09/22/2023
 4 minutes

The 5 Best Microbrand Watches and Why They’re Worth a Closer Look

By Barbara Korp
The Best Microbrand Watches

The Best Microbrand Watches

Rolex, Patek Philippe, Omega… We all know the big players in the industry, and sometimes we want something off the beaten track. Luckily, the luxury watch scene has been budding with microbrands since the 2000s. But what is a microbrand in watch terms? How are these watches different? And why are they gaining traction?

What is a microbrand watch?

Microbrand watches are produced in small numbers and are usually much easier on the wallet than manufacturers with international renown. The brands typically purchase movements from industry suppliers or outsource production entirely. The models themselves tend to keep a low profile since they’re not backed by costly marketing campaigns, and some are even financed through crowdfunding. The uptick in crowdfunding has been a saving grace for microbrands trying to break into the watch scene, and is the reason a lot of projects have come to fruition.

Are microbrand watches any good?

Unlike Rolex and the rest of that crowd, microbrands don’t have laurels to rest on, instead having to score points with their product alone. And they definitely don’t hold back: the microbrand watch market is rich with designs and materials that lean on the unconventional. The advantages of this all-out approach are obvious: As a start-up, the company enjoys greater flexibility and quickly learns whether a product is met with interest. As consumers, we regulate the supply. Not only that, but distribution usually takes place directly between the manufacturer and the customer, which leads to attractive prices.

So where’s the catch? Well, the affordability can generally be traced back to the watch’s movement or other parts being sourced from third-party manufacturers. This is where microbrands differ from indie watch brands. Vertical integration is low (i.e., the watch is assembled without the brand making every component themselves), meaning they can produce timepieces a lot faster than indie brands. Microbrands offer the luxury of customization at lower prices and give enthusiasts something new and different to wear, all while retaining appeal for fans of mechanical watches. Although these timepieces might not use in-house calibers, they usually house respectable movements from suppliers like ETA and Sellita.

Top-5 Microbrand Watches

As you can see, there are more than enough reasons to check out some microbrand watches. Here are our top-five picks:

1. Baltic

Baltic is a prime example of the heights that crowdfunding projects can reach. This microbrand was founded in 2017 by Etienne Malec, a watch enthusiast without any prior experience in the industry. They’re winning over many watch enthusiasts with their eye-catching designs, Chinese movements, and affordable prices. Baltic cover all the bases and cater to every taste by offering vintage diving watches, classic chronographs, and traditional dress watches. Many echo the design of famous models, like the popular MR01, for example, which is strongly reminiscent of Patek Philippe. Despite this trend, Baltic’s watches are not seen as imitations of industry icons, but rather as tributes to watchmaking royalty.

Read more about Baltic in this article: The Most Exciting New Watch Brands of the Last 20 Years

Baltic Aquascaphe, Image: Bert Buijsrogge
Baltic Aquascaphe, image: Bert Buijsrogge

2. Yema

Yema has been around a lot longer than most other microbrands. This manufacturer has a 70-year history marked by several changes in ownership. In 2009, Montres Ambre SA acquired Yema, and that’s when things really started to take off. It isn’t just the brand’s vintage designs that are met with favor, but also their movements. Although they buy the parts from industry suppliers, they are never assembled as an exact copy of one particular caliber and thus still achieve the same end result – exclusivity. Yema’s portfolio contains diving watches, numerous chronographs, and ever-popular sports watches with integrated bracelets. The chronographs host distinctive subdials that cleverly evoke the golden age of motor racing in the 1970s and 80s. Another huge plus is their size, which in the spirit of those bygone decades, suit smaller wrists, too. Yema’s sure-fire strategy caters to design buffs and caliber enthusiasts alike.

Yema Wristmaster Traveller
Yema Wristmaster Traveller

3. Kurono Tokyo

Kurono Tokyo is spearheaded by Hajime Asaoka – one of Japan’s most famous and skilled watchmakers. The premise of the Kurono Tokyo project is simple yet genius: good watches with a design fit for daily wear at manageable prices without long wait times. All Kurono Tokyo watches are powered by 9OS5 movements from Miyota, which enjoy huge popularity for their high quality and precision. Otherwise, these timepieces follow a relatively cohesive blueprint, leaving plenty of room for Hajime Asaoka’s outstanding craftsmanship. His atelier is a testament to the philosophy of offering exclusivity to a wider audience. That said, since production numbers are low and the brand so successful, some models do come with a waiting period.

Kurono Tokyo Bunkyo by Hajime Asaoka mit lachsfarbenem Zifferblatt
The Kurono Tokyo Bunkyo by Hajime Asaoka with a salmon dial

4. Unimatic

In the short time since their founding in 2015, Unimatic have managed to make an impression on watch enthusiasts and the fashion savvy. The concept was created by Giovanni Moro and Simone Nunziato, two industry designers. The pair is of the minimalist persuasion, and thus the Modello Uno was born, a diving watch without any bells and whistles. The model names are as clear-cut as their design: Modello Duo, a military watch, and Modello Tre, a quartz chronograph, followed. But the real masterpiece is the Modello Quattro: Is it still a diver, more of a military watch, or just the latest it-piece? Ultra-modern, minimalist and different – this watch brand from Milan fuses watchmaking and fashion.

5. anOrdain

There is a misconception that enamel dials are reserved for luxury watches with eye-watering price tags. anOrdain debunks that myth. From the industrial hub of Glasgow, Scotland, this young microbrand is revolutionizing enamel art. Drawing on a wealth of experience and expertise, in-house enamelers craft dials that skillfully transfer their vintage flair into the modern age. The vintage design language is carried over into the diameters of the watches, which range from 35 mm to 41 mm. The brand’s portfolio has only two models, each of which is offered in different colors and sizes. However, this is not a disadvantage – a limited product line befits a brand as understated and elegant as anOrdain.


What do you think about this article?


About the Author

Barbara Korp

The moment I learned that watches were a lot more than just simple jewelry, I was hooked; I become enamored with the elegance of timekeeping. But there was one small hitch: most models were just too big for me to wear! That didn't discourage me, however. In fact, I developed quite a niche interest.

Read more

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