If you’re a watch enthusiast and only pay attention to YouTube or Instagram, it can start to feel like there are only a few luxury watch brands worth owning. But beyond the hype watches from Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet, all of which are next to impossible to get (and even harder to afford if you can), there lies a whole world of watches that are beautiful, affordable, and actually available to buy.
The companies behind such watches are colloquially known as microbrands – small, independent watch manufacturers responsible for creating some of the most unique and interesting timepieces that money can buy. More often than not, these companies offer unique designs and aesthetics that the big brands would never dare attempt. So, whether you’re looking for something off the beaten path to spice up your watch collection or for the perfect gift for the watch collector in your life, here are 5 of my favorite microbrands right now.
Based in St. Louis, Missouri and manufactured in Switzerland, Monta Watch makes some of the most reasonably priced yet finely finished timepieces out there. With five different design categories and a handful of dial options to choose from, there are plenty of choices for those looking for a go anywhere, do anything steel sports watch. From the dressy simplicity of the Monta Noble to the more rugged utility of the Monta Skyquest or Monta Oceanking, there’s something for just about everyone (provided you can wear a 38.5-mm timepiece). The best part is that all of their watches, complete with spectacular details, lovely finishing, and one of the better steel bracelets out there, cost right around $2,000.
Brew Watch Co. has become something of a darling in the watch collector community. Owned and operated by New York City-based designer Jonathan Ferrer, Brew was created with the spirit of the coffee break in its heart – an inclination to enjoy the finer things in life and savor the details as one savors the repose of an afternoon cup of joe. As abstract as that sounds at first, there is a palpable joy and ease about Brew’s timepieces; the vibrancy of the Retrograph, the capriciousness of the Metric – Brew’s watches are just so much fun. At between $350 and $525, the value proposition is undeniable.
Vaer Watches launched in Venice, California in 2016, and initially focused on making clean, affordable sport watches. Their early field watch designs quickly gained the company a dedicated following, but it was their vintage-inspired diving watches that really put Vaer on the map. Their vintage muses include the Omega Seamaster 300 from the 1960s, vintage Jaeger-Lecoultre Deep Sea Alarms, and (with the pending release of their first GMT) the Rolex GMT-Master “Pepsi.” Taken at face value, these watches may be dismissed as mere homages; however, upon closer examination, you’ll find thoughtful details and design touches that distinguish Vaer from their inspirations. Furthermore, two caliber options are available in most designs: Swiss ETA or Japanese Miyota movements. Overall, this results in watches that will fit just about any budget, with prices ranging from $330 to $1,200.
Bremoir is the youngest brand on our list, having just released their first watch, the Lexington, earlier this year. The Lexington is a unique timepiece among current offerings on the market as its design language is deeply rooted in Art Deco. The Lexington’s primary inspiration is the crown of the Chrysler Building in New York City, a pinnacle of Art Deco architecture. With a highly unique, almost cushioned-shaped curved case, the Lexington has a presence on the wrist that is as distinct as its dynamic, tuxedo-esque dial. It is a watch that feels as sporty as it does dressy and as modern as it does vintage. With a playfully decorated Swiss-made automatic movement, the $985 Lexington is perfect for those watch enthusiasts looking for something unique and elegant.
The worlds of motoring enthusiasts and watch enthusiasts often intersect. At that intersection is Autodromo, a watch brand founded by industrial designer and vintage car fanatic Bradley Price. Bradley’s passion for vintage race cars comes through loud and clear across Autodromo’s line-up, from the Ford GT Endurance Chronograph (a genuinely licensed timepiece) to the classic Monoposto with its RPM gauge dial. However, if you ask any real Autodromo fan which model is the one to own, you will very likely hear “the Group B.” With its 1980’s-style dial and brilliant integrated bracelet, the $975 Group B is perhaps the purest expression of automotive and horological synergy.