While there is no consensus in the watch world on who coined the term “microbrand” or even on when it emerged, most experts agree that the label can be dispiriting.
“There’s a stigma left over from a day when watches at a lower price point were of lower quality,” said Zach Weiss, co-founder and executive editor of Worn & Wound, the online watch publication often credited with helping to give birth to the microbrand category.
“If somebody uses the term ‘microbrand’ dismissively today, it’s more that they’re being a snob,” he said by phone. “There’s so much energy and ingenuity coming out of this scene.”
So here are 10 small brands that are well-regarded in the watch community. Some may no longer qualify as microbrands, owing to the growth of their production, their expansion into high-end timepieces or the artisanal techniques they use to set their watches apart in an increasingly crowded field. But all 10 are led by passionate owners who got their beginnings in the micro space and who say they remain committed to direct-to-consumer sales.
Since introducing its first watch in 2018, this Glasgow-based brand, whose watches start at around 1,950 euros or $2,250, has become sought after for its vitreous enamel dials, often in eye-popping colors such as plum and teal. (“Some of the best high-quality enamel in the price category,” Teddy Baldassarre, a watch reviewer, said in a recent YouTube video.)
The brand’s founder, Lewis Heath, is a former architect and product designer who named the company after Loch an Ordain, a lake in the Scottish Highlands where his family vacationed.
In February, he told the Scottish Watches podcast that he decided to go into enameling after visiting a local mint, where he saw a coin featuring a poppy rendered in enamel.
“I thought if we could incorporate that with design I enjoy, then we might be on to something,” Mr. Heath said.
In 2009, Bradley Price, a New York City-based product designer, decided to combine the skills he had gained working on consumer products such as electronics with his passion for vintage cars.
“I realized it would be cool to have instrument-inspired watches that were significantly less expensive than what the established Swiss brands were making,” Mr. Price, now based in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., said by phone. “So I started developing my own designs.”
In 2011, Mr. Price introduced his Autodromo brand with a $425 watch featuring a Swiss-made quartz movement. “Then I started moving in the mechanical direction and educating myself more about the culture around watches, as opposed to just purely design,” he said.
Among the first companies to make use of Seiko’s Meca-Quartz VK series of movements, which marry battery-powered quartz technology with a mechanical chronograph module, Autodromo has a reputation for making reliable, design-forward watches. This year, the brand said it planned to introduce a $595 watch that pays homage to its first Meca-Quartz model.