Before there was the Kickstarter revolution for micro brands, these tiny operations, spearheaded by single enthusiastic watch lovers, existed to bring small batches of typically well-priced watches to willing enthusiasts. Micro brands are companies that make watches which are even smaller than boutique brands. These hobby-style watch brands typically include one person or a small team and suppliers who produce their products for them. Right now they are experiencing a little bit of a golden age with consumers, and I felt it might be an interesting discussion to identify why watch buyers seem to swoon for these startups and cheer loudly for these little guys.
It is hard to define exactly what a micro watch brand is, but I can give you a few examples of them. Say you are a watch lover that looks in vain for years for a particular watch design that appeals to you. After a failed search you decide to shift tactics and produce your own watch. You know that to fund the operation you need to make a few and try to sell them. So you set up a small micro brand that uses third-party watch manufacturers (of various quality levels) to produce your watches for you, using your designs and tedious feedback of course. You then go to your friends and the watch enthusiast community online to get feedback on your project and to look for buyers. That is the picture of many micro watch brands.
Of course, anyone who seeks backers on a crowd-funding website like Kickstarter is also often times a micro brand. These companies usually outsource most or all production (which isn’t a bad thing), and focus their efforts on overall design, marketing, and sales. These are also micro brands. Of course there are other examples as well, but for the purpose of this article those are the types of watch makers I have in mind when asserting the below.
At this point in the discussion it isn’t even clear why these micro brands exist. If someone isn’t going to wear a Rolex or other luxury name watch, they will just wear an affordable piece from one of the big names (like Seiko, Casio, Citizen, etc), or wear a smartwatch. You may agree or disagree with that statement but it is a common sentiment among marketers these days. Nevertheless, there is a boom among these brands, which I can personally attest to since many of them inform us of when they set up shop – and many never even have the awareness that they need to do so. A common claim among the brands is that they are seeking to offer “luxury at lower prices.” They claim middle men and greed are what prevent them from being able to afford the best products from famous names. Of course some are more humble than that, but a common thread among many of them is that they feel they can offer a lot of the experience of a name brand watch at a lower price.
I actually disagree with that statement, but I can say that some of the work from these micro brands is actually pretty nice. What they lack in quality they often make up for in originality and character. Though I will also admit it is true that luxury watch prices include huge premiums over what micro brands can get produced from suppliers – mostly in and around China.
My feeling is that a huge number of companies that acted as OEM suppliers to fashion watch brands suffered from slower businesses over the last few years and shifted their focus to offer their services to smaller hobbyist project clients. This allowed people with relatively modest budgets to get competent (though not typically world class) watches produced in relatively low quantities. This is a very important point to make, because without this relatively robust Asian watch manufacturing infrastructure existing, almost none of these micro brands would be able to exist because producing watches would be much, much more expensive.
Micro brands that are successful usually find profit in channeling the taste of a spirited designer into a product that other people with similar tastes want to wear. There is no perfect formula, but below, I’ve discussed the top five reasons watch collectors who can typically afford a lot more, find a lot of enjoyment in watches from micro brands.
Affordable Artistic Appeal
Watches are undeniably about utility (telling the time), but they are also about aesthetics too, right? Most people would not wear a watch they did not find aesthetically pleasing. Thus, a watch is both a tool and a piece of art. That artistic side is the main reason we have such a variety of watches out there. It is also why most people who love watches today wear them: because they like how they look.
Most mainstream high-end watches are designed to appeal to a large number of people, and thus, have more conservative designs. Sure there are exotic exceptions which play artistically with innovative design, but those watches also come with extremely expensive prices. Good design costs a lot of money in the luxury watch world in most instances, so a lot of people simply can’t afford cool artistic watches.
This hole in the market means that there are a lot of people eager to wear more artistic watches assuming they are affordable. In my opinion, the best micro brands are those which take artistic risk in design, that also make their prices more democratic given their status as a micro brand. Such brands tend to be well celebrated, enjoying hot periods of healthy business as design lovers flock to their products – until they are no longer trendy.