You already know about watch brands like Rolex, Omega, or Panerai. These are brands with a tremendous horological history, and even non-watch lovers recognize them on sight. But, what if you want something truly unique? That’s where watch microbrands come in.
The big names offer recognition, but boutique watchmicrobrands create high-quality timepieces that few people in the world will own.
Microbrands have taken the watch world by storm over the last few years. Everywhere you look, you will see new microbrands pop up that offer exclusive timepieces with unique designs at different price points. However, not all microbrands are created equally.
In this article, we’ll take a brief look at what a watch microbrand is and dive deeper into some of the best independent brands that offer rare, exquisitely-produced timepieces.
What is a Watch Microbrand?
A microbrand is an independent watch brand that focuses on creating well-made but unique timepieces aimed at die-hard watch enthusiasts. By definition, microbrands are small-scale, boutique operations that only produce a few hundred timepieces every year, which makes them quite exclusive.
It’s almost always watch enthusiasts who start microbrands. That’s often manage to offer a breath of fresh air into the sometimes stagnating world of watches while still maintaining a standard of quality. When you choose a watch from a microbrand, you effectively support fellow watch enthusiasts in their entrepreneurial endeavors.
Microbrands don’t usually produce all of their own parts, but they know how to source them reliably, choosing quality movements from companies like Seiko or ETA. They also usually pay attention to small details in the case finishing and the straps. Overall, with indie brands, you get a watch that has thought put into every aspect of it.
The reason microbrands can offer high-quality timepieces at relatively affordable prices is their distribution model. They offer their products directly to customers through their online shops or funding platforms like Kickstarter. This way, they can cut marketing and distribution costs and offer their watches at competitive prices.
Now that we have established how these independent watch brands operate let’s have a deeper look at some of the best watch microbrands you should look for.
After inheriting his father’s watch collection and an accompnying journal full of details about each timepiece, Etienne Malec decided to establish Baltic. The name is an homage to his father’s Polish roots in the Baltic Sea.
The brand launched its first release in 2017 through Kickstarter. The successful release consisted of the HMS 001 and the Bicompax 001, both inspired by watches from the 1940s.
However, Baltic’s first big hit was the Aquascaphe, a vintage-inspired dive watch with a unique design, excellent proportions, and phenomenal build quality. This moderately-sized dive watch quickly became one of the most recognizable and coveted indie watches in the market.
Baltic has since expanded its lineup to include watches made of bronze and watches with GMT complications. All Baltic watches are assembled in their workshop in Besançon, France, by trained watchmakers. A combination of unique designs, high-quality parts, and competitive prices make it one of the best indie watch brands at this price-point.
Farer is a unique British boutique watch brand. Its price points are pretty high, but the quality of its watches rival that of Swiss-made ones in the same price range. The brand’s other distinct trait is its eccentric combinations of vibrant colors. If your collection needs a standout timepiece that most people won’t have seen, Farer might be for you.
One of its most well-known timepieces is the Bernina Chronograph Sport. It was unveiled in the 2019 Bernina Gran Turismo, a famous race through the Swiss Alps. The watch’s appearance stands out with its stunning color combination of white and red. Its build quality is also top-notch, and it’s equipped with a manual-winding chronograph movement by Sellita.
Another great option, especially for travelers, is the Roché World Timer. The watch’s uniqueness comes from the disc on the dial that indicates the timezones of 24 cities worldwide. The disc is also fully coated in Super-LumiNova, in order to glow in the dark. The watch is also equipped with high-quality, well-decorated movement from ETA.
Zelos is a Singapore-based watch microbrand founded in 2014 by watch enthusiast Elshan Tang. The brand’s goal is to produce value-oriented dive watches with intricate designs. Although Zelos has several models and a mass volume of watches, its timepieces are designed and manufactured with attention to detail.
Their quintessential offering for a dive watch is the Mako. Now in its third iteration, the Mako features a case made of titanium with additional scratch resistance, 300 m of water resistance, and very wearable dimensions. The bezel on the watch is either titanium or ceramic, and it is equipped with a high-quality Japanese Miyota movement.
Since Zelos has branched its collection outside of dive watches, the Horizons GMT lineup has been one of its most exciting offerings. With a plethora of design options, including watches made of bronze, you will definitely find one to your liking. The watches feature the same build quality as other Zelos timepieces and an excellent ETA 2893 movement with a GMT complication.
©Astor and Banks
Astor and Banks was created in 2012 by self-proclaimed watch nerd Andrew Perez, who first fell in love with watches as a child, inspired by his dad’s Timex Indiglo. The brand is based in Chicago, and all of its watches are assembled in the US.
The brand currently sells two lineups: the Fortitude and the Sea Ranger. The Fortitude is a tool watch inspired by Officer’s watches with strong antimagnetic properties. There is also the Fortitude Lite, which is aimed more towards the general public. Its slimmer case design and unique color options will suit everyones’ tastes, including women.
On the other hand, The Sea Ranger is a very interesting option if you’re looking for a dive watch. It’s well-priced, with very wearable dimensions, robust build quality with 300 m water resistance, and the reliable Sellita SW200 movement beating inside.
©Formex Watch SA
Formex is one of the brands that can barely be called a microbrand at this point, though it’s still an independent operation. Established in 1999, Formex is a Swiss watch brand based in Biel, Switzerland, that produces watches with a strong connection to the world of motorsports. However, the brand’s big hit, which has made it one of the most famous watch microbrands, was its Essence model.
The Essence deviates from the brand’s previous designs and provides an excellent sports watch for everyday usage with a few dial options to choose from. It also features significant technical innovations, including a suspension system on the watch case to protect the movement from impact. Formex offers the Essence with a Sellita SW200-1 movement, and you can also opt for the COSC certified one for better timekeeping.
Another great option from Formex is the Reef, an officially certified divers watch with 300 m of water resistance. It also features an automatic movement from Sellita and an interchangeable ceramic bezel. Additionally, all of Formex’s bracelets and straps feature its unique adjusting mechanism and a quick-release mechanism to swap them around easily.
anOrdain is an independent Scottish watch brand that specializes in enamel dials. Enameling is a very complicated and time-consuming process that involves fusing metals like copper or silver with glass. anOrdain, with its team of 15 designers and watchmakers, is able to provide watches with stunning enamel dials at a very competitive price.
The brand’s lineup currently consists of only one watch, the Model 1, which comes in several different dials with different types of enamel. The opaque vitreous enamel dials of the Model 1 come in a plethora of colors and make it an ideal everyday watch. On the other hand, the fumé enamel dials are unique and make for a more dressy timepiece.
Apart from the dial differences, every Model 1 has the same case design and the same reliable ETA 2824-2 movement inside. It also has a relatively small case size of 38 mm, which makes it an ideal size for both men and women.
Watch Microbrands Are Here to Stay
Overall, we think that watch microbrands offer something truly special. They may not have the brand recognition of companies like Rolex, but in a way that’s what makes independently-made timepieces exciting. They’re constructed with high-quality materials and specifications, and they usually cost less than what an established brand would charge.
Not to mention that most microbrands are created by watch enthusiasts for watch enthusiasts - muchlike Operandi Firenze. You get to support real, passionate people just like you when you buy a unique indie watch.
So, go out there, support your favorite watch microbrand, and don’t forget to keep an eye on the time!
Cover photo: ©anOrdain