Watch shopping at a brick-and-mortar retailer or a boutique really only scratches the surface of the watch world. There are literally hundreds of online retailers, or internet boutiques, just as worthy of the praise received by brands like Rolex, Omega, Breitling, and the like. These are small-scale production brands that exclusively sell their own watches online, without a physical store, from less than $500 to well above $10,000.
If they’re so great, why haven’t you heard of them? Well, internet boutiques spend hardly any money on marketing. Selling directly to consumers means the overhead normally used for marketing, retail locations, and sales staff doesn’t need to be paid for with high prices.
But the vastness of the internet paired with this lack of advertisements makes it hard to find these online watchmakers. Below, we’ve broken down some of our favorite internet boutique brands, along with their best offerings, so that you can start your web-based hunting right.
What started as a way to sell custom parts to Seiko owners looking to mod their wristwear has since grown into a venerable brand of tool watches known for their bombproof builds and attention to detail. Based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, MKII draws from its nearby rich heritage of American watchmaking. The Paradive is the timepiece that has garnered MKII most of its fame. Based on a design found upon the wrists of US Special Forces agents, it embodies Yao’s original intent with MKII: to produce second iterations of classic timepieces, using modern materials and movements.
While a name change isn’t usually the best way to maintain brand equity, it doesn’t seem to have hurt operations for the key collaborators at Stevral (which was once Benarus), Steve Laughlin and Ralph Schreiner. Stevral timepieces remain a forum favorite thanks to consistent build quality, classic designs with a twisst, and small, 100-batch runs. The Moray 42mm ($720) is a perfectly sized, 1,000-meter-rated deep-sea dweller that keeps up with dive watches five times its price. We’re also big fans of the beefy, 47mm Megalodon in Bronze ($950).
Bradley Price’s Autodromo an industry darling. Thanks to Mr. Price’s addiction to all things racing, each release from Autodromo has roots that stem from a period of the sport’s various glory days. His latest creation, the Group B Evoluzione, is a CNC milled masterpiece of case and dial design. If something more classic and refined is your style, the Stradale is an excellent choice.
Like Autodromo, Belmoto’s watches take inspiration from vintage cars and motorcycles; unlike Autodromo, Belmoto makes dive watches. The man behind Belmoto, Dion McAsey, also runs Magrette timepieces, a New Zealand-based boutique dive-watch brand with some serious chops of its own.
Currently there are two releases available from Belmoto: a Mecha-Quartz-powered chronograph dubbed the Track-Day, and a self-winding Miyota 9015 powered road-tripper called the Tourer — both of which boast a 200-meter depth rating.
Founded by Jason Lim in 2009, Halios focuses on dive watches that truly max out the bang-for-buck ratio. Typically falling in the $600-$700 range, the Vancouver-based company sets itself apart from common homage divers with unique design elements. This has paid off; since its first release, Halios has consistently sold out production run after production run.
The Tropik SS ($650), possibly Lim’s most impressive release yet, is the perfect dressed-up diver that still maintains functionality, and it’s available in black or blue colorways. Powered by the increasingly popular Miyota 9015, it’s one of the best values under $1,000. Currently, only a white-dialed version is available but the Tropik B, a bronze cased variant is now back in stock.
Amidst a mass of young watch companies utilizing the internet for direct sales is relatively ancient watchmaker, DOXA. Dating back to 1889, DOXA’s early connections link them to racing, but it’s diving that has brought DOXA to where they are today.
DOXA’s line has stretched well beyond the 300T, their first diver and, according to them, the world’s first dive watch (although that’s more of a technicality). But the recognizable aesthetics remain intact. The 800Ti ($2,790) may be the ultimate DOXA in the current lineup, as it pulls from the most popular elements from their other watches. At $2,790, it’s firmly in the mid-tier of pricing — but you’d have a hard time finding a more capable diver at a lower price point.
Our picks continue on the next page
UTS comes as one of the best regarded amongst the hardcore diving crowd. UTS doesn’t settle for mass-produced cases — Nicolaus Spinner, one of the two men who keep UTS up and running, designs, builds and assembles every case in-house. Their watches are tough as nails and have depth ratings up to 4,000 meters.
While UTS offers a solid range of tough tool watches, the 1000M Diver is the most practical and wallet friendly. Coming in under $2,500, it’s a great mid-range value, powered by a top-grade ETA 2824 and outfitted in a hand-built case.
Ochs Und Junior
Some high-end watchmakers focus on complexity to draw appeal, while others, like Ochs und Junior, make it a goal to do the exact opposite. Ludwig Oechslin, half the company’s brains, has made a career out of simplifying mechanical watch functions.
The brand currently offers four watches, each based off around the ETA 2824. Not all that impressive, right? Wrong. Let’s take a look at their Moon Phase ($8,367). Like all of their watches, it’s completely made to order, from the case material, to the hand color, to the strap color. What’s more, Oechslin developed one of the most accurate moonphase complications (accurate to 1 day in 3,478 years!) with just five parts. (To add context, the average moon phase is comprised of 20 or so parts.) Ochs und Junior puts out about 300 watches per year — so you can be sure your watch is one of a kind.
If you’re looking for something different beyond simple brand experiments, SevenFriday makes the watch for you. The man behind SevenFriday, Daniel Niederer, was a former luxury timepiece distributor who simply grew fed up with the regimented and predictable way in which the industry was approaching watch design.
The vintage-TV-shaped case of the P and the M Series stands apart in a sea of circles. However, it’s their unique dials with an “open-heart” designs that are truly inspiring. Dial legibility takes a backseat — but is that such a crime when you’re eyeballing one of these?
It may come down to a coin toss as to whether Squale or Doxa is the hardcore diver’s boutique brand of choice on this list. Doxa may have deeper history but Squale can trace its influence across brands such as Blancpain, Omega, Rolex and even Doxa itself. This is thanks to founder Charles Von Buren’s 50 Atmos case design.
Squale is now based in Italy but continues to utilize the classic Von Buren case designs for its Squale 50 and impervious Squale 101, which can handle submersions up to 1000m. Personally, my favorite in the collection is the Squale Tiger, which features a push-button bezel release to guard against any underwater mishaps.
Oak & Oscar
Rumor has it that the numeral 8 on the dial of Oak & Oscar watches commanded upwards of 80 hours of refinements to ensure it didn’t resemble a military stencil. That’s the level of commitment and craftsmanship that goes into each of Chicago-based Chase Fancher’s releases.
Since the first model, the Burnham, has sold out completely, all we can recommend is their latest model, the Sandford. The Sandford is a 40mm GMT timepiece with an internal rotating bezel powered by a Swiss Soprod self-winding movement. Oh, and it too features that gorgeous “8,” although the hash marked seven is pretty damn sweet, too.
Eone Bradleyis named after an ex-naval officer who lost his eyesight in Afghanistan and later went on to win two gold medals and a silver at the 2012 Paralympic games. The brand’s watches are legible to wearers without vision, thanks to their unique design, which utilizes small ball bearings rotating around an open dial with raised indexes. The magnets that replace the hands are powered by a Swiss quartz movement. It’s genius in its simplicity, making for a truly beautiful minimalist design. And, if you shake them loose, the balls simply snap back into their proper and accurate spots.
Few boutique brands boast the clean, minimalist design that Berlin-based Defakto continually cranks out. In fact, the brand even took home a German Design Award this year for their latest release, the Akkord Modular.
A simple two-hand design, the Akkord features an impeccably clean yet legible dial. Add to that the fact that the Akkord is powered by the venerable ETA 2824 movement, and you have an incredibly accurate, minimal timepiece to call your own.