UPDATED Oct 5th, 2021*

I wish I'd gotten to this sooner, but better late than never, right? Now well into the latter half of the year, there have been quite a few more fantastic microbrand watch releases to hit the market. A few that would have made the list have been glossed over, as they sold out between their respective launch dates and the time of drafting this update. It's been a good year for the category, and we can only expect it to get better when more releases hit the scene this fall/winter (especially after the launches of WindUp NYC, taking place in late October). For now, here are eight more of our favorite microbrand releases of the year. Meanwhile, the initial set of releases from first publishing can be found below these recent additions.

Let's get at it, shall we?

Brew Metric Chronograph
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Jonathan Ferrer has been on an extremely strong run with Brew Watches over the years, and his latest offering—the Metric Chronograph—is arguably his strongest design to date. Designed as a minimalist nod to 70s era chronographs like the Omega Seamaster Jedi and others, the Metric still carries a distinct Brew vibe that connects it to the balance of the brand’s releases thus far. Being well connected with the collecting community at large, Jon made sure that all of the crucial “watch nerd” details are looked after. Its crystal is sapphire. Its case is a modest 36mm across and 41.5 from shrouded lug to shrouded lug. It uses BWG9 SuperLuminova on its hands and indices. To keep pricing modest, it’s powered by the VK68 Meca-Quartz movement. The hot summer release has sold out its initial run, but rumor has it that more stock will be coming before long.

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Isotope HydriumX “Will Return”
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Sticking with playful design with our next entry, the Isotope HydriumX “Will Return” was just unveiled in the last couple of weeks. For some, its dial design will seem quite familiar—a nod to the old “Will Return” signs found in convenience stores and other smaller mom and pop shops found around much of North America. 41mm in diameter and featuring a matte blasted case, Its fat stubby hands and large black numerals ensure fantastic legibility at night thanks to its full luminous dial. Rather than a precise timer, its blue bezel only has a single red market at 12 o’clock, which again plays off of the aforementioned sign design cues. A sapphire crystal, screw-down crown, and 300m of water resistance give it tool watch specs, though it’s really more of a playful daily wear piece rather than a task-focused utility piece. Deliveries are expected in the spring of 2022.

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Studio Underd0g Chronographs
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There have been so many watches in recent years, chronographs and otherwise, that leverage vintage design in every possible way. That said, the trio of releases from Studio Underd0g play a completely different game than nearly all of the other players. They’re loud, they’re different, and more than anything they prove that watch design doesn’t need to be so bloody serious all of the time. The trio includes a pink and green “Watermel0n” reference, a blue and tan “Desert Sky, and a more subdued variant dubbed the “Go0fy Panda”. The 38.5mm cases are 44.5mm from lug to lug, 13.6mm thick, and are powered by the Seagull ST-1901 manually wound movement. Thanks to the caliber choice, the price of these chronographs is a rather modest 370 GBP.

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Ollech & Wajs OW 350 CI
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Now, I know we’re talking about a brand with a fair bit of history here, however in modern guise, having been back in the market relatively briefly and producing in low volumes still allows the brand to fly under the microbrand banner, as far as I’m concerned. This recently launched 350 CI is a nod to Swiss military heritage, specifically a connection to the Condor 350 motorcycle restored by Atelier Zevaco, a vintage motorcycle restoration workshop based in Zürich. Its dial is a perfect match to the milspec bike, and its lefty crown is used to help riders who wear their watches loose to avoid dealing with the crown digging into their wrists while riding. Between its dial, stainless steel 12h bezel, and 300m of water resistance, this is a prime “go anywhere/do anything” watch. Speaking from experience with past references, though it doesn’t come cheap, the build quality and finish of modern Ollech & wajs references are well worth the price of entry.

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Bravur Grand Tour Series
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A clean, compact, well-executed, Sellita-powered chronograph produced in limited numbers for under $2,500? Meet the Bravur Grand Tour. On their own this trio of chronographs—a panda dial, a green dial, and a dark slate dial with pink contrasting subdials—are very charming, and cycling fans will further appreciate their design inspiration that is rooted in Europe’s three largest Grand Tours (the Tour De France, The Giro d’Italia, and the Vuelta a España). These three-register chronographs are powered by the SW-511, and measure 38.2mm in diameter with 18mm lugs. When we mentioned limited numbers we weren’t kidding either, only 50 of each reference have been produced for sale. Personally, I’m still pining after the Corsa Rosa.

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Arken Instrumentum
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There has been a lot of buzz floating around the Instrumentum since the brand started teasing it on social media, and based on the most recent hands-on reporting the watch more than lives up to expectation in the metal. Playing off the ever-present integrated sports watch trend, the lightweight titanium integrated diver is a clean and thoughtful execution. Its design dances a line between task-focused tool and stylish statement watch, and aside from its bracelet taking plenty of cues from the Vacheron Constantin Overseas, it's mostly quite original. The 40mm piece is rated to 300m of water resistance, is powered by a Miyota 9015, and its production is limited to 300 pieces in total. Priced at 429 pounds, the Instrumentum is scheduled to be delivered to pre-order clients in January of 2022.

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Direnzo RDZ 05 Solaris
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To keep things up to speed, we’re looking at a watch that’s not scheduled for release until the end of October 2021. The dual-crown model will be on pre-sale with deliveries planned for February 2022, so the details are a bit vague right now. What we do know is that we’re looking at a sharp compressor-style case, burgundy, blue, slate, and meteorite dials (possibly others), the option of a date or no-date, and a classic beads of rice bracelet. They will be powered by Sellita movements, and the no-date variants will not have a “ghost position” in the crown. They will measure 39mm in diameter, 47mm lug-to-lug, 12.5mm thick, and will have a lug width of 20mm. Aesthetically these pieces are incredibly charming based on the initial photos that are available, with either sunburst or meteorite dials, broad-arrow hour hands, and either black or red date discs at 6 o’clock. Pre-order pricing will start at 650 CHF.

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Islander Luminous Dial Automatic Dive Watch
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These might not be new, but earlier chats in the comments of this story after initial release revealed a number of folks have a soft spot for the “Seiko Mod” style of Islander watches—a house product of longtime online watch dealer Long Island Watch. There’s a wide range of references available, with aesthetics that run akin to classic Seiko models, including the SKX, Tuna, Monster, Marinemaster, Samurai, and others. There are also a host of more generic styles that play to the classic pilot and field watch styles. Most of the dive references stick to the staple NH35 automatic, and even when fitted with sturdy bracelets and ceramic bezel inserts, Long Island Watch keeps pricing incredibly low—averaging between $199 and $299.

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Original Story, Spring 2021

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Last week we went on about some of the new releases from Watches & Wonders, many of which come with steep sticker prices and scarce availability. This time we're taking a look at the other end of the spectrum, as there have already been quite a few fantastic new releases in the microbrand sphere that are (at least in contrast) quite affordable. Most of the watches in this list are either freshly released, or soon to be, and unfortunately a few of them are a tad more scarce than others. That said, there's still a fair bit to choose from, and more to be added to this list as time goes on.

So, shall we?

Farer Carnegie Chronograph

Generally speaking we're thrilled to see more 3-register hand-wound chronographs hitting the market as of late, and just recently Farer added to their existing line with the new Carnegie. Once again relying on Sellita's SW510 BH Elaboré grade movement, the Carnegie sticks with the classic racing chronograph vibe. This time we're seeing a charming matte teal dial with recessed sunray blue subdials supplying ample contrast. A navy ceramic bezel ties it all together, as does the navy leather strap, though buyers can choose from 7 different leather strap options. The watch measures 42mm across, 13.7mm thick (measuring to the peak of the domed crystal), and is a modest 44mm from lug to lug. These dimensions are along the same lines as later era vintage Autavia models, though the domed crystal and more contoured case profile give it a more slender overall feel. Like most chronographs using this caliber, its price comes in just under $2,000 USD.

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Nodus Retrospect III

Technically these haven't formally come to market yet, but the new Nodus Retrospect III will be arriving soon with a host of updates over the previous model. Its bezel is a touch larger, as is the 12 o'clock triangle on the bezel. It has new case chamfers, a decoupling mechanism has been added to the Seiko NH35 movement, the lug-to-lug length is shrinking, and the lip between the lugs that separate the case and bracelet has been removed. Alongside all of this, the bracelet has been updated accordingly and includes a quick-change function. These are all minor tweaks to an already easy-to-love design (I still own and love the yellow dial Retrospect II), but each change is an incremental improvement that will be appreciated by all. You can expect these to be formally announced and available shortly.

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Baltic Aquascaphe Dual-Crown
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Another recent launch, and one that's currently in for review here at Watchuseek, the Baltic Aquascaphe Dual-Crown is the latest in a slew of dual crown compressor-style watches to surface from smaller brands in the last couple of years. Credit where credit is due, Baltic has hit all the key touch points to make this piece a winner. The size-39mm diameter, 47mm lug-to-lug, and 11.9mm thick-lands in a great sweet spot that will fit a wide range of wrists comfortably. The relatively flat profile and long lug length give it more substance than other 39mm options out there, without becoming oversized like the 42mm Longines Legend Diver. It's setting crown is screw-down with a single pull-out position (thanks to the Miyota 9039), whereas the bezel setting crown does not. That said, there's enough resistance when setting to keep it from inadvertently wandering. Preorders continue until early May, with deliveries in September. There are three references in total, including the blue dial above, a black dial, and an additional black dial reference in a black PVD case.

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Ming 17.09

Let's talk about this one for a moment, as the latest Ming watches launch triggered yet another typhoon of debate across the watch world. Speaking of the watch itself, it remains true to the Ming design ethos, is beautifully detailed, and while some will claim these watches are overpriced, most who've handled them will beg to differ-myself included. Like the Nodus, I still own my Ming 17.03 GMT, and aside from the crown riding a bit low in the case there isn't a single detail on the watch I dislike, nor do I question the value of its list price.

The sticking point with Ming for a lot of folks is the production volume, as well as the scarce availability. The same way many of us can't be bothered to care about steel Rolex releases because they're impossible to get your hands on, many of us don't want to contend with the ultra-narrow ordering window for a new Ming that tends to sell out within 5 minutes or less. This go around, Ming attempted to do something different, by opening up a preorder batch of watches. These were not limited in volume, and the idea was that anyone who wanted to order one could get their order in within the prescribed time frame without fear of stock running out. That said, this system isn't without its flaws either.

My main issue with this, and the issue that many others have with it, is that this was a pre-order for a production run whose deliveries aren't slated to start until March of 2021, and holding your spot meant a 50% deposit (roughly 975 CHF, if I recall correctly). On one hand, if you really really really want the watch, this is your only real option to get your hands on one. On the other, That's a long time to effectively be giving Ming an interest-free loan while waiting for your watch. If it were me? I'd hold my funds for something else that sparks my interest, but then again I already have the other reference in the collection. I'm not opposed to a pre-order system, and they've proved to work well for some brands, but the idea of a 11+ months is a bit of a touch pill to swallow. Yes, there are other brands that can leave you waiting as long or longer, but in those cases we're talking a different spectrum of brands altogether (Dufour, Akrivia, Gronefeld, and others).

The reality of the matter is this. Ming's watches remain very popular, and regardless of what any of us in the industry say or do, Ming is by no means beholden to us to change his practices, increase his production volume, or really even listen to or care about any of this. He's making great watches, and unless things change, there will still be a healthy line of people waiting to pull the trigger.

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Nivada Grenchen Depthmaster

And now for something completely different, though unfortunately another watch that's presently sold out (more are coming in July, so we're told), this is the Nivada Grenchen Depthmaster. Known to most vintage collectors as the "Pac-Man" due to the peculiar design of its indices, this is the third big launch from the brand that was brought back to life in 2018. For those of you drawing parallels to Vostok in the comments, the original Nivada Grenchen Depthmaster that this is based on is from 1965, pre-dating anything you may be calling it a homage of. For those less keen on the Pac-Man dial, there are also references of the Depthmaster available with more conventional numerals on the dial.

As it stands, the brand solely focuses on reissues of historic Nivada Grenchen models, but based on my experience with the mouthful of a Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver, this is a brand that's been putting in a lot of work to get all of the details just right. A vintage reissue might not be your cup of tea, but if it is, it's a damned good one. The reissue Depthmaster has been thoroughly modernized, with the use of a sapphire crystal and helium escape valve in order to achieve its 1,000m water resistance. To stick with an authentic feel, its case size has increased by a modest 1mm over the original, measuring 39mm in diameter and 47mm lug-to-lug.

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Halios Universa


Speaking of watches that are hard to get and/or involve a fair amount of waiting, Enter the Halios Universa. Halios has been in the game for 12 years now, and its cult following is as strong as ever. These watches may take whispers of influence here and there from decades past, but by and large every Halios reference has its own unique vibe all while seeming part of one cohesive collection. In the case of the Universa, we're looking at a 38mm tool-meets-field watch, powered by a Sellita SW 210-1 hand-wound movement. The big change with the Universa is the production process. Previously, most of the Halios watch production would take place offshore, with final QC and shipping taking place in Vancouver, Canada. With the Universa, the assembly of watches is also taking place in Vancouver, and the watches are being released in small batches as they are completed. Even with this added production cost, the Universa remains at a very respectable $735 price of entry (plus global shipping).

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Autodromo Group B Night Stage III

Last but certainly not least, this latest edition of the ultralight ultra-slim Autodromo Group B hit the market, dubbed the Night Stage III. It's currently in pre-order stage for $975, with deliveries coming in May. Limited to only 200 pieces, the new reference maintains all of the same automotive-inspired style of its predecessors, and odds are if you're not a car geek at all this will do nothing for you. Powered by a Miyota 9015, the titanium 39mm case is only 9mm thick, and even when fitted on its integrated bracelet, this thing is a featherweight on the wrist. If the retro funk red and black dial is a bit intense for your tastes, Autodromo offers a more "tame version" of the Group B Series 2. It's worth noting that if you're only familiar with the early version of this watch, long gone are the pass-through style lugs. These newer models can all be fitted with conventional straps if desired.

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