To the average Joe, the luxury watch landscape must seem pretty bland. First, there are the well-known, mass-market brands like Longines, TAG Heuer, and Tissot. Then, there are the fancier (i.e., more expensive) watches everyone covets from the likes of Rolex and Omega. If pressed, some people might even be able to list a few other high-end manufacturers like Patek Philippe or Audemars Piguet – likely because they’ve heard them mentioned in rap songs.
However, the seasoned watch collector knows that the market is far more nuanced. Not only are there dozens and dozens of mainstream brands, but also a whole world of smaller, independent names just waiting to be discovered. We’ve already taken a look at some interesting indie brands with watches for less than $3,000. Now, we’re turning our attention to what higher price points have to offer. With that in mind, let’s dive into three independent companies and check out our favorite model from each.
The Selection Process
Before we go any further, it’s worth spending a minute discussing how we made our choices. As a watch lover, you already know there are a lot of great independent brands out there: some very small, some surprisingly large. For example, Patek Philippe is independently owned by the Stern family. Likewise, Audemars Piguet has been family-owned since its inception. However, these brands are already very well known. Other established, if lesser-known, industry players include F.P. Journe, MB&F, and URWERK.
Today, we hope to shine a spotlight on three brands that you may have never heard of, but should be aware of. As you can imagine, it was pretty difficult to narrow it down to just three. There are definitely many, many more brands that also warrant inclusion on this list. Let’s agree that this list is just a jumping-off point for what could and should be a very exciting journey of discovery.
This small company was founded in 2015 by François Moreau, a Frenchman who’s had a fascination with vintage measuring instruments since childhood. While the timepieces are conceived of and designed in Paris, they are made by hand in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The first models came to the market in 2017, marking the start of an enduring love affair for many aficionados.
The aesthetic is informed by the ultra-functional style of instrument counters. This means a somewhat novel time display featuring a jumping hour, retrograde minutes, and a power reserve indicator. A particularly cool example is the understated yet eye-catching Supercharged Sport. Inspired by the automotive industry, its dial looks like it would be at home on the dashboard of a classic racing car.
The hours are displayed via a jumping disc located at 6 o’clock. Below that, you’ll find a power reserve indicator made to resemble an old-school fuel gauge, down to the “E,” “1/2,” and “F” inscriptions and the red hand – very cool, indeed. A double-digit minute track runs around the outer edge of the upper three-quarters of the dial. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a classic tachometer (or RPM counter). It begins to redline around the 50-minute mark. Once it hits 60, it instantly flies back to 0 to start its journey anew. This watch is more complex than it first appears and is a great choice for anyone who values utility dressed up with a little French flair.
The story of Singer Reimagined is something akin to a fairy tale. Two men – Rob Dickinson and Marco Borraccino – have a chance encounter and discover a shared passion for design and engineering. What’s more, they both happen to be enamored with sports chronographs from the 1960s and 70s, a time many consider to be the “golden era” of watchmaking. Following their discussion, an idea begins to take root: What if they could reimagine the chronograph?
This same scene probably plays out every week at bars and parties across the globe. Watch lovers are keen to indulge in hypothetical debates about how improvements could be made to well-known complications. However, this story is different because Dickinson and Borraccino weren’t satisfied with conjecture – that’s just not how they’re wired. Dickinson had already created a successful business rebuilding and restoring the iconic Porsche 911. It’s called Singer Vehicle Design; you may have heard of it. Likewise, Borraccino had spent years honing his skills as a watch designer, most notably as the Head of Design for a little-known company called Panerai.
The third person they brought into the mix sealed the deal: Jean-Marc Wiederrecht of Agenhor. If you don’t know who he is or what his company has done, look him up – you will be impressed. The incredible Singer Reimagined Track 1 with its ground-breaking central chronograph display debuted only a few short years later in 2017. The following year, the Singer Reimagined Track 1 Hong Kong Edition won the chronograph category at the Grand Prix D’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), basically the Oscars of watchmaking.
This incredible achievement shows just how special this young independent brand is. With a steadfast refusal to comprise on anything, this luxury sports watch is for individuals who will accept nothing but the best.
If you’ve never heard of MING before, you may be at risk of losing your watch connoisseur status. Well-known watch photographer and collector Ming Thein and a team of five other watch enthusiasts from around the world launched this micro-brand in 2017. Their goal was to bring back a sense of excitement and discovery to watch collecting, while also creating watches that are accessible to a wider audience. The first model, the 17.01, cost less than $1,000 and sold-out immediately. A further three models have since followed, including a GPHG finalist.
It’s the incredible attention to detail that makes these watches so appealing to enthusiasts and collectors. It goes into every step of the process, from the design and production to assembly. That’s why MING’s partnership with Swiss watch manufacturer Schwarz-Etienne was a match made in heaven. MING turned to Schwarz-Etienne to create proprietary movements for their watches.
One result of this collaboration is the MING 19.02 Worldtimer. It’s the perfect watch for the frequent traveler looking to stand out from the crowd. The unique design doesn’t compromise on functionality or quality, of course. Inside is Schwarz-Etienne’s in-house automatic movement with a micro-rotor, the ASE220.1. The bidirectional micro-rotor is made of sintered tungsten, and the single barrel provides a 70-hour power reserve.
Choose Your Favorite
These are just three examples of the incredible creativity coming from the world of independent watchmaking. There are many, MANY more. Let us know which one is your favorite and what other brands you think deserve to be on this list.
Top Watches from Independent Brands Under $3,000 – Part 1
Faces of the Watch Industry: Kari Voutilainen