The 2023 edition of WindUp Watch Fair rolled into New York City in October to showcase the latest and greatest in affordable and microbrand watches. The free event was packed with enthusiasts across all three days, with brand booths spilling through two floors of the Altman Building in the heart of Manhattan.
As you’d expect from WindUp, the crowd had a distinct boots, beards, and (craft) beers kind of vibe. The vendor list also extended a touch beyond watches to include workwear and EDC brands like Filson. If you’re in the market for a daily beater or a tool watch, the participating brands certainly have you covered.
Two Truly Unique Integrated Bracelet Watches
But what about the watches themselves? The most obvious trend among these microbrands was the ubiquitous and seemingly requisite Genta-esque integrated bracelet, steel sport watch. For many enthusiasts, the style feels pretty played out by this point at all levels of the market. Of course, it’s understandable that young brands need to prioritize profitability over originality in their early days to get a return on their investment while developing their own signature models.
Two brands that came out of the gates with their own spin on this style are Autodromo and Brew Watch Co. The Autodromo Group B takes inspiration from 1980s rally car racing and appeals to automotive enthusiasts and 80s babies alike. This was my first time seeing the watch in person, and the attention to detail, wearability, and even legibility exceeded my expectations.
Brew Watch Co. is on a roll lately with their more 1970s-inspired Metric series. There’s a playful touch running through the collection, and I was particularly attracted to the black PVD variation with orange accents. With proper marketing, this could be positioned as a worthy competitor to the Tissot PRX.
Watch writers love to say a watch “punches above its weight.” And while the cliché grows more tired every year, there were a select few watches at the fair that offered more than their price tags might indicate.
The first and perhaps best example is the Christopher Ward Bel Canto. This instant hit captured the attention of many who would not normally consider themselves Christopher Ward clients, and the watch sold out almost immediately. The Bel Canto features an exposed hour chiming mechanism, producing a clear *ding* at the top of every hour. The watch comes in a range of dial colors and is constructed in Grade 5 titanium, keeping it light and comfortable. This watch no doubt took considerable time and investment to develop, and simply put, the risk paid off.
French heritage brand Yema presented what was likely the most expensive watch at the show with their Yachtingraf Tourbillon Maréographe. I doubt many attendees were in the market for a nearly five-figure watch, but it strategically elevates Yema by showing what a typically humble brand is capable of.
Finally, Xeric watches wowed with their truly out-there collection of timepieces. We affectionately referred to them as the “poor man’s MB&F,” although that’s an inadequate description as the brand has done what few brands can: create adventurous, unique, and decidedly fun watch designs.
What would I actually buy?
Let’s talk about the (completely subjective) list of “best in show” watches. First up is the aforementioned Christopher Ward Bel Canto. There’s a lot of watch for the money here, but with a price tag of more than a few thousand dollars, it’s not exactly an impulse buy for most.
Next is a new offering from G-SHOCK’s Move collection. The DWH5600MB-1 is an all-black take on the classic G-SHOCK DNA, but with two key new features. One is the inverse digital display, which is instantly more legible than the typical green-on-black setup. The watch also features a buffet of health tracking tools that perfectly suit an active lifestyle. This not-quite-smartwatch has the potential to be a “watch guy” alternative to the Apple Watch.
The watch that tempted me more than anything else is the newly released and already loved Baltic Hermétique. Baltic seems to do no wrong, and there are certainly a lot of things right about this watch. The sizing is classic, comfortable, and feels designed with wearability in mind. The matching tropic rubber straps only add to the buttery feel of the watch. The lume plots are thick and stand tall off the dial for a heavy dose of dimensionality. Finally, the compact crown is a bit tough to wind, but it hides beautifully within the case profile. Does anyone know how to say “take my money” in French?