There’s a certain type of small watch brand that has cropped up in recent years that occupies a unique space in the wide chasm between what we think of as a typical microbrand and a high end independent. For lack of a better term, let’s call them “Micro Indies.” We actually covered one just this week – brands like Atelier Holgur operate on a small scale, and use a mix of sourced components while often incorporating some type of in-house craft element that is unique to them, and sets them apart. What’s really exciting about a lot of these brands is they frequently offer some level of bespoke or custom watchmaking, a trend we’ve seen become more and more commonplace over the last few years, allowing collectors to obtain something truly special and unique, made just for them.
These brands often (but not always) sit at a higher price point than most microbrands, approaching and occasionally crossing the five figure mark that poses both a psychological and very real barrier to many collectors. But as enthusiasts who may have cut their teeth on affordable micro brands expand their horizons and budgets, these independent watchmakers offer something compelling. Their brands have the ethos and personal touch of watches that are strictly value driven, but give collectors a small taste of the refinement, creativity, personalization, and craft that you’d expect from world class indies and the most unobtainable high luxury brands.
These watches, by design, are not for everyone. Every single one occupies a specific niche within the collecting world, and all of the brands discussed below have found an enthusiastic base of support through social media and other platforms that seems to be sustaining them. We’ve enjoyed watching these brands develop and thought now was as good a time as any to highlight a small selection of our favorites.
Starting with a brand that will likely be familiar to many readers, anOrdain has been offering old world craft by way of their enamel dial work since the brand’s founding in 2015. By 2018, when they produced their first version of the Model 1, the anOrdain team had spent countless hours researching and experimenting with traditional enameling processes. Today, the brand has a worldwide following and a lengthy waitlist, but still offers incredible value. There’s simply no other watch brand offering this level of enamel work starting at under $2,000.
Recently, anOrdain has been teasing a new watch, the Model 3 Method, that is slated for release in 2023. It features a new case and lug design in a 39mm form factor, and is the product of a collaboration with the woodcraft specialists at Method Studio. According to anOrdain, the new dials that will be part of the Model 3 combine all that the brand has learned about enameling with traditional woodworking and high end 3D scanning technology. Something to look forward to from one of our favorite small brands that consistently delivers beautiful handmade watches with a personal touch. anOrdain
Garrick, in our view, is one of the premier brands in this space. We’ve covered them quite a bit in these pages (check out their collaboration with Fears here, and the release of the new S5 here) and they offer highly distinctive watches (check out those hands) that are largely made to order and fully customizable.
Garrick is run by Dave Brailsford from Norwich, England, and his watches have a British sensibility that is tough to pin down but easy to see. The dials are ornate, with those hands and their dramatic, anchor inspired counterweights, and surfaces covered in shimmering guilloche. But it’s no use to pigeonhole the aesthetics of Garrick’s watches, because Brailsford will craft each one to the specifications of his customer. The S5, for instance, can be made in a somewhat standard and sober silver, but if a customer wants neon green, Garrick and their partners will happily accommodate.
Flipping a Garrick over reveals a level of finishing and attention to detail that is most often associated with watches priced at several times what Brailsford asks for his watches. While the new S5, with a custom made movement finished in a style reminiscent of British pocket watches, starts at close to $20,000, other Garrick watches come in closer to the $5,000 mark and still offer many of the same customizable features as their flagship. Garrick
Sartory Billard is the brainchild of Armand Billard, a largely self-taught French watchmaker and designer who makes bespoke watches from his personal studio. Unlike some makers of personalized timepieces, Sartory Billard does not offer a range of prefabricated watches for sale on his website for customers who might be willing to forego the personalization process. Instead, Armand provides copious examples of his previous work to serve as inspiration, and an outline of what’s possible in terms of customization. The list is long. On the entry level SB04, for example, customers can choose the case material, the finishing techniques applied, the design of the indices, and much more. Once you begin the conversation with Armand about your watch, he provides renderings of what the finished product will look like to provide an idea of what you’re getting into.
A signature design element that Sartory Billard clients seem to take advantage of often is Armand’s ability and willingness to mix materials on the dial side. With the new higher end SB05 range (prices start at around $8,000), customers can create dials mixing stone and guilloche elements, for example. On the Sartory Billard website, almost 30 stone types are listed as possible options, with the promise that even more are available upon request. At least 12 guilloche patterns are available as well (with dials made by Comblemine), resulting in an almost impossible to imagine level of customization. Sartory Billard
James Lamb is a British watchmaker who debuted the Origin Series, his first collection, just about a year ago. These watches feature beautiful enamel work inspired by earth, air, fire, and water, with offset dials that put the focus on the bright colors of the main dial as well as the case shape. What might not be apparent from photos, though, is what really makes these watches special: each case is crafted from Argentium silver. Silver of course is an uncommon watchmaking material, but it has an undeniable lustrous quality that is hard to ignore, and feels like a logical choice for watches in the Origin Series. These are true art pieces, so concerns about silver’s durability in a tool watch context aren’t really at play here.
The Origin Series is reportedly sold out (only 50 watches were made in total) and Lamb hasn’t publicly announced his next project, but has hinted that he’s working quietly on a few limited editions via his Instagram account. This is the kind of specialized, small batch watchmaking that feels truly exciting though, and it’ll be interesting to see what Lamb has in his future plans. James Lamb
Felipe Pikulik is a young watchmaker based in Germany who has been making watches under his own name since 2017. While he hasn’t garnered a ton of mainstream attention to this point, his designs are gaining traction with aficionados, and it feels like his stock is on the rise. Pikulik’s watchmaking education is a reflection of much of his recent work. He studied under Stephan Kudoke, who among other things is known as a leader in skeletonization, a skill that Pikulik displays in the way he treats a relatively common movement (that also keeps the prices of his watches surprisingly low).
Pikulik is committed to making as much of his watches by hand as possible. His designs are whimsical and veer toward the formal. The Sternenhimmel collection, for example, features lacquered dials made to look like the night sky along with diamond hour markers and, sometimes, diamond set lugs. The ZBM1 collection uses the same basic case design, but the dials in this run have been fully hand engraved. Pikulik’s skill is apparent from the backside as well. Each movement (a simple ETA 6497 hand wound caliber) has been skeletonized by hand and decorated with a mix of modern and classic finishing elements. The price point for the original run of Sternenhimmel watches started at just about $2,700, while the ZBM1 was also competitively priced at $4,300. Even if prices rise with Pikulik’s profile, his brand represents an incredible value for this type of watchmaking. Felipe Pikulik
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