They are described as small companies that design, assemble and QC’s their products but outsource almost 100% of their parts and manufacturing. Being outsourced means higher liability for the owner, thus the pressure on QC, but developing a brand is mostly about how the product meets market expectations.
Targeting online niche markets allows for these brands to explore new concepts, and explains why there are funded Kickstarter projects for all tastes and wallets. To this point, this is where consumers have the most difficult task. Besides filtering the clutter of low quality offers and one-hit-wonders that will be shut down within warranty period, there is the matter of how much a watch is worth, with and without the brand equity provided by the entrepreneur credibility and business capabilities.
It is as easy to see overpriced watches that hit sales target, as well as under-priced watches that also hit sales target but fail to provide profit sustainability. This is a list of the online watch community favorite boutique brands that have a clever marketing approach.
Definitely a reliable brand, that claims to have been the first online exclusive brand. They are probably one of the most efficient brands in their ability to "read" market trends and launch products that meet consumers expectations. After the huge success of their Trident Diver series, Christopher Ward have released a smaller 38mm version and is also launching Limited Editions (that can you up to 4.000 euros). The quality of the watches is excellent.
The price of the watches is on the high side of the spectrum, even for a boutique brand and lower range models, such as the C3 Grand Tourer quartz chronograph at 495 euros and the automatic C65 Trident Vintage at 825 euros. The take on this brand is that there is a watch for all wallets and tastes: Dress, Diver, Aviation, Motorsport.
They launched the first in-house movement, the Calibre SH21, following the merger with Synergies Horlogèresis, that has been considered by experts a revolution for an "outsider" brand with great value for money.
Steinhart was founded in 2001 and is one of the most acclaimed boutique brands on online forums. With their new line of smaller watches (39mm) this became one of my favorite brands. The quality of the watches is excellent, and the value for money simply overthrows competition, with Swiss movements and high quality specs.
Unfortunately (not for the quality of the watches but one that prevents me for buying) almost all watches come in large sizes versions (from 42mm up to “wall clock” 47mm). If their new line of 39mm extends to other models I think they’ll beat competitors by quality alone. The best value for money of the market.
It is the older Boutique brand and one of the Youtubers (headed by The Urban Gentry) sweetheart brands. Squale was founded in Switzerland 1946 as a manufacturer of watch cases and other components for other watch brands. In 1950 began to produce their range of professional diving watches under the Squale brand name. These watches were not marketed for jewelry shops but rather specialty dive stores.
In 1974, entered the watch market as an independent entity. Following the watch industry's "quartz crisis", Squale halted their production of mechanical watches in order to focus on quartz timepieces in 1989. Like many watch companies at the time, Squale began to fade from the international watch market.
The brand relaunched in 2010 and is now headquartered in Milan, with the watches being made in Switzerland. Don't be fooled by its "amateur" looking website, it's one of the quality dive watches in the market.
A beautiful vintage collection with six available designs (named by year) and different color dial versions, crafted by a reputable watch collector. The watches are perfectly balanced with that vintage design produced with today’s reliable technology. Dan Henry is passionate about this project and caps the price of his watches at 250 USD.
Except for the 1970 model, they come with quartz movements. The watches are slightly larger than their “vintage” vibe would suggest, but I suppose this is the flavor of the day (and its creator personal taste) despite the expected market turn for smaller watches demand.
From what we've seen this far William L. has the knowledge and credibility to make this project thrive. It started in 2015 with a first Kickstarter campaign and sold 1.200 watches in 4 weeks. Their strategy is not to be an online only store and are now distributed in 50 countries, 600 points of sale. Strangely enough, considering the financial strength the brand has achieved, they continued to introduce Kickstarter projects like the Automatic Chronograph & Connected watches.
This is a smart move for a company that knows its way around crowd funding, with a clear knowledge of the industry. As for the watches, I find their designs well balanced with that entry level Seiko-like feeling, quartz movements across the line for the 200 euros "classy looking" quartz market. There are a few automatic movements that are selling with discount at 579 euros. Their Automatic Vintage Diver 70's Style looks beautifully made and is worth taking a look at, asking price 349 euros.
This is a fairly reputable brand with simple vintage designs. I became interested in their chronograph watches due to the (Chinese) Seagull mechanical movement they use (the three hands model uses a Miyota). I was looking to buy the Seagull 1963 (which I did - review to follow) but wanted a more classic looking dial. The movement ST19 (great article on its Swiss origins and history) is a mechanical (hand wind) column wheel chronograph, that displays beautifully in the open case back.
The watches are well made with simple designs. The brushed “step” case enhances its vintage aesthetic but the dials are a bit boring for my taste, with the exception of the Panda Limited Edition. I trust their narrative of “assembled in France” that seems to aim for the skeptical consumer about buying a Chinese movement. The watch at 649 euros for the mechanical Chronograph (just got the Seagull with the same movement and a lot of history for 259 euros) is overpriced for the value proposition, but still a nice watch with a perfect 38mm size.
Straton makes 70s looking automotive chronograph watches, with well built designs and quality movements, such as Seiko Meca-Quartzs, for 499$ and Valjoux automatic chronograph that can reach 1199$. They feature daring designs, like the Curve-Chrono and the cushion case Speciale, that seems to have conquered the watch market.
All watches come in many variations of sizes, colour, finishing and movements, increasing the options for consumers. The watches are well-executed and Straton is making an effort to stay on the automotive sub-niche within the vintage trend that is taking over the market. The prices are reasonable for what they offer. Definitely well-executed and unique styles.