This is article 1 of 2 parts and features 6 brands. Check part 2 for the other 5 brands. The micro brand watch has become increasingly popular among novices and enthusiasts alike. In December, I noted the Most Inspiring Micro Brand Watches of 2016 in the Micro Brand Watch Awards. This article is a continuation of that spirit by introducing and continuing to provide updates on micro brand watch companies.
These are NOT endorsements, rather the purpose is to introduce and inform consumers so they can wade into the micro brand watch world with an idea of some of the companies out there — I always leave the buy/sell/hold recommendations to stock analysts and consumers. Which micro brand watch you buy depends a lot on which type of customer you are. Regardless of what a founder claims about their brand, your perception of their brand and what you are looking for in a watch will ultimately dictate your preference. Therefore, I try to offer a wide array sampling of the micro brand watches out there. Happy reading!
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RPaige (with Mark Carson)
These two watch designers are have been at the drawing board and recently prototyped a new model. I wrote about their Skyscraper model back in January in the series on watch design. Their latest prototype is the Speakeasy. This watch was designed by Mark Carson, who has an industrial design background. Richard Paige, who’s RPaige hallmark is carried on the face, is a fourth generation watchmaker who now makes watches that coalesce around Art Deco design principles and integrate vintage American made watch movements.
Many people associate “vintage” with not as good, but with watches, this is usually the opposite. In fact, some of the movements Richard uses rival the quality and finish of even the most luxurious non-complicated modern watches despite their 100+ years of service. I have tested many of these and they are well within the accuracy of modern mechanical watches (in fact, in 1876, a time trial of American made watches noted their accuracy with 1.5 seconds/day). The other feature of RPaige watches is the integration of unique vintage dials (which are sometimes porcelain or silver, sometimes even with gold accents) as well as vintage hands, which are genuinely blued. The Speakeasy will be available for purchase from the RPaige website in 2-3 months.
Montana Watch Co.
As the name would suggest, this company is located in Livingston, Montana, USA. They were the 2016 winners of the “Totally Custom Award”, which is because of their inspiring ability to create beautiful custom watches for some pretty amazing people. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been spotted on his Instagram with a Montana watch, and a recent news story reported that a former U.S. President has been a customer (as was reported recently by a local news station). Owner and watchmaker Jeff Nashan has been running the company since 1996 where he makes watches in the $4,000+ range. The company recently introduced the Granite 46 model which is a pretty unique take on a watch. It is 46mm in diameter (so a bit on the larger side). Its unique feature is the ability to change out the bezel and the lugs so you can change the look of the watch. I had a chance to try it out for a week. My video review is below.
I also had a chance to try out two of their other models recently. The first is the Officer’s watch, which is Jeff’s interpretation of the World War 1 watches used by soldiers fighting on the front. I compared the watch to some original watches I came across recently at a watch show and Jeff’s design is very true to the originals. The watch comes in a variety of case materials and has unique lugs with a yellow gold finish that gives the watch a unique look. The watch is 41mm and also has a very unique curved case back to give it a low profile.
I also had a chance to try out the Model 1920, which is a 1920’s Art Deco inspired model, which Jeff uses some aspects of the Roaring Twenties watches to inspire the design of this watch. At 43mm, it’s a very good size, but could be too large for some. The watch also comes in a variety of case materials and face options including stainless steel, sterling silver, copper, and titanium. As are all Montana watches, the watch is made in the USA except for the Swiss movement.
Niall is a watch company based out of Kansas City, founded by Michael Wilson. In Mike’s own words, his goal is to make “Niall a company that is meant to lead the way on what it means to be an American brand; what it means to manufacture in the United States and provide authenticity while doing it.” Niall sources most of their watches within the Kansas City area while using Swiss movements. Their most recent release is the Niall model One.M which is a carbon fiber case and comes with a quartz movement. The mission of the watch? As the company’s website says: “Engineered for those that are truly all in.” (“All In” is the company’s motto, but this is a nod to public servants and defenders of freedom).
The watch was inspired by Mike wanting to offer something durable that law enforcement or military personnel could use in the field without worrying about damaging their watch. Accordingly, Niall offers a 20% discount on this watch to current or former members of these professions. Mike’s assessment is that “the build quality of the One.M is outstanding and our most durable watch to date. For an American watch, I would contend it’s one of the most durable on the market.” According to Mike, it is currently Niall’s best selling watch.
The reason for its success? Mike says “More than Carbon Fiber, people love it because its dead light (29.7 grams). People wear it and say they forget they are wearing a watch. The comfort that comes with a watch this light has made it stick. Niall’s warranty policy is 4 years no questions asked. Average service time for us is 10 days. Niall simply can’t be beat on warranty and quality of service.” The watch is available for sale on the company’s website or in their flagship boutique store in Kansas City.
This is a brand new micro brand watch to hit the streets. This company is headed by Steven Lee, a resident of Austin Texas who is trying to bring an aura of nostalgia to his aviation-themed watches. These watches are produced in the U.S. except for the Swiss movement. The cases are produced in Ohio while the strap is produced locally in Austin, Texas. I had a chance to sample this watch for a week and found it to have a unique look despite it being a pilot watch (I generally feel the pilot watch field is very crowded). I experimented with a few straps, which is what are pictured, but the strap that comes with the watch is very similar in color.
Steven is a pilot, so his watches have been designed with a pilot flair in mind. The watch uses a mechanical winding ETA 6498-1 movement with a 46-hour power reserve. This company has chosen to not use crowd-sourced funding such as Kickstarter. In fact, Steven believes in this watch so much that he has funded it on his own. I’ve spoken to Steven about this watch and his passion for the project comes through in how he talks about the watch. Steven’s passion obviously centers around his hometown of Austin, Texas where some of the watch is sourced. The name of the flagship model is The Bergstrom, respectfully named in honor of Captain John Bergstrom, U.S. Army Air Corps, who was the first resident of Austin, Texas killed in WWII (on December 8, 1941). The already-produced watch is available for sale on the Dufrane website.
TiMe22 is a company I covered this fall during their Kickstarter campaign. The company was founded by two Dutch engineers and watch enthusiasts who wanted to engineer a better and more durable watch. They are one of the winners of the Watch Ponder 2016 Micro Brand Watch Awards for their innovative work in bringing grade 5 titanium watches to the masses for under $1,000. The watch has a 1970’s flair with its curves and unique shape and linked bracelet. These engineers figured out how to produce the virtually scratchproof watch for under $1,000.
Additionally, with watches featuring either automatic or quartz ETA movements, this company offers a lifetime warranty for their watches as well as a digital maintenance log unique to each watch through the mini QR code on the back of each watch. Their Kickstarter was ultimately successful and their watches are currently in production. They anticipate their watches will be ready for delivery in the March-April timeframe. I look forward to trying one out. They are available for pre-sale on their website.
This is an introduction to the Vaucher Watch Company, founded by David Vaucher, a resident of Texas and a French native with a passion for watches. He was recently featured in aBlogToWatch, where he has previously written articles as well. His goal is to provide a 100% Swiss produced micro brand watch for under $2,000. David takes this goal very seriously and told me he will be doing a full factory tour in March to verify his product sourcing, as well as participating in Baselworld 2017 activities. David says the current status of the project is that he has “opened for pre-orders, and I’m collecting funds to start a production run with the factory in Switzerland (GVA Montres).” You can find his website here.
Again, these are not endorsements of any micro brand watch. Rather consider this a “meet and greet” for the micro brand watches entering the watch world. Obviously, this is not an all-inclusive list, rather brands that I am aware of and become familiar with over the last few months. Stay tuned for part II of this article later this week. If there is a brand you think I should be aware of, please send me an email.