17 Best Microbrand Watches: Discover Boutique Options in 2023
The microbrand watch scene is as exciting, turbulent, and novel as its ever been. But this brings breadth between the best microbrand watches and the worst microbrand watches. So, without pointing out the obvious, you are reading this article. That means you’re at least considering eschewing traditional luxury watches for the best microbrand watches. We salute you. There’s a whole world of intrigue and nuance you would never have experienced if you’d opted for a Rolex.
But what is a microbrand? It began as a movement for watch lovers, by watch lovers, producing timepieces in small numbers. It was made possible by globalized supply chains, the internet, and subsequently, social media. Hence, microbrands are associated with small production, direct-to-consumer sales, niche products, and competitive pricing.
As the popularity of microbrands has expanded, so has the definition. Brands are expanding their global reach, producing components in-house, and adopting sleek marketing. A short but vague definition is any small to mid-sized watch brand that isn’t a classic luxury brand. As you can imagine, this leaves plenty of options.
That’s where we come in. The broad scope also includes brands that cut production costs in a race to the bottom in favor of trends and build quality. So, the customer can end up suffering. No sweat. We’re here to guide you away from detritus and towards the best microbrand watches. These brilliant watches will make the case that you need a microbrand in your watch wardrobe.
P.S. knowing the anatomy of a watch is abundantly useful if you’re new to watches.
First of all, check reviews. YouTube is a great resource. Many watch influencers and channels offer in-depth analyses of models. Use this as an opportunity to learn about the market more broadly.
As our top watch, we chose Baltic Watches Aquascape in Black Silver. The watch is one of the most robust and durable on the market, and its aesthetic is unmatched in terms of versatility and style. Our second choice is the Hesili New York watch, which comes with durable hardware, a swoon-worthy vintage feel, and an affordable price. Whatever your needs, there’ll be something here for you in this best microbrand watches round-up.
Our Top Picks
The success of Baltic Watches through the years almost makes me hesitant to call it a microbrand. Perhaps we can slot it in as “independent” and make an exception. For this reason, the watch brings the uniqueness of a microbrand alongside the reassurance of a larger brand for servicing and value retention. Scrolling through various second-hand watch websites, it appears that the brand, and indeed this model holds its value.
Now, to the watch. The black strap, combined with the silver casing, the black dial, and the white indices, give it an easy two-tone aesthetic that’ll slot into any outfit with no qualms. The watch offers 200m diving capability, and with most recreational divers never going beyond 36m, this will be plenty.
One YouTuber suggests it’s the best watch he’s ever had and after two years of consistent use, there is barely any sign of scratching. This is down to the sapphire crystal and bezel aiding its scratchproof reputation. I’m struggling with reasons not to buy this watch. Plus, the brand’s marketing is genuinely very cool.
Material: 316L Stainless Steel, Tropic Rubber | Diameter: 39mm | Movement: Automatic Miyota 9039
NOMOS Glashütte is a unique microbrand. It produces almost all parts in-house. Not only that, but it produces accurate and reliable movements. The brand claims an accuracy worthy of chronometer standards in the automatic DUW 3001 movement in the Club Sport Neomatik. The svelte design gives the watch a small 3.1mm depth, meaning the watch is sleek on the wrist too. In-house production also keeps costs low, making NOMOS one of the best value-for-money microbrands on the market.
Now to its looks. The classic stainless steel case and strap, alongside exaggerated indices and a clean petrol green dial, make it a versatile watch for sharp tailoring or laidback casuals.
P.S. Give yourself a break and watch this mindful video of a NOMOS Glashütte watch being manufactured.
Material: 316L Stainless Steel | Diameter: 37mm | Movement: Automatic DUW 3001 by NOMOS Glashütte
When minimalism is well-executed, there is little that can beat it. Monofore’s rectangle shape helps frame the wrist in a much more subtle fashion. The white dial and sparing silver indices give it a very clean aesthetic. Then, the soft blue leather strap creates enough sense of style to lift it from being minimalist mush. This is an immaculate and considered watch design.
Material: 316L Stainless Steel, Leather | Diameter: 38mm | Movement: Seiko Japanese Quartz
Time (probably) existed pre-1884, but it was in that year that the Prime Meridian Line was established in Greenwich as 0 degrees longitude. We often refer to the timezone +00:00 as Greenwich Mean Time or GMT as it is taken as the reference for the world’s time zones. IOTA watches are a brand with time at its spiritual and physical center. The designers both hail from Greenwich, London, AKA, the birthplace of internationally agreed upon “time.”
This GMT watch has a Swiss-made quartz movement offering 45 months of battery life. Plus, a tough stainless steel case, Tuscan nubuck leather straps (with a choice of color), 50m water resistance, sapphire crystal glass, anti-reflective coating, and a 5 Year Guarantee. But it’s not all about the specifications, because the debonair simplicity of its GMT feature is symbolic of the ease and intelligence of this well-rounded practical watch as a whole.
Material: 316L Stainless Steel | Diameter: 40mm | Movement: Ronda 515.24H Quartz Movement
And finally, the digital watch. Some levy the charges that they’re for juveniles. While it’s true, they cannot match the craft, elegance, and mystique of an automatic analog watch, this digital watch by Void Watches makes proves that they can play an important role in your watch rotation.
The 316L stainless steel and digital clock face push the aesthetic to something between a futuristic bracelet accessory and a vintage 80s digital watch. It’s an enticing concept. The way it balances with the stainless steel linked bracelet makes (IMHO) one of the best-looking watches on this list.
And it’s not just a beautiful object either. It comes with sapphire crystal coverage, waterproofing up to 50m, and an LCD backlit display. If you, like me, are attracted to things that seem unique and stylish, this is a brilliant alternative office or daily watch.
Material: 316L Stainless Steel | Diameter: 36x42mm | Movement: LCD, Backlight
This is a smart watch. Not in the conventional sense. Instead, it intelligently harnesses the power of the sun (and artificial light) to power itself. Just two hours of light exposure can power the watch for six months.
The B-Corp company Solios has stumbled upon a very good idea. In keeping with B-Corp ethos (stakeholders over shareholders), the brand utilizes recycled stainless steel, plus they commit to restoring one acre of rainforest for every watch sold. Finally, the minimalist style lends itself well to easy, everyday smart-casual dressing.
Material: Recycled Stainless Steel | Diameter: 36 / 42mm | Movement: Quartz Solar Powered
There’s something magical about seeing the mechanical workings of an intricate object laid bare. No longer do you behold the swan gracefully swimming across the pond, but you are plunging into the murky reality of the pond, revealing the majestic webbed feet pedaling with fury.
This Raymond Weil watch pulls back the curtain and displays the beautiful Automatic Calibre RW1212 movement front and center. If you weren’t enamored and mystified by watches before, you will be after owning this timepiece.
Raymond Weil is Geneva-based. This means the artisanal feel of microbrand fuses with the centuries of deep horological knowledge that stews in the city. It’s a wonderful symbiosis of a relatively recent and burgeoning upstart with the heritage of a Swiss-made and centered brand.
Material: 316L Stainless Steel, Leather | Diameter: 42mm | Movement: Automatic Calibre RW1212
This is a sexy watch. This diver watch has grace and softness but comes encased in a sturdy, strong stainless steel exterior. We expect nothing less from the renowned Singapore brand Boldr Supply. The brand’s ethos is designing watches that withstand the brutality of an extremely active lifestyle. That means you can throw all that you wish at it. Even, perhaps, boulders?
The Odyssey Freediver 202 withstands up to 100m underwater, which is good for freediving and scuba diving. The general design is one of sharp angularity seen on the lugs and the 316L stainless steel wrist strap. It looks fabulous. Then this is combined with a murky green bezel, green dial, and gold/cream hands and markers. Not to mention the overall sense of aesthetic balance. This is a seriously tough and seriously good-looking dive watch.
Material: 316L Stainless Steel | Diameter: 40mm | Movement: Cal. 9015 Automatic
Disclaimer: I own this model. I can vouch for its ease of styling, sturdiness, waterproofing, and ability to bring an uplifting spirit to your watch choices. This dive watch is good for up to 10 bar of atmospheric pressure, the equivalent of 100m depths, which is hugely impressive for such a watch in such an accessible price range.
The dial has a wave-like 3D pattern on it because of its ocean theme ‘n’ all. But see the charming little smiley face on the crown. Sometimes it’s the little things that count.
Better than a watch that smiles at you is the fact that it is constructed completely from recycled plastic collected from the oceans, leaving a carbon footprint of KG CO2e 1.68. Oh, and it’s cheap.
Material: Recycled Plastic | Diameter: 40mm | Movement: Quartz, Miyota 2015
The sleek, vintage style emanating from this classy wristwatch is a real attraction. There are some winning aesthetic pairings going on here. The wide brass hands and clear indices are red gold plated and combine well with the velvet green dial. Meanwhile, the stainless steel elements pair nicely with the chocolate brown leather strap. This watch is a masterclass in nu-nostalgia.
It offers a high level of dependability, too. Premium materials such as sapphire crystal with AR coating sit alongside many Swiss-built components in this watch. In this way, the Brooklyn-based marries style and quality at a fantastic price point, and all the reviews are glowing. It’s a large yes.
Material: 316L Stainless Steel, Leather | Diameter: 40mm | Movement: Automatic Caliber STP 1-11
Japanese watchmaking has a grand old reputation (watch joke) because of Seiko, Casio, Orient, and Citizen. Independent brands such as Hajime Asaoka, Kurono, and Knot have only furthered this. The ethos of Knot is to design watches from parts all over Japan, creating a truly Japanese watch brand.
If you find yourself attracted to this option, blame the moon, of course. The watch will allow you to keep track of lunar phases via the rotating moon plate so you can be sure of your reasoning. Or, the attraction could be the gold details merging with the sleek off-white dial to create an irresistible style. Knot offers 182 strap options, case size options, and the ability to have the watch engraved underneath. So you can make it yours.
Material: 316L Stainless Steel | Diameter: 34 / 38mm | Movement: Quartz
Co-host of my favorite podcast (BudPod), Pierre Novellie (comedian), observed in Ep. 197: “There is a lot of crossover between people who love Formula 1 and people who love big, chunky, expensive watches.” Phil Wang (comedian) replies, “Oh yes, there is, why is that?” Pierre says, “I just think it’s a personality type where it’s like, ‘I, love, machines… shiny, expensive, machines.’”
I can’t really fault the analysis. So here’s a watch for people who love one of the most gorgeous, shiny, and expensive machines ever made: the Aston Martin DB 5. Each dial of this watch has been cut out from the bonnet of the legendary car. And in this way, the watch is typical of what’s brilliant about the best microbrand watches. It is gorgeous, not ludicrously priced, and it satisfies a niche.
Material: 316L Stainless Steel | Diameter: 40.5mm | Movement: Automatic Miyota 8215
This Zero West DB 2 Lancaster watch pays homage to Operation Chastise, “the most audacious bombing raid of all time,” and features a machine disc salvaged from Dambuster Lancaster ED825. It’s a wonderful example of the particular niches that microbrands attend.
Aesthetically, the watch takes cues from the bombers that carried out that mission. If you want to know more about this important WWII story of bravery, the watch comes with a 100-page book on the topic. Yes, this watch is for real aficionados. But its sleek look and premium parts make it a brilliant watch in its own right.
Material: 316L Stainless Steel, Specialized Rubber | Diameter: 44mm | Movement: SW500-C Automatic
Art Deco was an artistic movement that occurred in the 1920s/30s when men wore more tailoring than now. So, it’s no surprise the Art Deco design of this Gane watch fits with the formality of a suit.
The Brushed Blue dial is versatile, and the precise CNC milled indices and stainless steel material give this watch a debonair feel. But don’t think this watch is all suits and no boots. It can either be paired with a five-link steel strap (our suggestion when worn with tailoring) or a rich brown Italian leather strap. It’s fair to say your tailoring just got a suave retro upgrade.
Material: 316L stainless steel | Diameter: 38mm | Movement: Automatic Miyota Caliber 8215
This is a driving watch in all senses of the phrase. It honors driving through design but crucially doesn’t impede the act itself. The lightweight aluminum case will provide a veritable featherweight feel on your wrist, so there’ll be no awkwardness when hitting the apex at speed. The simple and extremely clear dial and indices compliment the racing stripe gray and black strap. In this series of watches, each is given a famous circuit’s name. This one is named after England’s famous Silverstone circuit, but Fiorano and Laguna Seca are also available.
Omologato Watches are based and designed in Windsor, UK. They are the official timekeepers for a variety of motorsports series and are worn by many racing drivers. In short, they are the real deal when it comes to deeply interwoven motorsports timepieces. For a slightly more luxurious option, try the brand’s CAN-AM timepiece too.
Material: Aluminum, Nylon | Diameter: 41mm | Movement: Japanese Miyota Quartz
What do you imagine when you think of a “fun watch?” Nope. We’re not doing any mental lifting for you. Oh, okay fine. Maybe, it’s a bright-colored, digital G-Shock from the 90s, a silly Snoopy collaboration, or a shedload of dazzling diamonds? What you don’t usually associate with “fun” is also class, consideration, and sophistication.
So Labs has somehow managed to fuse all this with the bright side of life. The high-quality Swiss movement, high-grade 316L polished stainless steel through the case and strap brings quality and reassurance. Meanwhile, the brand sneaks “fun” in via the tasteful geometric dial design in iron gray mixed with pinks. Get in fast before the pre-order pricing ends.
Material: 316L Stainless Steel | Diameter: 40mm | Movement: Swiss SW220-1 Automatic
“Beautiful, technical watches come to those who wait.” Or so the saying goes in horological circles. Well, get in on this limited edition YEMA watch in that case.
It is the first YEMA watch to feature the brand’s in-house micro-rotor self-winding system developed in Morteau, France. This in-house production marks YEMA out as a microbrand for the technically-savvy customer. 80% of this watch is manufactured in France, only relying on 20% Swiss import. Here’s a chance to own a beautiful technical watch from an independent microbrand.
Material: 316L Stainless Steel | Diameter: 39mm | Movement: Micro-Rotor Calibre Manufacture Morteau 20
What To Look For In The Best Microbrand Watches
The materials used will indicate (to some extent) the quality of the watch. 316L stainless steel is an industry-standard grade material used by top luxury brands as well as microbrands. Hence, if you see this, you can be safely reassured the material is quality. Plastic and aluminum, or other less hardy metals, suggest that the product is affordable at the expense of being durable.
It is worth considering the diameter of the watch in relation to your wrist. For reference, a normal wrist is considered to have a circumference of between 16cm-18cm. Anything less is considered small, anything more is considered large. So for small wrists, I suggest between 34mm-38mm diameter watch. For average-sized wrists, 36 mm-41 mm, and for large wrists, 38mm and above.
The movement is the mechanism by which the watch keeps its time. There are three main types of movements.
The first is manual. This requires a manual wind, usually every day, to keep the watch functioning and telling the correct time.
The second is automatic. This is also a mechanical process but is self-winding, relying on the daily movement of the wearer to keep the watch telling the correct time.
The third is quartz. The battery run the mechanics, and the quartz crystal keeps the clock ticking correctly. Quartz is by far the most accurate and cheapest option but doesn’t sustain or contribute to the traditional horological craft and intrigue. Plus, the premium parts used in automatic watches give them an extremely long lifespan.
Microbrand watches excel in their creativity, commitment to craft, and value for money. Baltic Watches Aquascaphe in Black Silver is a watch that delivers on all these. It has the added bonus of being extremely durable. While other watches have zany designs (So Labs watch), or more niche inspirations (the Zero West watch), the Aquascaphe is the best versatile choice.
A microbrand is a small to mid-sized independent watch brand. Generally, they produce unique watches in small quantities, borrow parts, sell direct-to-consumer, and are competitively priced.
An independent watch brand has complete sovereignty over its company. It isn’t partly owned by a conglomerate or another large company. Technically Rolex and Patek Philippe are in this category. This makes the case that it’s not always a useful term to seek out when searching for watches.