Although there is no consensus in the watch world on who coined the term “microbrand” or even when it first appeared, most experts agree that the label can be discouraging.
“There remains a stigma from a day when lower-priced watches were of lesser quality,” said Zach Weiss, co-founder and editor of Worn & Wound, the online watch publication often credited with helping to give rise to the microbrand category.
“If anyone uses the term ‘microbrand’ with disdain today, it’s more that they’re being a snob,” he said over the phone. “There’s so much energy and ingenuity that comes out of that scene.”
So here are 10 small brands that are well regarded in the watch community. Some may no longer qualify as micro-brands, due to their growth in production, their expansion into high-end timepieces, or the artisanal techniques they use to differentiate their watches in an increasingly crowded field. But all 10 are run by passionate owners who got their start in the micro-space and say they remain committed to direct-to-consumer sales.
Since launching its first watch in 2018, this Glasgow-based brand, whose watches start at around 1,950 euros or $2,250, has become sought after for its vitreous enamel dials, often in vibrant colors like plum and teal. (“Some of the best high-quality enamels in the price category,” said Teddy Baldassarre, a watch reviewer, in a recent YouTube video.)
The brand’s founder, Lewis Heath, is a former architect and product designer who named the company after Loch an Ordain, a lake in the Scottish Highlands where his family vacationed.
In February, he told the Scottish watches podcast that he decided to get into enameling after visiting a local mint, where he saw a poppy coin rendered in enamel.
“I thought if we could integrate that with a design that I enjoy, then we might be onto something,” Mr Heath said.
In 2009, Bradley Price, a New York-based product designer, decided to combine the skills he had learned working on consumer products such as electronics with his passion for vintage cars.
“I realized it would be cool to have instrument-inspired watches that would be significantly cheaper than what the established Swiss brands were making,” Price, now based in Dobbs Ferry, NY, said over the phone. “So I started developing my own designs.”
In 2011, Mr. Price introduced his Autodromo brand with a $425 watch featuring a Swiss-made quartz movement. “Then I started moving into mechanics and learning more about the culture around watches, as opposed to just design,” he said.
Among the first companies to use Seiko’s Meca-Quartz VK series of movements, which combine battery-powered quartz technology with a mechanical chronograph module, Autodromo has a reputation for making reliable, cutting-edge timepieces. This year, the brand announced plans to introduce a $595 watch that pays homage to its first Meca-Quartz model.
“The question I always ask myself is ‘What’s next? “, Mr. Price said. “I can’t predict these things five years in advance. We have strong sales, strong followings. I’m not trying to become an empire.
The rise of this Paris-based brand embodies the success sought by many micro-brands. Founded in 2017 by Etienne Malec as a tribute to his father, a passionate collector, Baltic began with a Kickstarter Campaign which focused on its “neo-vintage watches assembled in France”.
The brand made a first impression on Mr. Weiss by equipping its Bicompax 001 model with a Chinese-made Seagull ST19 caliber, “a very cool movement based on an old hand-wound Venus chronograph – the only way to get a chronograph very affordable mechanical movement,” Mr. Weiss said.
With designs inspired by the heyday of mid-century mechanical watchmaking priced well under $1,000, Baltic has steadily increased its reputation and influence in the watchmaking world. “Last year they had an Only Watch watch that sold for around $50,000,” Mr Weiss said, referring to the biennial Only Watch charity auction that sells unique timepieces to benefit the fight. against Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
“They got a lot of early buzz and kept their momentum going,” Mr. Weiss said. “Now they are launching watches and they are selling out immediately.”
Brew Watch Co.
Jonathan Ferrer, a New York-based industrial designer, founded Brew Watch Co. in 2015 as a tribute to barista culture. “The idea was to enjoy your time over coffee,” he said over the phone, recalling the many hours he spent dreaming of starting his own brand while working in cafes.
Mr. Ferrer designed his first watch, a $275 cushion-shaped chronograph featuring a movement provided by Swiss manufacturer Ronda and “many components made in Hong Kong,” and promoted it on Kickstarter. He credits early advice from a fellow watch designer with helping him differentiate his brand.
“He said to me, ‘We make these round white watches with no identity, so if you want to come out the door strong, have a signature look,'” Mr. Ferrer recalled. the idea was to have a recognizable silhouette.
This first year, Mr. Ferrer made about 200 pieces. This year, he said he expects to be closer to 10,000.
“I always take every watch under scrutiny and make sure everything is perfectly aligned,” he said.
By the ambiguous standards that define a microbrand, this British watchmaker, founded in 2005 by three friends – Mike France, Peter Ellis and Chris Ward – “from a converted chicken coop on a Berkshire farm”, according to the brand’s website, may not qualify, given both the size and quality of its output.
“They’re a capital B brand at this point,” Mr. Weiss said. “But they are a pioneer in space. They are stubbornly on their direct-to-consumer model, which may have limited their exposure in many ways, but they offer real value. They became experts in making sapphire dials.
Watches with playful color combinations and Swiss mechanical movements – like a water-green dial paired with a brown leather strap on an automatic dual-time watch – are the hallmark of this growing British micro brand, founded in 2015 by Ben Lewin, Jono Holt, Paul Sweetenham and Stuart Finlayson.
When Ming Thien, a Malaysian photographer and designer, brought together five watch enthusiasts into a watch collective in 2017, their guiding principle was to produce watches designed in Kuala Lumpur and made in Switzerland at prices that “remain accessible to a wider audience. “, according to the brand About the section on its website.
Over the next five years, Ming produced watches ranging from around 1,950 Swiss francs (about $2,030) to over 50,000 francs. What unites them is their unavailability: the 18 watches presented at the end of last month in the “Special Projects Cave” section of Ming’s website were sold out.
“Monta broke the mould,” said Rich Park, the founder of Los Angeles-based MicroLux watch shows, referring to the St. Louis microbrand.
“In 2018 they sent me a watch for review, the Oceanking, which used an Eterna movement,” Mr Park recalls. “They charged about $3,500 for it and they just got ripped off on all the forums: ‘For $3,500 I could have an Oris.’ ‘How dare you?’ But they believed in their watches.
A number of watch collectors and commentators are also fond of Monta for his vision of what they call “valuable luxury”.
“You basically get very similar specs to a luxury watch but at half the price,” said Dr. Nathaniel DeNicola, a Southern California-based obstetrician who collects microbrands. “Once you get above $1,500, you approach that range. But when you look at Monta’s rhodium-plated hands, overall finish and quality, it feels like you’ve got a watch that does double that.
Oak & Oscar
On her Chicago-based brand About Pagefounder Chase Fancher sums up what it means to own a micro-brand: “Founder, capital put-er-upper, risk-taker and the guy who makes the coffee and pours the bourbon in the store.”
The seven-year-old brand, whose mascot, Oscar, is Mr Fancher’s mischievous water dog, auctioned off a one-of-a-kind Olmsted watch on a blue and yellow canvas strap on its website in early March, to raise funds to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. At the eleventh hour, a final anonymous bidder paid $12,500 for the piece.
William Wood Watches
In 2017, Jonny Garrett, a London-based banker, began spending nights and weekends in a WeWork space next to St. Paul’s Cathedral, building a brand of watches named after his late grandfather. who had been a firefighter.
William Wood Watches, which celebrated its fifth anniversary in February, makes watches with genuine recycled firefighting materials, including colorful straps made from old pipes.
“Our mandate is to ensure that over the next five years we become the official watchdog for fire departments around the world,” Garrett said by telephone.
“A brand like Breitling could do that, but authenticity and history rooted in our heritage is what sets us apart.”