If you’ve seen part one of this expose on the best microbrands and other watchmakers you didn’t know, you’re ready now for part II.
As the world has become smaller, it has become more and more feasible to market fine wristwatch creations, even without a 200+ year heritage. In fact, some collectors are all too happy to explore these new offerings because of their high quality combined often with lower prices. There is real value in pursuing this and the demand is not so high such that the pressure will challenge this equilibrium.
As discussed in part I, many of these companies are recent Kickstarter operations. Others are much older but just not as well known. All, however, represent opportunities that you will simply not find shopping in your local malls or watch stores.
Another differentiation with most of these companies is their business model. These companies are direct sellers – few of them use intermediaries, the AD, or authorized dealer route.
It’s good to be able to explore the possibilities.
In 1993, a husband and wife team bought the rights to use the Swiss name Nivrel, a brand that had been established in 1936, and integrated production of these watches into their German-based operations. Today Nivrel is led by their daughter Anja. Nivrel offers a combination of dress, field, and, of course, diver watches. The hand-wound Replique Manuelle is a sample of their offerings with an ETA Unitas 6498-1, domed sapphire crystal, exhibition back with sapphire crystal and handmade vintage 22mm leather strap. All in at approximately $1,000 including VAT. An automatic Replique Classique, with an ETA 2824-2 and exhibition back goes for around $700 including VAT.
These are astonishing watches and great price points.
Another, with the ubiquitous diver, is NTH Watches. They offer of 300m water resistant, 316L stainless steel double-domed anti-reflective sapphire divers, sporting the Miyota automatic 9015 at a price point of $675. Again, direct through NTH.
Come again. Yes, Oak & Oscar. Here is a consortium, of sorts, with representatives from various horology and related disciplines – Horween (some of the best leather), WALCA (a Swiss watch manufacturing company), The Watchmaking Project (for servicing), to Stock Mfg. (men’s accessories in Chicago providing the canvas waxed watch wallet.) The result – timepieces like the Olmsted 38 above. A 38mm field watch with Horween strap, an ETA 2893A2 movement, 100 meters of water resistance, and double-domed sapphire crystal with multi-layer anti-reflective coatings at $1,375 – direct, of course. This is a great study on how to put a business together through quality relationships. Oh, and they also love dogs.
I know, not another diver, but Orion makes other watches also. What’s nice about the Calamity, pictured above, is the thickness dimensions, it tapers from 11.3 to 10.5, which is incredibly thin for a diver. It sports an updated SW300 with a new rotor design which allows it to accomplish this feat. Of course, a ceramic bezel, double-domed sapphire with blue AR coating, and BGW9 superluminova (also in blue). One of the few divers with an exhibition back, and yet has 200m of water resistance. The price? $1,495. Check out the Calamity and their Orion field watch on their website.
This is starting to get embarrassing, but I’m actually not picking divers, just going alphabetically on the various companies I’ve researched. Okay? Here’s another diver, which is actually quite nice, given its $369 price point. It uses the 9039 Hi-Beat slim movement (Miyota), with 200 meters of water resistance, BGW9 luminosity, domed sapphire crystal with AR underside coating, 3D stamped back, and a 120-click sapphire bezel. It also comes with SS bracelet and a natural rubber tropic strap. Actually, quite nice looking.
Dress watches are fewer and farther between when it comes to small watchmakers, perhaps because other styles (can you say diver) are so popular. This makes it especially interesting, then, when such an offering presents itself. Above, we have the Sekford Type 1A at only $662. It features the Seiko SEK200 quartz movement (as they state with a 5 year power reserve) and a case size of 38.5 mm and 9.5 mm thinness. I know, it’s the only quartz in this listing but the lack of a second hand nicely hides this fact. It’s worth a look if you’re in the market for a dress watch.
Another small group of entrepreneurs and visionaries, this time from Paris, France, have combined forces to develop and produce their own horology manufacturing concern. This time with the WMB edition, pictured above – a homage to the British Army WW II watches of 1945. A 37.7mm size with 20mm lug width, screw-in crown, and stainless steel case back, created with an ETA 2801-2 Swiss movement and two straps, leather and NATO. All in, $540. From their website “Thanks to its harmonious design and balance between watch parts sizes and thickness, only one size (37.7mm) fits all wrists.” I would agree. This is a stunning field watch at an even greater price point.
Finally, an opportunity to introduce a pilot watch (although they also make divers.) The Nav B-Uhl, pictured above, is an example of the watches created by German watchmaking concern Steinhart. This 44mm, stainless steel pilot is powered by a Sellita SW 200 Elabore and is equipped with a sapphire glass dome with double anti-reflecting coatings on the interior side. It also has an exhibition back with another sapphire crystal.
It does have a limited water resistance rating of 5 ATM but is available for $551 with VAT and $463 without VAT. Essentially VAT (value added taxes) are approximately 19% – yae EU, I thought California was bad.
Enter the Flieger house. Stowa, a German concern has been producing watches since 1927 and the above pilot is a classic example of their 40mm diameter, 9.2mm manual, or 10.2mm automatic, 5ATM water-resistant, ETA 2804-2 or 2824-2 automatic, all in bronze and at approximately $1,000 with VAT. Stowa specializes in fliegers with prices ranging from approximately $650 to $1,250 with VAT.
Stowa will also customize certain features. If you want a pilot, you might start here.
Traska is a Florida, USA based Kickstarter timepiece concern and offers two unique watches, a diver (of course) and an everyday field watch (similar to Rolex Explorer I). Using a Miyota Caliber 9039 these watches come in at around $500 but there is a tremendous amount of attention to detail as illustrated above on the on their 38mm Summiteer with its perlage finishing. The SS bracelet also has a proprietary scratch-resistant coating that increases the hardness rating about 6 times. Both sides feature sapphire crystal and the watch has a 100-meter water-resistant rating. Not bad for a new concern.
Not all divers need homage the submariner, the Unimatic divers are uniquely different, and actually represent some heritage traits with WWII military watches, especially those of a special watch that was produced by Blancpain and shares the appearance of their Fifty Phantoms, arguably the first true diver’s watch. More on this with my full review of the Unimatic U1-F here.
The Unimatic U1-f is powered by a NH35A (Seiko) tuned to 21,600bph with a 41.5mm case and a thickness of 13.6mm. It used Super-LumiNova C1 white, unfortunately not the brightest, and comes packaged with a black NATO and signed buckle, nestled in a water-proof, shock-proof Unimatic tough case. At about $575, these watches represent a superb value. You can buy direct and even Hoodinker has been repping these fine timepieces.
One of my first watch purchases, around 1997, was a Ventura watch. Unfortunately Hannes Wettstein, their Designer/Architect passed away suddenly, and the company seemingly disappeared. Enter the Kickstarter and the reemergence of Ventura Watches.
Their Model VM11.02L, pictured above, with a case diameter of 41mm and created with PCD coated hardened titanium utilizes a self-winding Swiss movement with exhibition case back at 3 ATM water resistance, and a leather strap with a folding deployment clasp for approximately $1,300. The Ventura was always the modern designed watch without the surrealistic trappings of say an Alan Silberstein. I’m glad they’re back.
If you’re looking for vintage chronographs, this might be your lucky day. The Le Mans 1952, pictured above, uses a Sea-Gull ST1940 to power this Chronograph. With a case size of 40 mm, lugs of 20 mm, and thickness of 15 mm, this domed sapphire crystal with AR coating and creme dial coloring from German manufacturer Vintro is available for approximately $500. They also offer other versions including stainless steel.
Weiss is an American brand and the above Standard Issue Field is a typical example. This timepiece deploys a Weiss Watch Caliber 1005 mechanical 7001 base, finished and assembled in Los Angeles from Swiss parts. Manually wound, it rates at 21,600 BPH with a 42 hours power reserve and has a sapphire crystal front and back. The Weiss has a 100 meters water resistance and a 20 mm lug width. This is a solid example of an American effort to produce quality watches and an affordable price as the Standard Issue sells direct for $1,150.
Other manufacturers you may want to check out
Have I covered all the hidden gem watchmakers? I’ve probably only scratched the surface. These two posts are probably a good representation of what’s available outside of the mall and watch stores where ADs rep only known brands.
What should be interesting is that there is a resurgence of quality watchmakers, all over the world, with timepieces that are stunningly endowed yet offer value beyond what you would normally expect.
As I’ve said before, it’s good to have options.