A few weeks ago, I did what was without a shadow of a doubt, my favourite article I have written for the site since we started. It was an article on one of the best microbrands of the year so far, Semper and Adhuc. If you havent read it stop reading this right now, go and read it and then come back and start this one.
Microbrands have really taken off in the past few years. With the rise in popularity of wristwatches in general, this has spurred people on to start their own brands. Taking inspiration from their favourite companies and models, coupled with massive enthusiasm for this fantastic hobby, they have paved the way for some fantastic small brands, which are making a real dent in the watch industry.
Now, although this sub set of watches is a massive pond, with a hell of a lot of fish in it, there are some that stand out from the rest. And these three are my undeniable favourites, both in terms of brand and models.
Halios Seaforth GMT
Halios are a company that pride their themselves on three main principles. The first is to offer a quality, well-built watch that you can take into the water. The second is to exceed the customers after-sales support expectations. The third, and probably the most poignant, is to strive to design the next watch icon. This third pilar is something I think Halios have been very successful in doing. Not only does their latest model, the Seaforth GMT, have a cult following amongst Microbrand lovers, it also is a fan favourite amongst more traditional watch geeks, such as James Stacey from Hodinkee. They take the classic diver style, and put their own modern twist on it.
Now, down to the watch. The case is brushed stainless steel, with lovely lugs, and minimal crown guards. It comes with either no bezel, or an option of a sapphire dive bezel, a steel dive time bezel, or with a steel 24 hour bezel.
You can make up your mind as to what your favourite bezel option is, but personally I like the steel fixed the best. Although traditionally a GMT would have a 24 hour bezel in order to be able to add an additional timezone, the minimal look of the steel bezel and the deep blue dial really does it for me. Speaking of the dial, It comes in this lovely deep blue, as well as a brushed silver.
40mm without bezel, 42mm with bezel
Lug Width: 20mm
The mark of a good microbrand, I think, is uptake and popularity amongst not only microbrand lovers, but watch geeks. If this is the criteria that makes a microbrand successful or not, Halios are definitely successful. Their first watch, the time-only Seaforth, went down incredibly well, and the newly released GMT is no different. If you are looking for a classically styled diver, with a colourful twist, that could be worn causally, and with a suit, then look no further.
The original Seaforth, in my two favourite dial colours. The more versatile black, and the pastel blue...
Prices start at £524 for the time-only Seaforth, with the newly released Seaforth GMT setting you back £683. When you consider what else you could get for that amount of money, for the same style of watch, either of Halios' offerings make for very attractive options.
MING are a company that make the most eye-catching watches in this article. Like most Microbrands they have a small product line, but unlike some other microbrands, they punch well above their weight, and would easily hold their own against comparably priced Swiss or German offerings. Ming was started by six watch enthusiasts, and budding collectors. Their philosophy is "to bring back this sense of excitement and discovery through a series of pieces that show considered deliberation and refinement in every detail, but remain within reach of a wider audience." Now, although their ethos can be found as the slogan for many many microbrands, their watches themselves are what makes Ming stand out from the pack. They currenetly have two ranges. The 19 series and the 17 series. The 19 series is a time only offering, and the 17 series (my personal favourite) introduces a GMT complication into the mix. I have inserted some photos below, and once you have recovered from the Watch Porn, I will delve into the specs.
A selection of stunning photos... The top two show the 17.03, whilst the bottom displays the 19.01
Now lets get down to the technicals. Aesthetically, these watches are stunning. But, like many other microbrands, they cannot boast to have the capability of having in-house manufacturer. Ming use a 'Top-Grade' Sellita SW330-1. Now people may turn their noses up at this, but Sellita make fantastic movements that you should definitely not disregard! This particular iteration of the Sellita range of movements comes with:
42hr Power Reserve
These stats speak for themselves. If I had said that this was an in house manufacturer no one would be any the wiser... so do not disregard Sellita, they get a bad rep but they are solid, reputable movements. The 17.03 GMT's come in at 38mm diameter, and at a thickness of just 9.8mm, hard to disagree in saying how cracking those dimensions are! The dials are multi-layered three part sapphire, which means that they not only have an amazing depth to them, but they also get caught by the light in a mesmerising way. The sunburst effect on the inner ring of the dial on the Blue model really is stunning.
Price wise the GMT in burgundy dial will set you back CHF 1,300 (£1,018). The All Black model, which I think looks awesome on the matching bracelet, will set you back CHF 1,700 (£1,332). These are the most affordable models that they offer, and I think this price point makes them incredibly enticing, given the quality of the construction, and the aesthetics of them! If I had £1,332 knocking around I would buy the black model tomorrow.
My final Microbrand is from just across the channel, in France. Baltic, like a lot of microbrands was successfully funded on Kickstarter. They now has two models in their inventory; with one which they have been teasing A LOT on their instagram as of late. The style of these watches are described on the Kickstarter campaign as 1940's neo-vintage. They have a time only model, the HMS series, and the newly released Bicompax. They both come in at 38mm, and are based on the stepped cases used in the 40's.
A selection of press photos from their website, to give you a flavour of some of the combinations Baltic offer...
Although they are assembled in France, this is not where the components come from. The movement used in the Bicompax is a Chinese-made mechanical Chronograph (Please carry on reading its not as bad as you think) which has been inspired by one of the most famous chronograph movements of all time. The Venus 175 was developed in the 40's and was used in many famous chronographs, most notably the Breitling Chronomat. When Venus decided to develop a new movement, based on the popularity of the 175, they needed some way of funding it. In order to do this they sold the necessary tooling for the 175 to the Chinese Airforce, so that they could create movements for their military watches. Despite being initially reserved for military use, they were eventually made commercially available, and now are rebranded as the Seagull ST - 1901. This modernised version is still a column wheel chronograph with 45 hours of power reserve... I told you it would get better didn't I!!
These watches, are possibly at the bottom of the pecking order from a specification point of view. But I think they more than make up for that when it comes to aesthetics. They use a quite beautiful, if not slightly disregarded movement, with gorgeous dial work and very well proportioned cases. I personally think they are lovely watches, and as a company I think their offering is something that genuinely fills a gap in the market, at the price they are offering it. If you want a comprehensive video review, our good friend Adrian a.k.a Bark & Jack has done a review of the HMS 001 on his youtube channel, so if you havent checked that video, or him out yet have you been living under a rock?! Please go and do it now... Thanks.
I think that some microbrands, such as the ones I have spoken about above, have a real spot in the watch industry. Whilst the market for Microbrands specifically is saturated, the same rule applies as it does th 'mainstream' watches. The good ones will just stick out above the rest, and I feel these three are some of the microbrand front runners. I would own the Seaforth GMT, Ming 17.03 black, and the Bicompax in a heartbeat (funds allowing of course, which they currently do not...)
But as always geeks, we love imparting a bit of knowledge on you! But we also want to hear your opinions! So let us know if you agree with my choices, let us know what your favourite microbrand is, and if any of you own a watch from any of the three brands above we would love to hear from you about your hands-on experience with them!
Editor and Co-Founder