If you don’t pay the religious attention to the watch industry that I do, you could be excused for assuming it’s pretty static. There are the big brands like Vacheron, Breguet, Patek, the giant that is Rolex and the various unchanging tiers of timepieces. However, things weren’t always this way and in the future they might not be again.
I’m not saying there’s some crazy, disruptive force coming, but with independent watchmaking at fever pitch and new brands continually coming out of the woodwork there are more than enough challengers ready to take a piece of the proverbial pie.
Sure, some might say that there are too many, that we’re being saturated with new brands and Kickstarter watches, but here are the up-and-comers that you should actually be paying attention to.
Fears Brunswick Polar White >
Back when Fears started just a couple years ago, I wasn’t sold. They were a heritage watch brand with a quartz movement. The designs were nice but nothing special. Then came the Brunswick, a watch that after trying it on I went out and bought.
The Brunswick to me is a perfect watch: it’s nicely sized at 38mm, has a minimal, vintage feel, and a 1920s-1930s cushion-shaped case. It’s lovely and it’s mechanical. That’s not the only reason Fears is one to watch though.
They are about to hold their first members event, bringing together everyone that’s so far bought a Fears watch. It’s a small touch, but one that you’d never expect from the big marques, let alone a lowly independent. It’s illustrative of the gentlemanly ethos underpinning Fears: good watches, good company and a damn good gin and tonic.
Vertex MP45 Manual >
Yes, you’ll have heard plenty about Vertex in the past couple of years but until recently I’d have hesitated to call them a brand as such. I never would until they release at least a second watch (that’s not just a black version of the original). Fortunately, the new MP45 knocks it out of the park.
An asymmetrical monopusher based on a military ordnance timepiece that never went to production, it maintains the vintage military air that made the M100 a success but steps away from the Dirty Dozen formula. I prefer the manual version myself, but it also comes in an automatic. Either way the monopusher is a joy to use.
As for what the future holds, expect to see a physical store for the previously word-of-mouth brand soon. Rumour has it that space will be on Chiltern Street, London (near the culinary mediocre Firehouse) and will have a pool table. Watches too, of course, but I’m in it for the pool table.
Bruggler QASR EL-NIL-ST >
Customisation is a huge buzzword in the industry at the moment; Richemont created an entire brand, Baume, around it. Most of the time though all you get are relatively cheap, assembly line watches. Of course, it’s still a custom timepiece. However, Bruggler up the quality substantially.
For a start, rather than China, they’re made in Switzerland. That makes them more expensive but ensures a certain level of craftsmanship. Plus, it’s just nice to know. After trying one out, I can personally vouch for the quality and I was originally a depressed sceptic about them. Really though, the best thing you can do is go and play with their watch creator.
You start with your sports chronograph of choice and choose… well, everything. I would say within reason, but it goes a little beyond reasonable. Only algebra knows how many choices you have. Now all they need to do is add a couple of other types of watch and they’ll be unstoppable. Baume beware.
Ming 19.01 >
Despite having barely enough watches to call it a collection, Ming, Malaysia’s only watch brand of note, has been making waves bigger than a Tsunami. It’s essentially a brand built by collectors, for collectors, with all-round Renaissance man Ming Thein – a photographer, designer, business strategist and a lot of other things besides – at the forefront.
They exploded into the GPHG – the Oscars of haute horology – with their shortlisted 19.01, conceived as the ultimate everyday watch, and they’ve not looked back. Their signature smoked sapphire dial is on both the original 19.01 and the 19.02 worldtimer edition, which are both well above entry-level pricing. For something a bit sportier there’s the 17.03 GMT, which is in a lower bracket altogether, although it still manages to share the same key design elements.
Every time Ming releases a new piece it sells. A lot. If you do manage to get hold of one yourself, you’ll have a future collector’s piece on your wrist.
Anonimo Nautilo Automatic >
An ex-Florentine watch brand with a penchant for serious diving watches… sound like anyone you know? If you’re thinking Panerai then congratulations, you know Florence’s one horological claim to fame. Anonimo is essentially Panerai’s heir in waiting. While they certainly don’t have the history of the quintessential Italian-designed diver, they have plenty more in common.
For one, Colonel Dr. Dino Zei. The former CEO of Panerai was deeply invested in helping set up Anonimo with Ferragamo’s Federico Massacesi. Now, if you’ve heard of Anonimo you know they’re not a new brand as such – in fact they were founded back in 1997. My point though is that they’ve yet to make the splash (pun totally intended) I believe they should have.
As Panerai gets ever pricier for, let’s be perfectly honest, not much change in quality, Anonimo is becoming an ever-better option for the same kind of watch. They’re also a little less invested in pleasing only the Paneristi, with some much wackier, riskier designs. Anonimo might not be new, but they should definitely be up and coming.
Baltic AQUASCAPHE Tool Watch Blue Gilt >
Along with March LA.B, Baltic is leading the charge in independent French watches. We’re not talking French name, Swiss watches either; while most of the components are indeed third party, Baltic’s timepieces are assembled in their own workshop near Besançon. If you’re not a Francophile however, there’s still plenty to love.
Though they began as a Kickstarter success story back in 2017, the aesthetic basis for Baltic comes form the step-cases watches of the 1940s – a vintage throwback that can be seen in their first two pieces, the Bicompax 001 chronograph and HMS 001. For my money though it’s all about their latest release: the Aquascaphe tool watch.
A serious amount of bang for your buck, the Aquascaphe has been put through its paces professionally by swimmer Ben Lecompte during the 300 nautical miles of his Vortex Swim through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s now available in a few variations and the Blue Gilt version is absolutely stunning.
William Wood Valiant Collection: The Red Watch >
Firefighting is one of the most dangerous jobs there is, as last year’s Australian Bush Fires illustrated. What you might have missed however is the charity watch auction held to raise money for the cause. There were some serious brands involved, as well as one that seems to have come out of nowhere: William Wood.
The link to firefighting is obvious; not only does the brand’s name come from the founder, Johnny Garret’s, grandfather who was a British firefighter, but the watches use repurposed fire hose for the straps.
The vintage-inspired tool watches have a few less obvious allusions to firefighting – rank markings at 12 o’clock, fire engine checks around the edge of the dial and a bell chime as a second hand – but the overall designs don’t shove it down your throat.
The latest and most handsome piece to date is the Valiant, available in a few different bezel/case combinations (including a fitting fire engine red) and all available with either Seiko or (if you care about the Swiss aspect) ETA movements.
Alsta Nautoscaph Superautomatic >
You’ve definitely seen an Alsta before, even if you couldn’t put a name to the watch. At least, if you’re any kind of cinephile. They might be a tiny brand nowadays, but back in their 1970’s heyday – before the quartz crisis took them under – Alsta was one of the go-to names for professional diving watches, so much so that they had a starring role alongside Richard Dreyfuss’ Matt Hooper in Jaws.
They were resurrected back in 2014 and straight out of the gate used the Jaws watch as their inspiration for the Nautoscaph. Since then they’ve stayed in the same waters, with sharp retro designs based off, but not imitating, their vintage pieces. Except, that is, for the Nautoscaph Superautomatic, a play-by-play re-creation of the actual Jaws watch.
Production will be limited to 1975 pieces but, given the charmingly retro case, triple lock crown an serious diving instrument credentials, it’s a number I don’t see lasting all that long. Here’s hoping theirs is a better follow-up than Jaws 2.
Doxa Sub 300T Watch >
Doxa was perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of the quartz crisis, a diving brand that before the advent of battery-powered watches was up there with the tool timepiece greats. Despite starting 130 years ago, it’s only in the past decade that Doxa has really made their presence felt again – and less than that since they began making inroads here in the UK among anyone but devoted vintage collectors.
They have however hit the zeitgeist on the head with their funky retro divers, harking right back to the 1960s and the golden era of underwater exploration. That means big, lozenge-shaped cases and the technical look of old scuba gear. They’re also very, very bright.
Doxa’s signature colour is their unmistakable orange, but now each and every piece is also available in aquamarine and yellow alongside a few more subtle colour swaps. I generally prefer the original – especially on the classic Sub 300T – but a lot can be said of the tone-on-tone silver-dialled number. Either way, you’re getting professional standard diving watches in a charming retro package that hit well above their price tags.
Farer Cobb Chronograph Automatic Watch >
While they’re probably a bit more established than some of the companies on this list, Farer (pronounced “Fairer”) nonetheless deserve even more love than they’re getting. The brand is one of the most confident British watch designers out there and with ever new release just keeps extending their repertoire of cool, affordable and downright lovely timepieces – especially if you like the colour blue.
Most of their models are on the sporty side of things, from the Aqua Compressor to the Chronograph Sport, but they’re a damn sight more interesting than your usual array of tool watches. The Chronograph Automatics for example is, as the name suggests, a solid automatic chronograph, but the Cobb version is drenched in six or seven different aqua shades with flashes of red and yellow like an ocean-themed colouring book.
Each watch is set with a bronze crown, Farer’s signature finishing touch, and the more recent pieces are equipped with ETA or Sellita movements – reliable, accurate and good value for money.
anOrdain New Model 1 Iron Cream >
This Scottish brand is doing what very few watchmakers ever attempt, let alone this side of Glashutte: enamel dials. There’s a good reason these sorts of dials are normally reserved for the classic grand maisons of the watchmaking world: they’re bloody hard to make.
First a metal dial blank is cut by hand; then it’s “counter-enamelled” to stop it bending in the oven. A thin layer of coloured enamel powder is then painted across, before the dial gets fired in an 830°C kiln. This is repeated over and over again until the right depth of colour comes out, with each firing another chance for imperfections that will send the whole process back to the start.
The result at anOrdain is a series of stunning coloured dials in teal, postbox red and the like. Backed by standard workhorse Sellita SW-200 movements and svelte 38mm cases, these are elegant, playful, home-grown timepieces – especially the newly-refined Model 1.
Unimatic U1-F Modello Uno >
Founded in 2015 by Milanese natives and students of industrial design, Giovanni Moro and Simone Nunziato, Unimatic is one of the scant handful of new, exciting Italian watch brands to emerge in the past few years. By leaning on their expertise in industrial aesthetics and throwing in a good amount of Bauhaus minimalism, the result was their first watch, the aptly-named Modello Uno.
Since then they’ve stuck to strict limited editions of predominantly tool timepieces, all with that same simplistic cool, riffing around the famous dive watches of the 1950s with a dash more contemporary flair than the likes of Blancpain and Omega can muster nowadays. Equipped with Seiko movements and solid specs sheets (including 300m water resistance) these are some of the hottest accessible timepieces out there.
How hot? Well, the last collaborative 99-piece limited edition from these guys – the Unimatic x Massena LAB Modello Uno Ref. U1-ML6 – sold out in under a minute.
Scurfa Bell Diver 1 Stainless Steel Auto Watch >
A lot of dive watches talk the talk, but Scurfa’s semi-eponymous founder Paul Scurfield walks the walk – at the bottom of the North Sea. That’s not some seriously dark intro to the brand; Paul is a saturation diver, working for six hours at a time across 28-day stints spent at crushing depths. If anyone knows what a professional instrument is, it’s him.
While that was initially a quartz movement (no matter how they’re looked down on, quartz movements are still more accurate and reliable than mechanical) Scurfa watches have since moved onto automatics, all with a similar, distinctly modern style.
That means a look that could be a nice alternative to a Rolex Submariner, paired with a few good-looking colours and, in the latest model, a design-forward hexagonally-embellished dial and unusually curvaceous case. Scurfa still has a long way before they hit the surface, but they’re definitely on the rise.