A Cadre Of Swiss Industry Veterans For A New Independent

The watch world is small enough – and the concept of a “secret” is often so loosely followed… that you probably already know some of this story. But as of today – March 11th – we finally get to see the first watch from a new United States-based independent brand called Fleming, the “Series 1 Launch Edition.” The time-only dress watch, made with Swiss partners, is the first in a line of three watches already in various stages of planning from the brand. And while you might not know the name “Fleming,” you may know some of the people behind this new brand. The Fleming Series 1 comes from the mind of young American founder Thomas Fleming, a collector who began dreaming of founding his own brand during the pandemic. To make that dream a reality, Fleming enlisted the help of some of the greats of the Swiss watch industry. He also connected with James Kong, better known by his Instagram handle @waitlisted, who left an 11-year career as a corporate attorney in New York to join Fleming as its COO and art director at the start of 2023. “It’s a project that comes down to passion,” Fleming says. “There are very few brands in the last 50 years that have started and survived more than a few years at any real big scale, so to take something on like this, you have to have a passion for it. And when it came down to it, I thought that because of my passion for watches, it’d be fun to make my own watch. But I also wanted to make sure I thought I had unique concepts for watches and an approach to watchmaking and creating a brand that would be different from anything else out there.” www.highluxurystore.ru

Full disclosure: Kong has worked for Hodinkee as a freelance photographer and is a friend who I met at several New York watch events long before I joined Hodinkee. I connected with Fleming similarly over Instagram, and we started chatting a few years ago. But since day one, I’ve told both that any possible coverage of this launch would be solely predicated on them making a product worth talking about. I certainly think they’ve delivered. The Fleming Series 1 Launch Edition is what I’d consider a perfectly sized modern dress watch. The watch measures 38.5mm wide by 9mm thick (one millimeter of that coming from the dome crystal) with 46.5mm lug-to-lug length and cases made in three materials. Thomas Fleming dialed in the proportions by 3D printing “hundreds of cases” and wore them around to get the dimensions right. The midcase has three parts: brushed top and bottom surfaces, a polished case band, and a skeletonized opening in a horn-shaped lug. The watches will come in tantalum (25 pieces), rose gold (seven numbered pieces), and platinum (nine numbered pieces), with pricing ranging from CHF 45,500 to CHF 51,500. Inside the case is the Caliber FM-01, developed by renowned independent watchmaker Jean-François Mojon and his team at Chronode. The movement features traditional hand-finishing and semi-skeletonized bridges and barrels, allowing you to see how much wind has been given to the two barrels that impart a seven-day power reserve (there’s also a power reserve indicator on the back side of the movement) www.highluxurystore.ru.

The inclusion of Mojon is a real boon for the project – his work is (somewhat quietly, compared to his impact) legendary. From the movements for the MB&F LM01 and MB&F LM02 with Kari Voutilainen to the Harry Winston Opus X, Hermès’ L’Heure de la Lune, Czapek’s Quai des Bergues – the list goes on and on. A similar benefit to the project is the hand-decorated dials made at Comblémine, owned by master watchmaker Kari Voutilainen. The skills of the team there are apparent. The rose gold watch (made in seven numbered pieces) has a mix of hand-hammering on the inner dial and running seconds subdial and a hand-guillochéd outer ring. The platinum model’s dial is solely done in hand-turned guilloché. Finally, the tantalum model will have a dial with a mix of frosted platinum and dark blue aventurine. In addition to those suppliers, the brand gets additional parts from TMH SA in La Chaux-de-Fonds and works with Neodesis in Le Locle on the design. Efetor in Bassecourt, Switzerland, tackled the cases, including those in tantalum. Because of the skeletonized lugs, Fleming told me that no other casemaker thought a tantalum case would be possible.

Finally, and as a comforting bonus from a new brand, Fleming partnered with an insurance provider for one year of complimentary coverage activated at the time of sale with no enrollment or approval needed by the buyer. If the watch sounds more familiar than something made by people you follow on Instagram, there’s a reason. Fleming came out of nowhere last year when three-time Grand Slam finalist – and avid watch enthusiast – Casper Ruud basically “hard launched” the brand at Roland Garros in June 2023. It was a bold move, both for Fleming and Ruud. For Fleming, it was a gamble to speak (even in broad terms) about a brand that didn’t even technically exist and to do so before any guarantees the watch wouldn’t get stuck in the mire of production and parts delays that often hit even major brands – issues that did push back the brand’s official launch by months. The announcement elicited press coverage in the tennis world and a massive response on Instagram, as Rudd shared a post with Fleming with nearly 28,000 likes. It was likely a shock for people following tennis (and Ruud). When Fleming began their collaboration with Ruud in 2023, he was the number two-ranked men’s tennis player in the world, fresh off a season where he made the Grand Slam finals and was the ATP Finals’ runner-up. Undoubtedly, this drew the attention of watch brands who would have happily sponsored him for a chance to show up on his wrist, which would have arguably been the smart choice for Ruud. Instead, Ruud decided to join Fleming before a complete prototype of a single watch even existed and he took a stake in the brand www.highluxurystore.ru.

“We had nothing,” Fleming told me about when he approached Ruud. “All I had were really crude renderings I made myself. But I had to try. One of the first times I remember seeing a watch and paying attention was when I was a kid. I was a huge Rafa [Rafael Nadal] fan, and I saw his Richard Mille and thought it was crazy. The price, sure, but the idea of making a lightweight and advanced watch but with generally already existing technology. As a big tennis and golf fan, I thought, that’s something that I’d like to do too and I started thinking about people I’d love to have as a partner in a dream situation.”

“I tracked both sports and when someone came up that might be a good fit, I took note,” he continued. “You look at what Rolex has done in terms of partnerships, and it’s great. They align themselves with people who lead to a lot of stories behind their watches. I immediately saw Casper as the perfect partner, and since I’m half Norwegian, I really wanted to work with him. But then he started winning a lot, and I figured he’d eventually find a partner, so it was now or never. I sent an email to a contact page on his website so that I couldn’t say I didn’t try. Eventually I heard back from his manager, spoke with him and his family, learned that he’s a watch lover, and that’s how it all started.”

Fleming is also developing, for Ruud, a watch called the “Series 1 Ghost,” an ultra-lightweight version of the Series 1, with some “aesthetic twists” that will keep the general elegance of the Series 1 while being unobtrusive and wearable on the court. That watch will serve as a basic sketch of what the brand hopes to create with the Series 3, a highly shock-resistant and lightweight technical model. It’s a move that makes sense as we’ve seen Rafael Nadal sport a Richard Mille for some time, and recently, De Bethune has gotten into the tennis arena by sponsoring Tommy Paul and Jessica Pegula. In the meantime, work on the Series 2 is well underway. While the Series 1 was always planned as a classic dress watch, the Series 2 will be an integrated-bracelet sports watch from Fleming, designed in collaboration with Emmanuel Gueit. For those who can’t place the name, Gueit was the genius behind the (at the time controversial) Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore design, so it seems the plans are in good hands. As for the Series 1 Launch Edition, the prices are as follows: CHF 45,500 for the tantalum model; CHF 48,500 for the rose gold; and CHF 51,500 for the platinum. The brand anticipates producing around five to 10 pieces per month, with the first deliveries planned for April. At this time, all sales are being done direct, with buyers given 14 days to secure their piece with a 25% deposit and the remaining balance due pre-delivery www.highluxurystore.ru.

If I’m being critical, entering the market at this price point could be challenging. Price is an interesting topic for independents; many upstart independents make very little (if any) profit as they try to get started and entice customers, then raise prices later. Another factor is that, over the last few years, suppliers have seen a massive uptick in demand, which has meant rising prices and, therefore, rising costs for brands that aren’t always passed along to the customers. You could argue that Simon Brette’s Chronomètre Artisans set the bar for independents in this price range last year, providing more value in design and finishing than you often see around $50,000. Fleming is certainly no stranger to that watch – Kong himself was one of the people to support Brette early on by committing to a souscription piece. But Brette’s wait list has stretched to the unobtainable lengths we see with watchmakers like Rexhep Rexhepi, Roger Smith, or Kari Voutilainen. His prices have also nearly doubled for his precious metal watches. Fleming has said that while they’ve sunk a lot of money into design and R&D on things like their cases, this is the price you can expect from them long term – no “surprise” increases will come if the watch is a success.

Sure, $50,000 is a lot of money no matter which way you slice it, but by choosing to focus their first watch around the FM-01 movement, plus the high-end finishing and dial work of Comblémine, the brand brings something different to the table instead of going directly head-to-head with the options already on the market. The choice to use so many notable names in the industry should do a lot to comfort buyers on the fence as well.

After hearing about the project for more than two years, I’ve been very anxious to see the final product in person. Despite a level of anticipation that can often lead to disappointment, the watch exceeded my expectations. From the front, the materials and textures on the dial, mixed with a more modern case shape, provide a combination that you don’t really see on other independents. Of the two versions I saw (the tantalum was unfortunately tied up in Switzerland), the rose gold model is far and away my favorite; the dial matched the case wonderfully. In some ways, it’s classic yet eye-catching; in other ways, it’s modern yet not over-the-top. The watch reminds me a little bit of Kari Voutilainen’s 28Sport (not surprising, given where the dials are made) but dressed up a bit with the high-polish applied indices and lack of lume and with a more refined case shape. The skeletonized spider lugs not only are a nice design element but elegantly integrate into the midcase. With many independents, you’ll see movement designs done in ways that allow certain finishing styles to reign supreme. Some brands skeletonize their movements to the extreme to show off anglage as an added value to outsourced movements. Other brands will design their movements in-house and have nice full surfaces for Côtes de Genève with deep angles on the side (I’m thinking of the Chronomètre Contemporain here). With Fleming’s Series 1, you can immediately see that the double barrel design limits their ability to take either path. While the FM-01 movement doesn’t have the deepest anglage, it strikes a nice balance of hand finishing with technical watchmaking with an aesthetically interesting and relatively modern design. Finally, for some inexplicable reason, the Series 1 is one of the most comfortable-wearing watches I can remember recently. Maybe it’s the way the slightly longer lug length balances out the 38.5mm case. My only hope is that the Series 1 may eventually be made in a more affordable case material (like stainless steel or, in the case of the forthcoming Ghost, I’d guess we’d see titanium), which could be the key to Fleming unlocking a wider audience (like myself) www.highluxurystore.ru.

In that vein, Fleming shared a few other future projects they have planned at varying price points, things that – if they come to fruition – should result in a well-rounded brand with offerings for a large number of buyers. But until then, I can’t fault Fleming for taking the path they’ve done from the beginning; if you’re going to make your dream watch, dream big.