The best new independent and micro-brand watches of 2022

I hadn’t been to Watch Windup San Francisco for more than two minutes when a small film crew showed up and asked me to interview me for a podcast called WatchCringe.

“Brew, Aventi, Formex”, they asked – “Fuck, marry, kill?”

Fanboy shenanigans are just a slice of the great fun that is the Windup watch fair, which returns to San Francisco this year after some disruption over the past two years due to the pandemic. The San Francisco fair was intimate and fun, with a bar, a food truck, and around 30 watchmakers seated at simple tables, selling and sharing their wares.

Small watchmakers and enthusiasts meet at WindUp San Francisco 2022.

Chris Wright

It’s a watchmaking gathering made by and for watch enthusiasts, and its format is simple: visit the booths, chat with the watchmakers behind the micro-brands and independent brands of Philadelphia, Ireland, France, Switzerland, etc. Then decide once and for all: is that watch you’re obsessed with online a bust, a date, or could you put a ring in it?

You won’t find Armani suits and the pretentiousness of the Swiss watch industry’s massive gatherings here. Affordability is in the air. A few minutes after FMK (I would marry Brew, but I didn’t know the other two brands well enough to murder or procreate with either) I met Ray Twyce and asked about the Submariner on his wrist.

“I found this while cleaning out a 12 inch sewer pipe at work,” he told me. “I was using a hydro-rinse machine when I saw his figure among the rubbish. It was undeniable. After confirming it was a genuine Rolex (from 1984) with his local watch repair shop, he offered to share it with his colleagues, if they would help pay to have it returned to nine. “Obviously none of them were a silly scientist,” Twyce said.

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The bezel action of the Tornek-Rayville TR660 was the best tactile feel in the show.

Chris Wright

It had been sanded down with trash (namely, gravel and shit), and fit him just fine. “I’ve never been a fan of modern Rolexes,” he smiles. “This one is perfect.”

Alas, not all of us can find our grail watches in the toilet. But at their best, the mix of OG and up-and-coming independent watchmakers at Windup offered beautiful design, bang for your buck, and a cutting-edge new aesthetic. These were my favorite of the new (and new) releases, which proved that the micro, indie watch space is mature, alive and well, damn the pandemic.

Editor’s note: Although some models shown below are currently sold out, they may be available again. This is often the nature of the batch production of micro-brands.

Tornek Rayville TR660

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Bill Yao’s MkII brand remakes vintage military watch designs with utility and affordability in mind. Its new sub-brand, Tornek-Rayville, resurrects a historic name and the influential design of the Vietnam-era Blancpain-ish TR-900 diver. The new version’s acrylic bezel insert felt velvety to the touch, and the bezel action was the show’s best tactile feel – less like a spoon clicking on a washboard, more like adjusting a finely tuned instrument and well oiled. This combined with the half moon gray humidity indicator at 6 o’clock (which does not work, just like the original) makes it a complete and very discreet military watch.

Diameter: 40mm
Thickness: 14.7mm
Movement: Seiko NE15 automatic
Price: $895 (sold out)

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Nodus Avalon II Bronze

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Nodus, a brand from Los Angeles, is a standout among dive watch enthusiasts – or anyone who appreciates larger, bold, yet clean steel sports watches. Their Avalon II follows in the footsteps of their Avalon breakout, and it’s a sight to behold in person: like the love child of a Seiko Mini Turtle and a Royal Oak, it has a chunky cushion case and embossed dial. shiny and clean. (The Coral Yellow version is incredibly warm.) And if the waffle dial isn’t right, their Bronze version in the blue and green sunburst dial is understated, elegant and oceanic.

Diameter: 43.5mm
Thickness: 12.75mm
Movement: Miyota 9105 automatic
Price: $749

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Bronze Jubilee of the Triumph of William Wood

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Without naming names, some areas of the show looked like boring seas of handsome black diver clones. This is not the case at William Wood, a playful young brand from London with bright colors and unusual materials. Namely, the brand is inspired by firefighters (in 1966, the founder’s grandfather saved five children trapped in a burning building). You can’t miss it: the logo is a 1920s fire helmet, some watches feature cast bronze from real vintage helmets, and most notably, the straps are sewn with recycled fire hose that has at least 10 years.

This special edition made to commemorate the Queen’s Jubilee combines a bronze case with a majestic purple dial and bezel – and even a purple fire hose, sourced from Japan. “Do you know how hard it is to find a purple fire hose? founder Jonny Garrett asked me. Certainly, the work was worth it. It’s for the queen, after all.

Diameter: 41mm
Thickness: 15.5mm
Movement: Sellita SW510 Automatic Chronograph
Price: $3,588

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Christophe Ward C65 Aquitaine

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Christopher Ward, which designs its watches in Britain and manufactures them in Switzerland, is an OG name in the big independent brand space. People swooned over their new C65 Aquitaine line at the show. Me too. Its curved sapphire bezel in blue and green looked wet and glamorous; the case, explained founder Mike France, had a “feline quality – a sophisticated masculinity”. I

His new logo, which to me was digital and blockchain-inspired, kind of worked. Bravo for having shortened the lugs of the case by 41 mm – as well as the clean look of the dial, it turned out to be an excellent and modern watch.

Diameter: 41mm
Thickness: 12.45mm
Movement: Sellita SW200-1 automatic
Price: $1,090

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Model AnOrdain 2 MkII

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Back when I first reviewed AnOrdain’s Model 2 field watch in 2019, I called it “the watch of an architect, an engineer, an aesthete”, because of its unique chubby case, small size and beautiful, simple great fire enamel dial.

The Model 2 MkII streamlines the look without sacrificing its special touches: this chunky but small case still looks great in a 36mm diameter, but there’s also a much larger 39.5mm version; the glassy colors of the dial are always fascinating, especially in green, gray and earthy linen; the custom typography is also bolder and I think it works better than ever. There were no other watches in the building with the same appearance.

Diameter: 36mm, 39.5mm
Thickness: 11mm
Movement: Sellita SW210-1 automatic
Price: $2,300

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Monta 2190 SkyQuest

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It’s true that bold, aggressive, and unique new takes have caught my eye throughout the series. The Monta 2190 SkyQuest was not one of those watches. No, said chairman Justin Kraudel, it was a direct nod to the Rolex GMT Master “Albino,” a unicorn with a white dial and Pepsi bezel. And what a snap, with a 24-hour aluminum bezel insert and a beautiful polish and finish on its white dial. Unfortunately, the fifty pieces of this SkyQuest sold out, according to Kraudel, in about fifteen minutes. I can see why: if it’s rare Rolexes at non-yacht prices, it’s a great price.

Diameter: 40mm
Thickness: 11.9mm
Movement: ETA 2893-2 (or Sellita SW330-1) automatic
Price: $2,190 (sold out)

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Farer Stanhope II

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One of Windup’s busiest tables belonged to Farer, a British watchmaker who, along with Christopher Ward, represents OG indie prowess. The dial of the original Stanhope was “mega successful”, according to Paul Sweetenham, one of the brand’s founders. The new one kept much of the same, but instead wrapped it in a cushion case with a bigger onion crown. Its hands are a vibrant navy blue, much more legible than the previous model. The textured dial remains a star. The size is fantastic. Score another big for the Brits.

Diameter: 38.5mm
Thickness: 10.5mm
Movement: Sellita SW216-1 automatic
Price: $995

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Retro Metric Infusion

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Yes, I would marry Brew. Is it so strange? Jonathan Ferrer’s watches are young, smart and beautiful – surely with big things ahead of them. Their prices are blue-collar, their aesthetics luxurious. The Metric Retro is colorful, compact and best of all, almost brandless. (The muted black bean at 3 o’clock barely counts.) As such, it looks like something that would be displayed at MoMA. Yes: I do it.

Diameter: 36mm x 41.5mm
Thickness: 10.75mm
Movement: Seiko VK68 mecha-quartz chronograph
Price: $395 (sold out)

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Casio G-Shock GM2100B-3A “CasiOak”

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The names of Casio watches read like a catalog of hardware. Fortunately, the “CasiOak” moniker dubbed by fans for these dressed quartz octagons (reminiscent of the ultra-expensive AP Royal Oak) stuck. The new version of G-Shock in a dark green looked perfect on my wrist – without the fine watch price tag, but with a world timer, stopwatch, five alarms and a quartz movement that will keep ticking if I leave it in my dresser drawer.

Diameter: 44.4mm
Thickness: 11.8mm
Movement: Casio Quartz
Price: $220

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Intaglio Edition bespoke watch projects

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Kudos to Windup for including a local watchmaker. John Beck McConnico of San Francisco machines his own dials with tight concentric circles that give an alien air. The cases, meanwhile, are classic — he revamped them during the pandemic. “I became obsessed with its curvature,” he said, echoing another important trend of the length just between the lugs (which, along with the shape, is much more important than the diameter of the case when it comes to is about wearing a watch). With a simple leather strap, the watches are simple, beautiful and affordable – a small-brand piece of jewelry that any enthusiast can appreciate.

Diameter: 36, 37 and 38mm
Thickness: 12mm
Movement: ETA 2824-2 automatic
Price: ~$745

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About Robert L. Thomas

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