Why Microbrands Are Here To Stay
By: Contributing member of Properly Wound, Matthew L. McManus
There are as many different types of watch fans out there as there are watches. And that’s a great thing for the consumer. Now is arguably one of the best times to be interested in this hobby, or obsession as it is to many, and there are a couple of reasons that have also enabled the rise of the “Microbrand.” First, as Simon Sinek would say, let’s start with “Why?”
Customization, uniqueness, independence. The reasons are still as varied as the individuals creating and buying these pieces. Whether it be exotic materials, avant-garde design, or a fair price for equivalent specs to a well-known brand, there is a lot on offer. I will give some review of my most recent acquisition, the Zelos Visionary V-2 in bronze, with a meteorite dial and deployant-buckled Horween leather strap and branded 4-watch roll included, this thing is amazing on many levels, and I will use it to illustrate the allure of the Microbrand.
The entire kit also included a warranty card in copper and a black alligator strap. Interestingly the rich brown Horween strap with stitches on the lug ends and at the tip is fitted with easy-swap spring bars at all three ends including the keeper attachment. The black croc strap has an 18mm traditional spring bar at this end, which came fitted on delivery, and I quickly swapped out as in my mind it better suits the V-1 (in stainless steel and blued hands.) The Horween strap has a rich smell that perfectly accents the bronze case, which has quickly grown a light patina after only 24 hours removed from its additional zipped plastic protector. Elshan Tang, who runs his operation in Singapore, really provides for all the details.
With what I measured at a 39mm case (41mm with the crown) and 20mm lugs this is a very classically sized dress watch, if still even large by vintage standards. The short lugs help it wear even a bit small on my 7.5” wrist, and clearance is good on the strap, a common drawback of short lugs. The display back and copper rotor, as well as the stainless steel clasp again in a copper color, really unify the whole design and keep the color scheme consistent. The display case back is an exception but a worthy one, as bronze can leave ugly green marks on the skin as the oxidization rubs off, and it is not noticeable while wearing the piece. The upside is you have a great view of the Swiss movement that has been fitted, either a Sellita SW200 or ETA 2824, in full view.
Time for the few but important gripes, and they are generally small, as this is not a press release. I would prefer to know whether it is fitted with the Sellita or ETA, although with the difference being possibly a jewel and the rotor saying 26, my guess is the SW200. The squarish crown attractive, but somewhat small and makes winding a bit hard. While I like that it can be wound while the crown is inserted, if it had wound from the first position this might have added a bit of leverage. And the deployant clasp is just a friction model, which is nice for the slim profile, but is just a bit of work sometimes to figure the right spot to grasp and pull. This has also added to some slight patina to the Horween. But with a meteorite dial, bronze case, and Horween strap this is a watch that is all about patina and the Zen wabi-sabi aesthetic.
So what does all this mean for the greater watch world and Microbrands? Some owners desire to remain exclusive and have a small output–in a word: micro. More analogously Micro can just be a stage to being a larger company, like a startup stage. Zelos’ use of Kickstarter’s crowdfunding for some projects is a source of easy funding where otherwise banks or private investors would take a risk on you. It also allows one to literally let the market decide if a project will be viable. Part of this process allows a greater amount of feedback from the potential customer, but also a level of market understanding that larger companies may not focus on. And because only a small additional cost of using a platform like Kickstarter is imposed and can be calculated into the offering, little is lost in the way of profitability and sales can be maximized for value to the buyer getting something much closer to cost and the company needs fewer marketing specialists with continuous feedback from enthusiasts. I have another project backed currently where a few of my suggestions had either already been logged by other backers, or went immediately to changes in the prototyping and incorporated in the final design. And for full disclosure, I have only 3 years counting watches as a hobby, and no formal experience in design or watchmaking.
In sum, not only is the Zelos Visionary a great timepiece, it is also proof of the viability and attractiveness of Microbrands and the impact you can have by voting with your wrists and your dollars.
At the time of writing the V-1 in steel had 9 watches still available for 740 USD and preorder for another batch of V-2 looks to be in the works.
What is your opinion of Microbrands? Do you have a favorite? Feel free to share with us over at the Properly Wound Facebook Group
Want to see a great review of an up and coming microbrand? Check out our YouTube Channel!