Top Microbrand Releases of 2017
2017 has proven to be one of the most exciting and fulfilling years of ours lives–we launched Nodus, brought our first watch to market, and learned a tremendous amount in the process. However, not only has it been a monumental year for us, but this year, we’ve also seen a substantial growth in microbrand lovers; not only have Facebook groups and Instagram profiles swollen in size, but forums have seen a resurgence in topics that have been discussed at length in the past. All of this is indicative of a wave of newer watch collectors that are on the search for the best microbrands.
As a brand owner, I wear my own products more often than I wear other brands’. In fact, since receiving the very first Trieste prototype, it has been my go-to watch, finding its way onto my wrist at least five out of seven days of the week. Yet, I still find myself mesmerized by watches from other brands, both macro and micro, some of which I’ve purchased myself. After all, I was a watch-lover before I became a watch-seller.
Below is a list of my favorite releases from this year. For obvious reasons, I haven’t included our own Nodus Trieste in the list.
1) Gruppo Gamma Chrononaut
This is my favorite Gruppo Gamma release to date. While GG is known for their larger-sized Panerai-style designs, GG has proven with their previous release, the Vangaurd, that they can design a more modest-sized piece that still retains the utilitarian aesthetic that we have come to know and love from the brand. The Chrononaut is a continuation of that, pushing their design more towards an elegant and dressy aesthetic.
The Chrononaut features a sandwich dial with intensely-bright lume, which has become Gruppo Gamma’s signature feature. Along with the sharp case lines and tooly profile, the bright red seconds hand demonstrates that although design is a key focus at Gruppo Gamma, functionality is paramount.
Frankly, GG’s previous designs never really spoke to me, but the Chrononaut has put them on the forefront of my mind going into 2018.
2) Obris Morgan Infinity
Obris Morgan has developed a reputation as a “bang-for-buck” brand, and for good reason: their price-quality ratio is off the charts. Their price-point is definitely not reflective of the design effort and build quality of their watches. As a watch-enthusiast, I’ve always been a fan of their designs. Very few brands are putting out designs that are as tastefully done that still maintain an accessible price-point, despite the overflowing demand for their products. The pattern for microbrand pricing is trending upward, so it is refreshing to see a microbrand maintaining a ludicrously strong value proposition.
That being said, as a brand owner, I have an idea of the numbers associated with manufacturing a watch with the specifications that the Infinity has, and to be frank, their pricing leaves very little room for profits and in turn, brand growth. Regardless, Obris Morgan’s customers seem extremely happy with their watches, which should be the number one priority for any business after all.
3) MK II Paradive RTW
In all fairness, the Paradive might not necessarily count as a 2017 release as it was originally released in 2013, when it quickly became a forum favorite and a cult classic in the watch community. In 2017, it joined the Hawkinge in Mk II’s Ready-To-Wear line. Paying homage to the Benrus Type I from the 1970s, the Paradive tastefully channels the spirit of the Type I, but with improved modern touches such as SuperLuminova and sapphire crystal.
Powered with a SII NE15 automatic movement (also known as the Seiko 6R15), the Paradive manages to stay under $1000 but still undergoes the extensive Mk II quality assurance treatment. As a long-time fan of Mk II, I was happy to hear that the Paradive was making it to the Ready-To-Wear line, as it is refreshing to see not only an homage done right, but an homage of a lesser-known watch that has a history that is just as interesting as iconic watches such as the Rolex Submariner.
4) Halios Seaforth
This list wouldn’t be complete without the star of 2017. Halios has been a staple of the microbrand community and seems to always be among the first to be recommended to newcomers to the hobby. The Tropik was the first Halios model that really got my attention. I love everything about it, from the unique quasi-cushion case to the dot bezel markings that are typical of Halios’ design language.
The descendant of the Tropik is the Seaforth. While it does not speak to me in the same way as the Tropik did, I can see why it has reached a wider appeal. It keeps the same clean look and modest wearability as the Tropik, which is especially notable at a time when the average watch size seems to be growing.
Much to everyone’s surprise, it seems to have broken records for resale value in the second-hand market. We don’t see the type of appreciation in value that the Seaforth has undergone except in the vintage market, and even then, it only really applies to hard-to-find luxury brands. I think it goes without saying that 2018 is going to be a big year for Halios.
5) Monta Triumph
The Monta Triumph was a pleasant surprise this year. Their debut piece, the Ocean King, was met with some controversy in the community. A common sentiment in the community is that anything over $1,000USD from a microbrand is ludicrous. However, based on what we are seeing from Monta, they have proven that there is in fact a market for higher-end microbrands.
From the moment I first saw it on Instagram, I knew the Triumph would be a winner. Everything from the sizing to the choice of colors to the little details such as the inner-lug chamfer is perfect. The sunburst brushing on the fixed bezel is a fantastic detail that is underappreciated and seldom-found in the watch world. Monta’s trademark crown is the icing on the cake for this piece. My personal favorite is the deep army-green sunburst dial variant.
From what we hear in the inner circles, a few brands have plans for a field watch in 2018. It seems as though Monta single-handedly ushered in the year of the field watch with the release of their Triumph.
As a brand owner, I can’t help but feel some pressure when I see how tough the competition is getting. The bar is constantly being raised by microbrands, both in terms of design and build-quality. But at the same time, these brands deserve my respect and admiration. Looking at the releases on this list, I can see now why there was a sudden surge in interest and popularity of microbrands. All of a sudden, the value proposition of a larger luxury brand does not look as valuable. So if anything, I have found appreciation for these brands for stimulating interest in our little sector of the market. After all, a rising tide raises all ships.
Wesley Kwok is the co-founder/operator at Nodus Watches. He is an entrepreneur by day, watch-geek by night, and a musician in the spaces in between. When he is not working or playing guitar, he can be found seeking out the best craft beer in California, perfecting his brioche bun recipe, or keeping up to date on the latest tech trends.