Before I get into more details about microbrands, let me give you the short answer to your question. Yes, Microbrand watches can definitely be worth your money. Let me explain why. Microbrands tend to invest a lot of time and thought into their watches, which usually results in a very thought-through and lovely timepiece. Microbrands are also in the unique position to offer you more watch for your money since they will sell their watches only via their online channels.
What Are Microbrand Watches?
Microbrands have become one of the fastest-growing aspects of the mechanical watch market, in some cases even surpassing the big players in the watch industry. Most of these brands use their online presence and their websites as their main source of distribution, allowing them to reduce third-party costs by interacting directly with the customer. I personally like this development in the watch industry. The increased level of competition in the watch business means that the big players must get more creative and innovative to stay relevant. This in turn equals more great options and more value for us watch enthusiasts and customers.
But what defines them? What are the parameters and the signs that a watch brand is considered to be a microbrand? For the longest time, I struggled with that answer too, I wasn’t sure if every new watch company is immediately a microbrand. But now, after months and years of passionate research about this topic, I’m confident that I now can identify a microbrand with the help of a few markers, and numbers. So, my definition of what a microbrand is is the following. A microbrand is a small watch company that has limited production capacities that typically specializes in a certain style or niche. Usually, a typical microbrand does not have extensive resources to produce its own movements or parts of the watch itself. Often this will be outsourced to third-party companies. Almost always, a microbrand hasn’t been around for more than 5-7 years, because after that, they usually make some good profits, hire their own team and in some cases, even decide to build their own mechanical movements, like Christopher Ward. Let me tell you a little bit more about Christopher Ward because they are an excellent case study of how a microbrand can develop itself.
Christopher Ward was founded back in 2005 and is known for being the world’s first online-only watch brand. Christopher Ward was founded by three friends, Mike France, Peter Ellis, which developed the idea of making their own watches, while they were enjoying a gentle boat trip down the river Thames. And as they all were fascinated by horology and everything that surrounds it, the decision was made that they wanted to start a watch business. And after more than a year, on June 2nd, 2005, they launched their brand out of a converted chicken shed on a farm in Berkshire, England. And ever since then, they rode on a wave of success, now even creating their very own movements and continuing to provide mechanical, Swiss-made watches for rather affordable prices.
So now that you know what Microbrand watches actually are and how you can spot one, let me just give a short summary. How do you know if this brand is a microbrand? Look at the age of the company, the size of its team, where they produce their movements, their online experience (usually microbrand watches are online available online), pricing (microbrands tend to be on the lower end of the price spectrum), and take a look at their design philosophy because microbrands are far more likely to try out new things than more established brands.
What To Look For In A Microbrand Watch?
So, now that you know how to spot a microbrand, what should you be on the lookout for, when deciding to buy one? Well, here is what I’m looking for when I’m considering buying a microbrand watch:
- The watch offers good value for money.
- The watch has a unique design that I personally like and that excites me.
- The reviews of the watch and the brand are very good.
- Where are they producing their watches? Is it in a cheap-labor factory in China or in a well-respected factory in Switzerland?
- Are they using mechanical movements for their watch? This is a rather personal one, if you love quartz watches, then ignore this remark.
So, these would be my most important points to check, when buying a microbrand watch. But let me explain a little bit more before I get ripped apart in the comment section.
I think that the first point should be clear for all of you. Just think about it from a customer standpoint, do you want a cheaply made quartz watch that costs more than $200? I don’t think so.
The next point on the list is a rather personal one. What watch designs do you like? I personally love clean and uncluttered watches, that are somewhere in the 36mm to 41mm size range. But maybe you are someone that loves more extravagant watches and doesn’t care about case sizings at all. That’s, fine, just go with your gut feeling on that one.
The third point is very easy to check, just go on google and type in the watch brand, and review. Usually, this will bring you to some sites like Trustpilot, on which you can check the legitimacy of the brand and how their watches are made. It’s important to consult with independent resources, and not to just check the reviews on the brand’s page.
This one could maybe be a little bit controversial. But what I was trying to tell you, was that it’s important to know where the watch is coming from. Because let’s face it, the quality in a Swiss or German factory, for example, is just better than somewhere in China or Southeast Asia. And no, I’m not saying that all watches produced in Asia are bad. Just take Ming, for example, I think they beat a lot of their Swiss competitors for miles. But it’s important to know if the price they are asking for, is actually worth it. And if they sell you a $1,000 watch, but the production costs are lower than $50, the watch isn’t worth a penny. Period.
And the last point is also highly personal. I for example love a cool mechanical movement. But there are a lot of people who don’t care about that stuff, so then that’s not relevant. But please pay attention to what kind of movement they are using and what price they are asking for. Because paying $500 for a very basic quartz watch, won’t bring you any joy.
What Movements Do Microbrand Use?
As nice as the design of a respective microbrand watch may be, it’s very important to always look at its movement as well. Because the movement will often tell you how valuable this watch actually is and if it’s worth its price tag. Watch movements usually make up for the highest proportion of the final price, due to their mechanical complexity. But to determine what movements are mostly used by microbrands, we first have to divide those watches into different price segments.
Let’s say you are looking for a sub-$300 microbrand watch. Chances are that they went for a quartz movement instead of a mechanical one, simply because at this price point, it’s nearly impossible for a small watch brand to build a mechanical watch. Because unlike Seiko or other massive manufacturers, Microbrands can’t just order thousands and thousands of movements and profit from the mass discount. They have to buy them piece by piece, and that will cost them quite a bit.
The next price range, and frankly the most common one in the microbrand world, would be the $300-$1,000 range. In this range, you can expect good and reliable mechanical movements, from ETA, Sellita, or Eterna. All of which have one thing in common. They are made in Switzerland. And this “Swiss-Made” label at the bottom of the dial is usually very important for microbrand watches in that price range since they have to sell their quality to their potential customers. And frankly, those Swiss-made movements from ETA or Sellita, are something you should be on the lookout for when spending $1,000 on a microbrand watch.
And as the price tags get bigger and bigger, and even surpassing the $1,000 mark, you will slowly start to see more in-house movements or heavily modified versions of Swiss-made ETA’s and Sellita movements. The microbrand Ming is an excellent example of that. Ming creates beautifully finished movements, which they either buy stock and customize or they will have produced in an exclusive manufactory for them.
Do Microbrand Watches Hold Their Value?
Like with every watch category, this depends. It depends whether the watch is limited, the brand is highly prestigious, like for example Ming, and if people are willing to pay more for that particular watch and brand. But I have to say, that most watches from microbrands will not hold their value. This is something very important to understand, Microbrands usually don’t share the same prestigious reputation as more established brands like Rolex or Omega. But there are certainly a few examples of microbrand watches that not only hold their value but also managed to increase it remarkably. But, in order for you to understand it best, I think I will need to work with some famous examples here.
Let’s start with watches that hold or even increase their value. Right on top of my mind are two brands. Ming and Unimatic. Ming and Unimatic both produce only limited editions of their watches, meaning that of each and every model that they release, there are only 200-500 examples worldwide. And if you paid attention in your economics course, you would know the principle of supply and demand. So, you know that if there is low supply, there is usually a high demand, due to the fact that people gravitate towards limited and exclusive products. That’s why Rolex is so incredibly successful with its steel sports models. They limit the number of watches they sell, so people want to buy in. And the same goes for Ming and Unimatic. Both are produced in limited quantities, therefore creating more demand than there is supply, which results in watches holding or even increasing their value. Both Ming and Unimatic also received a lot of positive feedback and hype in the watch community, which brought people to their sites and want to buy in in the first place. So basically, in order for a microbrand to produce watches that hold or increase in value, they have to master two things. First, get hyped up and gain a very good reputation amongst enthusiasts and collectors. Second, produce highly limited watches that they will only produce once, and then never again.
On the other hand, there are the microbrand watches that won’t hold their value. Unfortunately, most of the current microbrands belong to that category. And while it is difficult to determine why exactly that is the case, I think it has a lot to do with the point I’ve made in the paragraph above. Most microbrands don’t produce one-time-only limited editions. They usually stick with what they were successful in. And please, don’t get me wrong here, I’m not blaming them for not making limited editions. Frankly, as a customer, they make my life a lot easier. But, if you are planning to invest in a microbrand watch, go with the type of watches I’ve mentioned above.
What Microbrand Watches Hold Their Value?
So now after learning that some microbrand watches actually hold their value, let’s give you a list with microbrand watches that hold their value.
- Halios Seaforth GMT
- Zelos (some of their limited models)
- Kurono Tokyo
- F.P. Journe
What Are The Best Microbrand Watches In 2021?
Now that you’ve heard all those different things about microbrand watches, let me give you some advice on which microbrands and their watches I would suggest to you in 2021. By the way, these brands are just randomly listed, their order doesn’t represent my likings or their quality. If you wish to read more about those particular microbrands, I’ve written an article about the best microbrand watches of 2021, where I introduce you to the best microbrands and the watches that I’ve listed below.
- Christopher Ward
- Oak & Oscar
- Kurono Tokyo
- Dan Henry
- Halios Fairwind
- F.P. Journe
- Nivada Grenchen
So, Are Microbrand Watches Worth Your Money?
Yes, Microbrand watches can definitely be worth your money. Let me explain why. Microbrands tend to invest a lot of time and thought into their watches, in certain cases years go by, without any production processes happening. This has one main reason. Usually, microbrands are founded by a very passionate watch enthusiast, that appreciates the quality that a good watch brings with it. Therefore, they want to make sure that every little detail is perfect, which, most of the time, results in a very thought-through and lovely timepiece. Microbrands are also in the unique position to offer you more watch for your money since they tend to sell only via their online channels. Hence they save quite some money due to them not needing physical selling points, like a store, which makes the watch more affordable.