Microbrand vs. Independent Brand

Microbrand vs. Independent Brand

We live in a world of labels. We can put a label on our emotions, who we are, the type of company we work for and our position there. We can also label the types of watches we buy, their quality, and more importantly, the type of brand that makes them. In the past ten years, we’ve all heard talks about micro-brands as being the opposite of any major and well-established watch brand—mostly those coming from Switzerland and Japan. You know, the Rolex, Omega, Jaeger Lecoultre, Tissot, Longines, Seiko and Orient of the world of horology. 

In the past year, I started to hear talks about redefining what a micro-brand is or what it means or which brand is one and which one isn’t. Some brands don’t like the idea of being called a “micro-brand” as it sounds pejorative. In other words: they are small and insignificant. I’ve also heard the term “craft” brand to define brands that manufacture small batches of watches, like a microbrewery does (actually, it seems that micro-breweries started to call themselves “craft” breweries.) 

Just like assigning a label to a person is subjective, labeling a brand “micro,” “craft,” or even “independent” is highly subjective. But I would like to propose one definition of what a micro-brand is versus an independent one. For the sake of this argument, I would define a “craft” brand as being the same as a “micro” brand. More on that later. 

 RZE Resolute 2022 Source: www.timeandtidewatches.com

Why Labeling Brands Matters 

Well, maybe it doesn’t matter. But it does too because it helps watch enthusiasts better understand what it means to buy a watch from a brand that is not a Swiss or a Japanese giant. For example, if you buy a Rolex you know that you can get it serviced anywhere in the world. The brand is so established that it has service centers in most developed countries. Buying a Rolex, you also know that you are buying a quality product because the brand has a legacy and decades worth of experience manufacturing watches. 

Micro or independent brands do not have this heritage, for the most part. To make things more complicated, we could also include in the group of “independent” ones such as Yema, Ollech & Wasj, Christopher Ward, Farer, and Lip, amongst others. What all of these brands have in common is the fact that they are not large and that they don’t belong to a conglomerate of brands the way Omega does (it belongs to the Swatch group.) Their annual production is in the thousands, not in the millions. 

As we will see below, buying a “micro” brand watch has many advantages and a few disadvantages. The same is true of independent brands. And each type of brand you can buy a watch from comes with its own set of pluses and minuses, and to be frank, one brand could be put in the “micro” basket or in the “independent” basket, depending who you ask. So in a way, by writing this article I’m trying to take a first stab at defining what a “micro” brand is versus an “independent” one. Now I will drop all quotation marks. 

MONTA Triumph Worn and Wound Source: www.wornandwound.com

What Is a Micro-Brand? 

A micro-brand is one that produces small amounts of watches per year, mostly in the hundreds. It also releases one to two new models per year and their prices generally stay below the magical $1,000 mark. Each batch of watch can be 100 to 300-unit strong and once the batch is sold out, either the model is retired or fans have to wait 6 to 12 months to see another one come out. Generally speaking, a micro-brand releases its first model by way of a crowdfunding campaign or pre-order on their website. They also sell directly to consumers. 

Most of the above characteristics will actually be the same for independent brands. So what seems to set a micro-brand apart, at least in my view of things, is that they receive the watches already assembled and regulated to their office—wherever that might be—to run the quality control before shipping them out. This means they don’t assemble the watches in-house, and therefore, cannot service the watches themselves. So if your watch breaks down, the brand will either ask you to send them the watch, which they will handover to their watchmaker of choice, or for you to find a watchmaker. In the latter case, the brand would cover the costs. 

Lorier Falcon WatchClickerSource: www.watchclicker.com 

What is an Independent Brand? 

For the most part, I would say that independent brands produce about the same amount of watches per year as micro-brands do, and that they for the most part keep their watches under the $2,000 price point. In my experience of interviewing many brand owners, it would seem that most independent brands differ from micro-brands in that they didn’t go through a crowdfunding site to finance the production of their first model. Instead they took pre-orders straight from their website or sold a first, small batch of watches before producing a second, larger one. Then they released a second model then a third. 

But more importantly, an independent brand is one that receives the watches in parts and assembles them in their studio/office. They may receive the parts from different factories at different times or all parts at the same time from the same factory. So they receive the case, hands, movement, bracelet, bezel separately and assemble them in-house. Which means they typically regulate the movements and handle servicing the watches themselves. The benefit of this setup is that brands have better control over the quality of the watches and generally make better watches. 

MONTA Skyquest WatchClickerSource: www.watchclicker.com

Final Thoughts 

None of the above is meant to discredit micro-brands and praise independent brands as being the better out of the two. Following my own definition, I bought excellent watches from micro-brands and terrible watches from independent brands, and vice versa. What differentiates the two types of brands is generally the quality of assembly, the accuracy of the movements, the servicing, and more importantly the price. Micro-brands tend to sell for less than $1,000 due to having no real in-house work done (meaning not having to pay for the salary of a watchmaker,) while independent brands tend to range between $750 and $2,000. 

I formulated these two definitions based on the research I’ve been conducting for the past year, interviewing various brand owners. I looked at how they make watches, how much they sell them for, and how they categorize themselves. From this research I was able to draw a general framework and to define common characteristics shared by micro and independent brands. But this is not to say that there are only two types of brands and that brand owners don’t define themselves as being something else. 

As we saw in the introduction, some brands see themselves as “craft” because they produce small and limited batches of watches, once (like a one-off seasonal beer that would only be made once.) Others describe themselves as being “young” as opposed to the “old” Swiss and Japanese brands mentioned above. I hope to be able to further articulate these definitions in future articles. 

Featured image: www.lepetitpoussoir.fr

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