I hadn’t been at Watch Windup San Francisco more than two minutes when a small camera crew appeared and asked to interview me for a podcast called WatchCringe.
“Brew, Aventi, Formex,” they asked — “Fuck, marry, kill?”
Fanboy shenanigans is just one slice of the great pleasure that is the Windup Watch Fair, which returns this year in San Francisco after some disruption over the last two years due to the pandemic. The San Francisco fair was intimate and fun, with a bar, food truck, and around 30 watchmakers stationed at simple tables, selling and sharing their wares.
This is a watch gathering made by and for watch enthusiasts, and its format is straightforward: go to the booths, talk to the watchmakers behind micro and indie brands from Philly, Ireland, France, Switzerland, and more. Then decide once and for all: Is that watch you’re obsessed with online a bust, a tryst, or could you put a ring on it?
You will not find the Armani suits and pretense of the massive Swiss watch industry gatherings here. Affordability is in the air. A few minutes after FMK (I’d marry Brew, but 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. “Was using a hydro-flusher machine when I saw its silhouette among the detritus. It was unmistakable.” After confirming it was a genuine Rolex (from 1984) with his local watch repair shop, he offered to split it with his colleagues, if they’d help pay to have it refurbished. “Obviously none of them were watch idiot savants,” Twyce said.
It had been sandblasted by detritus (namely, gravel and shit), and looked great on him. “I’ve never been a fan of modern Rolexes,” he said, grinning. “This one’s perfect.”
Alas, we cannot all find our grail watches in the toilet. But at their best, the mix of OG and up-and-coming indie watchmakers at Windup offered beautiful design, bang-for-your-buck utility, and edgy new aesthetics. These were my favorite of the new (and new-ish) releases, which altogether proved the micro and indie watch space is mature, alive, and well, pandemic be damned.
Editor's Note: While some models featured below are currently sold out, they may become available again. Thus is often the batch-production nature of microbrands.
Bill Yao’s brand MkII remakes vintage military watch designs in the spirit of utility and affordability. His 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 was velvety to the touch, and the bezel action was the best tactile feeling of the show — less like a spoon clicking across a washboard, more like adjusting a finely tuned, well-oiled instrument. That paired with the half-moon gray moisture indicator at 6 o’clock (which doesn’t work, just like the original) makes for a complete, and very understated, military watch.
Movement: Seiko NE15 automatic
Price: $895 (sold out)
Nodus Avalon II Bronze
Nodus, a brand out of Los Angeles, is a notable up-and-comer among lovers of dive watches — or anyone who appreciates larger, bold-yet-clean steel sports watches. Their Avalon II follows the footsteps of their breakout Avalon, and it’s a sight to behold in person: like the love child of a Seiko Mini Turtle and a Royal Oak, it’s got a bulky cushion case and a clean bright waffle dial. (The Coral Yellow version is insanely hot.) And if the waffle dial isn’t right, their Bronze version in either the blue and green sunburst dial is understated, sleek, and oceanic.
Movement: Miyota 9105 automatic
William Wood Triumph Bronze Jubilee
Without naming any names, some sectors of the show felt like boring seas of handsome black diver clones. Not so at William Wood, a playful young brand out of London sporting 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-era firefighter’s helmet, some watches feature bronze melted from actual vintage helmets, and, most notably, straps are stitched with upcycled fire hose that’s at least 10 years old.
This special edition made to commemorate the Queen’s Jubilee pairs a bronze case with a majestic purple dial and bezel — and even purple fire hose, sourced from Japan. “Do you know how hard it is to find a purple firehose?” founder Jonny Garrett asked me. Surely the work was worth it. This is for the Queen, after all.
Movement: Sellita SW510 automatic chronograph
Christopher Ward C65 Aquitaine
Christopher Ward, which designs its watches in Britain and makes them in Switzerland, is an OG name in the large-indie-brand space. People were swooning 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, founder Mike France explained, had a “feline quality — a sophisticated masculinity.” I
ts new logo, to my eye digital and blockchain-inspired, somehow worked. Bravo on shortening the lugs on the 41mm case — together with the clean look of the dial, it felt every bit an excellent and modern watch.
Movement: Sellita SW200-1 automatic
AnOrdain Model 2 MkII
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,” due to its unique chubby case, small size, and gorgeous, simple grand feu enamel dial.
The Model 2 MkII streamlines the look without sacrificing on its special touches: that chunky yet small case still looks great in a 36mm diameter, but there’s a much larger 39.5mm version available as well; the dial’s glassy colors are still mesmerizing, particularly in green, gray, and an earthy flax; the custom-designed typography is bolder, too, and I think it works better than ever. There was no other watch in the building with anywhere near the same look.
Diameter: 36mm, 39.5mm
Movement: Sellita SW210-1 automatic
Monta 2190 SkyQuest
It’s true that new, bold, aggressive and unique takes were catching my eye across the show. The Monta 2190 SkyQuest was not one of those watches. No, said president Justin Kraudel, this was a direct nod to the Rolex GMT Master “Albino,” a white-dialed, Pepsi-bezeled unicorn. And what a nod it is, with a 24-hour aluminum bezel insert and beautiful polish and finishing on its white dial. Sadly, all fifty pieces of this SkyQuest sold out, according to Kraudel, in about fifteen minutes. I can see why: If it’s rare Rolexes at not-a-yacht prices collectors want, this is great fare.
Movement: ETA 2893-2 (or Sellita SW330-1) automatic
Price: $2,190 (sold out)
Farer Stanhope II
One of the busiest tables at Windup belonged to Farer, a British watchmaker who, along with Christopher Ward, stands for OG indie prowess. The dial of the original Stanhope had been “mega successful,” according to Paul Sweetenham, one of the brand’s founders. The new one kept much of it the same, but wrapped it instead in a cushion case with a larger 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 great one for the Brits.
Movement: Sellita SW216-1 automatic
Brew Metric Retro
Yes, I would marry Brew. Is that so strange? Jonathan Ferrer’s watches feel young, smart, and handsome — surely with great things ahead of them. Their prices are blue collar, their aesthetics luxurious. The Metric Retro is colorful, compact, and best of all, nearly unbranded. (The muted black bean at 3 o’clock hardly counts.) As such, it looks like something that’d be displayed at MoMA. Yes: I do.
Diameter: 36mm x 41.5mm
Movement: Seiko VK68 meca-quartz chronograph
Price: $395 (sold out)
Casio G-Shock GM2100B-3A “CasiOak”
Casio’s watch names read like a hardware catalog. Fortunately, the fan-dubbed “CasiOak” moniker for these dressed-up quartz octagons (reminiscent of the ultra-expensive AP Royal Oak) stuck. G-Shock's new version in a deep green looked just right on my wrist — without the haute horology price tag, but with a world timer, stopwatch, five alarms, and a quartz movement that’ll keep on ticking if I leave it in my dresser drawer.
Movement: Casio quartz
Bespoke Watch Projects Intaglio Edition
Bravo to Windup for including a hometown watchmaker. John Beck McConnico out of San Francisco mills his own dials with tight concentric circles that lend an alien air. The cases, meanwhile, are classic — he redesigned them during the pandemic. “I became obsessed with the curvature of it,” he said — echoing another important trend of the fair, lug-to-lug length (which along with shape is much more important than case diameter when it comes to how a watch wears). Together with a simple leather strap, the watches are simple, beautiful and affordable — a small-brand gem any enthusiast can appreciate.
Diameter: 36, 37, and 38mm
Movement: ETA 2824-2 automatic