Few aspects of style are as wholly dominated by a handful of brands as the world of watches is. The heritage names like Rolex, Omega, Audemars Piguet, and Patek Philippe are strong competition for smaller labels, so strong that many don’t even bother. But, for the brave few that do, the dominance of the old guard forces innovation. That’s what makes it so exciting when young, independent watch brands start to make some headway.
While we’re disciples of the classics, we’re also supporters of the underdog. That’s why we thought it was time to platform a handful of independent watch brands that are worthy of your attention.
From customizers like MAD Paris and Designa Individual who practice their art on pre-owned luxury timepieces, through to names like VAER, Movado, and more who are carving their own route to the top, the watch scene is looking really healthy right now. Below, you can find out more about the independent watch brands to keep an eye on and shop some of our favorite designs from each.
Discover some of our favorite independent watch brands below.
You’ve likely already seen a number of MAD Paris pieces even if you didn’t realize it at the time. The custom luxury pieces have found a welcome home on Instagram feeds, garnering a lot of attention. The French company is the kind of thing that could only have been founded by a watch fanatic. Founder Pierre Lheureux is a passionate watch collector who grew tired of owning watches that everyone else had. He took matters into his own hands, customizing the same, well-respected watches he used to collect and making them into limited-edition art pieces.
Using pre-owned luxury watches as the canvas, MAD Paris brings a bold aesthetic in the form of industrial detailing and, more often than not, a host of precious stones. Having worked with brands like 1017 ALYX 9SM and Casablanca, MAD Paris’ distinctive style is already registering on luxury fashion’s radar and its influence is only growing.
While building a viable watch company amongst the giants is one thing when you’re using their watches, it’s a whole other game when you’re making your own. VAER is a fledgling watchmaker that’s really caught our eye in recent months.
Founded in 2016 in Los Angeles, VAER is the passion project of two watch lovers who, in their own words, “couldn't afford the watches we liked and didn't like any of the watches we could afford.” It’s a quandary that many find themselves in, so young brands like VAER are a welcome solution.
The duo began with the mission of creating a functionally waterproof wristwatch at a sub-$150 price point. Since then, the VAER offering has grown to encompass everything from field watches to diving watches, proudly made in America. Alongside Made in USA options, you can cop Swiss-made divers for less than $1000 here. If that’s not a sign of how serious this young brand is, we don’t know what is.
Designa Individual actually began life as a customization service for gadgets. While you can still have your phone carbon-coated or leather-bound by the artistic duo, we’re more interested in the luxury watch customs. While MAD Paris looks to bold detailing with a modicum of restraint, Designa Individual is an all-out visual refresh.
Known for replacing stainless steel cases with carbon fiber substitutes, Designa Individual believes that a high-end timepiece should be wearable, light, and reliable. Using Rolexes as its main base, the Design Individual collection also includes an eye-catching Patek Philippe Nautilus update.
Reservoir’s concept relies heavily on tradition as inspiration. As many of today’s burgeoning independent watch brands opt for heavy-set cases and in-your-face detailing to grab attention, Reservoir aims to echo an era when precision timepieces were purely for utility.
Understanding that almost every modern luxury watch, no matter how polished or refined it is today, was invented for a job much less glamorous than its aesthetic rests at the center of Reservoir’s collection. The brand believes that without these perfectly crafted timepieces, many of history’s greatest feats wouldn’t have been possible.
A look at Reservoir’s watches tells you all you need to know, really. Each one is ultra-functional in its appearance. Colored scales decorate the dials as though they were taken from the dashboard of a fighter jet while under the hood, Swiss-made mechanical movements offer the precision that characterizes the world’s best watches.
How many independent watch brands can say that they’re part of 20 museum collections worldwide? Since its first design in 1912, MOVADO has consistently released watches with cutting-edge visuals for a wallet-friendly price. What’s perhaps most attractive about MOVADO watches, though, is their timelessness.
Take their specialty, the Museum Watch, for example. First designed in 1947 by artist Nathan George Horwitt, it’s part of MoMA’s permanent collection and remains one of MOVADO’s best-selling designs. It’s no surprise — the Museum dial is essentially completely blank save for a circular marking at 12 o'clock.
Ranging from watches under $500 to luxury versions at over $2500, there’s a lot to choose from so it’s worth doing some research into whether you’re in the market for a Swiss Quartz movement, chronograph, or something automatic.
There’s a lot of debate over the golden age of watches but the 1960s birthed swathes of iconic pieces. The ‘60s ushered in a range of small, square-faced watches that progressively lost popularity but have made a comeback in recent years. March La.b caught our attention because it offers some of the most authentic-looking retro square-face watches around right now. Unless you’re in the market for a real Cartier Tank, that is.
Aside from the square faces that hooked us, you’ll notice that March La.b is partial to a green dial. So are we. It’s another tick in the aesthetics column, but what about the technical side of things?
March La.b offers quartz and automatic options. The quartz watches generally use a Japanese Miyota movement known to be one of the most reliable in the game. As for the automatic watches, movements range from Miyota up to La Joux Perret G100 Swiss Movements.
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