The Forty-five Best Boutique Microbrand Watches for 2022
If you haven't noticed, there is something new in the world of watchmaking: a surge of interest in watches, mainly in mechanical ones, all over the world. That has gone hand in hand with the explosion of the internet phenomenon. In short, the web has become a sort of land of conquest for every type of entrepreneurial initiative created by exploiting its possibilities. Among the most evident we find are two drivers: the development of the direct-to-consumer distribution model, cutting out intermediaries, and the crowdfunding phenomenon.
And after innovators like Christopher Ward, who launched his first collection in 2004, there has been a veritable flourishing of watch brand presentations of every kind and type, from the most technical to the most commercial. We have collected 30 of the most significant ones from all over the world: are you ready to discover them with us?
What are micro watch brands?
Micro watch brands are exactly what the word suggests: boutique watch brands that have launched themselves into the great sea of global watchmaking. Once, they would not have found visibility. Probably, not even market: but the changed conditions of commercial distribution mean that not only watch enthusiasts have a global vision of the industry, but also, they have the means to find, buy and receive in a few days a watch produced in a few copies by a small workshop in New Zealand.
One of the principal characteristics of microbrands is that they are small watch brands: therefore, they manufacture minimal series, and once that specific production is sold out, you can no longer find it except in the second-hand market. Apart from rare cases, microbrands are etablisseurs - i.e., companies that buy movements from specialist manufacturers and encase them within their watch whose design they primarily oversee.
Some of these microbrands do a bit more than others, so they customize the movements - purchased from the world's leading manufacturers, mainly Swiss and Japanese - in some way, and often display them thanks to a transparent glass back: they generally work on the decorations of the bridges and the main plate, and often change the rotor, or modify it by customizing it, in the case of automatic watches. Some microbrands even create their own movements: but in this case, more than microbrands, we should call them watchmaking ateliers.
As far as prices are concerned, there are some very affordable microbrands, and others which are much more expensive. Still, in general, most independent watch brands belonging to this niche offer watches with a good price/quality ratio, which is always a good way to win the hearts of horology enthusiasts.
Are Microbrand watches worth it?
This question has no single answer: it depends on what you buy the watch for. And behind every timepiece, there are always two factors: passion and perceived/expected value. All watch enthusiasts are pretty familiar with the world of speculation that surrounds some particular brands and models of watches - and this value system, based on scarcity of supply and excess of demand, concerns not only the big Maisons but also some of these microbrands, which are perceived by the public to be offering a very high value.
To give a practical example, everyone knows that it is practically impossible to buy a steel Rolex Submariner at list price. But it is possible to find it, at a premium price, on the second-wrist market. The same goes for some watches produced by microbrands. Ming watches, for example, are offered for sale in very limited series of a few hundred pieces per release. Since the company won an award at the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève as the "best newcomer of the year" in 2019, these watches sell out within minutes of being posted on the manufacturer's website. Ming watches can be found for sale as second-wrists at prices well above their list price, just as it happens with steel Rolex Submariners.
Alongside these examples, other lesser known watch brands do not "enjoy" this reputation. Therefore, buying one of their watches, the relative "investment" value will surely be lower. Conversely, it will be much easier to find one by paying the list price - or even finding it discounted in some cases, as the direct-to-consumer watches model offers significant savings over the traditional distribution.
As mentioned, the answer to the question can only come from us. If you like the watch and think it's worth buying, then the answer is yes, buying a timepiece from a microbrand is a great idea. However, if that doesn't happen, it wouldn't be so: when you buy a timepiece, whatever brand it bears on its dial, you have to be wholly convinced. Otherwise, it will end up becoming like a beautiful dress that we don't really like: we will always find a good reason not to wear it.
45 Best Microbrand Watches
Among the hundreds of brands available on the world market, it becomes challenging to make a choice. Even the definition of microbrand does not help, since it blurs on the one hand in the handicraft productions of a few pieces, destined to a small group of lucky people - as happens with those who manage to grab one of the twelve pieces created by Roger Smith every year - and on the other, with companies manufacturing industrially their watches. Some of these micros have surged to this stage, becoming acclaimed and widespread internationally, with an output of tens of thousands of pieces: and out of duty, we have included one here, Christopher Ward.
The rest of the brands that you will find below make up the panorama of the world's microbrands. In our opinion, they offer some noteworthy features, which perhaps you might not have seen in the productions of other more celebrated Maisons. So, welcome to our watches buying guide relative to microbrands!
This is among the grandfathers of micros, as this Italian company was founded in 1859. Allemano is based in Turin, and it is noteworthy for the very special design of its watches, inspired by its historical production of industrial measuring instruments, also used in the automotive sector. Among its latest creations is the 1919 Collection, with a design inspired by the pressure gauge mounted on a car, the 1919 Fiat 501.
AnOrdain is a Scottish micro-brand of great personality, founded in Glasgow, which offers dress watches with clean and essential lines, almost Bauhaus-like, embellished with a careful work of enameling of the dial and finishing of the hands, which put its timepieces really in a higher level than their price would suggest. Among our favorites, the Model 1 in Payne's Grey Fumé version.
The AVI-8 brand of watches and accessories was developed in the UK in the mid-2000s by Dartmouth Brands to offer affordable timepieces and objects with a catchy aviation style that appealed to generic consumers. Following its initial success, the brand expanded its collection and designs to commemorate the Royal Air Force since World War II: each of its watches is designed to homage a particular aircraft.
The vintage trend is predominant in modern watchmaking, and Baltic, a French micro-brand that has grown a lot recently, knows it well. Its watches are perfect re-editions of the 1950s and 1960s classics, designed and embellished with details that make us wonder if the watch we're wearing is new or vintage: they offer low prices - and good quality Chinese movements. The Aquascaphe is an almost perfect skin diver.
This Maison is based in Hong Kong: it offers unconventional watches, with a design that borders the eccentric, and proposes them on crowdfunding platforms - something that has gained it a great international status. Japanese movements, Italian straps, and great attention to detail are some of the elements that have decreed its success among enthusiasts. The Spaceship is perhaps the one that fascinates us the most.
A small Florentine manufacturer pursuing a passion for quality: Francesco Calamai creates a few hundred fascinating watches every year, especially chronographs, inspired by the world of flight, with impeccable finishes and tons of vintage charm. The cases are made from steel sourced from military jet engines that made aviation history. Among our favorites, the magnificent and brand new G51 Chrono in panda blue version.
"Made in China with Pride" is what you'll find written on the back of this watch, and - like everything else in this timepiece - it will come as a surprise. Celadon watches offer haute horlogerie features, including jewels encased in settings, micrometric swan-neck regulator adjustment, and top-notch finishes for glamorous dress watches that are there to overturn everything you think about the Great Eastern Dragon's watchmaking output. Among our favorites is the Imperial Blanc de Chine.
This is the micro now turned macro, as its production is around 20,000 pieces per year, but which was the one that in 2004 started this worldwide phenomenon. Beautiful watches, designed in the UK and carefully made in Switzerland, clearly showing that quality and price can be perfectly compatible. As we are fans of GMT watches, we really like the C65 GMT Worldtimer, with its lines and colors so 1970s, and a price that can't help but win us over.
While the name sounds a bit weird, Damasko is German. It was originally a supplier of high-tech components for Sinn, as the founder had a long experience in the materials for the aerospace industry. Since then, it has evolved to make beautiful watches that follow the main German Flieger style, and it has ventured into making its own movements. One of the company pros is that the timepieces offer an excellent price/quality ratio.
Dan Henry's story starts with the man - a watch collector specialized in vintage timepieces who, after accumulating over 1,500 pieces, decided to do something to diffuse the style he loved to other watch enthusiasts. His timepieces are true re-editions of watchmaking classics, with modern upgrades in the movements (often they are quartz watches), and carry a timeless class at a very affordable price. The Military Chronograph 1939 in Chocolate version, which repurposes all the scales used to make calculations, is really nice to wear.
Davosa is a Swiss Maison with a great tradition that has worked in watch refinishing since its foundation. It launched its brand in the 1980s, developing an extensive collection of watches with a tendency to be sporty in design, such as chronographs, pilots, and diver watches, combining the search for excellence in materials with an absolute value thanks to top of the line materials and finishes. Hard to choose, but we unquestionably like the Ternos Professional Black Suit Limited Edition.
Deep Blue is another micro started in the 2000s. Founded in New York, it is one of the main micros to have fueled and now ride on the surge of interest for vintage-looking diver watches. Its R&D is remarkable: some of its timepieces have a solid 3,000 meters water resistance, which makes them perfect for professional divers - but most are well-versed even for the casual wearer, especially given their very affordable price.
Dubois et Fils
Dubois et Fils is an older Swiss Maison that has recently returned to the watchmaking limelight with its unconventional initiatives. These include selling shares in the company to buyers of its watches, tokenizing antique movements via blockchain technology, and renting out luxury watches. His timepieces - made in limited series of ninety-nine pieces each (where you can even choose the serial!) - use exclusively vintage movements drawn from a vast old stocks warehouse. Among our favorites is the charming DBF003-01, encasing a precious Revue Thommen GT 55 movement.
This micro was born on crowdfunding portals, but it's making a splash in the watchmaking world with its vintage-inspired offerings, their design ranging from Bauhaus to the 1950s and 1960s. The finishes of the timepieces are good, the movements made in Swiss, the class unquestionable and the prices absolutely competitive, especially considering their technical qualities. We like the Averau 39mm Lunar Phases Black very much.
Eone is inextricably linked to its first model, the Bradley, now offered in several variants: an ingenious watch, which, thanks to the movement of two small balls along grooves in the dial and case, allows the visually impaired to consult the time quickly, and does so with an innovative design, more reminiscent of a wrist sculpture than a watch, and has brought Eone to iconic status.
This UK-based micro is doing everything right. It offers watches that take classic twentieth-century British designs, revamped with contrasting color touches that make them pleasing, innovative, and vintage at the same time - and give them a truly unique style that is hard to compare to others. We really like the Pembroke, a field watch with a contrasting circle dial and intriguing pointer date.
One of the Swiss micros that bridge the gap to the macros, Formex has been active for a long time now, since it was founded in the last century. Its production is now well established, as is its appeal among a large and loyal group of brand fans. Its timepieces are sporty, often COSC-certified, and display a flicker of creative design that makes them noteworthy. We really like the Essence 43 Chronometer with the blue dial.
This US-based company makes homage timepieces, and precisely, Rolex Submariners. In the recent past, it has raised a few waves exposed on the specialized media for its alleged connections to Chinese clone makers. Whatever the case is, the watches themselves are solidly made with quality materials and good finishes - they are not sparing in craftsmanship at all - mount original Swiss movements and are assembled in America. This would justify their relatively high list price.
This Swiss micro was founded by the former design director of Audemars Piguet - and it's totally different. Brash, bold, tough-looking, and sporty, designed for the man who's not afraid to take risks and appreciates fine craftsmanship and high-tech materials. You might like the Mainson's style or not, but this new kid on the block is sure there to raise some eyebrows - in a good way, of course.
Gruppo Ardito Watches
GAW is an Italian microbrand that produces professional watches dedicated to the sporting and military worlds, designed to withstand anything you can throw at them, and do so with great style and personality, thanks to the large bezels screwed to the case with Allen screws - a bit like Maison's signature. With its gradient blue dial and titanium case, the Lince offers an impressive 1000 meters of water resistance.
Halios has been a Canadian micro-brand active since 2009, which puts the passion of watch collectors at the center of its offer. It has a distinctive style, offering diver and sports watch models with dials made in a typical 1960s style, accompanied by an eye for impeccable finishing. The result is watches that, once displayed on the website, sell out in no time - and it takes time and luck for the watch lover to find the next available "slot." The Fairwind with a blue dial is a really lovely piece.
Itay Noy is not a microbrand: he is an independent Israeli watchmaker located in the city of Jaffa, creating some 150 watches per year on commission. This alone would qualify him to aspire to far loftier companionships than the ordinary microbrand. Still, we wanted to cite him here because of his remarkable creativity and dazzling designs, which reveal his quirky and exploring nature - something that can only be praised.
The company was founded in 1925 by a woman, Frieda Lacher, to manufacture original Fliegers - and from that day, it continues to do so. Its modern offerings revive this history and propose again the timeless designs that have rendered the company and its timepieces respected in the watch business. So if you want a real pilot's watch with a vintage vibe, a Laco would be a very fitting choice.
LIV Watches is a star-studded micro-brand that has managed to make a name for itself in the world of crowdsourcing, offering watches - especially chronographs and diver watches - with a sporty cut and a particular design, characterized by a remarkable quality and Swiss production. The secret of their success is the excellent relationship with the customers, who are carefully cared for and pampered. We like the Saturn V Moon Dust Crater Grey, with its post-industrial charm.
A micro based in the province of Venice: its name contains all its history, with mechanical timepieces that are aimed at the watch enthusiast, who looks beyond the brand to find an object that lasts over time. And Meccaniche Veneziane's watches are like that: beautiful, vintage-inspired, and exploring finishes and materials to offer a quality product to its customers at a competitive price. Among the different lines, we really like the Nereide GMT 42 mm in the Root Beer version.
An Italian brand that produces large and powerful watches, characterized by a military taste, and often delves into historical evocation thanks to a skillful work of engraving and finishing of dials and cases. Memphis Belle also intervenes - even decisively - on the movements, making each of its timepieces an actual piece of horological art. The Heritage Predator HM2, dedicated to the exploits of the frogmen of the Italian Navy, is among our favorites.
This Malaysian house - which actually designs the timepieces but produces everything in Switzerland - needs little introduction: exclusive and highly successful, it has quickly become an international watchmaking star, with a thousand lights - and a few shadows, caused by a few too many imperfections. Nevertheless, his are beautiful pieces that are difficult to find, except at a significant premium on the second-hand market. Among our favorites is the lovely and unattainable 17.06 Copper, winner of the GPHG "Best Revelation" award in 2019.
This American microbrand belongs to the most high-end manufacturers in this niche, and its experience and determination can be felt in the pieces they produce. The production consists of luxury sports watches that have little to envy Swiss Maisons of great prestige, with a quality and performance of the highest level. The Atlas 24-Hour with Date, with Grey Charcoal dial, inspires us a lot.
Norqain belongs to a classic Swiss tradition despite its curious name, as its founders come from work experiences at Breitling. The timepieces of this micro show a sporty style with a very modern trait and great personality - and prices that are appropriate to the quality of finishes and movements, some of which are manufactured in collaboration with Kenissi. We really like the Adventure Sport 42mm with DLC coating.
It is an Italian micro, born from the commitment of a group of military watch enthusiasts, that has been able to propose pieces of great character and design, which derive from the same military tradition that originated a Maison like Panerai. Novecento Meccanografiche's watches are beautiful and well finished, with that vintage look given by the graphics that set them apart and makes the wearer stand out. The 905MM Comsubin, with a water resistance of 900 meters, is among the ones we like most.
NTH is a US microbrand that definitely loves the vintage vibe. NTH might mean "Nod To History," but from the reviews that you can find online, it shows that the company name might also mean to pursue excellence to the NTH degree. The watches are scuba-oriented, look generally big and beautiful, and offer great attention to the details. Also, the lineup is pretty massive, so every watch aficionado would easily find one of their likings.
The name should tell you everything: the main focus of the Lum-Tec company is the extreme luminescence of its timepieces, provided by a generous 8-layer coating of Luminova. But the watches give you more than this, actually: they present masculine,
military-styled designs with solid materials that have both a vintage and an innovative element to them and make the timepieces difficult to forget. And you will also find yourself enlightened by their price.
Out Of Order
The claim of this company is "Damaged in Italy" and explains quite well the peculiar charm of these timepieces. OOO watches are artificially distressed so as to look worn and used even when they are brand-new - and this is part of the post-industrial charm that has earned them a small but loyal following. Of course, the fact that the quality of materials used in building the timepieces is top-notch and the prices are very sensible does not hurt, either.
As the name suggests, Ocean Crawler is an American microbrand based in Rochester specializing in vintage style diver watches with many Seventies influences, distinguished by an excellent price/quality ratio. It represents a truly noteworthy result, especially when we consider the high-level finishes Swiss movements they mount. Among our favorites, you will find the Core Diver Textured Blue/Orange.
If there was the name of a famous brand written on the dial, you might believe that Pelton watches are a Heritage version of some favorite historical watch model - but that's not the case. The US company makes timepieces with a distinctly vintage feel distinguished by very classy dials and cases, meticulously crafted in-house. In addition to watches, the company also offers accessories such as eyewear and leather goods. The Pelton Sector, with its silver dial and black markers and scales, is truly magnificent.
Seaholm is an Austin-based microbrand manufacturing hardy tool watches, which are themselves crafted in Switzerland, dedicated to life in the outdoors. The spartan, no-frills design of the timepieces reveals their excellent shock, magnetic, and water resistance qualities. But we might also discover that the plain aesthetics would really rock even in a corporate boardroom.
A historic manufacturer of cases for diver's watches that over time has become a respectable Maison. Squale offers diver watches of extraordinary class and personality, which come directly from the suggestions of the golden age of diver watches, the Sixties, and equips them with modern technique and sometimes avant-garde solutions. If you want a truly iconic piece, search for the 50 Atmos Blue with the Milanese bracelet.
This German manufacturer, which has made a name for itself among fans of homage watches, specializes in timepieces that offer excellent quality and solidity. They are objectively beautiful watches, solid and well finished in every detail, which closely echo the great classics of modern sports watchmaking. They are also available at very competitive prices, considering the quality of materials and finishes they show. Among our favorites, the Ocean One Vintage GMT.
Tourby is a German brand created in 2007 by Erdal Yildiz, a watchmaker who in 1999 fell in love with his grandfather's pocket watch as a young man, and this meeting shaped his future. From then, his passion grew into a watch brand offering classic and elegant dress watches with a vintage design and impressive craftsmanship that their author calls "pocket watches for the wrist." The company also makes intriguing custom-made watches.
This micro was launched in Hong Kong by Michael Young to give customers the possibility of choosing, as, for him, the true luxury is the choice. The timepieces from the company can be assembled by the customer in every way they want, with seemingly endless options - and with prices starting at just $245, it is not hard to understand why they have had the success they have garnered.
A phenomenon of upcycling applied to watchmaking, Vortic takes movements of old pocket watches belonging to the great American horology tradition and mounts them in modern cases with a proud steampunk design to obtain timepieces of great charm and rare availability - to all intents and purposes, limited editions of unique pieces. The Railroad Edition series is a memorial to the epic conquest of the West by train.
Vulcain is a time-honored Swiss company founded in 1858, producing one of the most particular watches out there, the Cricket, which was traditionally worn by several US Presidents. The Cricket is a mechanical alarm watch, which was the loudest that you could find back in its days. Crickets represent a perfect specimen of the vintage charm of the Sixties for the wrist of the most elegant - and a bit quirky - person.
The story of a micro that wants to recapture the glories of American watchmaking: Cameron Weiss is a watchmaker who, after studying in Switzerland, returned to Los Angeles to create his military-style watches, which mount a manufacture movement, and offer them for a price you'd pay for a good quality industrially-made watch from any Swiss manufacturer. Among our favorites is the 42mm Titanium American Issue Field Watch with an aluminum 1003 caliber.
This Singapore-based manufacturer has created a reputation for producing diver's watches of remarkable quality and still offers an original style - which is no easy feat! The timepieces have a solid and sturdy look and can be recognized by the special care devoted to their dials, which always look great thanks to the play of contrasting backgrounds and indexes. We really like one of the latest additions, the Hammerhead V3 Steel, especially in the Meteorite Blue version.
We really had to work hard to make a choice among all the watchmaking microbrands - and we're sure we left out of our list many other companies that were just as interesting. But all this goes to show the very high level of quality present in the modern watchmaking market.
You can see by yourself that in addition to the names of the "usuals," there is a large forest of small brands of great interest that are slowly growing to become the new sap that will give strength and vigor to the global watch industry - and this can only make us happy, since first of all, we are watch enthusiasts just like you.
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