Five American Microbrands You Should Know
One of my favorite things about the independent/microbrand watch space is that a combination of technological advances, globalization, and the internet have given smaller players the wherewithal to bring products to the market and become sustainable businesses. These smaller players might not have made it a decade or two ago, or might have been swallowed up by a larger player in the industry. Today, however, they not only survive, but thrive in a marketplace that is hungry for their products.
Even better for me as an American, it has given US-based watchmakers an opportunity for a resurgence. While I have no qualms about buying from overseas brands — Chris Ward, Zelos, and others form a big piece of my collection — there is something very satisfying to see American brands enter the marketplace and just absolutely crush it.
With that in mind, here are five brands that haven't just been a flash in the pan, but have delivered multiple models and are well known in enthusiast circles.
My general rule of thumb is that if I own more than one watch from a maker, it makes it into my list of favorites. St. Louis-based Monta has been absolutely crushing it with their line of elegant Swiss-made pieces. My favorites are the Atlas and the Triumph, both of which I own. The Triumph was my first and was a pre-owned piece from Topper Jewelers and got me on the path to following this company that makes some of the best microbrand watches I've ever seen.
Their stock-in-trade is Swiss movements inside stainless-steel cases that range from the field-style Triumph to the GMT-sporting Skyquest. Their bracelets are among the most comfortable in my collection and have an on-the-fly adjustment that makes them incredibly easy to expand or contract on those days when your wrist can't decide on a size to stay at.
How do you elevate the workhorse Seiko NH35/6 movements? Hand them to Nodus Watches, then sit back and enjoy the show.
Nodus assembles and regulates their watches right here in California. Based out of Los Angeles, this microbrand tunes each watch in 4 different positions to an accuracy that far outpaces the factory settings and specifications that the movement maker offers up. The end result, whether you're looking at one of their Sector series or the Avalon II Bronze pieces (which actually feature a high-beat Miyota movement), is a watch that features a level of fit, finish, and performance that, at the price, is an absolute deal.
I have two Nodus watches, both special editions. One is a Sector Field Black DLC and other is a Sector Pilot Matick Edition. Both were pre-owned pickups, but I would have paid retail for either one and been pretty darn satisfied.
One other nice thing about Nodus is that the makers aren't shy about collaborations and small, limited editions. Signing up for their newsletter gives you access to the Nodus Vault, a password-protected area of the site where Nodus periodically will release special, limited-edition versions of their watches in editions as small as 4 pieces - often around the same price as the original they are based on. It's a great way to engage with their fans and more watchmakers should do this.
From my former home state of Florida, Traska Watches is another one of those "blink and you'll miss the drop" brands. Every time they have released a new watch, it sells out so fast it'll give you whiplash.
This micro brand releases exceptionally well-built watches whose appearance belies their toughness. Traska uses a coating that increases the hardness of their watches to 1200HV on the Vickers scale, making it multiple times harder than plain 316L stainless steel.
More importantly, their timepieces are excellently designed and the bracelets they come on are some of the most comfortable I've ever worn. I have three Traskas in my collection and even if pressed, I can't think of which one I'd be willing to part with.
Attention to detail is another area where Traska just totally kicks butt.
Texas-based DuFrane Watches was founded in 2016. Since then, the company has been producing high-quality limited edition watches that seem to have gotten better and better with every release.
A few weeks ago, I was sent the Travis, their current dive watch, for review. That review is forthcoming, but suffice to say that I liked it enough to buy one myself. I also have a Waterloo (a striking-looking dress watch) on order from them. These watches are all hand-assembled in Austin, Texas, and if the review unit I have is any indication, their attention to detail and finishing leaves a lot of mainstream brands in the dust.
There's a real passion evident in DuFrane's watches, much as there is in the other brands mentioned here. They really aren't fly-by-night operations looking to stick the cheapest movements into generic cases and send them out to make a buck. The Travis, for example, houses a Swiss Sellita SW200-1 movement inside a case that goes through a hardening process to make it more resistant to scratches. The bracelet is also a carefully thought out bit of work with one of the best on-the-fly adjustments I've seen thus far. I'd say more, but, well, just wait for the review, willya?
Conceived of in a New York City café in 2015, the Brew Watch Co. is the brainchild of industrial designer Jonathan Ferrer, who made his bones designing white-label watches for other brands. The watches - all of which so far are beautifully-designed squares with rounded-off corners - take their inspiration directly from the appliances used by baristas in coffee shops. In fact, the latest piece from Brew - the Metric Chronograph - "has specific markers that specify when the optimal espresso shot has been extracted."
Whatever the inspiration, the watches are very well-designed. I have the blue Retromatic, which is now out of production and I'm glad I got it when I did (again, thanks to Topper Jewelers for having a pre-owned unit for sale). This all-mechanical unit uses a Swiss Sellita SW200-1 behind an exhibition case and has a sandwich dial with perforations that add to the café-inspired look beautifully.
The brand is currently selling its mega-quartz series of watches, powered by the VK64 movement and they are definitely tempting!
Those are the 5 American microbrands that I think you should know. But are they the only ones worth knowing? NOPE. But this article is already over 1000 words and at some point, I do have to hit that "Publish" button. Plus, these are also the brands whose watches I actually have either had hands-on time with and/or I actually bought. I can't think of a better endorsement than my wallet, so there you go.
That's not to say that there aren't a whole bunch more worth knowing/wearing. Right off the bat, Hesili, Stella, Vaer, Weiss, Oak & Oscar, Autodromo, Martenero, RGM, Vortic, and Kobold come to mind. Some, like the latter three, are priced out of my personal range. Others I just haven't gotten around to. Each, though, is no less worth knowing, so swing by and pay their sites a visit.
Ultimately, the current boom of microbrands is good for all businesses, both American and otherwise. As an American, I can't help but feel pretty good at the ingenuity, design, taste, and craftsmanship being shown by makers from LA to NYC and everything in-between. So check out the makers above and give them a try; I don't believe for a second that you'll be disappointed.