Without trying to generalize too much, for a very long time independent brands were seen as homaging models from well established brands. It was as if independent brands had no creativity and no intention of making something unique. However, things have changed a lot in the past ten years as many “microbrands” have seen the light of the day and have brought with them quite a few innovations. Not only do they make robust watches but they also either follow popular trends established by Swiss and Japanese giants or create their own.
The reality of the independent watch market is that it’s a tough place to be. Hundreds of brands compete with each other to keep their heads above water. Some work extra hard to be on top and offer never seen before value for the money watches. 2022 has seen the explosion of GMTs coming in all sizes and prices. MONTA released a second generation of its popular Skyquest a few months back. And MONTA also equips all of its models with quick-adjust clasps which were, until recently, rarely seen on non-luxury timepieces.
So instead of discussing what independent brands have already done, let’s discuss what they could do in the future.
Affordable Mechanical Chronographs
Chronographs were—and still are for the most part—the domain of well-established brands and serious manufactures. Think Valjoux, Venus, and ETA that made and still make, in some cases, chronograph movements. I’m not a chronograph expert but it seems that no new chronograph movements have been released in the past couple of decades while other types of movements have. (Three handers and time + date movements.) This explains why we still see many chronographs coming with Valjoux 7750 calibers that have been made for several decades. But this doesn’t mean that independent brands don’t want to sell chronographs, quite the contrary. What these brands do is to offer Mecaquartz chronograph-powered watches that are affordable and reliable.
So the future would look like this: Sellita or SOPROD or even Seiko or Citizen would be making affordable mechanical chronograph movements that we will see inside sub-$1,000 elegant and well-finished timepieces. This is what has happened since Seiko released the NH34 GMT movement which has sprung the spread of affordable GMT watches. Yes, certain Swiss brands make these kinds of watches already, for example the Tissot PRX Chronograph, however only brands that are part of the Swatch group can get their hands on ETA movements.
I would be remiss not to mention the Seagull ST19 (a clone of the Venus 175 caliber,) a column wheel chronograph that can be seen in $200 watches. This now-Chinese made caliber is popular amongst independent watchmakers for its affordability, availability, and reliability. It would be great, moving forward, to see a full-fledged chronograph become available. What I mean is a chronograph with 60-minute and 12-hour totalizers as well as a date complication. Putting such movements in sub-$2,000 chronographs would sell like hot cakes and this is something I hope to see in the near future.
Classic Everyday Timepieces
If I were to ask you to name a classic everyday watch, you would probably mention a Rolex Datejust or some kind of vintage Omega De Ville. There is no shortage of everyday luxury timepieces but there is a shortage of everyday affordable timepieces made by independent brands. And to be more specific, I’m not talking about time-only watches but of everyday timepieces with some practical complications for—you know—everyday life. Although my current favorite watch to wear is a three-hander, I do prefer to have a date complication as it helps me stay organized. And again, I’m talking about affordable timepieces, not $30,000 Swiss perpetual calendars.
I believe there are two ways to look at everyday timepieces. First, the robust and sporty one, for example a MONTA Noble. The second, smaller watches with more elegance and fewer specifications. I’m comparing the second type of a Rolex Datejust which is a very well made timepiece but not one that is made to be exposed to potential horological danger. Think of indeed a vintage Omega De Ville which is small, thin, practical and elegant. To be fair, there is no shortage of cheap quartz three-handers out there, but they kinda all look the same.
What I’m looking for and hope to see more is this: the Maen Brooklyn 36, a Miyota-powered small watch with date, day, and month complications. Not a 300-meter, meteorite dial with COSC-movement and powerful lume, but a small, elegant, and highly practical watch. The Brooklyn 36 reminds me of a quartz-powered Skagen I owned many years ago that had the same complications. But it wasn’t as well made or as capable as a proper mechanical watch is. And I think we’re going to see more of these types of watches now that it is perfectly fine to be wearing watches of all types again.
Independent brands have come a long, long way in the past 10 years. Just looking at MONTA’s catalog one will see the multiple milestones that brands have reached in terms of movement, construction, design, and finish. Independent brands produce better watches than ever and find clever ways to offer more for less. As mentioned in the introduction, 2022 is the year of affordable GMT watches, a trend that follows years of making great affordable dive and field watches. And although I might be entirely wrong and feel like a fool later, I believe that eventually, brands will make affordable full-fledged chronographs as well as elegant and practical everyday timepieces.