Microbrand vs. Indy Watchmaker, what's the difference?

I've been playing with the new Baltic and wondering about this question.

Does independent mean that you make all components yourself?  Or is it all down to the movement?

Do some brands blur this line?

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Darn good question.

When I hear the term "independent watchmaker", I think of a truly skilled craftsperson with a small team, whose output is limited based on the time and effort required to build each watch. When I hear the term "microbrand", I think of a business person with an interest in watches who may or may not possess some design skills, and whose output is either limited artificially, or based on budget constraints.

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tempus

Darn good question.

When I hear the term "independent watchmaker", I think of a truly skilled craftsperson with a small team, whose output is limited based on the time and effort required to build each watch. When I hear the term "microbrand", I think of a business person with an interest in watches who may or may not possess some design skills, and whose output is either limited artificially, or based on budget constraints.

I am more or less of the same opinion.. Can you both give some examples of of the two categories? And especially frombrands that are in between..

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Hi Max. I think part of the the answer is in the question.

If we put financial independance aside (ie being owned by Richemont, or LVMH, or a pension fund) Independent means for me that the company (even a one man show) can manufacture a significant part of the key watch components themselves (think Laurent Ferrier, Roger Smith, Pascal Coyon, Grönefeld).

A company not manufacturing (or being a significant shareholder of the company manufacturing) their own movements can be a great watch company (Sinn, for ex), but I would not call it an independent. Some do obviously blur the line, like Oris for ex

A Microbrand is something you know is one when you see it (think StudioUnderd0g, Dan Henry) but cannot be defined

A company can sit somewhere in the middle between independant and a microbrand  (Semper & Adhuc)

None of this being very relevant afterall, the only important thing is : do you love the watch ?

#pascalcoyon #sinn #semper&adhuc #grönefeld

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indy is a subset of micro brands. indy is specific to having full control of the whole process: from assembling of the movement to marketing and retail by the single entity independently. 

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I agree with @tempus, independent watchmaker sounds like the founder is THE watchmaker and the company was built around him and his product. While microbrand is a business person or a designer that outsources all activities to specialized suppliers/service providers. The question is for me, how long are you a microbrand? When do you become a independent watch brand/company. E.g. I would never call Rolex, AP, Sinn or Oris an independent watchmaker, they are independent watch brands/companies.

Btw, it seems that you love putting things into boxes. Are you sure that you are no strong-definition loving German? ;)

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I think there is a fuzzy line between an independent watchmaker and a microbrand, and I do believe there are companies that are definitely blurring this distinction. Two examples I can think of are Dave Berghold Watches and Brillier Watches, where the movements and many of the parts are outsourced, but the final assembly and regulation are done in house.

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I think @tempus hit the nail on the head.. Now lets take the pictured watch brand as an example.. They are considered a microbrand.. however they have in house watch makers assembling, regulating, repairing and servicing watches in their own building in France. They also created that gorgeous Monopusher for One Watch that the MR01 draws inspiration from... that level of activity is not expected from Microbrands.. I'd go so far as to say that puts Baltic closer to the Independent realm.. Now lets say Baltic goes to a movement manufacturer and has a movement designed to their specifications that will be exclusive to their brand... Baltic owns the IP to the design but doesn't make it themselves... does that mean they squarely leave the "microbrand" space and move into serious indy brand? I can see this becoming a reality for Baltic in the coming years..

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All components is impossible. Heck even Rolex is not doing everything in house (I believe glass and crown are done by third party).

So I would say Independents are understoo as craftsmen making their own designs and movements. At least that’s my definition 😅

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I can afford a micro, I cannot afford an independent 🤣

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My personal definition: I believe a microbrand graduates to become an independent brand when - 

1) They have skillsets in-house or are by watchmaker that is able to design and/or build their own movements that aren't stock ETA / Sellita / Miyota / Seiko and;

2) The watch itself contains this aforementioned movement.

Also, some brands may be independent, but I will then classify them as mainstream if:

3) They have their own retail network and multi-country customer support centers.

So let me take you through some examples to test the logic above:

Case 1: Most brands running ETA / Sellita / Miyota / Seiko / Soprod / Seagull etc. will be deemed Microbrands. (e.g. Baltic, Farer, Halios etc.)

Case 2: Brands that are running ETA movements but have multi-country storefronts, e.g. Oris (up until Calibear 400) - Mainstream. Nomos - Mainstream.

Case 3: FP Journe, Habring, MB&F - all of these are Independents.

Case 4: Hajime Asaoka's custom atelier is an Independent, his Kurono sub-brand - a Microbrand.

Case 5: Ming to me is a microbrand on the verge of graduating to be an independent due to its strategic partnership to customise its own movements via Schwarz Etienne

Happy to hear your thoughts on my opinion above!

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Great points guys!  When I picked up this Baltic, my first thought was "this doesn't feel like a microbrand watch". Their older aquascaphe did, but something had changed! 

Baltic feels to me like a microbrand that's making a transition. Maybe not to independent as much as to mainstream? As they still use economy movements to save on cost but they are getting really good at design, quality and distribution.

@Pascal maybe that's why I have a penchant for German watches 😉 

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I tend to think of independent watchmakers as being in a higher echelon than micro brands.

Part of the equation for me is how a brand uses the components that they don't build themselves. Do the available components dictate their design, or does their design dictate when they can use off the shelf components and when they must engage with manufacturers to create custom components to fit their design.  If the components dictate the design, I tend to think micro brand. When the design dictates the components, I tend to think independent watchmaker.

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Max

Great points guys!  When I picked up this Baltic, my first thought was "this doesn't feel like a microbrand watch". Their older aquascaphe did, but something had changed! 

Baltic feels to me like a microbrand that's making a transition. Maybe not to independent as much as to mainstream? As they still use economy movements to save on cost but they are getting really good at design, quality and distribution.

@Pascal maybe that's why I have a penchant for German watches 😉 

After the pandemic you should visit Germany! Fly to Frankfurt to visit Sinn, go to Stuttgart where Schramberg is not far for a Junghans visit and end in Berlin where Glashütte is not far for a tour at Lange, GO and Nomos! :)

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For me, independents are companies like MB&F, F.P. Journe, Akrivia, Greubel Forsey, Kari Voutilainen, Moser, and so on. Super high-end watches made in small quantities specifically for ultra-rich collectors who have already amassed the big brands and are looking for something different. The independence isn't just financial, but they also have more freedom to create crazy pieces that are not meant to suit everyone's tastes.

Now, Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, and Richard Mille are all technically independent too (not owned by some big conglomerate), but they've reached mainstream status, and people who aren't necessarily into watches recognize these names. 

I've never really liked the Microbrand label, but if I had to define it, I would say it's a small(ish) company that's trying to make good watches while adhering to tight budget constraints (both on the part of the company and target audience.) 

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I mean really we are trying to label a non-essential luxury item.. that varies in cost, value, target markets etc.. Does it make sense maybe to describe a brand based on the market they are targeting instead of trying to shoe horn them into non-similar labels? Curious too.. are there any "microbrands" that are part of larger conglomerates?? or are all microbrands independent? 

Its all very subjective ofcourse and we will never all agree to the same thing :p


Example given: 
Independent or Conglomerate brands
Entry-Level / Mid-Tier / High-Tier / Elite-Tier
Small Batch / Boutique / Main stream or Mass produced 

*Any brand (not Phoenix brands, Like Smiths or Fears for example) that has survived 100+ years of operation is also considered Legacy. 

So Baltic = Entry level verging on Mid-Tier Small batch Independent 
FP Journe = Elite-Tier Boutique Independent
Nomos = Mid-Tier verging on High-Tier boutique Independent
Weiss Watches = Entry level verging on mid-tier small batch/boutique Independent
Roger W. Smith = Elite-Tier Boutique Independent
Omega = High-Tier main stream legacy Conglomerate brand
Rolex = High-Tier main stream Legacy Independent brand.
 

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Max

Great points guys!  When I picked up this Baltic, my first thought was "this doesn't feel like a microbrand watch". Their older aquascaphe did, but something had changed! 

Baltic feels to me like a microbrand that's making a transition. Maybe not to independent as much as to mainstream? As they still use economy movements to save on cost but they are getting really good at design, quality and distribution.

@Pascal maybe that's why I have a penchant for German watches 😉 

@Max  I think another distinction is "economy" movement.. so basically "off-the-shelf" So Seiko, Miyota, ETA, Seagull, etc... and swapping the rotor with a custom logo of the brand doesn't equal "customized" Now theres a very new brand, that has done the hard work to customize the Seagull ST1901 movements to make them operate as a Monopusher.. they are called a Microbrand.. but do REAL customizations to "off-the-shelf" movements to work into their design, and its done in house.