The Ultimate Microbrand Guide – Dress Watches - Oracle Time
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The Ultimate Microbrand Guide – Dress Watches

Classical over retro, timeless over contemporary, these pieces might be modern in manufacture (mostly) but they’re a swansong to a bygone era of elegant, ideal-for-dress watches.

Circula Heritage Automatic

Circula Heritage Hand-Wound Watch

Pleasant as the sophisticated, minimal dial and 41mm case of Circula’s timepiece are, what sets Circula’s Heritage Automatic apart from the rest is more than skin-deep. That’s because it contains a historical new/old stock movement – meaning never before used vintage. The overall design of the watch may imitate Circula’s 1950s designs, but the movements are actually from the 70s, making this a dual-era ode to the German watchmaking traditions of Pforzheim and strictly limited besides. Go for the Redgold version with its white dial to really hammer home its classical source.

€950, available at Circula Watches.

Atelier Wen Porcelain Odyssey Hao Red

Atelier Wen Porcelain Odyssey Hao Red

Released to celebrate Chinese New Year, this 1940s-styled beauty combines lucky red with pure, bright white – the English translation of Hao. The delicate layout and Chinese are stunning and it’s hard not to find Atelier Wen’s beautiful simplicity appealing. It’s the same inside, too, with a custom-made SL-3006 automatic movement keeping it ticking. The finishing touch is a deep caseback engraving of a Kunpeng, a mythical animal that doubles as an allegory for the concept of yin and yang. This may be a firmly Chinese watch, but it more than holds a candle to the Swiss way of doing things.

$790, available at Atelier Wen.

Makina Uriel I

Makina Uriel I

From its unusual cushion case shape with circular bezel to the cream dial with fan-like guilloche dead centre, the Makina Uriel I is equal parts quirky and elegant. The Filipino brand seems able to tread Art Deco territory without straying into cliché or ripping off more famous designs, a manoeuvre many a watch brand would kill to be able to make. Every part of the Uriel I is custom made in either Hong Kong or Manila – except of course for the Miyota 821A movement inside – and it shows. Even the custom rotor is a thing of beauty.

$599, available at Makina Urierl I.

Montage Prestige Autumn Red Automatic

Montage Prestige Autumn Red Automatic

A few years ago it was all about blue; now it’s green. In the future? It has to be red. Get ahead of the curve then with the Montage Prestige in Autumn red. The Fume dial ranges from pink in the centre to nearly black on the outer edge, running through fall colours in a restrained, wonderfully simple 40mm case. It would be a lovely piece at any price, but at under £200 for an automatic movement (a Miyota 9015) this is a watch well worth taking a punt on. It’s also available in green, blue and silver, but trust us, next year will be all about red.

£185.99, available at Montage Watches.

Olivier Jonquet Black Capitane Marine 6

Olivier Jonquet Black Capitane Marine

Like a negative of an old marine chronometer, this exceptional cushion-cased masterpiece from independent French watchmaker Olivier Jonquet is something else. A 43.5mm black PVD case paired with an equally dark enamel dial and white Roman numerals, it looks like it should cost five times what it does. The manual wind movement comes courtesy of ETA and, to seal the deal, only 200 of this edition will be made. There are less contemporary editions from Olivier Jonquet, but this is the one.

€2,090, available at Montres OJ.

Vario Empire Handwound

Vario Empire Handwound

More Empire State than Rule Britannia, Vario’s latest timepiece revels in its Art Deco influences, with a sleek, geometric dial paired with typography that looks like it’s taken straight off a vintage clock. The 38mm case is the perfect size for its style and matches the fluted crown nicely. Of the four variants available, the more striking is the White Tuxedo version, a high-contrast number perfect for the roaring 20s. If you want to hammer home those vintage roots, opt for the hand-wound edition equipped with a Miyota 6T33 movement; there aren’t nearly enough of those around.

$368, available at Vario.

Undone Urban 34 Killy

Undone Urban 34 Killy

Women’s watches are given short shrift, especially in the custom world. Not any more, thanks to the idiosyncratic masterminds at Undone and their first ladies’ piece, the Urban 34 Killy. Using the classic case shape and dial of the Urban, the Killy comes with a host of colourful standard and double tour straps to choose from with a quick-release system for fuss-free swapping (you also get an extra with each watch). As a new finishing touch, you can get your Zodiac sign added to the watch, though we think it’s great as it is. Either way, this isn’t your usual men’s watch resized; this is a custom women’s watch for an incredibly accessible price.

£169, available at Undone.

Valimor Valknut

Valimor Valknut

If middle-age knights wore watches, they would have looked something like the Valknut. Valimor’s emphasis on archaic designs and motifs translates perfectly into this gloriously gothic timepiece. Rich and layered, everything from the scaled bezel to the Roman numerals ripped from a 16th-century clocktower is an ode to ancient architecture. This finishing is in contrast to the open heart of the watch that gives a glimpse of the Japanese Miyota 82S0 automatic movement inside and the copious lume across the dial, which transforms the Valknut into something intensely modern in low light.

From $479, available at Valimor.

About the author

Sam Kessler

Legend has it that Sam’s first word was ‘escapement’ and, while he might have started that legend himself, he’s been in the watch world long enough that it makes little difference. As the editor of Oracle Time, he’s our leading man for all things horological – even if he does love yellow dials to a worrying degree. Owns a Pogue; doesn’t own an Oyster Perpetual. Yet.

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