Fratello Friday: The Rise of the Micro Brands


We have to admit that the title of this week’s Fratello Friday article sounds like it’s for a new “Transformers” movie, but it really isn’t. The only thing that the article has in common with the giant robot franchise is that both are concerned with mechanical devices — in our case, it’s all about the growth of a certain segment of the wristwatch market.

In the past few years, we’ve seen the growth of “micro brands” in the watch industry — often one-man operations — take flight. Whether this is due to the fact that the big brands, operating their businesses as huge corporations tend to do, are increasing prices of their watches every year to the extent that they have become uninteresting to many watch enthusiasts, or that the micro brands have stronger relationships with their consumers because they are more directly in touch with them, we don’t know. Whatever the reason for the ever-increasing interest in micro brands is, we at Fratello Watches think that these brands – and the people running them – deserve a bit of attention from our readers.

The nice thing about a number of these micro brands is that they give you the opportunity to become a shareholder by using crowd-funding to fulfill their dreams of becoming a watch brand. An excellent example of a successful project was the rebirth of Dubois & Fils, a brand name that goes back to 1743 and has been producing wristwatches since 1910. In 2010, Thomas Steinemann (who already had quite a career in the watch business, starting in 1988) bought Dubois & Fils and decided to bring it back to life. Using a crowd-funding platform to raise enough fund to start producing his watch, he launched the first Dubois & Fils watches in 2013. At first the new shareholders were able to purchase one of the new pieces and soon, Dubois & Fils hit the rest of the market as well. New models have since been added to the collection, and Dubois & Fils now appears to be a micro brand that is here to stay, with a professional distribution network and after-sales service point.

A much-used platform for micro brands to announce their new projects or collections is Kickstarter. This crowd-funding platform shows the business plan of the micro brand with all its milestones, progress and possibilities for you — as a new shareholder — to participate. The micro brands shares their ideas, designs and production steps with you and also allow you to comment on and vote for certain designs, for example.

Below is a small selection of micro brands that are worth investigating, and perhaps even investing in.

Melbourne Watches

Founded by Sujain Krishnan, who launched this Australian based brand to be able to offer affordable mechanical watches with an interesting design. With a price range that reaches approximately $600, Melbourne offers a range of nice watches with great designs. Our favorite is the Portsea with blue dial, as pictured. It has an elegant watch case with a dial that has different layers to create lots of depth. Based on the original marine chronometers, the dial is very readable. Inside is a mechanical movement from Miyota. Melbourne Watches used Kickstarter for its crowd-funding process. More information about the Portsea model can be found here.

Melbourne Portsea

Tempest Watches

Tempest Watches is a micro brand from Hong Kong, operated by a true watch enthusiast who wanted to create nice watches and have happy customers. He has designed every part of his watches, except for the movement. Tempest Watches has two collections (Viking and Commodore) and focuses on diving watches. The movements that are being used are produced by Miyota — solid workhorses that will do the job. The cases are either made from 316L stainless steel (with or without PVD coating) or titanium. The prices of these watches range from $600 to $870. An in-depth review of the Tempest Commodore can be found here.

Tempest Commodore watches

Lebois & Co

Fans of vintage watches might recognize the name Lebois & Co. It used to be a watch manufacturer owned by Raymond Dodane of the famous Dodane family, who also had their own eponymous watch brand. Exactly 80 years after founding Lebois & Co, Dutch entrepreneur and watch enthusiast Ton van Wijlick announced the rebirth of this brand. With a Kickstarter crowd-funding project, van Wijlick wants to be able to start the production of the Lebois & Co Avantgarde Date (pictured) sooner rather than later. The watch is clearly inspired by the vintage Lebois & Co designs, but with modern features and a Swiss-made ETA movement inside. The Kickstarter project just begun, and people are able to participate with an investment of only around $5. Backers of the project who pledge $1,100 or more will receive a “relaunch” edition of the Avantgarde Date watch as soon as it is finished. More information on Lebois & Co and the Avantgarde Date can be found here.

Lebois & Co. Avantgarde

Visitor Watch Co.

This micro brand has had a lot of success with its Calligraph Duneshore timepiece. Its design is inspired by the sand dunes near the home of its founder, Phil Rodenbeck. The hands of the watch are based on the design of a fountain pen’s nib. Visitor Watch Co did a successful Kickstarter project as well to get funding for its watches, and the first batch of watches are now being produced and set to be delivered in August 2015. At a price point of $650, you will get a watch with a unique design, sandwich-style dial and a self-winding movement. Visitor Watch Co. also chose to use the mechanical Miyota movement for its timepieces. More information can be found here.

Visitor Watch Co. Calligraph watch

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3 Responses to “Fratello Friday: The Rise of the Micro Brands”

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  1. Please check out the CD1 model made by Aegir. It has a killer design, nice features and is available in several colors. I just bought myself a white dialed CD2 with crystal back, a beautiful diver, but that model is almost sold out.
    Regards, Rogier

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  2. I like and support micro brands (even after they grow into real brands or even ebay shops) and buy from them over NAMED brands (Rolex, Omega, Tag) if they catch my eye or even FAKES. I like finding a gem but the wait time on kickstarter is hard for a watch lover.

    What i like over FAKES is that for the same money i can help a real company and i get SERVICE. Fakes have fake service, fake promises and fake photos and support. But should they HOMARGE the fake into a nice alternative and themselves into MICRO BRANDS and ill give them some time and money.

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