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  • Writer's pictureBalance & Bridge Team

The 7 Best Microbrands and Independent Watchmakers of 2023: Changing the Direction of Horology


VERO Smokey Bear '44 Watch
VERO Smokey Bear '44 Watch - Image Courtesy of VERO

If you are looking for a breath of fresh air and want to dive into the exciting world of microbrands, you've come to the right place. These watch rebels are shaking up the horology scene with their unique designs, top-notch craftsmanship, and a healthy dose of non-conformity.


In this article, we're going to introduce you to 7 of the best microbrands and independent watchmakers on the block (we threw in an 8th to keep you guessing). No fancy words, no formalities – just pure watch enthusiasm.


So kick back, relax, and let's dive into the world of the best microbrands and independent watches, featuring Christopher Ward, Weiss, Norqain, Formex, MONTA, anOrdain, Vero and Farer. And for each brand, we'll unveil their most popular model that's been causing a stir in the watch community.


 

All of these watchmakers are undoubtedly changing the game and are in no particular order. If interested in original designs and passion for their craft, you cannot go wrong with any of these.

 

Quick 7 Best Microbrands and Independent Watchmakers in 2023


Christopher Ward - The Stylish Underdog

Weiss Watch Company- The American Revival

Norqain - Carving Their Own Path

Formex - The Rule Breakers

MONTA - The Regal Choice

anOrdain - The Scottish Dial Experts

VERO - The Adventurous Pick


The Bonus Pick (Lucky You)

Farer - The Recognizable Brit


 

The Top 7 Microbrands & Independent Watchmakers


Christopher Ward - The Stylish Underdog


Christopher Ward C60 Trident Automatic Pro 300
C60 Trident Automatic Pro 300 - Image Courtesy of Christopher Ward

Christopher Ward was founded in 2004 by Mike France, Peter Ellis, and Chris Ward as a British watch brand with a mission to disrupt the traditional watch industry. They uncovered the practice of high markups in Swiss watch brands using similar, mass manufactured components. Launching on June 2, 2005, as the world's first online-only watch brand, they began with two distinct models. Recognition and trust grew thanks to endorsements from watch enthusiasts, including Dave Malone and an independent forum by Hans Van Hoogstraten. From 2005 to 2008, collaborations with Synergies Horlogères and master watchmaker Johannes Jahnke enhanced their reputation. Notably, in 2014, they introduced the groundbreaking in-house movement, Calibre SH21, challenging industry norms.


Our Favorite Model: Christopher Ward C60 Trident Automatic

Christopher Ward is like that unassuming guy at a party who turns out to be the life of the bash. Their most popular model, the C60 Trident Automatic, is a stunner. With its clean dial, vintage-inspired design, and Swiss automatic movement, it's a stylish underdog in the watch world. The secret won't last long.



 

Weiss Watch Company- The American Revival


*Limited Edition* Titanium 38mm Standard Issue Field Watch: Blue Ocean
Limited Edition Titanium Standard Issue Field Watch - Image Courtesy of Weiss Watch Company

Weiss Watch Company was originally founded in 2013 in Southern California and now based in Nashville, TN. Weiss is the largest mechanical watchmaking company in the U.S., managed solely by founder Cameron Weiss, a Swiss-trained master watchmaker. Weiss crafts each watch by hand, dedicating over 60 hours to every timepiece. The brand combines traditional watchmaking techniques with modern technology, prioritizing durability and aesthetics. For the whole Weiss story, check our in depth coverage here.


In 2020, Weiss moved to Nashville to embrace the city's creative atmosphere. Operating from a former record label printing shop in Wedgewood-Houston, they have expanded their presence through various sales channels and collaborations, gaining a dedicated following that includes notable individuals like Bob Weir and Chase Rice.


Our Favorite Model: Standard Issue Field Watch

The 38mm limited edition timepiece offers just 30 pieces in a closed series. It's a Titanium upgrade to the classic 38mm Standard Issue Field Watch, available in a charming ocean blue or pink sand color. The watch is complemented by a handmade tan Horween Leather strap, with a Titanium case featuring a high-polished bezel and brushed body.



 

Norqain - Carving Their Own Path


Norqain Neverest GMT 41
Norqain Neverest GMT 41 - Image Courtesy of Norqain

NORQAIN, a brand deeply inspired by the Swiss Alps, symbolizes its adventurous spirit through a logo resembling a mountain peak. Swiss-made and rooted in a family tradition spanning over four decades, NORQAIN's independence allows it to maintain unique values and inspire customers. Founded in 2018 by CEO Ben Küffer, with the collaboration of Ted Schneider and Mark Streit, NORQAIN partners with premium suppliers to craft high-quality timepieces.


Innovation is at the core of their mission, as they work with Jean-Claude Biver to promote mechanical watches in the digital age and explore sustainable materials. They exclusively produce 100% mechanical watches, all subject to rigorous quality checks and designed in-house with high-end finishing. NORQAIN's timepieces offer unique design elements, high-quality materials, and customization options. Their strategic partnership with movement manufacturer Kenissi has resulted in exclusive Manufacture calibres, known for their robustness, precision, and impressive 70-hour power reserve.


Our Favorite Model: Adventure Neverest GMT

The Adventure NEVEREST collection by NORQAIN embodies ambition and a relentless spirit. These rugged and stylish timepieces contribute to the Butterfly Help Project, supporting the families of Sherpas who perished in the Himalayas and offering education to their children. The Adventure NEVEREST GMT boasts a black dial with NORQAIN's signature pattern, a GMT scale, a unique day-night indicator, and X1 Superluminova-coated hands and indexes. It features a ceramic bidirectional-rotating bezel and comes in a 41mm size with various strap options. The watch houses the NORQAIN calibre NN20/2, introduced in collaboration with Kenissi.



 

Formex - The Rule-Breakers


REEF AUTOMATIC CHRONOMETER COSC 300M
Formex REEF Automatic 300m - Image Courtesy of Formex

Formex Swiss Made Watches, founded in 1999, is a family-owned, independent watch manufacturer situated in Biel/Bienne, a hub of Swiss watchmaking. Combining a legacy of high-end watch production with innovative engineering, they create timepieces that meet the industry's stringent quality standards. Unique features enhance functionality and comfort. Formex follows an innovative distribution model, making luxury watchmaking more accessible, catering to those who value fine timepieces and superb craftsmanship, providing an affordable yet luxurious experience.


Our Favorite Model: Formex REEF

The 42mm stainless steel REEF watch is a true diver's timepiece, powered by a self-winding COSC-certified SW300 movement of the highest quality. It's impressively thin at 11.4mm, suitable for elegant occasions, yet it maintains 300m water resistance with a double gasket construction. The scratch-resistant ceramic bezel is meticulously engraved for precise timekeeping, and it's easily interchangeable. The sunray dial features hand-applied markers and hands with luminous paint for readability in low light. The watch offers versatile strap options with a patented fine-adjustment and quick release system for easy customization.



 

MONTA - The Regal Choice


MONTA Oceanking
MONTA Oceanking - Image Courtesy of MONTA

MONTA is a company that marries classic aesthetics with cutting-edge technology to create exceptional products, drawing inspiration from Swiss watchmaking traditions. Their watches are highly regarded for their precision and versatility, making them suitable for various occasions. The 316L steel MONTA bracelet is meticulously designed for comfort and adaptability with articulating links and a secure clasp. MONTA maintains strict quality control standards through their in-house watchmaking team, ensuring accuracy and durability. Each MONTA watch is thoroughly inspected for fit, feel, design, and construction, and comes with a two-year international warranty, earning praise from satisfied customers. The MONTA Collection showcases timeless Swiss-made craftsmanship with limited production.


Our Favorite Model: MONTA Oceanking

MONTA introduced the Oceanking in 2016, a capable dive watch. The third generation Oceanking represents a mechanical and aesthetic evolution, highlighting a patent-pending bezel, adjustable bracelet, and refined dial. It features the MONTA Caliber M-22 movement, Swiss-made luminescent hands, and offers 300 meters of water resistance with a 56-hour power reserve. The case is constructed from 316L stainless steel with a ceramic bezel, and it boasts a flat sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating.MONTA has something for everyone at prices that punch above their weight.



 

anOrdain - The Scottish Dial Experts


anOrdain Model 1
anOrdain Model 1 - Image Courtesy of anOrdain

Founded in 2015, anOrdain was born from Lewis' vision during a Scottish Highlands visit, blending modern design with traditional craftsmanship. The team includes Imogen, a typographer, and Adam, an enameller. In 2018, they launched the Model 1, inspired by Loch an Ordain's maps and sold out quickly. They expanded their offerings with the Model 2 in 2019, a rugged field watch, and revisited the Model 1 in 2020. anOrdain has grown into a global brand, thriving within Glasgow's creative community. With a dedicated team, they explore new creative realms, and their anOrdain home in the Templeton Building on Glasgow Green supports local manufacturing and watchmaking traditions.


Our Favorite Model: Model 1 Plum Fumé

The Model 1 features a Glasgow-made fumé enamel dial, particularly in a unique "Plum" color. This enamelling studio in Glasgow has been operating since 2015, offering a dial with a deep garnet center and smoked edge, evoking warmth. The watch has a 38mm case, 46mm lug to lug length, and a 11mm case depth, all polished. It uses vitreous enamel on silver for the dial, with movement options including Sellita SW210 or La Joux-Perret G100. The watch is equipped with sapphire glass, handcrafted hands, a solid screw-in case back, and offers 5ATM water resistance, all backed by a 5-year warranty.



 

VERO - The Adventurous Pick


VERO Smokey Bear '44
VERO Smokey Bear Smokey '44 - Image Courtesy of VERO

VERO Watch Company, founded in 2015 in Portland, Oregon, specializes in crafting affordable, narrative-driven timepieces that stand out. With a worldwide following and over 30 years of combined experience, each watch series builds upon the last, emphasizing craftsmanship and growth. VERO shifted production to a Swiss manufacturer in 2020 to enhance quality and prioritize sustainability, focusing on minimal waste and eco-friendly packaging. Their mission is clear: to create enduring, functional watches, meant to be worn and built tough, backed by an industry-leading warranty, all while pursuing continuous improvement and innovation.


Our Favorite Model: Smokey '44

VERO released the collector's edition Official Smokey Bear watches on August 9, 2023, in honor of Smokey Bear's 79th birthday. These watches are officially licensed by the United States Forest Service, priced at $450, and offer features like automatic movement, sapphire crystal, dual strap options, 120m water resistance, and a dual-tone finish. The watches come in a vintage-inspired box, and each style includes leather and canvas NATO straps, water resistance, Super LumiNova, and a Seiko NH38A Automatic movement. These watches, with a 38mm case width, 12mm case height, 46mm lug to lug, and a 20mm strap width, pay tribute to Smokey Bear's conservation legacy as a timeless icon.



 

The #8 Bonus Pick:


Farer - The Recognizable Brit


Farer Lander IV GMT
Farer Lander IV - Image Courtesy of Farer

Established in 2015, Farer is a fervent British independent watch company known for its luxury timepieces that prioritize uniqueness and fresh design. Their watches exemplify a fusion of British design and Swiss craftsmanship, emphasizing attention to detail. They back their products with a generous 5-year guarantee to ensure customer satisfaction. With a diverse range of over 40 watch models catering to various styles, Farer offers direct-to-consumer sales through their website, providing competitive pricing and accessibility to their beautifully crafted timepieces.


Most Popular Model: Farer Lander GMT

Farer brings British style to Swiss precision, and the Farer Lander GMT is their hit single. It's like a globetrotter's dream with its vintage-inspired design and Swiss automatic movement. If you're into travel and exploration, this one's for you. This works equally well on a stainless bracelet or Farer leather strap.



 

The Wrap up of the 7 (8) best Microbrands of 2023


So there you have it, folks - the best microbrand and independent watches to up your wrist game. These rebels of horology are shaking things up with their unique designs, top-notch craftsmanship, and a whole lot of personality. Whether you're into vintage vibes, rugged adventures, or minimalist elegance, there's a microbrand watch waiting to join your collection.



 

*UPDATE*

Check to see if your favorite Microbrand made the same or another list in 2024!


Balance & Bridge

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