New to Microbrands? These Are the Brands You Want to Know, Part 2
In Part 1, I covered the first five of the ten brands I think you want to know about if you're just starting out in the indie/microbrand world. As promised (if a bit late), here is the second half of that list.
St. Louis, Missouri-based Monta first got onto my radar when the inimitable Teddy Baldassarre called the Monta Atlas GMT the best microbrand watch he had ever reviewed. Now, that was 3 years ago and the competition has gotten really fierce (especially in the GMT arena), but despite that, the Atlas (I have the blue dial version) has held up really, really well.
Like many of the other brands in my list, Monta regularly sells out of their offerings. Given the price tags — their most affordable unit starts at a whopping $1700 USD — this may sound surprising, but get your hands on one of these watches and you'll quickly see why it's actually really not surprising at all.
Monta does an amazing job with fit and finish and I'd happily put their watches up against pieces that cost two, three, even four times what they charge. My Atlas was obtained early last year and still sits in my "main" watch box, getting a ton of wrist time.
One of the coolest things about Monta are their bracelets. This, along with Zelos' current crop and Christopher Ward's bracelets, are, in my opinion, some of the best in the industry. They feature extremely comfortable links and — my favorite part — toolless microadjust. This is incredibly useful and honestly, one of the main reasons why I often replace bracelets on watches with leather straps. Not for my Atlas or my Triumph, though. Those stay on their OEM bracelets.
These guys — and it is the brainchild of two gents from Los Angeles — have been on a tear recently. I currently have their Sector Deep Destro in for review and am absolutely loving it. I don't usually go for aggressive tool watches like this one, but the Deep is really sitting nicely with me.
That Sector series of watches is what really caught my eye with Nodus. Consisting of six models (Sport, Pilot, GMT, Field, Dive, and Deep), these are more than enough to get Nodus onto this list. I bought their GMT on the spot at Windup Watch Fair in NYC last year and have been bugging Wes and Cullen (the aforementioned guys from LA) for a NodeX™-equipped bracelet for it. If they'd stopped there, that would've been just fine.
Of course, they have not. Apart from two other watch models (The Avalon and the Retrospect, they just launched a fourth, more dressy, more diminutive line: the Unity. Still very much a sport watch, the 36mm case, the textured dial, and ceramic bezel are a new aesthetic for Nodus and deliver a new class of timepiece to their collection. I can't wait to get this one into my hands for a review.
Formex's Reef GMT was my favorite GMT release of 2022. The Reef series alone (which includes solid dive watches and the aforementioned GMT) is worth taking a look at Formex for, given this model’s unique trick of toolless interchangeable bezels. That GMT, though, took the cake because it is the only GMT in my collection that delivers the holy trifecta: track three time zones, have a display caseback, and a bracelet with a toolless microadjust. That it extends the microadjust feature to both its bracelets and its deployant clasps for its leather straps is just icing on a delicious cake.
Formex is a brand that, quite frankly, feels like they have a team of people who really sweat the details. From Chronometer rating across a wide variety of their models to perfectly-fitted bracelets and straps with ingenious microadjust and quick-release features, they are a true horology nerd's delight.
Take a British brand. Add a massive dose of color. Throw in some vintage design queues, add a dash of modern elements, and pour that mixture into solidly-made cases. Strap on some excellent leather, fabric, and steel for good measure. Ta-da! Presenting: Farer.
Farer seems to delight in diversity of color, shape, texture, and type. They make vintage cushion-case manual winders like my Stanhope II and sell them right alongside brightly-colored GMTs like the Lander series. Brilliant magenta sun-ray dials adorn classically-styled chronographs like the Swann, while the deep blue Aquamatic Porthleven revels in shouting out loud in color.
Farer is a company that doesn't take itself too seriously and yet builds serious watches. Starting at around $1000 USD, their timepieces are well-built Swiss-made units and the quality is top-notch. The Lander GMT is on my list, but only after I pick up one of their chronos.
I'll be honest: I don't own a Fears watch.
I've had a number of them on my wrist and the Brunswick White 38mm on a blue Bristol Leather strap is my current grail watch.
I've run into Fears a number of times now; they've been at two of the Windup Watch Fairs I've attended and they have a relationship with my local watch Mecca, Topper Jewelers. Of all the brands I've mentioned here, they are by far the priciest - and they're the only ones where I had to use a photo taken from their website as opposed to one I took myself. Their pieces range from $2675 USD for that aforementioned Brunswick White to an eye-watering $28,500 for the Brunswick's platinum-encased sibling.
So, why do I mention such a pricey watch in this list?
There's no specific criteria that makes a watch brand a "microbrand". However, I'm coming to see that there's an ethos to that particular segment of the watch world. It's exemplified by a combination of approachability, price, openness, participation in community, and a certain amount of being grounded in reality.
Fears embodies a number of those criteria. The founder — or rather, the re-founder — of the company, Nicholas Bowman-Scargill, always shows up to events looking pretty dapper in a suit and tie, but he is incredibly down-to-earth, grounded, and frank in his conversations. He has openly discussed working in a grocery store during the pandemic while keeping Fears afloat and his stories about building the company are endearing and entertaining. I attended an event hosted by Topper and Fears and it was one of the best conversations I've listened to in the watch world.
Fears also shows up at Windup, which to me is perhaps the best place to get a look at independent and microbrand watches. They have a table right alongside newcomers to this world and companies that have been around longer than this iteration of Fears. Not once do you feel like you can't approach them or try on their pieces. They are very much part of our community and therefore, very much belong on this list.
That's my list of 10 brands you want to know about if you're just starting out in the indie/microbrand world. If you have a brand that I should have mentioned, drop it here! I'd love to see who I missed.
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