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Article: A look into Microbrands

A look into Microbrands
mechanical watch

A look into Microbrands

 A recent trend has emerged in the realm of watchmaking—an increased fascination with watches, particularly mechanical ones, globally. An unexpected trend, almost pushing back against the explosion of smart watches and devices- a return to mechanical, small scale or handmade items. The online domain has transformed into a realm ripe for exploration by various entrepreneurial endeavours and creative minds alike, leveraging its vast possibilities. From this we have seen a surge of small watch brands emerge, while some inevitably fade away quickly, many have flourished. Some notable catalysts driving this transformation are the rise of the direct-to-consumer distribution model, eliminating intermediaries, the phenomenon of crowdfunding, and access to manufacturers and sourcing of parts via the internet.


There been a notable proliferation of watch brands across the spectrum, spanning from highly technical to purely commercial. We've curated a selection of 30 noteworthy presentations from around the globe. Are you prepared to join us on this exploration?


Exploring Micro Watch Brands: A Unique Horizon in Timekeeping

Diving into the realm of micro watch brands unveils a fascinating world of boutique watchmaking enterprises navigating the vast seas of the global market. In times past, these enterprises might have struggled to gain visibility and market traction. However, evolving commercial distribution dynamics have not only granted watch enthusiasts a global perspective on the industry but have also empowered them to discover, purchase, and receive unique timepieces from small workshops worldwide.


Microbrands distinguish themselves by their size, crafting limited series that, usually once sold out, become rare finds, primarily available in the second-hand market. Typically, these brands acquire movements from specialized manufacturers, overseeing their integration into watch designs, and often adding custom touches. Some microbrands go a step further, personalizing movements obtained from leading manufacturers, predominantly Swiss and Japanese, with transparent glass backs to showcase intricate modifications to bridges, main plates, and rotors, especially in automatic watches. In exceptional cases, certain microbrands even venture into creating their own movements, earning them the title of watchmaking ateliers. Generally, though, companies big enough to fund their own watch calibre fall outside of what we would call a microbrand.


When it comes to pricing, the microbrand landscape varies, offering both affordable and higher-end options. Nevertheless, most independent watch brands within this niche strive to provide an excellent price-to-quality ratio, appealing to the discerning tastes of horology enthusiasts.


Assessing the Value of Microbrand Watches

Determining whether microbrand watches are worth the investment hinges on individual motivations and expectations. Passion and perceived or anticipated value are the driving factors behind every timepiece purchase. While the world of watch speculation is commonly associated with major brands, it also extends to certain microbrands, recognized by the public for delivering exceptional value and unique pieces.


On the value front, consider the example of Ming watches, released in limited series and renowned for selling out within minutes due to the company's recognition as the "best newcomer of the year" at the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève in 2019. These watches, highly sought after, often command premium prices in the second-hand market, mirroring the scarcity-driven value dynamics seen in established brands like Rolex.


Conversely, some lesser-known microbrands may not enjoy the same speculative reputation. Buying their watches may not yield the same "investment" value, but it offers the advantage of obtaining exceptional timepieces at a price unheard of from major brands. There is to the fact that you are getting, what is by nature of microbrands, a limited-edition watch, and furthermore you are supporting small business, creativity and innovation.


Ultimately, the decision to invest in a microbrand watch rests with the individual buyer. If the watch resonates with personal taste and aligns with perceived value, then the answer is a resounding yes.


Navigating the Vast World of Watch Brands: A Microbrand Buying Guide

In a market teeming with hundreds of watch brands, selecting the perfect timepiece becomes a formidable task. The term "microbrand" adds to the complexity, encompassing both artisanal creations produced in limited quantities for an exclusive few, such as Roger Smith's twelve meticulously crafted pieces each year, and industrially manufactured watches by companies achieving international acclaim, like Christopher Ward.


Among the myriad microbrands, some have risen to prominence on a global scale, boasting production outputs in the tens of thousands. Notably, Christopher Ward stands out as an example of a microbrand that has successfully reached widespread recognition.


Featured below are 30 microbrands (in alphabetical order) that contribute to the diverse landscape of the global watch market. Our curated selection, by no means exhaustive, aims to spotlight distinctive features that may set these brands apart from their more renowned counterparts. Join us as we present our comprehensive microbrand watches buying guide, offering insights into unique timepieces that may introduce you to innovations not commonly found in the offerings of celebrated major brands.


  1. AnOrdain

AnOrdain, a distinguished micro-brand originating from Scotland, specifically Glasgow, is celebrated for its distinctive personality. Specializing in dress watches featuring clean, essential lines reminiscent of Bauhaus aesthetics, these timepieces boast meticulous enamelling of the dial and exquisite finishing of the hands. AnOrdain's commitment to craftsmanship elevates its watches to a level that exceeds their affordable price.


  1. Baltic

Embracing the prevailing vintage trend in contemporary watchmaking, Baltic, a thriving French micro-brand, presents impeccable re-editions of 1950s and 1960s classics. These watches, adorned with intricate details, evoke a sense of nostalgia, blurring the line between new and vintage. With competitive prices and reliable Chinese movements, Baltic's Aquascaphe emerges as an exceptional skin diver.


  1. BOLDR Watches

A dynamic Singapore-based company, BOLDR Watches actively produces military-inspired timepieces that marry aesthetics with practicality. These watches, boasting impressive looks and excellent value, find a perfect home on the wrists of adventurers, seamlessly transitioning from urban to outdoor environments.


  1. Borealis

For enthusiasts of visually appealing homages with a predominantly vintage vibe, Borealis offers an attractive option. While attention to minute details, finishing, and straps could see improvements, the overall quality of these watches is commendable. Borealis ensures affordability without compromising on style.


  1. Christopher Ward

Once a microbrand, Christopher Ward has evolved into a macro brand, producing around 20,000 pieces annually. Since its emergence in 2004, Christopher Ward has been a trailblazer in the worldwide watchmaking phenomenon. With exquisite designs originating in the UK and meticulous craftsmanship in Switzerland.


  1. Damasko

Despite its peculiar name, Damasko, a German microbrand, originated as a supplier of high-tech components for Sinn, drawing from extensive experience in aerospace materials. Evolving to create beautiful watches in the German Flieger style, Damasko has ventured into crafting its own movements. The brand's standout feature is the excellent price-to-quality ratio offered by its timepieces.


  1. Dan Henry

Rooted in the story of a watch collector with a passion for vintage timepieces, Dan Henry's creations are authentic re-editions of watchmaking classics. Often featuring modern upgrades and quartz movements, these watches exude timeless class at remarkably affordable prices.


  1. Direnzo

Direnzo Watches, a Swiss brand founded in 2016 by Sergio Godoy Di Renzo, seeks to revive the timeless classic looks of racing-inspired mechanical watches from the 1960s. Offering a blend of innovation and classic style, we recommend exploring their DRZ 04 models for a captivating experience.


  1. Draken

Conceived by Michael Blythe, a South African turned New Zealander, Draken Watches specializes in crafting sturdy, sporty tool watches with a unique spirit. Free from homages or copies, Draken timepieces boast excellent aesthetics, reasonable prices, and impeccable finishing. 


  1. Farer

Hailing from the UK, Farer has mastered the art of revamping classic twentieth-century British designs. Infused with contrasting colour touches, Farer's watches blend innovation with vintage charm, offering a truly unique style that sets them apart. The Pembroke, a field watch with a contrasting circle dial and intriguing pointer date, is a standout piece.


  1. Formex

Bridging the gap between Swiss micros and larger brands, Formex, active since the last century, has established itself with a loyal fan base. Known for sporty, often COSC-certified timepieces, Formex watches exhibit a flicker of creative design, making them noteworthy in the world of microbrands.


  1. Halios

Originating from Canada in 2009, Halios, a micro-brand deeply connected to the passion of watch collectors, presents diver and sports watch models with a distinct 1960s style. Characterized by impeccable finishing, Halios watches quickly sell out, requiring time and luck for enthusiasts to secure their next coveted piece.


  1. Hemel

Based in New York since 2012, Hemel Watches, founded by Dutch-American Marvin Menkle, focuses on crafting aviation-themed chronograph timepieces with a vintage vibe.


  1. Houtman Watches

Houtman, originating from Western Australia, draws inspiration from the vast and beautiful outback. Launched in 2019, Houtman delivers a solid collection with subtle design cues and outstanding value for price. Featuring dive watches like the Pilbara Series and field/dress style watches like the Murchison series, Houtman's offerings are a fusion of excellence in materials and unbeatable value.

 Aviator flieger watch microbrand watch swiss automatic

  1. LIV Watches

LIV Watches, a star-studded micro-brand, has made a mark in crowdsourcing by offering sporty chronographs and diver watches. Known for their remarkable quality and Swiss production, LIV Watches maintain an excellent relationship with customers.


  1. Matthew and Son (MAS) Watches:

MAS Watches, an Australian microbrand, curates a delightful range of dive, dress, and pilot watches, all equipped with automatic movements. A standout in their collection is the Irukandji, embodying the essence of microbrand creativity and offering well-priced timepieces.


  1. Melbourne Watch Company

Hailing from Australia, the Melbourne Watch Company, founded by Sujain Krishnan, caters to the new generation of urbanites seeking alternatives to traditional brands.


  1. Ming

Ming, a Malaysian watchmaker crafting designs but producing in Switzerland, has swiftly risen to international acclaim. While not without a few imperfections, Ming's exclusive and highly successful timepieces, like the GPHG award-winning 17.06 Copper, shine brightly. These exquisite pieces, though challenging to find, are worth the premium they command on the second-hand market.


  1. Mitch Mason

Mitch Mason, a Singapore-based brand, endeavours to revive the classic elegance of 1950s timepiece design. Combining this vintage aesthetic with modern materials and technologies results in a microbrand that offers a superb fusion at an appreciable, affordable price point.


  1. Mr Jones Watches

From the heart of London, Mr Jones Watches challenges the conventional with timepieces designed to spark conversations. Going beyond the ordinary, these wrist objects tell time through distinctive graphics and displays. Ideal for those in a creative mood, Mr Jones Watches ensure you stand out and get noticed.


  1. NTH

NTH, a U.S. microbrand passionately embracing the vintage vibe. Reviews attest to their pursuit of excellence to the NTH degree. With scuba-oriented designs, meticulous attention to detail, and a vast lineup, NTH caters to diverse tastes, making it a go-to for every watch aficionado.


  1. Lum-tec

Lum-Tec, as the name suggests, focuses on extreme luminescence, thanks to an impressive 8-layer coating of Luminova. Beyond the glow, these watches present masculine, military-styled designs with both vintage and innovative elements. Lum-Tec timepieces, unforgettable in every aspect, offer enlightenment at a price that pleasantly surprises.


  1. Ocean Crawler

Ocean Crawler, an American microbrand, specializes in vintage-style diver watches, echoing the Seventies era. Noteworthy for their excellent price-to-quality ratio and high-level finishes.


  1. RZE

Hailing from Singapore and born out of Travis Tan's experience with BOLDR, RZE Watches hits the adventurer niche. Crafted with high-tech materials like titanium, RZE's diverse offerings cater to urban and outdoor enthusiasts alike.


  1. Second Hour Watches

Founded in Melbourne in 2019, Second Hour Watches, a husband-and-wife team, creates a range of dive, field, and dress watches. Predominantly featuring automatic movements, their upcoming quartz model in a rectangular case adds a modern touch to their timeless collection.


  1. Serica

A Swiss made, French based watch company – Serica has a strong design language, are well made and comfortable. Offering GMT, dive and field style watches, Serica have a cohesive collection for all occasions.


  1. Signum

Established in 2020 by the Owner/Designer of Straton Watch Co., Signum Watch Co. aims to create wrist experiences through unique dials, peculiar materials, and unbridled creativity. Despite being a recent microbrand, Signum offers experiences that are unbelievably low-priced, making them a delightful choice.


  1. Squale

With a rich history in case manufacturing, Squale has evolved into a reputable manufacturer for diver's watches. Offering extraordinary class and personality, Squale's timepieces draw inspiration from the golden age of diver watches in the Sixties.


  1. Straton

Since its inception in 2015, Straton has been a reliable supplier of 1970s-inspired racing chronographs. Founded on the owner Kyle Strut's obsession with delivering the best, Straton's timepieces consistently stand a notch above the rest, combining affordability with quality.


  1. Zelos

A Singapore-based manufacturer, Zelos has earned a reputation for remarkable quality in diver's watches. Their original style, is characterized by a solid and sturdy look. Zelos timepieces, with a keen focus on dial aesthetics, promise a visual treat with contrasting backgrounds and indexes.

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