Growing into a mainstream brand is in the back of the mind of most micro brand watch makers and a handful, such as Christopher Ward, have made the leap to a true luxury mainstream brand.
Not far off is Magrette Timepieces, an Auckland-based brand that was started 10 years ago by Dion McAsey, whose top-of-the-range piece features black diamonds and intricate Maori engravings and sells for north of $USD5000.
Sites like Kickstarter didn't exist when McAsey started Magrette, so he raised funds through pledges on his own website. Today, he considers himself a small brand, rather than micro brand, with a range of more than 20 mostly 70s-inspired dive and yachting models either for sale directly or for pre-order.
Recently, he started a second brand, Belmoto, whose designs are more evocative of vintage racing chronographs. Unlike Warner, managing his watch brands is McAsey's full-time job.
“Before this I was a partner in a small online agency, we specialised in online campaigns for bigger Agencies,” he says. “This knowledge plus my passion for timepieces was a good mix to start Magrette.”
His main market is the US with around 70 per cent of sales. The rest is spread through the rest of the world with only one to two per cent in his home of New Zealand.
Apart from people seeking good value (micro and small brands have few of the overheads of the major brands and are much more keenly priced), buyers of brands such as Magrette are those who don't want to be pigeonholed, McAsey says.
“With a micro brand, people find it hard to judge you based on the watch you wear. This is especially prevalent within the corporate world where you will sit there in your meeting and the person across from you will be trying to put you in one of his boxes of what or who he thinks you are, based on the timepiece you're wearing.”
At a time when smart watches are starting to reach their potential, micro brands are also testament to the enduring appeal of watches powered by springs and gears. In the early 1970s quartz movements almost killed off traditional mechanical watches which are far less accurate and more expensive.
McAsey thinks that while demand for high-end mechanical pieces will stay strong, smart watches have the potential to impact watches priced under $US1000. But there's a possible upside too.
“Smart watches will increase interest in watches generally,” he said. “Ultimately, it'll send an overflow of new people back to mechanical watches as they start seeking something that is different from everyone else.”
Stefan Herrick - Senior Manager External Communications, Corporate Affairs ANZ NZ.