The Swiss may lead the world in the field of watchmaking, but there is something to be said for underdogs. For some time now, microbrands have been rising on the horizon, offering interesting perspectives on a traditional craft. The appeal of microbrands also lies in their accessibility – you don’t need to be a high-roller to acquire or appreciate the watches they make. It comes as little surprise that Singapore, being one of the first watch capitals in Southeast Asia, has borne a number of local microbrands that it can be proud of.
Zelos is one of Singapore’s microbrands that has made it to the big time, having its fair share of fans from around the world. It tops the local list in terms of the number of units sold. Its offerings veer toward dive watches, ranging from the lean 40-millimetre Mako to the chunkier 44-millimetre Great White. Zelos also recently partnered with Swiss manufacturer La-Joux Perret to produce a limited series of skeletonised tourbillon watches, the Mirage Tourbillion, which have since sold out.
Swordfish 42mm Titanium
Titanium is a great choice of case material for dive watches. This is due to its lower density, which allows it to offset the chunky disposition of most dive watch designs. Despite its lighter weight, its tensile strength is similar to that of steel. However, it’s an expensive metal to produce due to the cost of purification. Most titanium mechanical dive watches cost over S$1,000, but the Swordfish 42mm Titanium (pictured above) starts at a mere S$500, with some dial choices commanding a small premium.
Another local heavyweight, Gruppo Gamma combines quality with a nostalgic aesthetic to create a very appealing value proposition. The collection takes inspiration from many aspects of vintage dive watches, such as bakelite bezels, oversized crown guards and sandwich dials. Gruppo Gamma also owns Venturo, a sub-brand that offers a more no-frills approach to tool watches while retaining its parent brand’s design language.
There is much to love in the Peacemaker PN-19. Some may even find it reminiscent of a certain Italian watch brand. The Peacemaker uses marine-grade CuSn8 phosphor bronze for its cases, which patinates with wear to create truly unique timepieces. The smoky texture of the teal fumé dial also plays wonderfully under the light, and its layered “sandwich” assembly enhances the luminescent qualities of the Arabic numeral hour markers.
One of the strengths of microbrands is the freedom to explore the unconventional. Feynman showcased this when it released the seminal Feynman One. The timepiece has a dial configuration that follows the Fibonacci sequence AKA the Golden Ratio. Artists like Le Corbusier and Salvador Dali have proportioned their works after the Golden Ratio due to its pleasing aesthetic. Feynman is currently collaborating with Stefan Vinogradov to produce custom engraved examples by commission.
Cove builds on the design codes of the One, this time incorporating it into the form of a dive watch. The dial features the same application of the Golden Ratio, with the hour centre dial, minute dial and small seconds sub-dial being proportionately distanced from one another. The internal rotating dive bezel is reminiscent of the “Super Compressor” dive watches of the late 1950s, while the wavy texture of the centre dial highlights the nautical theme of the Cove. With a case diameter and height of 40 and 12.8 millimetres respectively, the Cove wears well on most wrists while keeping a tastefully quiet profile.
Benjamin Chee set out with a bold mission: to dispel the widespread conflation of China-made watches with sub-standard quality. Maison Celadon was the result of that quest. The brand flaunts its oriental inclinations in almost every aspect of its timepieces, from manufacturing processes to design accents. There are no cheap-looking designs to be seen, however. Instead, one finds intricate dial work, heat-blued hands and inscribed movements. Maison Celadon has also offered a Métiers d’Art collection, featuring silk embroidery and cloisonné enamel.
The Imperial Peacock takes its name from the oil-pressed guilloché no-date dial in Blanc de Chine (Dehua porcelain), bearing the impression of a peacock with its tail feathers spread. The steel case is elegantly sized at 38 millimetres and complemented by 20-millimetre teardrop lugs. On the reverse, a sapphire case back reveals the hand-winding Calibre B18 bearing an inscription in Mandarin. Translated, it reads, “To accomplish a momentous mission in carrying on Chinese civilisation.”
Certain design philosophies find favour in watch design due to complementing principles. Despite being more well-known for offering aftermarket straps, Vario has the Bauhaus-inspired Eclipse and the art deco-themed Empire range of dress watches available for consideration as well. Far from being a mechanical movement purist, the brand also adopts the Seiko TMI VH31 Hi-Beat Quartz movement alongside other hand-winding and automatic examples.
WWI Trench Watch
Vario’s 37-millimetre WWI Trench Watch takes after the wristlets worn by soldiers during the Great War. These watches prized functionality above all else and offered zero frills. Taking inspiration from vintage Longines and Omega examples, the timepiece features large painted numerals, cathedral hands, a seconds sub-dial at six o’clock and wire lugs. Modern upgrades include an anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal, 10ATM water resistance, vitreous enamel dial and an automatic movement. The Kickstarter campaign for the WWI Trench Watch will launch on 11 November, with delivery expected in February 2021.