A selection of some of the hottest microbrand watches right now, as well as ones you should keep an eye on...
By now most of you reading this will probably be aware of microbrand watches. The rise of the web-based watch scene has developed in tandem with evolving R&D resulting in any watch enthusiast with an idea for a watch or brand, being able to talk with suppliers and just a few months later have a sample on their wrist.
When you take a step back and think about this, it's quite incredible that we live in a world where someone’s crazy idea halfway across the world can be made a reality and then be in the hands of the end consumer in a very short timespan. Incredible yes, but this evolution has meant that it can be a bit of a minefield to try and find the brands who are producing watches for the right passion reasons, focusing on the details and providing value for money.
So today I wanted to run through a few of my personal favourite microbrands I've experienced hands-on with, as well as some brands I’ve had my eye on and are worth watching.
Yema WatchesA brand I've grown to appreciate a lot over the past 12 months is Yema. This French brand’s most well-known model, the Superman, dates back to 1963 and has accurately been reborn by Yema in recent years.
What I enjoy about Yema is how they diversify their range by price points. For example, you can get your hands on a Superman starting at £390 with the same build quality, attention to detail and emotion of the mechanical movement version.
The brand effectively treads the path between authentically reviving their history and whilst also having fun with it and introducing pieces that you might not expect from a brand new watch. You can even find in house movements in some of their models which is the cherry on top of the cake as the quality of their creations is extremely impressive.
From mechanical racing chronographs, GMTs and capable diving watches to funky LED watches, space exploration watches and elegant sports watches. The Yema range is varied, different and all within the £2,000.When it comes to my favourite Yema I’ll have to cheat a little and say the Superman in general. When I reviewed this watch last year, the overriding inclusion and execution of elegance is just incredible. You can get yourself a Superman in a simple yet effective black dial configuration or you can explore some of their more unique offerings like the bronze Superman, Speedgraf or their limited edition creations.
If the sound of a Yema on your wrist is music to your ears you’ll want to head over to the WatchGecko website today as we’re now authorised retailers of Yema watches and have curated a collection of our favourite models from their range.
We start with a brand that I’ve spoken about quite a bit here and that’s Baltic. The creation of this neo-vintage brand is propelled by a passed down passion and appreciation for vintage watches within a family. Baltic is known as being one of the leading microbrands when it comes to creating modern watches that rely on the past for classic design and proportions.What I enjoy most about Baltic compared to other watch companies who do similar work is that their watches don't directly copy legacy brands but rather align themselves to their values. There is a ‘no-frills, just a great watch’ feeling I get with Baltic as their range is well considered and well planned since day 1.
For £500 - £1,000 it is hard to beat Baltic.
Picking one model as my favourite is going to be hard as I thoroughly enjoyed my time with every Baltic. However, if I had to pick one it would be the new Aquascaphe GMT. It's a model I didn't think I would connect with as much as I did as I'm not a big fan or users of travel watches. But their respectful execution and evolutionary upgrades on previous generations make it number 1 for me.
Interested in reading more about Baltic watches? Check out the rest of our coverage of the brand here:
Oak And Oscar
Next, we travel across the pond to the US, and Chicago specifically to take a look at Oak and Oscar. Founded in 2015 by Chase Fancher, Oak and Oscar is a small independent watch brand focusing on providing modern twists on popular watch types.
Where Oak and Oscar differ is how they seemingly create their watches without relying on history and previous brands to define their language. There is nothing wrong with the former (it's one of the reasons why I love Baltic as already discussed) but you can’t help but appreciate Oak and Oscar's brand ownership of its visuals. It has allowed them to carve their own path in this crowded industry and from where I’m sitting, they’re doing a brilliant job at it.
We recently spent some time with both their Olmsted and their Humboldt. The former is a 38mm wide modern field watch with brilliant details such as a sandwich dial, dark hands, an elongated sweeping bright orange seconds hand and a date at 6. It possesses a quality to rival any other watch at this price point. Legibility is a priority here and they don't get much better. The lume has been tastefully executed and the watch is wonderfully designed.
The latter is their Humboldt, a 40mm tool watch with 12 hours steel bezel, matching bright orange sweeping seconds hand, sandwich dial construction and yet again the date at 6.
These watches are only a peek into the world of Oak and Oscar but clearly, it is obvious that although these watches are related, they don’t cross wires at all. Each is unique enough to make sense in their range and offer something very different. Oh, and they’re both powered by the ETA 2892-A2 movement.My favourite has to be the Olmsted. I’ve struggled to wear anything else during this loan period and have particularly enjoyed the watch on our Dedworth Distressed Leather in Light Brown.
Furlan MarriPast my affection for tool watches that are immensely purposeful, deep down I’m a dress watch guy. When I started talking about watches online five years ago diving watches, field watches and sports chronographs all interested me but it was dress watches that I always came back to. It probably explains why I went on to add the Seiko SARB033 to my collection as my first mechanical watch, and is why the Furlan Marri chronograph recently launched through Kickstarter makes my list.
Their first watch is a 38mm wide, mecha quartz-powered, bicompax chronograph that takes design influence from hugely desirable watches such as the Patek 1463. The watch has been created with a focus on the core important aspects of watches such as design, cases, finishing and proportions. Oh, and its price point is under £500.
Furlan Marri has been clever with this watch as they have made sensible decisions that benefit the end consumer, especially considering the price point. The movement used is the VK64 meca quartz, a reliably impressive piece of watchmaking that combines quartz timekeeping with a mechanical chronograph function. This ticks a few boxes as not only is the watch more reliable than affordable mechanical chronograph movements, it allows the brand to keep the proportions of the watch desirably reduced, just like high-end vintage watches.
At the moment the brand only has this chronograph in their range, but it's the salmon dial version that is my personal favourite. You don’t often see a salmon dial at this lower price point which is why it's the model I backed them for.
When it comes to watch straps, we recently took a look at the “Laccato Nero” version of the watch and the Besford in Chestnut was a perfect combination…
Microbrand watches to look out for
Of course, we wouldn’t be true watch collectors if we weren’t always considering what comes next? The microbrand world is full of fascinating creations so here are just a few brands we’re looking forward to seeing more of in the near future...
FORZO WatchesFORZO is a part of the Geckota group who over the past 10 years has worked to bring brands such as Geckota watches, ZULUDIVER and WatchGecko to life. This latest venture takes the team into the cross-pollinated world of motorsport and horology, both industries with an immense connection dating back decades. The FORZO range is shaping up to be something very special, with exciting designs and a real culture behind the brand. Be sure to follow @forzowatches on Instagram to stay in the loop.
Astor & Banks
Astor and Banks is a brand I’m starting to see more and more of through channels such as Instagram. The brand was created by a self-confessed watch nerd called Andrew Perez and, much like Oak and Oscar, is based in Chicago, USA. One of two of their watches is called the Fortitude and it's this model that continues to grab my attention whenever I’m scrolling.
The sand dial version in particular with its grey hands and overall subdued tone looks gorgeous to me. The build quality, the movement used (9015 from Miyota), bracelet construction and fantastic proportions (38.5mm wide, 11.9mm thickness) reminds me a lot of the Rolex OP.
And at only $650 US, it’s a hard one to resist. Find out more here.
Formex WatchesFormex is a brand we have already covered on the WatchGecko Online Magazine, however, I believe this is a brand you should be watching. Recently they have undergone a re-brand which has seen them move away from their sports, adventure and fast pace ethos more towards branding which evokes quality, refinement and prestige. This rebrand mainly focused on a new logo and font, but the impact is huge. Their latest model the Reef is a fantastically built piece of kit that easily rivals companies charged 2x what Formex do.
This is only the beginning of Formex’s rebrand so I’m incredibly eager to see what comes next for them.
Richard recently took a deep dive into this new creation from Formex, if you're interested you'll want to click here to learn more about the Reef.
Want to hear from the CEO of Formex? Why not! Click here to see what he had to say.
This next one is a fascinating brand. Brew watches is yet again another US microbrand who have taken their passion for coffee to the next level, by creating watches that are inspired by the ethos and environment coffee breaks are normally enjoyed in. Don’t expect the watches to look like a cup of coffee though, as these cases have an uber 70s feel to them.
Sizes are kept down (36mm x39mm for my favourite piece from them, the Retromatic), automatic movements feature and price points are well under £500.
The thing left to do is decide on one to add to your collection! Have a look at Brew for yourself here.
Keep your eyes on the WatchGecko Online Magazine as other members of the team will highlight some of their favourite microbrands along with more brands to watch soon...
What are some of your favourite microbrands and why? Don't forget to add your comments below...