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!
Pforzheim is now widely known as the traditional center of the German jewelry industry. What you may not have known is that, before the quartz crisis in the late 1970s, tens of thousands of people also worked in the city’s watch industry. While only a few watch brands remain in Pforzheim today, its goldsmithing and watchmaking schools are a reminder of the major influence that the city of Pforzheim once had on the global watch market.
There are also industry suppliers based in this watchmaking hub. One example is the watch case manufacturer Ickler, an almost century-old family business.
In addition to flourishing as a supplier to exclusive brands, Ickler also offers their own timepieces under the name “Archimede.” Collections such as “Pilot,” “Klassik” (classic), “1950’s,” and “Sporttaucher” (sports diver) contain exactly what you’d expect from these watch types. As a special treat, all of their cases are manufactured by Ickler themselves in Pforzheim – and why wouldn’t they be? This adds even more value to the already fairly priced models.
Take the Archimede Pilot 42GMT for around $1,400, for example. This watch even finished on the podium in the “Under €2,500” category at the 2019 “Goldene Unruh” awards.
We’ve all heard stories of people reinventing themselves. They usually involve bankers or otherwise successful middle-aged people who have had enough of the stressful business life and decide to dedicate themselves to a new calling, such as viticulture, gourmet food, or charitable organizations.
However, the person whose story we’d like to shine a little light on was neither middle-aged nor particularly rich when he found his true calling: We’re talking about the Dutchman Yvo Staudt, born in 1991.
While studying the accordion in Italy, which was off to a flying start, Staudt encountered inner demons that disrupted his life. To escape from this crisis, he concentrated on mechanical watches and even created his own timepiece. It wouldn’t take long for enthusiasts to begin spotting the young watchmaker’s debut timepiece at different events – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Staudt is a small but well-established brand. While it doesn’t have a centuries-long tradition, it does come with an honest and compelling backstory. Their watches are made with an eye for quality: Movements from external suppliers are refined in-house with tempered blue screws and sometimes their own ¾ plate with chatons. Staudt Twenthe is also proud of the delicate printing on their (typically) blue dials.
The model Praeludium Hand Wound, for example, can be had for about $2,600. It’s the current version of the Yvo Staudt’s first watch.
While Christopher Ward is no longer an unknown on the watchmaking stage, the British brand is still far from being a major player. However, they could still make it there, seeing as the company was only founded in 2004.
It all began with the realization that many established brands assemble their watches using the same third-party movements and, therefore, achieve fantastic profit margins. In response, Christopher Ward started his distinctive mission to offer “the cheapest most expensive watches in the world.”However, vague promises of affordable luxury were never going to make the brand truly stand out.
Their initial success came by selling watches with movements from external suppliers at attractive prices. The next decisive step followed in 2014 when Christopher Ward presented their first in-house movement. This was made possible by taking over the Swiss company Synergies Horlogères (Ward’s watches had always been “Swiss Made,” despite their English headquarters). The movement, SH 21, is available as a hand-wound or automatic version and is finding its way into ever more of their motorsport, pilot’s, and elegant dress watches. Its two barrels provide these timepieces with a five-day power reserve.
If you’d like to call a Christopher Ward with a version of the SH 21 your own, plan to part with around $2,200, depending on the model. However, Christopher Ward also offers interesting timepieces for about half of this sum. For example, there’s the C1 Grand Malvern Worldtimer that uses modified versions of the basic movement.
Watch materials are a hot topic nowadays – particularly with regard to the vintage trend. The triumph of bronze, for example, shows that functional aspects are not always the top priority. Instead, it’s the material’s nautical charm and tendency to develop a patina that most excite retro fans. That being said, this is nothing new when you consider the industry’s long tradition of associating watch materials with different industries like seafaring, aviation, or space exploration, delivering the element of “storytelling” along with the actual product.
Werenbach also takes this philosophy very seriously: The materials they use are not only inspired by space flight – they actually come from real Soyuz rockets.Depending on the price category (we’re speaking of the upper 3 to mid-4-figure range), Werenbach uses various rocket components including the wind deflector shield, the exterior shell, the engine cowling, and even the rocket engine itself! For the SOYUZ series, rocket engines are melted in a complicated process to form a proprietary alloy. Werenbach calls the resulting case material “SRE-Stainless Steel” – Soyuz Rocket Engine Stainless Steel.
What purists may write off as a mere gimmick could be a big selling point for some space-oriented watch fans.
Speaking of unusual materials: The American brand Tockr offers solid pilot’s watches, designed in the United States, made in Switzerland, and powered by time-tested Swiss movements. So far nothing all too exciting. Then there’s the model D-DAY C-47, which is made of a truly special metal: We’re talking about material from the Douglas C-47. This plane led the formation of 800 C-47 aircraft on D-Day – the day the Allies landed in Normandy in 1944.
While this unique aircraft was being restored, Tockr obtained pieces of its aluminum fuselage, which they use for the dials of the D-DAY C-47. This model is available in three versions: “Clean Cut,” “Stamped,” and “Hard Worn.” These distinctions depend on the degree of wear and tear and the area of the fuselage from which the material originates.
Admittedly, a price tag of around $2,000 isn’t exactly cheap for a watch with an ETA movement, a 316L steel case, and no other distinguishing features. However, if you can get excited about the dial being made of metal from a historically significant aircraft, you’ll end up with more than just a watch. This model comes in one of the most creative and detailed boxes we’ve ever seen. In addition, a portion of the proceeds automatically goes to the Commemorative Air Force, who have made it their goal to restore historical aircraft to flight worthiness.
By Tim Breining