From indie brands and start-ups to crowdfunded companies and classic family businesses: Many brands still fly under the radar, especially compared to the watch industry’s biggest names. Plenty of these companies offer hidden treasures at affordable prices, just waiting to be discovered. We’ve selected some watch brands deserving of your attention – and who knows? Maybe one of the brands on this list will make its way into your collection soon!
Weiss Watch Company
Cameron Weiss of the Weiss Watch Company’s mission is best summed up with a simple motto: “Restoring Prestige to American Watchmaking.” “Restoring?” Who even remembers that the United States once had a flourishing watch industry that set the tone for the industrialization and automation of watchmaking worldwide? In fact, hardly any watches are produced in the US today. Brands like Hamilton and Bulova are owned by international groups, and exclusive manufacturers like RGM Watch Co. don’t offer anything that might be considered an entry-level timepiece.
Weiss, a mechanical watch enthusiast since his childhood, found the crumbling state of the American watch industry unacceptable. He dedicated himself to returning watch production to his home country.
Following their foundation in 2013, the Weiss Watch Company understandably only used movements from other manufacturers. However, in 2016, Weiss presented their first in-house caliber. This movement takes its cues from the ETA Unitas 6497, with the majority of components being manufactured at Weiss Watch Company headquarters in Torrance, California.
You can own this piece of a revived American watchmaking culture for the fair price of $2,500.
Luxurious stainless steel sports watches are more popular and in demand than ever – but many iconic models are still too expensive for the average watch lover. That’s why there’s an indisputable demand for affordable models that resemble Gérald Genta’s famous masterpieces, the Royal Oak and the Nautilus. One recent example is the Aikon from Maurice Lacroix. However, we’d like to turn our attention to a much lesser known brand: Pelton Watches. With the Perseus, this young American brand offers an affordable steel sports model with the typical characteristics of industry classics: an integrated steel band, a combination of satin-brushed and polished surfaces, and a nautical case design.
The fact that Pelton Watches produces their cases and the integrated steel bands entirely in their own factory in the USA is especially exciting. As a result, the Perseus stands out among the numerous and often unremarkable homages to steel sports watch icons.
The Perseus with a top-of-the-line ETA 2824-2 movement costs around $2,500.
With over 20 years of history, Damasko is one of the more established brands on this top 10 list. However, compared to the industry giants, it still counts as an insider’s tip. This true family company is based in Barbing, in the Regensburg district of Bavaria, Germany. They stand for technically sophisticated, functional, and robust timepieces.
Under the leadership of founder and engineer Konrad Damasko, this company has tackled the systematic problems of classic pilot’s watches. While particularly proud of their fully hardened steel cases, they also pay special attention to sealing systems, push-pieces, and coatings in order to assure maximum durability and longevity.
Models with in-house calibers represent the pinnacle of the Damasko catalog. These movements come with a patented silicon balance spring and ceramic ball bearings, among other exciting features. While these exclusive models cost over $3,000, the entry price into the world of Damasko is under $1,100. This very reasonable price will get you a model with a proven ETA movement and the aforementioned advantages of a Damasko watch.
It isn’t easy to stand out in the deluge of watch brands flooding crowdfunding portals. They all promise affordable luxury one way or another, but these predominantly young brands can rarely deliver on that promise. Baltic Watches takes an interesting approach to staying afloat amidst the competition: By completing assembly in the French city of Besançon, Baltic sets itself apart from its competitors, who often sell watches that are fully assembled in the Far East.
A highlight of their still relatively small catalog is the Chronograph Bicompax 001: It offers a hand-wound chronograph movement (including column wheel) following the blueprint of the legendary Venus 175 from the 1940s – all for a price of around $730.
How is that possible? The answer is no less fascinating: In the 1960s, the Swiss movement manufacturer Venus sold the license and production machines for the caliber 175 to China. Today, the Chinese industry giant Seagull is producing a copy of the Venus 175 under the name ST1901. They’ve even made a few improvements to the original design.
A hand-wound chronograph from a historical blueprint with an attractive vintage design and final assembly in Europe for well under $1,000 – need we say more?
Motorsport has always been a hot ticket when it comes to finding inspiration for watch designs and giving them added emotional value. When this approach is combined with the vintage trend, it’s basically a guaranteed success. That’s why it’s no wonder that the Autodromo brand has won a place in the hearts of countless watch enthusiasts since they were established in 2011.
The different designs are based on the dashboards of classic race cars or design principles from the relevant decades. This includes playful elements, such as a red marking directly on the domed sapphire crystal of the Monoposto chronograph. Such markings originate from a practice in the early days of Grand Prix racing: Back then, there was no speed limiter to protect the motor against critical damage, so a pragmatic red marking was placed on the rev counter.
However, the inside is also worth noting: The Monoposto’s NE88 is a modern chronograph caliber from TMI, a member of the Seiko group. This movement features a column wheel and vertical coupling – a combination usually reserved for high-end chronographs. The price comes in at around $1,800.
By Tim Breining