Did you know you could buy sports watches at an accessible price point, water-resistant and of impeccable quality? I’ve put together a list of top 5 sports watches from micro-brands you may have never heard off but have some eye-catching timepieces.
1.VISITOR DUNESHORE SHALLOWS
The Visitor Duneshore Shallows is the dive watch of the microbrand’s Calligraph collection. The name comes from the brand’s founder’s love for pens and calligraphy that is reflected in all the dials and hands of the models in that collection.
Its 44mm case is inspired by the flowing lines of sand dunes (hence its name), is fully brushed except for the polished center, and is water-resistant to 200 meters, options from colored emphasizing complement Swiss-made polished bevels are running.
The steel rotating bezel has a curved profile similar to the one found on the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. It features lumed dots for the first twenty minutes of the diving scale and three polished steel inset indices also filled with lume at the 30, 45, and 60 minutes positions. It immediately stands out in terms of quality and is very easy to use with no back play.
Another highlight of this watch is the curved case back, designed to conform to the shape of the wrist and display a beautiful embossed image of a sea lion.
Finally, the standout feature: the dial. The semi-gloss finish, reminiscent of wet ink, and the beautiful turquoise color, make it a sight to behold. It features a black crosshair, and ink-drop-style applied polished steel hour markers, which perfectly complement the pen-nib-inspired handset. Thanks to the abundant use of C3 SuperLumiNova it lights up at night like a firework display.
Inside this remarkable case, you will find the Miyota caliber 9039, a proven, reliable workhorse movement that is used by quite a few micro-brands.
On the wrist, it fits perfectly, with the curved case back ensuring maximum comfort despite its 15.6mm thickness. It is a big watch, but it doesn’t feel like it, thanks also to the exceptional bracelet and its huge butterfly clasp, balancing out the weight of the head.
Overall, I am very impressed by its unique looks, level of quality, and affordable price of $750. There is an incredible amount of work that went into it, and the passion of its creator shines through in every little detail.
2. ZENEA ULA DIVER
The average microbrand starts small and affordable and increases price and quality. But when Jason Hutton, an avid watch collector, founded Zenea in early 2019 in Toronto, he wanted to produce outstanding swiss made timepieces from the very start. That’s why he worked backward, from Z to A (hence the name), to build every ZENEA watch to the high standard that he desired.
The steel case of the ZENEA Ula Diver has a diameter of 40.7mm, a thickness of just 12.4mm, and a compact lug to lug of 47.8mm. With such good proportions, the Ula Diver wears extremely well even on a small wrist like mine.
The entire case, caseback, bezel, crown, and bracelet are finished to an extremely high standard, with details such as a gorgeous chamfered polished edge, that runs along with the side of the case and down over the end the lugs, giving the watch a very premium look.
The signed crown looks and feels great, demonstrating the amount of work that has gone into it. The screw-down caseback is gorgeous, with its lovely artwork design, and grants this Diver watch an impressive water resistance of 300m.
The version I have here, sports a beautiful blue dial, with red accents and applied indices, numerals and logo, and a beautifully executed date complication at 3 o’clock. The lume on the ZENEA Ula Diver is nothing short of outstanding and makes the watch still very legible in low-light conditions.
Surrounding the dial is a fully lumed ceramic bezel that with absolutely zero back play. The Ula Diver comes fitted with a tapering steel bracelet, that is leagues above the average microbrand, with a fully milled & signed clasp, featuring an integrated divers extension. Finally, the movement is the Swiss-made ETA 2824-2, considered by many as the best entry-level Swiss movement.
At just over 600 EUR, the ZENEA Ula Diver is one of the best micro brand divers I’ve experienced in 2021 and is worth a look given its great looks, and outstanding build quality.
3. NODUS CONTRAIL
Nodus, a popular microbrand based in Los Angeles, has recently released what I consider probably the best all-purpose tool watch in the affordable watches market, the Contrail II.
The Nodus Contrail II is a classic sports watch, designed to be easily worn by anyone and built with a focus on reliability and toughness. Notable features include 200 meters of water resistance, a screw-down crown, a sapphire crystal. It’s 39mm in diameter, and 47.5mm from lug to lug, and just 12.6mm thick, making it a joy to wear on the wrist.
The Contrail II draws its aesthetics from some of my favorite tool watches from the past. The case has sturdy lugs that curve downward, the finishing is mostly brushed, but thin polished bevels are running down the case and giving it a refined look, again drawing on vintage watches for inspiration.
While case dimensions are vintage-inspired, the dial is very modern, with the Nodus logo near 12:00 and a “Contrail” signature near 6:00, just above a well-implemented date window, accentuating the symmetry of the dial. The color of this specific reference is called “Laguna Sand” and it immediately stands out, with its golden rough texture, on top of which lume filled black hour markers are nicely applied. Surrounding the dial is a 12-hour sapphire bezel sitting on ceramic ball bearings, thus making the clicks as smooth as they can be. The 12-hour bezel is great for traveling as it converts a three-hander into a de facto GMT watch.
The Contrail II is powered by the reliable Miyota 9015 movement, one of the best off-the-shelf movements to be found in a micro-brand watch, considered by some to be on par with the industry standard ETA 2824.
Technically, this timepiece presents a lot of value at its price point of $675. It fits right in with Nodus’ watch’s goal of producing slim everyday timepieces with superior water resistance and overall robustness, that look good in every situation.
4. BAUSELE OCEANMOON IV
Since Christophe Hoppe moved to Australia from Switzerland over a decade ago and founded Bausele, the Ocean Moon has been a key part of the lineup, with the beaches of Sydney inspiring its development.
From its brightly colored dials to the tiny capsule of Aussie sand that fills the lower crown this is a watch made for water and the summer.
The 42x14mm steel case is robustly built to protect the watch from magnetism and has a utilitarian brushed finish. The lugs curve downward nicely to hug the wrist and result in a lug to lug of only 48mm. The caseback is screw-down, guaranteeing 200m of water resistance, and features a beautiful drawing of a moon hanging over the ocean. The twin crowns, for changing the time/date and for manipulating the bezel, are a nice nod to old supercompressor dive watches.
The dial is where the action is, with five different options, ranging from the brightly colored to the more monochromatic.
The white dial I have here features a matte finish and offers great visual clarity thanks to the strong contrast of the black hour markers. It features sword-shaped hands with a bright orange minute hand and black hour and seconds hands, once again emphasizing legibility. Finally at the 6 o’clock position is a subtle date window. The internal rotating bezel compliments the dial perfectly and is enjoyable to turn via the upper screw-down crown.
Powering the OceanMoon IV collection is the STP1-11 automatic movement, a Swiss-made caliber that offers 44 hours of power reserve and decent shock protection.
The strap is another highlight, being made of recycled PET, with the outside of the strap a nice textured black, while the underside is an eye-catching red. It’s secured with a double folding butterfly clasp mechanism opened with a double push-button.
At a price point of around 750 EUR, the Bausele Ocean Moon IV has a lot to like: a contemporary take on a famous vintage design, a Swiss automatic movement, impressive water resistance, a highly legible dial, and a super comfortable strap. It’s honestly hard to beat.
5. NUUN N200
Nuun derives their name from an island off the Arabian gulf’s coast, and their watches are deeply inspired by the area, specifically with their Arabic dials and their nautically and sailing-focused designs.
Recently Nuun released their N200 range, a rugged yet refined tool watch available in two variants, a gunmetal finish or titanium grey I have here.
The case itself is very similar to an iconic design recognized by many avid watch enthusiasts: the Patek Philippe Nautilus. It measures 40mm in diameter and has a lug to lug width of 47mm, so it’s compact and easy to wear. It features both a screw-down crown and caseback, making it dive-ready with a water resistance of 200 meters.
Below the sapphire crystal, the translucent gradient dial is where things start to get interesting. This effect, along with the applied lume filled Arabic numerals, provides a depth you don’t see very often and shows off the Seiko NH35A movement ticking behind. The writing is simple with Nuun below the 12 and automatic, water-resistant 200m/665ft at 6 o’clock, with the water resistance rating, finished in red to match the red-tipped second’s hand. Finally, the date is colored black, matching the dark outer edge of this gradient dial.
The hands are another great detail, with their spectacular satin finish.
Strap wise the N200 comes on a black Caoutchouc rubber strap, which is exceptionally durable, tough, but also soft and pliable. It is fitted perfectly into the lugs and features both a buckle and keeper color-matched to the finish of the watch, with the latter nicely engraved with the Nuun Official wording.
With great looks, excellent water resistance, a reliable movement, sapphire crystal, and good quality lume the N200 offers is well worth consideration. If you are looking for a stylish sports watch around the 600 EUR mark the N200 has you covered perfectly.