional, conservative watches. And even though my personal tastes err toward wristwatches that are cerebral and elegant, I can surely appreciate design in many forms. It’s the same way that, for instance, an astute collector of Vermeer can still be awestruck by Rothko’s minimalism or the gritty newness of Sterling Ruby’s work.

An e-book on Sarpaneva’s website starts with a quote from the watchmaker himself:

As far as my friends are concerned, I am doing really useless stuff. And who can blame them? Why would I do this stupid thing?
— Stepan Sarpaneva

Perhaps this is, more broadly, the horologist’s dilemma. But in Sarpaneva’s case, there is a mad obsession behind his craft, an obsession for watchmaking (obviously), and an obsession for motorsports. Every single one of the 10 watches in Sarpaneva’s current catalog seem to have been conjured up from the guttural, harmonic roar of a custom motorcycle. This is not a coincidence by any means, as the namesake founder owes the founding of Sarpaneva Watches to his love of motorcycles (one of his earliest pieces was a pocket watch made from the kickstart pinion of his first Harley Davidson).

In restoring and repairing cars and motorcycles, Sarpaneva developed a love for all things mechanical, leading to his studies at the School of Watchmaking in Tapiola, Finland, and then WOSTEP in Switzerland. In 2003, he opened a workshop at an old cable factory near the Helsinki shore, where Sarpaneva Watches is still based today.

The original Sarpaneva Korona K1 was the brand’s first circular watch (earlier models featured rectangular or aggressively notched cases in the style of a gear wheel). The intricate latticework dial of the Korona K1 was inspired by open-worked iron gratings around the trees along Sarpaneva’s home street in Helsinki. Sarpaneva toyed with this design influence for a while and prototyped a metal dial, before settling on the final version.

The name Korona is a reference to the “corona” that appears around the sun during a solar eclipse, as the latticework dial resembles this phenomenon. The K1 reviewed here is the second version, which keeps the original inspiration on the dial, but with a more aggressively styled case with notches around the perimeter.


Besides the distinctive, scalloped case shape, the first detail you’ll notice about the Sarpaneva K1 is the distinctive three-part dial. Two blued stainless-steel overlays, rest against an iridescent “Imperial Blue” textured base. The most detailed overlay is just 0.3 mm thick and features over 200 holes, each filed and polished by hand over a number of hours.

Arguably, the dial is most enchanting in the aforementioned “Imperal Blue," a deeply pigmented, almost galactic color that alludes to the founder’s fascination with the moon. The dial is also available in "Rust Brown" and a version coated in crushed black diamond.

For having such an emphasis on esoteric design, the look of the dial is tempered by the fully monochromatic color scheme (with the exception of four stainless steel screws to hold the dial together). The result is much more subdued than it would be if the components were multi-colored. The interplay of highly polished lattices on an iridescent textured background is also less offensive than you would imagine.

Cut from the topmost dial layer are 12 sections for the hours, delineated by thicker latticework and longer proportions than the other sections of the dial layer below. To a degree, the latticework on the middle dial layer can also be used as a minutes track, but the spacing around the dial is somewhat impeded by the hour sections. (A fair warning: I suffer from what I will call the “Movado Effect” – a stubborn and sometimes irrational dislike for watches without applied or painted indices for hours. With the exception of 3 o’clock on the dot, I’m just not that good at approximating the actual time on these types of dials.) That being said, the 12 hour sections on the Sarpaneva K1 are pronounced enough to not only make time telling possible, but relatively painless.

Both of the stainless-steel hour and minute hands feature two-toned finishing. One half is polished to a high shine, while the other has a textured finish that complements the iridescent blue background. The hands are most noticeable for their dramatic shape, reminiscent of the swooping aerodynamic lines of the Concorde. At their central meeting point, the end of the hands feature a round end with angled portions that create an interesting visual dynamic as the hands move around the dial.

More importantly, the finishing of all the dial components is superb. All design, prototyping, and manufacturing of the dial (and case) components takes place in Helsinki, supported by local metal workshops and engineering firms. 


Inside the K1 is a Soprod A10 movement, left relatively unmodified in this version (unlike a newer K1 with a custom date wheel). The self-winding movement features a 42-hour power reserve and (standard) perlage finishing on the plates. However, what really stands out is a fully custom stainless-steel winding mass featuring Sarpaneva’s trademark moon face. All of Sarpaneva’s watches feature this moon in some form, whether as part of an actual moon phase complication or in more pronounced contexts as in the Korona Moonshine. And who could forget Sarpaneva's collaboration with MB&F for the HM3 MoonMachine?

Of the three watches in his series, the K1 features the least modified movement, with the only real change being the custom winding mass. (All Soprod A10’s feature rhodium-plating with perlage finishing.) While the A10 is a fine mid-level, self-winding movement, the inclusion of a relatively unmodified movement with a list price of about $250 in a watch of this price point ($10,200), suggests that there is (hopefully) a great deal of cost embedded in R&D and production. I almost hesitate to bring the cost of the movement into this discussion because with all watches, and certainly with a Sarpaneva, the real costs are in everything but the movement, and those who focus solely on whether a movement is proprietary are simply missing the the true conversation.

However, at this price point, I don’t expect to see an in-house movement from an independent watchmaker operating rather far, geographically, from existing supply chains for movement components. While the inclusion of an in-house movement in the K1 would be impressive, it wouldn’t necessarily be that impressive to warrant another look from anyone who is on the fence about this watch. The focus here, without any smoke and mirrors, is on the design, local sourcing, and the personality of the man himself. 


The second-generation K1 takes the smooth, circular case of its progenitor and corrupts it slightly, by adding subtle mechanical notches inspired by those found around the cases of other more extreme Sarpaneva watches. These notches add more personality to what would otherwise have been a staid case.

The case measures 42 mm across the most extended portion of the notches, so it actually wears a bit smaller. Most importantly, the case is very thin, at only 9.8 mm (no doubt the 3.6 mm thick Soprod A10 helps with these svelte proportions). As a result, the K1 wears comfortably on the wrist.

The stainless-steel case features brushed finishing on the bezel and face of the the lugs, while the sides of the case have a polished surface. Aesthetically, the comparatively simple case complements the geometric dial with poise. The notched, almost pillow-shaped crown stands out for its ease of use, as ergonomics tend to sometimes be an afterthought with this component on other watches.

Arguably, the K1 is more versatile in than, say, the Habring, for the sheer fact that you can get away wearing it with this one night, and something as quietly subversive as this the next day. Granted, neither of those prospects is particularly enticing to me, and the K1 proved slightly challenging to integrate within my wardrobe.


The Sarpaneva K1 isn’t my kind of watch. But that’s just it: my personal preferences are so far removed from the K1 that I can’t view it as a personal purchase. Hypothetically, as someone whose aesthetic preferences lean toward this type of design, I can easily see the appeal. The K1 is interesting. It’ll turn heads and it’ll constantly be a point of conversation, as it was for my horoligically-inclined and uninclined friends alike.

Of the three watches featured here, the K1 presents the most interesting story, and the most intimate portrait of the founder presented through a unique and uncompromising design philosophy. The aspect of watch collecting that I find so fascinating (and so heartening) is how truly wide and vast the offerings are on the market, particularly from independent watchmakers. Stepan Sapaneva produces just 50 watches per year across his entire range. So, regardless of whether you order the entry-level K1 or a one-of-a-kind unique commission, your watch will pass through his hands. For some collectors, that fact alone merits the price premium to have one of these truly unique watches on their wrist.

The Speake-Marin Serpent Calendar

- By Stephen J. Pulvirent -

Before the Swiss dominated the world of watches and clocks, the British were kings. There is a long tradition of British horologists from Thomas Tompion to John Harrison to George Daniels that forever changed the course of timekeeping with new methods of production and innovative escapements. Peter Speake-Marin inherits some of that legacy while utilizing a mix of British ingenuity and modern Swiss manufacturing to create watches that are truly unique in today’s market.

If there is a watch Speake-Marin is best known for, it’s the Serpent Calendar. This model combines the Piccadilly case, with its unique shape and lugs, the tapered Roman numeral dial, and the unusual hand set that makes a Speake-Marin watch instantly recognizable. It’s both quirky and classic, with an aesthetic all its own. It’s also one of those watches that most people love or hate. Honestly, I’m somewhere in between.

At $11,200, the Serpent Calendar is the most expensive of the watches here and more than twice the price of the Habring2. That’s definitely not something we can ignore. Is it worth it? Let’s see.


There are a couple options when it comes to the Serpent Calendar’s dial. While the original features a bright white enamel dial, the current models have either a white lacquer dial like the model discussed here or a subtle silver dial with a brushed finish. The lacquer approximates the look of the original enamel but cuts the cost a little bit – sure, you lose a little bit of the visual depth you get with enamel, but the lacquer is very well executed and we understand the decision here.

The white lacquer dial is punctuated with inky black printed markings for the hours, minutes, and calendar functions. Around the very edge you have small dots for the minutes with a slightly larger dot at each 5­minute interval, and inside that are the quirky Roman numerals, which taper towards the center of the dial. At first it’s something you might not notice, but it really gives the traditional layout some added personality.

Inside the Roman numerals the dial steps down just a bit, where you’ll find the Arabic numerals for the calendar function. They mostly avoid creating that cluttered look that can sometimes result from a date display like this, though 28-­31 does look a little tight. At 12 o’clock you have the “Speake­-Marin Switzerland” signature – although Peter Speake­-Marin is British, the workshop is in Switzerland and the watches are created from Swiss components – and the topping tool motif is printed at 6 o’clock. Even though there is a lot going on, there is still enough open white lacquer to keep the Serpent Calendar’s dial feeling light.

The blued-steel hands are another Speake-­Marin signature. The hour hand is in a broad spade shape, the minute hand tapers towards the center of the hand before expanding again, and the thin second hand is counterbalanced by a circular shape. Of course there is also the namesake serpent calendar hand, which curls out from the center of the dial before ending just short of the calendar numerals. If you’re making a quick glance at the Serpent Calendar, the four shapes are all easily distinguishable, meaning you won’t mix up the indications. This was something I was concerned about when I first strapped on the watch, but it was never an issue in practice.


Like the other watches here, the Serpent Calendar employs a base movement that has been modified by the manufacture to a significant degree. Inside this watch is the caliber Eros, the core movement in Speake­-Marin’s range. The Eros is based on a Technotime 738, which is an automatic movement with a five-day power reserve coming from a double-barrel system and a date indication.

Now, while this isn’t an in-­house caliber, the Eros is a far cry from your standard Technotime 738 and I really enjoyed the modifications. First there are the changes to the architecture. The bridges have been redesigned to give the movement a different look – it’s much curvier and has those long swooping lines – and they have been completed with a sunburst finish. The edges are beveled, the engraving has been hand­filled with lacquer to give it some added contrast, and the undersides of the plates have been decorated with perlage.

The bridge for the automatic winding mechanism has been replaced entirely and the rotor is a custom rotor created by Speake-­Marin in the topping tool motif. It is an extremely intricate rotor, with a lot of curves and points, allowing the workshop to show off its finishing prowess. The edges are all beveled by hand and circular grained before the entire thing undergoes a dark blue PVD treatment that gives it the look of blued steel.

Of course the standard window and wheel date display had to be modified to create the serpent display, but you can’t really see these modifications from the back of the movement. However, the quick­set for the date works smoothly and it seems like the entire system is well­ integrated.

At this price, would I prefer to see an in-­house movement? Sure, of course I would. But the Eros is sufficiently different from the base movement and is finished in a distinctive style that very much feels Speake-Marin. Honestly, just looking, I bet few people would guess that this isn’t in­-house. It’s a nice movement and deserves to be commended on its own terms.


The Piccadilly case is probably the most recognizable thing about any Speake-Marin watch. The three­-piece design has been part of Speake­-Marin’s aesthetic from the very beginning and it’s a polarizing shape. It has steep sides, a large crown, and long, robust lugs and you'll find it in everything from the entry level Spirit-Pioneer to the in-house Thalassa, to even his tourbillons. Let’s look at it piece by piece.

First is the main body of the case. For the Serpent Calendar, you have the option of either 38 mm or 42 mm, and both are 12 mm thick. Here we have the 38 mm case, though it does feel big for a watch of that size. While 12 mm certainly isn’t overly thick by modern standards, it does feel big due to the steep side and the slim bezel gives the dial the appearance of being larger than it is.

The large faceted crown does make operating the watch a breeze, but some might find it a little flashy. Beyond aesthetics though, those facets do have sharp edges and if it rubs your wrist the wrong way it can be a little uncomfortable. If you’ve ever worn a pilot’s watch with an over-sized crown, you’ll have some sense of what I’m talking about here.

And then there are those lugs. From a mile away you can tell a watch is a Speake­-Marin from those lugs. They’re extremely long, jut out from the center of the case, and have over-sized screws visible on the outside. When I first tried on the Serpent Calendar, I found them to be surprisingly comfortable. Even on a small wrist like mine, they kind of worked. But, visually, they seem to overpower the case a little, and I found myself going back and forth between liking them and finding them frustrating on a watch I otherwise really enjoyed. I will say that without the giant lugs, the over-sized crown would look out of place, so they do provide some balance there. Still, the lugs are not my favorite. This is one of those personal decisions you’ll have to make for yourself.

The stainless-steel case is polished on every surface, which, while making the watch appear bright and modern, also makes it a magnet for fingerprints and dirt. If you’re at all like me, that will drive you crazy and I would love to see what this watch might look like with a more subtle finish to the Piccadilly case.


The Serpent Calendar embodies most of the visual and technical cues that represent what Speake-­Marin is about. The Piccadilly case is one of the most unique cases out there today, and while I’m still on the fence about those lugs, it has more fans than I can count. The dial is well executed, the unique Speake­-Marin hand set is just beautiful, and the Eros caliber displays some serious hand­work while taking advantage of a robust base.

Speake­-Marin is a compelling brand that produces a unique product. The namesake watchmaker is very much alive and well, still at the helm of his brand, and the team of 10 in Switzerland will create only 500 to 600 watches this year. It’s a small, truly independent brand that has a personality and a spirit that sets it apart from the mass­-market brands that make decisions by large committees.

The Habring2 Jumping Second Pilot

- By Benjamin Clymer -

Richard and Maria Habring comprise a tiny little watchmaking company called Habring2, located in Völkermarkt, Austria. They make no more than 80 pieces per year, and it is their goal to bring fine watchmaking to "normal" people, and in a sustainable, robust way. Essentially, they want to build you a very special watch, using very simple base methods, that will last you a lifetime without much hassle. I first fell in love with the Habring2 Doppel 2.0, an exceptionally cool split-seconds chronograph the pair made a few years back using a system Habring developed for IWC in the early '90s. It was Habring who came up with the idea of using a simple Valjoux 7750 as the base chronograph for a highly complex rattrapante. This idea of high complications for the masses is incredibly appealing to me as A) something of a proponent for sharing the love of mechanical watchmaking to as many people as possible; and B) someone who simply can't afford real complications with any great regularity. Habring2 brings things down to affordable levels, and the watch here, the Jumping Second Pilot, is one of their most affordable and most interesting. Actually, last year, my colleagues and I on the jury of the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Geneve voted this very watch as the recipient of the Petite Aiguille Prize for the best watch under CHF 7,500. In 2012, the Doppel 2.0 won at the GPHG for best sports watch. So, while Habring2 isn't a brand known by many, it is one that, within a certain circle, is extremely highly regarded.

Before we break this watch down, what is the Habring2 Jumping Second Pilot? It's a true dead-beat seconds pilots watch that retails for $5,300. Interest piqued? Thought so.


The dial of the Habring2 is incredibly simple. It's black, flat, and 100 percent utilitarian in nature. It features Superluminova-filled Arabic hour markers at the poles, giving it something of an "explorer dial" look. The remaining hours are simple applied hashmarks, and the inner track, Habring2 signature, and outer seconds track are printed on the dial.

The design of this dial reflects the Habrings' approach to watchmaking: a focus on purity, an in this case, to produce a knock-out, dead-beat seconds watch for not very much money. The important thing for the dial here is great legibility (check), easy-to-read seconds marks (check) and supreme functionality over all else (check, check, and check) Do the high contrast, white seconds hands and markers against a matte-black dial make it easy to do all that's necessary here? Sure. Do I wish there was a little more detail and attention to quality paid to this dial? Yes, yes I do. But my complaint about the simplicity of the dial on the Jumping Second will be washed away when we get to the movement section of this story.


The case on this Austrian pilot's watch mimics the bare bones nature of the dial. The entire 42 mm steel body is brushed, with very little attention paid to finishing. There is no polishing, no beveling, nothing that makes a case interesting. And, by no means is this a thin watch. Should a pilot's watch be thin? It doesn't have to be, but nothing says it should be thick, either. The official thickness per Habring2 is 12.5 mm, but it feels thicker still.

The watch does not wear horribly at all, especially considering that this is truly a very casual timepiece. The thick case, flat black dial, and stitched calf leather strap tell me it isn't a piece meant to be worn with a jacket and tie. Though, the day we filmed this, I was indeed wearing a jacket, and though it may not be its natural habitat, the Habring2 Jumping Second Pilot didn't look totally out of place.

But, in the picture above, you can see that my shirt cuff is unbuttoned. Part of that is because I am lazy and rarely button my cuffs, but for the purpose of this story, the truth is the Habring2 would not fit under my shirt cuff if it were buttoned. Maybe my shirt cuffs are too small, or maybe this watch is too thick. Or, maybe this watch wasn't designed to be worn under a shirt cuff.

So, we have a very simple, but effective dial, and a very simple, if thick case. Now, for the movement – this is where things get good.


If there is one thing that Richard and Maria Habring know how to do well, it's making epic freaking movements, and the one found in this watch is just downright a good way. The gear train of the Jumping Second movement is based off the Valjoux 7750. They don't hide it, in fact it's the first thing listed about the movement on the product page. Here, making a movement that works like and functions like this from a 7750 is a badge of honor. There is no PR gaffe here, or naivete, and nobody has this movement except for Habring2.

So, what Habring2 does for its movements, more or less, is (to borrow an analogy from Habring himself) "[take] a hamburger, remove the bun, add a slice of cheese, and close it back up again." Here, the rotor of the 7750 is gone. Instead, you have a genius, completely in-house-designed and produced dead beat seconds module that allows the watch to tick as if it were a quartz watch.

Dead beat watches date back to the time of Breguet, but most famously were used in the 1940s and '50s for their accuracy and ease of reading. Rolex's Tru-Beat is one example, and more recently, the Grönefelds revived interest in this concept with their One Hertz watch.  A dead beat seconds was famously used by those in the medical profession because it was easiest to take a pulse, but now this complication is all about precision timekeeping. The Habrings fell into this idea of a simple complication when they were able to acquire around 100 movements from a defunct manufacture called Chézard, which was responsible for making most of the jumping seconds movements of the 20th century. When Habring2 launched this model using the Chézard ebauches, the success was so overwhelming that they decided to make their own version of the concept, which you see above.

But, what makes this watch so interesting is that the dead beat seconds mechanism is a module. Just like the Doppel chronograph is a module. If you wanted, for example, the Doppel 3.0 with a calendar mechanism, you could have it. It would require sandwiching the modules together. The same could be true of the Doppel 3.0 with a center minutes hand, or other variations. You can even have this watch, the Jumping Second Pilot, with a self-winding rotor, or big-date. The Habrings genuinely believe in modular construction, which allows them to create complications as they like without having to start from scratch. It is what allows Habring to make $10,000 mono-pusher split seconds chronographs and $5,300 dead beat seconds watches. Oh, that and absolutely not a single dollar spent on advertising or public relations.

However, it is modular construction that make their watches 12.5 mm thick. It is the modular construction that makes some purist collectors turn up their noses at Habring2, despite the obvious appeal to real watch lovers. So, this movement is fantastic looking, incredibly precise (see the video to see what I mean) and remarkably well priced. So it's not a manufacture movement, but the module is in-house, and it's downright brilliant.


Nothing is perfect. Habring2 spent so much time and effort producing a simply incredible movement at a great price that I feel the overall package and desirability of the watch suffers a bit. The case is too thick for my liking. The dial, a little too flat. If they were both even just 20 percent sleeker, I'd probably own this watch. I liked it enough to cast my vote for it in last year's GPHG because it represents a truly next level understanding of complications and what people actually want in their watches. But, even when function is flawless like it is in this instance, one can not ignore form. I'm not saying the case and dial are bad. But they're certainly not great, and for an independent trying to compete for watch lovers' time, attention, and dollars, I think they should be. However, at $5,300 for a dead beat seconds watch from a true independent with incredible pedigree, can I really complain about the case and dial?

Head-to Head Breakdown

What is funny about this comparison of three independent watches using outsourced movements is that in the three categories that we really focused on, there were clear winners. That does necessarily mean there was a clear favorite, however.


We all agreed that Stepan Sarpaneva's masterful, layered lattice dial was clearly the most interesting and most well executed dial of the bunch. Granted, all dials are very different, but dialwork is one of Sarpaneva's calling cards and this was really impressive.


Here, again, Sarpaneva was the favorite. Speake-Marin was close behind, but the supreme wearabiity of the Finn's watch elevated it above the Brit's Serpent Calendar. The finishing on the Speake-Marin was quite nice, but those lugs are really love/hate. The Sarpaneva's case is just as interesting without being so polarizing. The Habring2 case was a distant third in this category, but then again, their watch costs half the price.


Finally, Habring2 takes a win in the movement category. We all talked for a while about this, and while the finishing and modifications on the Speake-Marin are truly exceptional, we felt that the Habring2 is really something just totally different. There is nobody out there like them, producing movements this interesting or this accurate with a total disregard for the traditional tenets of what makes movements desirable. The dead beat mechanism on this 7750 is just plain awesome, and we were all blown away by its precision.


At the end of the day, all three of these watches have a lot to offer. If you're a gear-head, the Habring2 is your watch. If you're a style and design guy, it's the Sarpaneva. If you want traditional watchmaking with traditional fit and finish, it's the Speake-Marin. Ultimately, though it didn't stand out in any of the three categories, we all felt the Speake-Marin might actually be the most complete overall package.

Unlike the three pieces we showed you in our first head-to-head-to-head comparisonwhich were really very similar pieces, the Speake-Marin, Habring2, and Sarpaneva are very different watches fighting the same fight, and that's for the independent spirit and craftsmanship in an industry dominated by giant luxury conglomerates. None of these brands spend millions on marketing, none have celebrity ambassadors, and the way they survive is by people like us, like you, bucking the norm of buying something from your corner shop and taking the time to learn about the men and women behind the brands. Every watch featured here will go through the hands of person whose name is on the dial, and that is beautiful, and rare. Sarpaneva, Speake-Marin, and the Habrings all happen to be wonderful, warm, interesting, and engaging people, so in addition to buying a watch, you might just end up with a new friend if you choose to go down the road of purchasing an independent timepiece. They also prove that exclusive, high-end independent timepieces don't have to cost as much as a (very expensive) car. So, while Dufour, Journe, Ferrier, and Voutilainen offer something exceptional in this world, the spirit here is very much the same.