Our favourite microbrands of 2023 Our favourite microbrands of 2023

Our favourite microbrands of 2023

Fergus Nash

We really love microbrands at Time+Tide, so much that we dedicate our weekly Micro-Mondays column to the best of those intrepid independents pushing the boundaries of traditional watch designs. The releases can vary wildly from sports-centric budget options to high-concept Swiss tourbillons, but they all promise a level of creativity and affordability that big brands just can’t compete with. Let’s revisit five of our favourite microbrands in 2023, as part of our yearly countdown.


Vario 1918 Pilot 3

Vario have consistently impressed me over the last couple of years, using a mixture of vintage inspiration and original ideas to create a compelling catalogue of references. This year alone, we’ve covered three of their watches, each with a distinct flavour of different eras. First came the 1945 D12 Field Watch which is a clear homage to the Dirty Dozen style, originally created by 12 brands who supplied the British Ministry of Defence at the end of WWII. Next was the Empire True GMT, which held a beautiful sector dial with guilloché and Art Deco elements throughout. Most recently, the Vario 1918 Pilot has put an angled twist on their popular 1918 Trench Watch styled after the improvised timepieces of WWI. Vario has really got a knack for supplying niche interests in a budget arena with fantastic quality and detail, and 2023 has been particularly strong.


Arken Alterum 5 e1690954520916

When Arken released their Instrumentum, it rode high on the wave of titanium-cased dive watches which flooded the market. Titanium has since become a staple across plenty of mainstream watch brands, but Arken returned with a new go-anywhere-do-anything watch which could easily come across as something worth four times the price. The Arken Alterum is still dive-capable with 200m of water resistance, but the fixed bezel and integrated nylon strap lend itself to a more casual vibe. Its textured black dial also features an easily-legible pointer date subdial, GMT hand, and a day/night indicator courtesy of a module from Arken’s own customised Miyota 9015.


Yema Urban Field 3 e1682905254667

It’s a matter of debate whether Yema can be considered a microbrand, considering that their history stretches back to 1948 and they even have some in-house manufacturing capability. But, their independent ownership, affordable prices and recent blast of international fame have at least given them pseudo-micro status at the very least. Their 2023 has been exceptional, following on from the Wristmaster Traveller Micro-Rotor release which the watch world fawned over in 2022. They’ve covered some of their racing heritage, introduced a new line of Urban watches, and of course dabbled in a couple of divers.


Stella Breslin 4 e1685501650425

I hadn’t come across Stella before this year, and I’m glad that I did. They manage to capture a very specific vibe, which evokes 1960s style while looking completely unlike anything from that era. It’s a glamorous and decorative approach, with sharp angles, bold typefaces and textured dials. One of my favourite releases is the Stella Breslin which has brought back the linen dial in a big way, even including a reference in bright pink. The Stella Ellis GMT is also captivating though, with its almost feather-like sunburst dial in black or bright blue.

Second Hour

Second Hour Mandala Burst Burnt Orange 11

There may be some bias involved with including a Melbourne-based brand in our list, but Second Hour have been up to some pretty impressive things in 2023. Their Mandala put them on the map a couple of years ago, with its attention to detail not just limited to the stunning guilloché dial. The new Second Hour Mandala Burst has brought in a gradient tint to the expanded dial, as well as a more engaging and deep chapter ring. They’ve also explored diver territory with the Gin Clear MkII, blending some familiar elements with completely alien ones for an eccentric yet peaceful 300-metre dive watch.