Around 2017, watch lovers began to recognize a new type of watch brand in their midst. Dubbed “microbrands,” they were small, independently owned companies that tended to sell their watches through their own e-commerce channels for retail prices that rarely exceeded $2,500.

They owed their existence to a host of factors, including the rise of crowdfunding, the advent of e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, and the growth of social media and other tools enabling low-volume, low-cost production and marketing.

For a while, the sheer number of new brands that qualified for the microbrand label made it difficult for watch lovers to distinguish the quality makers from opportunistic copycats.

“There was a period when the term ‘microbrand’ became a little pejorative because of so much Kickstarter stuff, but I feel like that’s started to clear out and some of the new crop of brands has become more established,” says Bradley Price, who founded Autodromo, a New York-based watch brand inspired by vintage race cars, in 2011. “The microbrand space is becoming an honest space.”

Below, we highlight five small independent makers well-regarded for their designs, the quality of their watchmaking and the accessibility they offer to buyers keen to connect with the people behind the brand (and score a good deal in the process!).

 

Autodromo Group B Verde Smeraldo
Autodromo Group B Verde Smeraldo, $975

Autodromo

Fans of automotive history will appreciate Autodromo’s authentic homage to vintage race cars, such as the sporty wristwatches in the Group B collection, which take their design cues from rally cars of the 1980s, “the last unrestricted era in motorsport,” Price says. 

They’re also bound to appreciate Price’s commitment to connecting directly with clients. While Autodromo is hardly a one-man operation, Price can make it feel that way. “It’s a lot of work to stay on top of it, but I really try to give people a high level of personalized service and I try to go the extra mile,” he says. “If anyone has a problem, I try to solve their problem and not do what’s cheapest or easiest for me.”

In October, the brand created a limited edition of just 45 pieces and made it available strictly to members of the Autodromo Collectors Circle. “We’re trying to reward the loyalty with access to special editions,” Price says. Autodromo.com

 

Baltic Hermetique Tourer watch in green
Baltic Hermetique Tourer, €550

Baltic

Since its founding in 2017, Paris-based Baltic has earned a cult following for its “neo-vintage watches assembled in France.” From its Aquascaphe Classic, a no-frills 39 mm dive watch that is a paragon of simple, legible design, to its new Hermétique collection of four everyday models in a range of fetching colors and 37mm cases, Baltic’s range has struck a chord with buyers looking for chic, vintage styling in affordably-priced packages.

The brand, which sells its watches through pre-order campaigns, is planning to introduce two new models in 2024: A slim 36 mm dress watch that founder Etienne Malec says “will be totally different from what we've done before in terms of design,” and a new complication model, based on an existing movement. “As usual in a pretty small size, but without compromising on practicality,” says Malec “It will be very thin (10 mm including the glass) and waterproof.”

In a sign that the brand’s ethos is resonating with watch lovers, Baltic is opening its first showroom in the U.S. this year, in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood, on the heels of showroom openings in Paris and London. Baltic-watches.com

 

Brew Metric Retro Dial
Brew Metric Retro Dial, $450

Brew Watch Co.

Jonathan Ferrer, an industrial designer who dreamed of creating a watch brand that encouraged people to enjoy the ritual of a daily coffee break, founded Brew Watch Co. in 2015. In September, the industry publication WatchPro named it the “American Watch Brand of the Year.”

Recognized for its signature TV-shaped cases, Brew is working on a slew of new, refined pieces that focus on materials and movement choices, including a full titanium chronograph as well as a piece equipped with a Swiss manual wind movement, says Ferrer.

“One of my latest watch releases was a chronograph that was composed of forged carbon and PVD stainless steel to evoke a luxury automotive aesthetic,” he says of the $495 Metric. “Also, I am working on a very special collaboration directly with Alton Brown on a custom limited edition chronograph collection. This will be released in Spring 2024 with images and more details to become available soon.”

As is typical of microbrand founders, Ferrer prioritizes connecting directly with his clients and collectors — and 2024 will be no different. “I plan on having more international pop-up events to meet with different enthusiasts from around the world and to showcase the latest Brew watches,” he says. Brew-watches.com

 

Christopher Ward The Twelve 36 Alta Gold watch
Christopher Ward The Twelve 36 Alta Gold, $2,555

Christopher Ward

Although the popular British brand no longer qualifies as a microbrand thanks to both the volume and quality of its production, Christopher Ward is credited with pioneering the category back in 2005, when it was founded as a direct-to-consumer online brand by three friends who now manufacture their watches in Biel, Switzerland.

The brand’s latest watch, the $2,555 Twelve 36 Alta Gold is distinguished by a faceted 18k rose gold bezel and a stylishly on-trend 36 mm steel case, all powered by the Sellita SW200-1 automatic movement. Christopherward.com

 

Ming LW01 watch
Ming LW01
Ming gold watch
Ming rose gold watch, front and back

Ming

In 2017, Ming Thein, a photographer, designer and entrepreneur from Kuala Lumpur teamed up with five friends to found Ming. Intent on creating watches by and for collectors, the brand, which came of age making timepieces priced in the $2,000 range, recently unveiled a watch that makes clear it has graduated from the microbrand category and is now firmly entrenched in the horological big leagues.

Touted as the world’s lightest mechanical watch, the Ming LW.01 Manual and LW.01 Automatic models (which weigh just 8.8 and 10.8 grams, respectively) retail for 19,500 Swiss francs (about $22,550). All 200 pieces of the limited edition have been reserved, pending deliveries in the fourth quarter of this year. In other words, take a number! Ming.watch

 

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