New to Microbrands? These Are the Brands You Want to Know
I get asked this question from time-to-time: "Microbrands, huh? Who should I be looking at?"
I thought about it hard and here's my list of ten brands you should be looking at. For brevity, I decided to break this up into two parts, with five brands in each post.
Here's the paradox: I'm telling you to pay attention to Christopher Ward but of all the brands listed, this is the one that is most likely to cease being a microbrand and "graduate" to becoming an "independent" within the forseable future. As of March 2020, the brand was producing roughly 20,000 units per year and that's likely to have gone up as they've consistently introduced a number of new models in the last couple of years. In fact, Mike France, CEO of CW, believes that the business can generate revenue in the neighborhood of £100 million to £200 million per year. That's a big leap from the roughly £10 million or so they were generating in 2020, but the company has made a lot of solid moves lately, from the launch of the C1 Bel Canto to the newest release, the Twelve.
Compare that with a company like Oris, which already generates roughly $100m or so in revenue with roughly 1.2 million units per year and it's clear CW has a long ways to go. Yet they seem to be well on the way.
I named Christopher Ward my favorite watch brand - and their C1 Bel Canto my favorite overall watch - of 2022. With good reason: the C1 Bel Canto really shook up the watch world and earned nods from a number of people - both watchmakers and buyers alike.
Jacksonville Beach-based Traska has a lot going for it. The one thing it doesn't have? In-stock items. That's because Traska sells out their inventory within days — and often within hours and even minutes — of releasing their models. A recent switch to a timed pre-order system did wonders for fans of the brand as everyone who wanted a specific model could buy it as long as they were willing to wait for a few months for delivery. That's not unusual in this sector and is just indicative of how much Traska's been hitting all the right notes.
I currently have a review unit of the Traska Freediver and it has successfully changed my mind about dive watches. I was kind of done; the Lorier Neptune IV was going to be my last dive watch and then I was gonna be done, but the Freediver immediately changed my mind. I... may or may not have put in a preorder. Maybe. Or not.
Traska was also one of the first brands to ship a traveller GMT using the new Miyota 9075 movement. Utilizing their Venturer case and general dial design, they designed a gorgeous GMT that immediately rang the bell as my new favorite GMT watch.
What's even more awesome about Traska is that the most expensive watch on their roster is under $700. The Venturer GMT rings in at $695; all the other units come in in between $600 and $700, which is an exceptional price for what you get.
Zelos is a one-man operation out of Singapore, but to be honest, there's no way you'd know that. Elshan Tang, Zelos' founder, designer, customer support rep, etc. has built a brand with the kind of fanatical following that a lot of much larger businesses would love to have. Starting in 2014, Tang has released a mind-boggling thirty-plus models in the last nine years. More astoundingly, most of his lines are sold out. Many of those lines sell out within literally seconds.
Now, that makes sense when you think about the fact that some colorways - like his Aventurine dials - are made in limited quantities. But others, like when he put out a line of GMTs using his Mako 300M dive watch case, often go through the same rapid sales. I watched as some of the colorways of the Mako sold out in mere minutes. Some were still available for a few hours but he had made a few hundred of each color.
Two days or so later, they were all gone. One colorway came back for a brief few minutes — presumably due to a cancelled order — but it too was gone shortly.
Prices are incredibly reasonable too; I've bought Zelos' watches starting around $250. On average, I've seen his watches go for around $500-$700 USD, though the occasional unit like the Vitesse Chronograph does hit the low four figures.
Lorier is a husband-and-wife team out of New York that produces what are some of my hands-down favorite timepieces. Their Neptune Mark IV diver is easily one of my most oft-worn pieces and their Gemini Chrono is one that sees a lot of wrist time.
I've had the good fortune to meet Lauren and Lorenzo Ortega a couple of times. My first Lorier watch was the Zephyr, my current favorite dress watch. That tonneau shape and guilloché dial is flat-out gorgeous and adheres to the vintage aesthetic that Lorier is known for.
That vintage vibe is pervasive through Lorier's entire lineup. From the classic Panda dialed chrono to the Neptune diver with its slim bezels and gilt livery, this is the look and feel that Lorier is going for — and it's one that they deliver in spades. Almost all of their watches have hesalite crystals — which I was enormously skeptical of for a while but am now a convert to — and the look those beautifully domed crystals impart is downright fantastic.
Lorier prices their pieces very reasonably, too. Prices range from $499 to $799 and are worth every penny. Their customer service is excellent and I have had no complaints about any of the pieces I own.
If you're reading this on Monday, June 5, go grab the MR01 right now. It's back in stock and I don't know how much longer it'll last. I had to buy mine pre-owned.
The MR01 is perhaps one of the best examples of Baltic's vintage aesthetic. Alongside the aforementioned Lorier, they are responsible for changing my mind about hesalite crystals. When done right, those crystals can easily go toe-to-toe with sapphire and then some. The microrotor movement in this watch is a Chinese-made Hangzhou CAL5000a and I have to admit, it looks GOOD. Like, really really good. I will do a post on mine soon.
The French brand didn't stop there, however. Their Aquascaphe lineup of divers have the 50s/60s aesthetic that I have come to like a lot and on a nice FKM or even a cognac leather strap, they are eminently wearable.
These days, Baltic is all about chronographs. They've had their Bicompax chronos, which feature those lovely warm hesalite crystals, but they've also got some Swiss-movement-driven Tricompax chronos. Under the double-dome sapphire and the very nicely turned out dials is the Sellita SW510-M chronograph movement. I wish this piece had an exhibition caseback; that would really cinch the deal for me.
Prices do range quite a bit; they have simple three-handers with Miyota movements that go for around €360, while a recent special edition chronograph retailed for more than €2000. They aren't unreasonable, in my opinion, but can be on the pricier side where the chronos are concerned.
That's the first five brands. I'll post the next five next week.
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