It’s easy to think that there are only a relative handful of watchmakers in the world; that’s almost true. There are indeed a few brands that dominate the industry, your Rolexes, Pateks, Audemars Piguets et al. They are not all there is though. If you’re looking for Avant Garde creativity, off-the-wall inventiveness and designs that aren’t held back by stock holders, look no further than the miraculous world of microbrands. If you’re unsure what a microbrand is, we created this hand video to keep you informed.
Generally started by collectors, often well-priced and always going against the grain, these are the coolest microbrands around right now.
Using Seiko movements and a distinctly Italian take on retro-minimalism, Unimatic has been making some seriously cool watches over the past couple of years. The Uno is a rugged diver-turned-field watch in a range of colours, while the Due is a slightly more elegant take on the same formula. Most impressively though, Unimatic offers a made-to-order service that offers the Due with a twist: a fully, beautifully engraved case. Just let them know what you’d like and their partnering artisans in Brescia will make it a reality. Oh and they also have a Spongebob Squarepants watch. Just saying.
More details at Unimatic.
Ming is arguably the microbrand to aspire to. The archetypal ‘made for collectors, by collectors’ label, the Malaysian brand is the brainchild of six enthusiasts under the guidance of renaissance man Ming Thein – a photographer, designer and business strategist with one hell of an eye for a good watch. At the one end of the Ming range you have the 17.06, an accessible collection of ETA-based watches. At the other you have the 19.01 and 19.02, a stunning automatic GPHG finalist and its worldtimer, micro-rotor successor. Both are painfully cool with smoked sapphire dials and the kind of build quality that lasts.
More details at Ming.
Swiss movements are generally regarded as the best in the world, so why rock the boat? Especially when you have the artisan skills of Michal Molnar and Igor Fabry. Instead of building new movements, they take existing stock calibres and turn them into works of art almost unrecognisable from their original, basic forms. Through skeletonisation, engine-turning, gem-setting and a raft of other hand-crafted skills, what in other circumstances would be an unremarkable watch becomes something you’d expect from a true haute horology manufacture. It’s an inventive brand that deserves far, far more recognition than it currently has.
More details at Molnar Fabry.
There are many techniques a microbrand can manage; generally grand feu enamelling is not one of them. It takes a very, very hot oven, an incredible amount of skill and the patience to go through more than a few cast-off dials in search of a viable one. It’s also at the centre of anOrdain’s entire watchmaking process. The six-person team has created a beautiful array of vibrant enamel dials in colours ranging from Post Office Red to Moss Green to bright Orange Fume. The watches take time – currently three to four weeks – but the results are well worth the wait, especially with prices starting at just £950.
More details at anOrdain.
Frequently the best thing about microbrands is that they get to explore the crazy designs that larger manufactures dare not even dream of. Studio Underd0g are more than happy to jump headfirst into concepts that sound ridiculous but when executed well are simply amazing. Take for example the Water Mel0n and Mint Ch0c Chip watches that look exactly like their namesake. The internet went crazy over ‘cake or fake’, wait until they hear of ‘watch or not’. However, the biggest selling point is that under the exceptional designs is a great timepiece too, with a manual movement, all overseen by the brand’s founder, designer and marketing manager Richard Benc.
More details at Studio Underd0g.
Baltic have seen so much growth and success that you can mention them in the same sentence as larger brands and people won’t find that strange. Their crowning achievement to date was featuring in the 2021 Only Watch charity auction alongside names like Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet. As for their watches, well, they’re largely a value proposition, consisting of well executed dive watches (and increasingly dress watches too) with parts sourced internationally from China, Japan, Italy, France and beyond. When it comes to bang for your buck, Baltic are positively explosive. And it’s paying off for them – their most recent watch releases are entirely sold out.
More details at Baltic.
A perceived downside of microbrands is that sometimes the movements housed inside their watches are often stock pieces from the likes of Sellita and Miyota that we’ve seen hundreds of times before. However, that’s not to say that some microbrand watches don’t house exquisite pieces of haute horology to rival the major brands. Zelos have stepped the game up with movements like a skeletonised, manual calibre from the maestros at La Joux-Perret in the Mirage II, an insane movement with twin barrels and an 8-day power reserve and a correspondingly high level of finish. And all that for under £3,000, making them one of the foremost names in accessible high end watchmaking alongside brands like Christopher Ward.
More details at Zelos Watches.
If we neglected to mention Furlan Marri it would be an actual crime against microbrands. Not only did they receive an award at the 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) in their first full year as a brand – having been founded in 2020 – but they did so with a mecha-quartz watch. That’s a pretty auspicious start for a new microbrand and there’s a lot of anticipation to see what they do next – and whether they continue to fly the flag for mecha-quartz or graduate to mechanical movements like the majority of microbrands.
More details at Furlan Marri.
Kurono is an interesting take on the microbrand formula. Unlike many microbrand designers, Hajime Asaoka is a name many collectors will already be familiar with, having produced many exceptional watches since 2009 that are incredibly hard to get a hold of. The inaccessibility of most of his watches is the driving force behind Kurono, which is a project designed to bring his watchmaking skills to a wider audience with more easily affordable prices. It’s a great chance for watch enthusiasts to own some of his work for less than £3,000.
More details at Kurono.
Brew Watch Co.
Some microbrands are very niche, but perhaps none more so than Brew Watch, who create watches inspired by coffee breaks. You can find design elements that take inspiration from industrial espresso machines and various brew timing devices that come together to create watches with a surprisingly vintage aesthetic. They’re about daily rituals and taking time to enjoy the small moments in life, a philosophy many of us could benefit from. Caffeine addiction might be a niche source of inspiration indeed, but the resulting watches are suitable for all.
More details at Brew Watch Co.
The founder of Brellum is a fourth-generation watchmaker who, having spent time working for other major watch brands, set out to create a legacy for himself. The watches predominantly explore sporty designs with a focus on chronographs and pilot’s watches, although recently this has expanded to include travel complications like GMT functions. Certainly, a more traditional approach to watchmaking than many other microbrands but balanced by great value for money and accessibility making them a great alternative to more established names.
More details at Brellum.
Boldr Supply Co.
Boldr are a Singaporean brand who create adventure watches designed to be your daily beater. That means they’re tough and durable thanks to Boldr’s signature 38mm titanium cases while at the same time being subtle enough to wear daily. The 38mm diameter really helps them in this regard because they don’t dominate the wrist like many contemporary tool watches. Plus, titanium is super light so it won’t feel heavy day in, day out. Admittedly that may compromise the heft that many people appreciate in adventure watches but with the majority of the collection less that £400, it’s a small issue.
More details at Boldr.
Oak & Oscar
Yes, watchmaking is a serious business but Oak & Oscar are a brand who know how to find the fun in it. Just ask Oscar, the namesake and chief mascot for the brand who happens to be… a big, lovable Portuguese water dog. Fortunately, the fun is backed up by some well-made, minimalist watches in a similar vein to Nomos Glashütte thanks to their bold and extremely legible designs. Just take note that while the bracelet versions of their watches are much preferred, they’re also all sold out and the leather strap versions are sure to follow suit shortly.
More details at Oak & Oscar.
Bangalore Watch Co.
The great thing about microbrands is that they don’t carry the same perceptions from customers as major watch brands, meaning that those outside the watchmaking heartlands of central Europe and Japan can flourish just as easily as those situated within. Bangalore Watch Co. is an Indian watch brand creating a modern vision of India focusing on high quality engineering, equality and exploration, albeit with a healthy dose of vintage charm thrown in. You also can’t ignore the Cover Drive watch with its novel cricketing complication that celebrates India’s favourite sport.
More details at Bangalore Watch Co.
Serica are a brand based in France who produce tool watches with a monochrome flair that captures a simplicity of design while also having a faintly whimsical quality to them. The California dial 4512 is a standout, as is the 5303-1, a diving watch that feels like a more eccentric version of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. The 5303 has a two-tone bezel split between hours and minutes and a dial that has your classic, large lumed hour markers in addition to some extra decoration that isn’t too overwhelming for its dive watch status. Also, unlike many microbrands which only exist in the digital sphere, Serica has a store in Paris which you can visit.
More details at Serica-Watches.
Founded back in 2016 by José and Joana Miranda, the English brand has been making waves as one of the more innovative microbrands in the country – which is saying something, these days – and has a creativity that flows from the same spring as many an independent watch brand. Namely, if you can’t find your perfect watch, make it. Stylistically their watches are quite diverse, exploring a range of watch designs, however the collection is united by the tear drop motif which can be found on the dial or hands of each watch.
More details at Isotope Watches.
The origins of the Von Doren is one shared by many watchmakers, watch enthusiasts and collectors. At age 12 Øyvind VonDoren Asbjørnsen, the brand’s founder, inherited his great-grandfather’s Swiss watch and a passion for fine timepieces was born. While the quality of Von Doren watches is resolutely Swiss, the design and aesthetic draw heavily on the brand’s Norwegian roots and include elements of the country’s architecture and Art Nouveau influences. Today that has turned into a broad collection of watches each with its own unique flavour, ranging from serious designs to fun pastels and from elegance to robust tool watch.
More details at Von Doren.
If you believe in the checklist of attributes that define what a microbrand is, Second Hour tick pretty much all of them: a small team of passionate people working with dedicated suppliers to create great value watches that are only available direct through their website. It’s a model that works really well and has seen Second Hour sell out on multiple production runs of their watches, testament to both their quality and desirability. It’s also nice to see the southern hemisphere stepping up in the watchmaking game with Second Hour operating entirely out of Melbourne, Australia.
More details at Second Hour.
For a full-on vintage trip, look no further than Roue, who produce watches that are unabashedly influenced by iconic cars and gadgets from the 50s, 60s and 70s. For example, the TPS chronograph is heavily inspired by the Porsche 910 from 1966-67, which had a soft, flowing body and plenty of racing pedigree. As a result, Roue’s watches are both aesthetically pleasing and sporty in equal measure with plenty of chronograph functions to be found, as befitting driving watches with trackside aspirations.
More details at Roue.
Echo/Neutra are a microbrand driven by the desire to create timeless designs that can be appreciated time and time again. Hence a focus on styles from the 60s that are as fashionable today as they were at their creation. From sporty, retro Italian chronographs to what could well be the most accessible moonphase complications around at less than £1,000. Plus, each of their watches has an innate rugged durability ideal for use as your daily beater or on more special occasions.
More details at Echo/Neutra.
There are a million watches that claim to have significant links to motorsport but many of them lack the passion and attention to detail of an Autodromo watch. Autodromo take the heritage of driving as seriously as they take their commitment to producing quality timepieces. Take the Prototipo Chronograph Vic Elford 969 edition for example. Not only was it produced in collaboration with one of the foremost drivers of the 1960s, Vic Elford, who saw Porsche to many victories, but the dial of the watch reflects the paint job of one of his most iconic cars.
More details at Autodromo.
The Sacred Crafts
One of the largest benefits of microbrands is that they can experiment with new forms of production and supply that larger brands are either too afraid of or don’t have the capacity for. The Sacred Crafts take environmentally responsible production to the next level by working with local groups in the tropics to find sustainable materials, down to the grassroots level of utilising discarded fishing nets and junkyard boats and propellers. And the outcome is impressive: large, adventurous diving watches with character shaped by the history of their materials. The Sacred Crafts’ drive comes from witnessing environmental disasters first-hand, as the brand has a strong connection to surfing.
More details at The Sacred Crafts.
Ollech & Wajs
Ollech & Wajs has not always been a microbrand. In their heyday of the 1960s they were producing 10,000 watches a year, which is far more than many top brands today. However, a staunch and respectable refusal to adopt quartz movements during the crisis led to the brand decreasing in size until it eventually closed – only to be relaunched in 1995 by the original founder, Albert Wajs. Today, Ollech & Wajs (also known as OW), is a stylish microbrand producing sports and military inspired watches that draw on the brand’s heritage designs. The modern C-1000 is a reinterpretation of the Caribbean 1000, one of their most famous watches that was worn by the protagonists in the UK TV show The Professionals.
More details at Ollech & Wajs.
The name Atelier Wen comes from the French word for workshop and the Chinese word for Culture, perfectly summing up the intentions of the brand. They produce quality watches with the influence of experienced Chinese designers. Indeed, the two French founders met each other in China while working on watch projects. The resulting collections aim to dismiss the myth that Chinese watches are inferior to the west and other reputable watchmaking nations by utilising the best movements produced in China such as the custom SL-3006 which has an accuracy of +/- 10 seconds per day and a 41-hour power reserve – on par with standard movements from the likes of Sellita.
More details at Atelier Wen.
De Rijke & Co
An example of the innovative designs that microbrands can bring to the table is the Amalfi series by De Rijke & Co from the Netherlands. They have created a case which can be rotated up to 90 degrees on your wrist, allowing you to angle the display to your preference. In some regards it follows in the tradition of watches like the Vacheron Constantin American because the angled case makes the watch easier to read while driving. Indeed, utility whilst driving is a core tenet of the brand because the founder, Laurens de Rijke, bought his first mechanical watch while on an 11,000km road trip on a 50 year old Vespa.
More details at De Rijke & Co.
Founded by Danilo Villanueva, Makina was born from his need for a creative outlet other than his day job in advertising and he wanted something less demanding of his time that he could channel his passion into. Not wanting to be held back by what ‘should’ be included in a specific type of watch, their philosophy is that design in a holistic sense is more important than categorisation, through which they naturally drifted into their own waters: sporty dress watches. That kind of oxymoronic label is a bit hard to pin down at first. That is, until you see some of Makina’s designs.
More details at Makina.
Fine Watches Berlin
Fine Watches Berlin is a father-daughter duo using popular design trends from the mid-late nineties to create simple yet stylish watches. Bauhaus is a large influence and lends the watches a minimalist air focussed on shape and colour. And if further incentive was needed, they also work with charitable projects such as Stiftung Valentina, a foundation raising money for critically ill children. Passion projects like this exemplify some of the greatest attributes of microbrands and make for unique and eye-catching watches. Plus, they have that signature microbrand accessibility.
More details at Fine Watches Berlin.