When it comes to any consumer interest, there always seems to be a rising level of enthusiast driven products that deviate from what would be viable for the mass market and appeal to a niche but passionate audience. In my space of watches, microbrands have become one of the fastest-growing aspects of the mechanical watch market where small shops can produce nice products that in some cases outperform that of titans of industry. In the past three years, I have handled hundreds of watches from different microbrands out there with many being good, and others, not so much. In this blog, we will take a closer look at a comprehensive list of the best microbrands that are on the market at varying price ranges.
Now first, I think it is important to try to best classify what a microbrand is and what it isn’t. To me, a microbrand is a limited-production watch company that typically specializes in a particular style that does not have extensive resources to produce their own in-house calibers or other proprietary parts. This classification can get a little grey in the area of independent watchmakers that typically either have higher levels of watchmaking like a Habring2 who have a master watchmaker like Richard Habring at the helm or are a brand like Christopher Ward who produce a high number of pieces and have in-house production capacities. For the sake of keeping this list consistent, I am going to avoid the inclusion of any brands that I would classify as independents, that said, there will be a few mentioned that push the limits of this classification.
Scotland based microbrand AnOrdain is one of the most unique brands on this list as with this first mention we are already challenging that line of microbrand vs independent. AnOrdain pride themselves on their expertise with enamel dials. Enameling is a very complex process of fusing glass to metal and takes a considerable amount of time with attention to detail in order to successfully nail the process (click here for more details on their process). The Model 1 was the genesis of the collection and put into motion their unique dial manufacturing process. Their fume dials really stand out, and I really like the Model 1 Green Fume. Their watches traditionally range from $1,000-$2,500, feature Swiss mechanical movements within, and are hand-assembled within their facility.
Chicago-based microbrand Astor Banks was founded by watch lover Andrew Perez and has quickly carved out a niche creating some very attractive looking mechanical tool watches. Their newest model, the Fortitude, offers a really versatile look based on a traditional Officer’s watch in a more than reasonable 38.5mm stainless steel case. It’s equipped with the brand's excellent bracelet, a Miyota M9015 movement, and a handful of nice dial color options. You also get 200m of water resistance and an extra suede strap that can be quickly and easily swapped out with the installed bracelet.
The marrying of watches and cars seem to be a match made in heaven given the mechanical undertones of both. Of the many brands that aim to harness the inner spirit of motorists in their watches, many struggle to do it as well as Autodromo. The brand was founded by Bradley Price, an industrial designer that aimed to develop a brand that could embody the golden era motoring while offering pieces with modern components and has become one of the most respected boutique watch brands.
The past five years there has been a resurgence in the area of vintage watches. Yet with this resurgence, we also have seen rising prices on coveted vintage models making it impossible for many enthusiasts to dip into this world. This demand opened the doors to microbrands that could answer the call of higher demand for watches with vintage looks at more affordable prices. French microbrand Baltic has leaned into this theme, releasing their excellent Aquascaphe and recently launching the dressy MR01, which features applied Breguet numerals over a lovely textured dial in three different colors: Salmon, Blue, and Silver. The most interesting part is the micro-rotor automatic Hangzhao CAL5000A movement.
Similar to the trend of having vintage-inspired designs, the same can be said for that of watches that have minimalist aesthetics, which brings us to our next brand. Swedish microbrand, Bravur, assembles all of their watches within their Stockholm facility with all of their pieces featuring Swiss movements and clean looks on the dial.
One of the first microbrands that I connected with since starting my online journey with watches on my YouTube channel in 2017 was Brew. Brew is a New York-based microbrand founded by industrial designer Jonathan Ferrer and has developed a reputation for a fresh take on watch design. Brew tends to be a little bit slower to release new products, however, whenever it does happen it is usually always a hit and quickly leads to selling out in a short manner. If you want more insight into the mind of their designs I discussed this in greater detail with Jonathan back in 2018 at a local NYC park. Pictured here is the new Metric, which is set to release in late 2021.
Carpenter Watches is a boutique watch brand based in the heart of Brooklyn, New York. With all of their designs coming out of their Brooklyn location, their offering of timepieces all features mechanical movements, vintage aesthetics, clean designs, and modern reliability. Being started by Neil Carpenter, the brand aims to really capture clean minimalist looks the embody Brooklyn in every one of their pieces.
Founded by watch collector, Dan Henry, this microbrand was created to encapsulate the 30 years he has spent collecting and acquiring over 1,500 watches in his lifetime and offering classic designs at affordable prices.
Deep Blue got their start back in 2007 and has become one of the fastest-growing micros in the world of divers. The brand has quite high production numbers for a brand of their size offering more watches than many mainstream brands if we are talking total SKU amounts. This brand is a nice option for the heavy dive watch enthusiasts that wants a variety of different dial colors and case styles to choose from.
Since launching our company’s website, one of the most asked about brands on it has been Dufrane. Dufrane was founded in Austin, Texas which is felt throughout their pieces with small nods to the city. The brand prides itself on those Texas roots and the hand assembling all their watches in the United States. They first made their way on the scene with their competitively priced and capable dive watch known as the Barton Springs. As a shift away from their sporty undertones, they unveiled the Waterloo, a dressy watch with everyday capabilities.
In early 2018, I released a video of the best diver watches under $1,000 dollars and I requested that some brands send me their watches to be featured with one of them being this Eza Sealander. Ever since that day, I have been a big fan of this microbrand for their clean vintage looks and quality components for the money. Eza is a brand that was restarted after the German brand that carried the name fell victim to the quartz crisis decades ago. In 2016, the brand was rejuvenated by two Dutch gentlemen that made it their mission to develop high-quality vintage-inspired designs with the products being produced in Germany and containing nicely regulated Swiss movements within.
In the microbrand community, there are several brands that I would consider to be part of the upper echelon among the rest of those batched in given their higher quality materials, and Farer probably falls in this camp. This British brand has a unique and fun design formula that is recognizable throughout their catalog with the use of vibrant colors. With most of their pieces falling in the $1,000-$2,000 price range, Farer is going to be one of the more expensive brands on this list, but is delivering a product that warrants it with their elevated Swiss movements within and quality finishing. Highlighted here is the Bernina, a sports chronograph with a manual-winding movement and a fun colorway combo of red, white, and blue.
Formex is one of those brands that are certainly on the cusp of being classified as an independent which I think you can make a strong argument for as they are producing some fantastic pieces for the money. Many of their pieces are COSC certified and have been around for a considerable amount of time by microbrand standards. The brand is based in Biel, Switzerland, and was founded in 1999. Recently, Formex has become increasingly popular as a result of their Essence in the blog/YouTube sphere, and for good reason. We loved the Essence and its stylish and sporty dive watch companion the REEF.
I heard someone call Halios the Rolex of microbrands. This is quite a flattering claim, but there is a lot of truth to it given their quick movement of inventory and demand for models that you can’t have. This Vancouver based microbrand got its start back in 2009 and really made waves with the release of the Seaforth several years back. With successful release after release, the brand has developed a cult-like status in the scene.
Every brand’s marketing strategy attempts to position itself as a unique product in the marketplace. However, in the watch industry, styles and concepts are constantly recycled and truly unique concepts are rare. Microbrands in this highly competitive environment must find a way to stand out. Hegid is a Swiss brand that does offer something unique in this space: a modular case system that allows the owner to interchange the dial and movement - called capsules - into different cases (or “carrures”) with their proprietary case technology. Hegid has been one of the more interesting brand concepts we’ve seen in recent years
Laventure is a Neuchâtel, Switzerland-based microbrand that creates impressively constructed timepieces for adventurers in limited series. The original Marine caught the attention of many in the press world with its nicely designed case and a rather bold sandwich dial. Laventure fits their watches with Swiss-made ETA movements, nicely executed bracelets, straps, and plexiglass crystals. The newest model, the Sous Marine, is already completely sold out in the six original configurations, cased in either stainless steel or bronze, all of which were limited to just 50 examples. With a price point north of $3000, these pieces sold out quickly and have quickly garnered a strong reputation among the collecting community..
Lorier is a small brand founded by a husband and wife team, with their heavy focus being centralized around vintage-inspired sports watches. With the exploding world of vintage watches and the rush of many that want the vintage looks but want modern reliability at more feasible price tags, Lorier has carved out a nice section of the microbrand market. They first jumped on the scene with the release of the Neptune and following up with other favorites like the Falcon which I have reviewed on my channel.
In the past few years, I have gotten the chance to know the guys at Lum-Tec as they are based locally by me. They have been producing watches for over a decade and are great when it comes to customer service and not cutting corners. All their watches are hand-assembled and regulated at their facility, and include lifetime free movement timing regulation and pressure testing, so in other words, these guys really stand by their product. Their watches have become big contributors to the EDC communities as a result of their incredibly rugged timepieces with sleek, tactical designs.
Started in 2014, Martenero quickly rose the ranks as one of the leading microbrands with their focus on reinterpreting vintage watch designs with a modern twist. Their watches follow a similar styling ethos of utilizing striking colors while containing reliable mechanical movements within.
Hailing from New Zealand, Magrette is a watch brand that has caught on the international radar with its value-driven distinction and impressive spec-stacked collection of dive-inspired timepieces. Magrette uses a variety of movement styles across their lineup from ETA, Sellita, and Miyota, and are highly water-resistant, particularly the Moana Pacific Waterman models capable of 500m of depth. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of these models is the price, which ranges from $300 - with a Sellita movement no less - to $765 for the aforementioned Moana Pacific Waterman model in the bronze case. Positioned at the top of the collection are hand engraved cases that are of extremely limited production.
Brand: Massena LABWatch Featured Above: Uni-RacerShop Their Collection Here
Massena LAB is the brainchild of prominent industry personality William Massena. To know the brand is to know the person, Mr. Massena has done a bit of everything in the industry, he owned retail stores, was the managing director of the Timezone forum, and was even the COO of Antiquorum auction house in Switzerland. His latest project is his startup watch company which produces vintage-inspired chronographs that are heavily influenced by the famous Universal Geneve “Big-Eye” chronographs from the 1960s. Currently, the Uni-Racer collection consists of reasonably sized 39mm models in a handful of sharp and interesting colorways and supplied with reliable Swiss Sellita movements.
After a successful crowd-funding campaign in 2013, the Australian watch brand Melbourne Watch Company set forth on the goal of creating high-quality watches at accessible price points for watch enthusiasts and casual collectors. Since their initial launch into the market several years ago, they have expanded their lineup substantially, being a leader in the microbrand community from the land down under.
Mercer Watch Co. is a boutique brand designing and producing stylish goods located in New Jersey, United States. Mercer aims to create watches that deliver great value for the money with their well-crafted cases, dials, containing Swiss and Japanese movements.
MKII was founded in 2002 as a customization workshop for brands such as Seiko and Luminox. Starting that as early as they did, MKII was a pioneer of the custom watch market, especially here in the United States. The brand built a product line based on homage watches, paying tribute to some of the most iconic and important models to ever be produced. The homage watch category can be a tricky tie rope to walk, but MKII has become very well respected in this space. The build construction and overall quality of the final product, which is assembled in the United States, is what endears itself to the watch community at large.
Monta is a small brand based out of St. Louis Missouri here in the US has quickly risen in the ranks with developing a great reputation for producing some of the better quality watches that really are in that upper echelon of microbrands that I mentioned earlier. The movements, the finishing on the pieces, and the nice designs all combine to create a winning formula. I like the casual yet refined looks of the Noble, which packs a lot of value and is really serviceable as a daily wearer.
Nodus is a microbrand that I have been a fan of for quite a while as a result of their nice prices and approach to making watches. This LA-based brand was founded by two watch enthusiasts (Wes & Cullen). All their pieces are assembled in LA with their catalog leaning mostly to the tool/sporty style. In 2019 I reviewed the Retrospect II on my main channel and it was one of my favorite microbrands I reviewed during the year. For 2021, Nodus released their impressive Sector model.
Recently I was put onto the Swiss brand NORQAIN given their swift progress in the market. The brand was started by Ben Küffer, a former member of the team at Breitling. Given his decade of industry experience NORQAIN has been in the spotlight of many blogs and trusted retailers. The pieces I’ve seen on-hand have been impressive and the Freedom 60 GMT has standout potential. In addition, they are doing some intriguing work with the production of their movements in partnership with prominent Swiss movement manufacturer Kenissi who have connections to prestigious brands like Tudor and Chanel.
NTH is one of the better-established microbrands out there offering a variety of relatively affordable diver style watches in the sub $1,000 range. Their branding is bold and channels the rising consumer demands of all things with vintage looks.
Back in earl 2018, I was put onto Oak & Oscar for their clean and casual designed watches that fall in the $1,000-$2,500 price range. Getting their start back in 2015, O&O is based in Chicago and have developed a strong core customer base as a result of the passion embedded within the pieces that they create. Of the microbrands out there they offer pieces that are certainly at a higher price bracket, but I always applaud a brand that can develop a unique design identity that I feel O&O certainly has done.
Based in Rochester, New York, Ocean Crawler is a brand specializing in creating colorful, vintage-inspired dive watches with regulated Swiss Made movements. In a short period of time, they have established themselves as one of the most respected microbrands producing mechanical watches that enthusiasts love while supporting an active lifestyle. Last year I took a deeper look at their popular Core Diver and Dream Diver with both of them being some of the coolest divers out there for under $1,000.
Orion was founded by Nick Harris, a watch enthusiast and watchmaker that became addicted to the watch bug following receiving a vintage constellation from his grandfather. Orion makes no-nonsense tool watches that have fun 70s touch of color/style throughout. Landing here as a spotlight piece is one of the latest offerings from the brands with the Hellcat, offered in a handful of pleasing dial colors.
Raven watches was founded back in 2008 by Steve Laughlin and is based in the midwestern United States in Kansas. The brand specializes in affordable diver watches and was among the leaders in the rapid growth of the microbrand watch scene in the past decade.
Founded in 2015 by former banking professional François Moreau, Reservoir brings a visually unique approach to displaying dial information. Time is displayed by a single retrograding hand with a jump hour mechanism which is inspired by vintage measurement instruments with similar read-outs. Whether it’s a watch for land, water, or air, this design language is prominent across each collection giving the brand a very distinct identity. Reservoir calls La Chaux-de-Founds Switzerland home and uses high-quality Swiss movements to pair with their signature designs.
As a member of Dartmouth Brands Ltd. who also offers brands such as AVI-8, Spinnaker Watches are made to rebirth vintage designs in a modern and affordable package. In their production of price-competitive timepieces, they have now positioned themselves as a great option in a segment of the market that is constantly dominated by larger brands and is one of the more popular microbrands out there for those that are looking for vintage-inspired divers.
When it comes to Bauhaus inspired watch design, I think it is no secret that I am a big fan with my coverage of brands like Junghans or NOMOS. When it comes to watches at an affordable price that nail this style, you are limited. However, Hamburg upstart brand Sternglas is perhaps the best for out there to fit this category. This brand was started back in 2016 and now is one of the best fastest growing mechanical watch brands.
Straton Watch was founded back in 2015 and has garnered up a reputation for developing watches with motorsport undertones. Specializing in chronographs, they offer a wide range of styles typically with eye-catching splashes of color and reasonable prices.
Looking back at some of my favorite microbrands that I have reviewed at a more affordable price bracket, Traska is certainly in the conversation. Traska is a newer microbrand offering some of the coolest looking pieces out there that certainly draw inspiration from classic designs but manage to offer it in a package that isn’t repetitive. My first experience with this brand was with their Summiteer in 2019, an everyday field watch with impressive specifications. In 2021, the brand unveiled some new offerings including some updates to their best-selling Freediver.
When it comes to microbrands that nail both the design of their pieces but also their digital positioning, Unimatic is among the best of them. This Milan based brand probably won’t surprise you that there is a team of great industrial designers at the helm given their branding. Unimatic has quickly become an archetype for how a small upstart brand can get more mass-market attention through quality design from the high-level brand experience down to the products they create.
Vero is a Portland, Oregon based microbrand that has carved out the casual west coast look with all their pieces that uphold a retro aesthetic. In their Portland facility, they produce their own dials and assemble all their pieces within their walls while offering regulated Swiss movements within. Their Ridge Trail is boldly designed and comes in a minty green dial.
For those that have followed my content for a while know that I typically stick to the world of wristwatches, but I still have interests in the vast world of horology. With this being the case, it is a treat whenever you can find a brand like Vortic that is combining the classical elements of old pocket watches and bringing it to a timepiece that can be worn on the wrist. This Colorado-based brand specializes in transforming classic pocket watches and giving them new life through the transformation of becoming a wristwatch. Their watches can be customized by the buyer and the brand is truly unlike any other microbrand on this list
Watchmaking in the United States is, unfortunately, a dying art form to say the least. With this considered, whenever I can spotlight someone who is aiming to keep alive the traditions of watch production then I am eager to do it. Cameron Weiss, watchmaker, and founder of Weiss Watches, has quickly become one of the coolest stories in American watchmaking. After studying watchmaking in Switzerland, Cameron returned home to get into business for himself back in 2013. All the watches produced by the brand are hand-assembled and constructed by Cameron himself.
Singapore based watch brand, Zelos, has become one of the fastest emerging microbrands in the world with their value-driven timepieces. With their focus primarily being on well-constructed dive watches, using a variety of high-quality materials while sourcing both Japanese and Swiss movements within their timepieces, they have carved a unique niche in the competitive landscape of boutique brands and are a personal favorite of mine.