Small watch companies are increasingly popular and the unique microbrand watches they produce are creating some real competition for more established brands. So before you go out and pick up that well-known Rolex, Omega or TAG Heuer, it might be worth your while to check out some watchmakers you’ve probably never even heard of. Let’s take a closer look at what microbrands watches are, and the best watches they are offering.
What Are Microbrand Watches?
The somewhat nebulous term “microbrand” can be loosely used to apply to a lot of goods and services (such as a microbrewery for example). But in general, it means a company that only produces a small amount of inventory, usually in the range of 300 to 2,000 pieces a year. These items are most often sold directly to the consumer through the websites of the companies, causing a flurry of serious competition for the massive platforms like Amazon. You can also sometimes find microbrands in select retail spaces.
In general, microbrand products are more affordable than offerings from luxury brands. This is especially true with microbrand watches. Also when it comes to watches, the microbrands will many times only do a portion of the work in-house, such as cases, dials, and straps, and outsource the movements to big brands like Citizen, Swatch or Seiko.
Why Would You Want Microbrand Watches?
Exclusivity is one of the main driving factors in the purchase of a microbrand watch. If you’re looking for an instantly recognizable status piece, you’re probably going to want to get a brand that people know and hold in high regard. You drop a Rolex Datejust on your wrist and folks tend to notice quite quickly. They also have a pretty good idea of the amount of cash you plunked down for that fancy status symbol.
But chances are that very few people will recognize the name of microbrand watches. This sets you apart from the pack and garners admiration for originality, especially if it’s an eye-catching watch that exudes the same aesthetics as established brands. Another reason is quality. Microbrands often have the same Swiss movements, sapphire crystals, and high-quality stainless steel cases found with well-known watches.
What Are the Best Microbrand Watches?
Whew, that’s a big question. With so many new watch companies out there (and more popping up each day!), it’s hard to proclaim the “best.” But we can look to the microbrands that are popular and have earned serious praise from true watch aficionados. Below are our top 5 picks.
With a debut in 2009, Halios was at the forefront of the microbrand watch surge of late. Over the past decade, they have garnered respect for producing high-quality timepieces at affordable prices. They’re best known for their dive watches that draw inspiration from the timepieces of the 1960s, specifically their Seaforth model. Halios is a small operation, helmed in Vancouver by Jason Lim, who keeps the prices of his creations under $1,000, no small feat considering they use high-quality movements sourced from Japan or Switzerland.
This is another of the more established microbrands on the scene. Under the banner “British Design x Swiss Made,” vintage-inspired watches are manufactured in London with Roventa-Henex Swiss movements. Featuring sapphire crystals, high-grade metals and luxurious leather straps, GMTs, chronographs and minimalist three-hand models are sold in the $500 to $2,000 price range. One Farer’s of their most popular watches, the Farer Barnato II, is a real retro and back-to-basics timepiece that’s also one of their lowest-priced wares.
3: Christopher Ward
Another microbrand from England, Christopher Ward launched in 2004 in Maidenhead, England with three watch-loving friends who started assembling Swiss movements with locally sourced components. And they started selling their wares at a fraction of the price of established brands. Christopher Ward has since moved on to do most of their own manufacturing. That includes an in-house Calibre SH21, but still keeps their prices comparatively low. Their best-seller is the Grand Malvern Power Reserve dress watch. It’s an upscale and elegant timepiece by any measure and comes in at a cost of under $2,000.
Moving across Atlantic we get to some serious watchmakers out of Kansas. Raven has been producing high-quality dive watches on the outskirts of Kansas City since 2008. While there has been some criticism that their watches too closely resemble Submariners (notably their Vintage 42) that’s also one of their strengths. It’s hard to beat a good looking dive watch with ETA 2824 or Miyota 9015 movement. Not to mention sapphire crystals, and high-grade stainless steel for under $1,000.
5: Oak & Oscar
A relative newcomer, Oak & Oscar made its debut in 2015. The Chicago-based watchmakers specialize in casual-leaning timepieces that embody the classic style of the American Midwest. Their first offering, the Burnham Date, takes its name and design inspiration from Daniel Burnham. Daniel was an architect behind many of Chicago’s beloved structures including the Flat Iron Building. The Jackson is one of their most popular watches. It’s a fly back chronograph with a 60-hour power reserve. The color is gorgeous with a grey-and-white dial with hints of orange.
Microband Watches Conclusion
So nobody is suggesting you stop your search for that perfect Omega Seamaster Diver. Established models like the Rolex GMT-Master II and IWC Big Pilot will never be truly replaced by upstarts. And who wants to live in a world without an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore? But beyond the big names, it’s good to be aware that a lot of new microbrands are out there. And know that they’re making some really fine watches that are worthy of consideration too.