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A Brief Introduction to Microbrands

March 20, 2024

Behind the explosion of small watch brands and an overview of 14 of the best microbrands out there

In a world full of rampant consumerism, social media hype, and misleading marketing, the bargain stands as a bastion for disillusioned watch buyers. In theory, bargains eschew the disingenuousness of marketing jargon and prestige of luxury brands in favor of a trait that may seem elusive nowadays: genuine value for money. Other disenchanted consumers contend that products were superior in the past and for fairer prices. In the world of mechanical watches, the best value for money is mostly found in the preowned market or affordable brands. Pushing beyond the big names in the latter category (think Swatch juggernauts like Tissot) reveals a multitude of obscure, upstart brands that lack the prestige and scale to afford them incredibly high margins. It's from these companies, dubbed "microbrands" by enthusiasts, that the closest thing to a bargain in the mechanical watch industry can be found.

The last decade has seen an explosion of microbrands, each hoping to capitalize off the greater demand for affordable to mid-range watches. Their success has been fueled by watch enthusiasts' obsessive bargain hunting and social media hype, with YouTube and Reddit providing platforms for watch aficionados to laud the value propositions of seemingly ever more competitive products. With so many offerings and a constant barrage of attractive releases, it can be difficult to know where to start. Here is a quick guide.

How Microbrands Make Money
Microbrands make relatively niche products targeted primarily at fairly discerning enthusiasts. To be clear, the majority of consumers looking for an affordable watch will choose big names like Seiko, Timex, Hamilton, and Tissot thanks to their brand recognition and mass marketing budgets. Microbrands cannot rely on prestige like these companies and must provide something unique to survive. The abundant competition and glut have led to a buyer's market for microbrand watches for the time being.

Microbrands also typically have lower production and therefore less inventory. Inventory and overhead costs are further lessened by the use of the "drops," in which products are set to be released at a predetermined time to generate hype and sell out quickly. This method was first popularized by fashion brands but is now used across industries. The model also allows brands to charge higher prices due to the hype surrounding models. Selling direct to consumers means microbrands can capture the value that would ordinarily go to retailers in the distribution chain, hypothetically giving the end customer a better price. 

Of course, any savings from these tactics may be offset by the fact that smaller brands also lose out on economies of scale benefits that mass-production brands in conglomerates can take advantage of. Many microbrands may also not be able to keep up with demand due to supply chain or production issues and will unintentionally sell out quickly. Due to the small scale of their businesses, most only design and assemble their watches, leaving the production of cases, dials, hands, and movements to factories in Switzerland, Japan, or China.

Notable Microbrands


A French watchmaker and enthusiast founded Baltic in 2016. The brand focuses on timeless vintage-inspired designs, combining classic looks with modern functionality. Baltic assembles watches in France, buys movements from Japan, Switzerland, or China, and uses factories in China for most of its components. The brand offers a diverse range of watches, from sleek dress watches like the hit MR01 to tool watches like the Aquascaphe. Prices range from as low as $400 in its HMS collection to over $1,600 for the Tricompax Chronograph. Most are priced well under the $1,000 mark. With exceptional design and excellent value for money, Baltic offers an attractive entrypoint to mechanical watches.


Traska dates back to 2018 when it first released its kickstarter-backed dive watch, the Freediver. Since then, the brand has added four other models to its catalog, including the Oyster-Perpetual-esque Commuter, an Explorer style tool watch, and most recently a very attainable GMT. The brand keeps prices in the $500 to $800 range. At this price, Traska equips its timepieces with workhorse Miyota 9000 series movements, anti-reflective sapphire crystals, respectable water resistance, micro-adjustable clasps, and Swiss Super-LumiNova. Notably, the brand applies a proprietary scratch-resistant coating to its cases and bracelets.


Monta was founded in St. Louis Missouri in 2016. The brand is positioned in and around the $2000 mark, which is on the higher end for microbrands. Despite its short history, Monta has gained a reputation for exceptional finishing that holds up even when compared to traditional luxury brands like Rolex. It's done this by partnering with high quality suppliers and ensuring exceptional quality control in the assembly process. The brand offers several models in a variety of styles, including a versatile field watch, a diver, and two GMTs.


While dubbed the "Rolex of microbrands," Halios will most certainly not offer Rolex quality or prestige. The brand does, however, deliver excellent value for money. Founded in 2009 by Jason Lim, the origins of Halios are tied to online dive watch forums. The brand still specializes in dive watches. The company keeps costs low by producing pieces as demand dictates and outsourcing production of parts to Asia. Movements are typically sourced from Switzerland and quality control is performed at the company's home base in Vancouver, Canada. With sub-$1000 prices, Halios timepieces deliver exceptional quality and performance without compromising on style or durability.


Established in 2018, this New-York-based has aimed its releases squarely at a niche crowd of vintage watch lovers. Lorier's entire lineup is about as true to mid-twentieth-century watchmaking as you can get, offering period-correct details like Hesalite crystals and smaller cases. As a result, its designs are full of genuine vintage charm unsullied by modern parts like sapphire crystals, ceramic bezels, and hardened cases. Its most successful releases include the Falcon, which takes inspiration from the classic Rolex Explorer ref. 6350, and the Neptune, a diver that recalls early Submariners. All of its models, including mechanical chronographs and GMTs, are priced between $499 and $599.


Scotland-based AnOrdain has differentiated itself by offering handcrafted enamel dials in eye-catching colors. Its studio in Glasgow produces some of the best enameling in the business. So far, AnOrdain has released three models with prices ranging from as low as $2,000 to $4,500 for watches that use more advanced enameling techniques. While all of the brand's models use off-the-shelf movements from La Joux-Perret or Sellita, the artisanship rightfully commands a premium.

Studio Underd0g

Founded by a British designer in the midst of lockdown, Studio Underd0g has a refreshing perspective on the often over-serious world of mechanical watchmaking. The brand gives precedence to playful design. Its first and most famous release, a watermelon-themed mechanical chronograph, typifies this attitude perfectly. After flushing out a lineup of $600 chronographs powered by attainable Chinese Seagull movements, the brand released a $900 field watch with a full-lume dial. The brand's ethos of not taking watches too seriously has not led to poor quality watches; the watches are equipped with high-end straps from the Strap Tailor, are assembled in Great Britain, and undergo independent quality control at Horologium.


What this Singapore-based brand offers for sub-$1,000 or even sub-$500 prices is nothing short of astonishing. Founded in 2014, Zelos has made a name for itself not just by producing remarkably affordable yet well constructed watches but also by using unique materials. Many of its models can be found in titanium, bronze, and even damascus steel. Zelos also offers several uncommon dial patterns, including mosaic mother of pearl, meteorite, aventurine, and malachite. While the brand is primarily known for divers, it also produces a field watch, chronographs, and even a tourbillon.


Autodromo specializes in affordable, automotive-inspired designs. Founder Bradley Price, a car enthusiast and product designer from New York, started the brand after noticing how the typography on the tachometer of his vintage Alfa Romeo GTV6 would look great in a watch. The brand's current offerings include a $595 meca-quartz chronograph and a $975 automatic watch inspired by Group B rally cars of the 1980s. Bradley's passion for racing and vintage cars is evident in every design.


From its base in Italy, Unimatic designs and assembles some of the best no-nonsense tool watches below $700. Since its launch in 2015, the brand has expanded its core lineup to include four models, three of which use automatic Seiko movements. The striking designs are simple and industrial, defined by brushed finishes, legible matte-black dials, and large crowns. Unimatic has made several limited editions in other colors and partnered with companies like Hodinkee and Massena LAB.

Massena LAB

Founded by watch collector and former retailer William Massena in 2018, Massena LAB grew out of several collaborations with the independent watchmaker Habring2.The brand has continued to work with prominent independent brands and individual watchmakers, including Louis Erard, Unimatic, Ming, MB&F, Raúl Pagès, and J.N. Shapiro. Massena LAB specializes in vintage-inspired designs, typically released as limited editions priced between $1,000 and $10,000.

Furlan Marri

Furlan Marri was born of a partnership between Hamad Al Marri, an artist from the Middle East, and Andrea Furlan, a Swiss industrial designer. The company launched its first products, five limited edition chronographs, on Kickstarter in 2021. That same year, the brand's Mr. Grey ref. 1041-A won the Horological Innovation Prize at the GPHG. Achieving this level of success a year into a watch company's history was unheard of. Furlan Marri's meca-quartz chronographs are priced at around $600, though its mechanical watches retail for over $1,000. The brand is based in Geneva but outsources production of its meca-quartz projects to Japan and Hong Kong. Its mechanical watches are assembled in Switzerland. In addition to its wildly successful series of meca-quartz chronograph watches, Furlan Marri has also produced three limited edition mechanical chronographs, a perpetual calendar for Only Watch, and four sector-dial dress watches, three of which are in continuous production.


The British microbrand Farer launched in 2015. Since then, the brand has rapidly expanded its lineup to include chronographs, GMTs, a world timer, pilot's watch, and a field watch. The company's models are typically priced between $1,000 and $2,000 and use high grade La Joux-Perret or Sellita movements. Farer is known for its playful designs and eye-catching color combinations. While the brand may place emphasis on aesthetics, its quality is exceptional and backed by a five-year guarantee.

Kurono Tokyo

The brainchild of designer and master watchmaker Hajime Asaoka, this small Japanese brand offers quality independent watchmaking at accessible price points–some models are as inexpensive as $1,200. Kurono also offers some premium watches like its chronographs, which go for around $3,500 on the brand's website. Most, including its time-only models, calendars, and GMTs, use Miyota 9000 series movements, while chronographs house the Seiko NE86 caliber. The brand commands an outsize presence in watch circles; its pieces have been nominated for the GPHG several times in recent years. Kurono's small scale and exceptional attention to detail mean its releases are very limited, and most models sell out quickly.


Ming was started by a collective of watch enthusiasts led by Malaysian photographer and designer Ming Thein. The company released its first model in 2017. Since then, Ming has become one of the most sought-after enthusiast-founded brands. The company's watches are indeed extremely hard to get, selling out in minutes, never to be made again. The timepieces have the quality to back up the craze. The brand is based in Malaysia and partners with suppliers like Schwarz Etienne and Jean Rousseau. Design-wise, Ming is highly distinct, having developed its own recognizable case shape, handset, and markers; the brand is also known for textured three-dimensional dials. Several pieces have been nominated for the GPHG–not bad for an upstart brand founded by enthusiasts. Prices range from around $2000 to the tens of thousands.

Closing Thoughts
These are just some of the brands in a very crowded market. Others–like Maen, Magrette, Oak & Oscar, Astor+Banks, Brew, and Nodus–are worth exploring as well. Many more small brands exist on the higher end, including Nivada Grenchen, Airain, and Excelsior Park. Of course, individual watchmakers and their brands are small as well. Typically, these types of companies are excluded from the "microbrand" label despite their small scale due to their significantly higher pricing. Microbrands are normally associated with bargains, and luxury and bargains are almost always mutually exclusive.

At what point microbrands can no longer be considered "micro" is a pertinent question. Perhaps five years ago Christopher Ward would be considered a microbrand, but since then the brand has become much more mainstream. Some might still consider it "micro" given the relative scale of competing brands like Hamilton, Tissot, and Seiko. The French brand Yema, which is large enough to develop its own movements, is in a similar boat. There is also some contention over the term itself; for some, "microbrand" carries disparaging connotations of low-cost, poor-quality products as many cheap watches used to be. Clearly, this is no longer the case, and increased competition will only further increase fair value in the eyes of the watch consumer.

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