In a world of Rolexes, TAG Heuers, Blancpains, and Patek Philippes, independent watch brands are often overlooked. These brands may have smaller teams and smaller budgets, but their passion for watchmaking is always in competition with the big players in the market. Their aspirations are often just as big, too.
Here in the UK, independent watchmakers are having their moment and things are changing. Consumers are on the lookout for alternative (dare we say, ‘indie’) products and there are a few reasons for this. Namely: craftsmanship, trends, and the consumers’ disenchantment with what bigger brands have to offer.
This trend shows no sign of slowing down, so we thought it would be good to comment on its trajectory and just why consumers are choosing independent watch brands over the world renowned household names. Take a look!
The successes of independent watch brands
Too many cooks can spoil the broth
One of the main reasons that independent watch brands are doing so well comes down to scaling back. It reminds us of the old phrase ‘too many cooks can spoil the broth’ (which basically means that an idea can be diluted by having too many people work on it).
Independent watch brands generally work as part of a small team. When it comes to brand identity and a company’s values, there’s a much smaller chance of all that getting diluted. Working closely as many of these companies do, it’s easier to uphold a universal idea of a brand.
So, when this clarity is communicated to the world, it just feels authentic. For example, if you asked staff at a global watch brand to describe their brand in just a few words, you’d probably get a mixed bag of replies.
Independent brands have changed the game
Independent watch brands do not have the same overheads as the bigger competitors. Their costs are emphatically smaller, from marketing and production to packaging and distribution. This is just one way that the independents have changed the game.
Perhaps the biggest way is through their sales strategy. Independent brands have used the internet and social media to their advantage, leaving many of the older brands behind. Unlike the established brands who had to adapt, most independents were born post social media and have grown alongside the use of social media as a major sales asset.
This new internet sales model has allowed independent watch brands to provide a direct-to-consumer service, something which the older brands are yet to catch up with.
Consumers have changed
Because of social media, forum culture, and the back-and-forth debate that the internet created, watch consumers have changed. They’re savvier, more knowledgeable, and know exactly what they want.
Before, the brands were the authority: they directed the flow of consumer trends, and they influenced the market. Today, it’s quite literally the other way around: from the comfort of their own homes, people can amass thousands of followers who listen with rapt attention to what they have to say. People no longer listen so intently to the brand, they listen to influencers.
Independent watch brands caught onto this a long time ago, giving birth to an age of ‘influencer marketing’. Brands that fail to tackle these changing tides are often left in the backwash.
Top independent watch brands
This is an area we’ve covered in-depth already, but we’re going to give you a brief run-through here. We’ve included some international independent brands, as well as some closer to home. Keep reading!
Autodromo is an American watch brand founded by Bradley Price, watch designer and creative extraordinaire. Born out of Price’s love for automobiles, Autodromo combines modern watch design (sleek, sharp, and simple) with the aesthetic principles of classic cars (sporty, stylish, and ever so slightly flamboyant). Autodromo has even caught the attention of Ford, who got Price to produce their GT Owners Watch.
Take a look at the image to the right. The design of the watch (a Ford GT Endurance Chronograph) takes its inspiration from the racing stripe design of classic automobiles.
Based in France, Baltic watches are assembled by hand in the small town of Besançon. Every watch is assembled, adjusted, and tested by a team of watchmakers who ensure that quality control is an ongoing priority. Regarded as a prominent tastemaker in the independent watch community, Baltic takes its inspiration from the past and consistently innovates. This family of watch connoisseurs are harking back to an age of craftsmanship, pride, and authenticity.
Founded by Italian watch obsessives Giovanni Moro and Simone Nunziatom, Unimatic combines military utilitarianism with modern design to create bold functional watches that just look the part. They founded in 2015, and their innovations have set them apart from many of their competitors. Unimatic take lots of their inspiration from diving watches, but make them sleeker and almost minimalist.
Gorilla Watches is part watchmaking, part art. Its founders, Octavio Garcia and Lukas Gopp both left huge watchmakers (Audemars Piguet and IWC respectively) to start their own company. The result was a bunch of designs each as daring as the next. Combining impressive mechanics with modernist design (and an appreciation for cars, which seems to be a running theme), Garcia and Klopp have created an immediately recognisable brand. Dedicated to testing the limits of their craft, the brand continues to muscle in on the Swiss watchmaking hierarchy.
Dedicated to making American watches great again, Weiss is a brand that plays with military design to create classic watches with understated, low-key style. They work directly from their Los Angeles HQ, using high quality materials that not only last longer than many of their competitors, but also look fantastic. In honouring the great watchmakers of American history, founder Cameron Weiss has pulled the brand into the 21st century. In fact, Cameron’s obsession with watches goes back to when he was five years old, attempting to fix his watch. This initial curiosity created a spark that he would chase his entire career.
Supporting the independent watch brands
We all love the bigger household brands, and in many ways they’ve achieved things that independents could not. However, it’s really important that if you’re that way inclined (if you appreciate watch design, which we all do!), you support the independents.