Should you buy a microbrand watch or stick with the established brands?

The pros and cons of small batch watches.

Luxury watches at non-luxury prices! Watches without the marketing cost mark-up! If, like me, you have been keeping an eye out for affordably priced watches (under MYR5,000/MYR1,000), you would have also probably noticed the spike in crowd-funded brands or microbrand watches often spouting the aforementioned taglines. The increase in popularity of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have made the setting up of watch microbrands much more accessible.

Although a majority of these brands are often just cookie cutter watches sold at relatively low prices, once in awhile you get microbrands driven by passion, offering watches built with a winning formula. These are the watches that we watchgeeks look out for and when one unexpectedly come out of the woodwork we often only have a couple of weeks (before the crowdfuncing campaign or pre-order period ends) to ask the all important question: Should one buy a microbrand watch or just stick with the established brands?

A Case of Design

This is probably the first thing that will lure you into a microbrand. Because most of these watchmakers have the luxury of catering to a smaller, niche market of consumers, more often than not you’ll get designs that really speak to watch lovers. Smaller case sizes, dials without date windows, or just watches that look like nothing else on the market; without the pressures of doing mass market volumes, these microbrands can offer designs based purely on their own philosophy of what a watch should be. It also helps that most of the time really good microbrands are started by long-time watch lovers that couldn’t find the perfect watch and so they decided to make their own.

The iconic Navitimer from Breitling
The iconic Navitimer from Breitling

Be that as it may, there are still certain designs from established brands that can never be replaced. The Omega Speedmaster and Seamaster for example or Rolex’s Submariner, Explorer and GMT-Master, Tudor’s Black Bay and Breitling’s Navitimer; all of these watches have designs that are so rooted in the brand’s history that anything even close to the designs of these watches would undoubtedly be compared to the original, or labeled a homage piece.

The Numbers Game

There is no question here that prices for these microbrand watches are definitely lower than the big brands of the industry. This is mainly because microbrands spend a mere faction of what the more established watchmakers are spending on marketing. Also these small brands have no real pressure of making their watches and movements in-house which require significant investment for tooling and machinery. As a result most microbrands source their components from a wide variety of suppliers and use ready-made movements from manufactures like ETA, Selita, Seiko and Miyota.

MING Watches 17.03
Ming’s 17.03 here in leather also comes in a titanium bracelet version and retails for CHF1,700. A damn good price for that much titanium.

Another factor that drastically reduces the price of these microbrand watches is that they spend next to nothing on marketing. Unlike big established brands that usually employ the help of big established celebrities to promote their watches, microbrands rely on word of mouth or just smaller campaigns on social media thus reducing drastically the cost of their watches. Savings which they very happily announce that they will pass on to you.

On the downside however, because these microbrands are generally smaller companies (the clue is in the name – microbrand) often times they will not have the manpower or the capital to produce large amounts of watches. Many resort to pre-orders and crowdfunding to generate the income necessary to produce their watches. And only when they have sufficient quantity to satisfy all their suppliers will they go ahead with the production. Thus this can lead to quite a long waiting period before you get to finally have the watch on your wrist.

Another downside is that because of the lack of marketing and the smaller number of watches produced it is quite difficult to actually see these watches before you buy them. As we all have probably experienced, seeing a watch in photos and seeing it in the metal are two very different things altoghether. And unlike watches from established brands which are ever-ready on display for you to fondle and peruse as many times as you like, its never the case with microbrands. In order to see these small batch watches, you either need to be in close proximity of the brand (which is kind of hard as microbrands are popping up in the unlikeliest of places) or have a direct link with the founders.

Time Will Tell

Now, the established brands have become established for a reason. They have stood the test of time, made good products year after year and generated profits long enough that they became a household name in the horology industry. And thus, when you buy a watch from one of these brands you also buy the heritage that comes with it. People will recognise these watches and depending on your personality and reasons for owning said watch, it can either be a good thing or a bad thing.

With that being said, watches from the more established brands have a higher chance of holding their value over the years and in some special cases even increase in value. There are many factors as to why these happens including design, reliability, reputation, etc. but the fact of the matter is this will most probably only happen with the well-known manufactures.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona

With microbrand watches, I have noticed instances where the price actually increased because of its scarcity but by and large, these watches probably won’t hold their value over the course of five or even ten years. Again this is dependent on how the brand fares over that course of time, because who knows, the microbrand of today might just become the established brand of tomorrow.


Whatever the case may be, whichever side of the fence you are on in the debate of microbrand vs established brand, you can’t argue that the introduction of new watch manufactures means that as a consumer you have even more options to choose from. So the purpose of this article, is not to tell you what you should or should not buy but rather, lay down the facts and then ask you the question instead. Which would you rather buy?

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