Tími/Tid/Aika: No matter how it’s said, these five Scandinavian microbrands are showing us a good timeBy Barbara Palumbo
Visiting Norway had been on my bucket list ever since I turned 40 back in 2003. Correction — it wasn’t just on my bucket list, but rather it was the one country I wanted to visit more than any other in the world. This has nothing to do with Frozen or my one and only trip to the Norwegian section of Epcot at Disney World in Orlando. On the contrary, the reason for my obsession is justifiably normal: at one point in my life, I briefly took a Norwegian lover and, well, let’s just say that time all but stopped in the moments we shared. Now that I think about it, that may also be why I enjoy visiting France, Italy, Turkey and Argentina, but those stories are for a different publication altogether.
In any case, a few months ago I was contacted by a young watch brand out of Oslo, named Micromilspec. They saw on my Instagram page that I’d be traveling to Europe for a couple of different events, and they wanted to know if I would be willing to make a quick hop over to Norway’s capital to check out what it was they had going on. There was no way I was going to say no to this invite. Talking watches with a bunch of friendly millennial and Gen-Z guys in the country that I’ve been wanting to visit for 10 years? Sign me up, venner!
First of all, the rumors are true: the Scandinavians are clearly the Canadians of Europe. They’re polite, engaging, helpful, attractive, and generally, just too lovely to be real. But the guys from Micromilspec, well, they kind of took it to the next level. I know I shouldn’t be surprised when I see young people helming a brand, but I guess my mind has been trained to think that only geriatric Swiss dudes who say “meh” a lot (no offense, some of you are awesome) are the ones who make a watch tick. But that’s so not the experience anymore. Case in point: Henrik Rye, the CEO of Micromilspec, caught me flipping through old vinyl records at a pop-up shop close to where I was to be meeting the team, and before the meeting was over, he surprised me with a Frank Zappa album. FRANK. MF’ING. ZAPPA, PEOPLE. Told you those Scandinavians were awesome.
The Northern Lights
Meeting with Micromilspec was my first foray into what seemingly is a new world of microbrands coming out of the northern parts of Europe. Sure, we all know of the master (Kari Voutilainen) and the genius (Stepan Sarpaneva), both out of Finland. And many of us know of Linde Werdelin, too. But who out there is the new blood? Who will impress us? Shake us up? Or even more importantly, make us open up our wallets, key in our credit card numbers, and tell all our friends on Instagram?
Here are five brands that talk the talk, and walk the walk. They’re interesting and affordable, and they’re offering classics as well as pieces that will ultimately cause eyebrows to rise. There are dive watches, military watches, pilot watches and more. But at the end of the day, no matter where their movements are crafted, they are all still distinctly Scandinavian, be it in design, assembly or heart. This is the North. And watches coming out of the North are here to stay.
What began as a passion project in 2013 by two friends (Jonathan Belvér and Oskar Gydell) eventually resulted in the brand’s first release in 2016: the Skytoucher GMT — a flieger-style quartz watch that was launched originally through a Kickstarter campaign.
But the brand has since evolved. “What makes us stand out is that we’re very keen on making a good product that the customers will feel an emotional connection with, incorporating details that may go unnoticed by some, but that are hopefully seen and enjoyed by others,” says co-founder Jonathan Belvér. “We always try and do the best we can based on our interests, knowledge and vision, and the fact that we have many recurring customers hopefully means that we, in some way, have succeeded.”
The watches in Monchard’s collection range from roughly USD195.00 to about USD410.00, depending on the model and the type of bracelet or strap chosen. The movements used are dependent on the watch model, of which there are many now. The brand has used Ronda, Miyota and Seiko movements in their timepieces.
As told on their website, the story of how Pook watches in Finland got its start stems from the heart of all things great: family. Founder C. Andreas Prepula tells how his father — a diver in the Nordic seas both by profession and for enjoyment — would take Andreas diving on a daily basis, and how the younger Prepula would hold (and even wear) his father’s dive watch (a Citizen) as often as he was allowed. Flash forward to 2016, Andreas had the idea to design his own dive watch. In 2018, that idea became a reality with the introduction of the Pook 700.
Pook is a small, family-owned company that is extraordinarily proud of their Finnish heritage. All designs are done in-house in Finland by Andreas and the movements used are largely Miyota with the occasional ETA movement here and there. This allows for the brand to keep the price points between 250 and 500 euros for most models, with the occasional exception or limited-edition novelty.
A standout this year was the Slava Ukraini timepiece. Forty percent of the proceeds from the sales of that watch were donated to Ukraine Red Cross. “We are small and cannot do big things, but we felt that it is necessary to do something,” stated Jyrki Piiparinen, the man in charge of special projects.
Founded in 2017 by Anders Brandt and Simon Goldeman, who descbribes Arcanaut as “understated yet distinct, with a pinch of madness”. Then of course, when you realize they’d brought James Thompson of Black Badger fame on board as a partner, that statement makes a whole lot more sense.
The brand is proud to use Swiss Soprod movements in their timepieces, but what really sets them apart, in their opinion, is the quirkiness and cleverness of their watch dials. “The madness comes into play on our dials, where with each series, we try to experiment with or create a new material, process or approach,” explains Brandt. “Our last series [the ARC II D’Arc Matter] had dials made out of Swedish slate stone crushed through an industrial coffee grinder.”
The watches are designed and assembled in Copenhagen, and according to the brand, roughly 80 percent of the parts used in the watches are manufactured in Denmark. The pieces are currently available through the company’s website and through their Instagram page.
Iceland: JS Watch Company
Unlike the brands previously mentioned, JS Watch Company in Reykjavik is a little bit older, and a little bit different. Founded in 2003 by Grímkell Sigurþórsson, Sigurður Gilbertsson, and Júliús Heiðarsson, JS Watch Company became Iceland’s first watch manufacturer, and according to Sigurþórsson, “probably the smallest watch manufacture in the world”.
With a team of just four people, the brand sells their product exclusively to their customers through meetings and discussions that occur in person at their workshop in Reykjavik. And yes, those four people include the watchmakers, marketing person, photographer and designer. Multiple hats are worn by the same folks at JS Watch Company. They are about as old-school in a new world as it gets.
In a single year, the company produces fewer than 500 timepieces ranging in price (on average) from USD2,100 to USD3,200. Most of the models produced use Soprod movements but some of their watches have also contained movements from Eterna, ETA, and Unitas. Regardless of the movement, precision matters. Sigurþórsson explains, “All the movements are adjusted in five positions, to a maximum rate deviation of +4/-4 seconds per day.”
So why the four friends open a watch manufacture in Iceland? Sigurþórsson explains,“The idea may have been idealistic, as Iceland certainly doesn’t have a long tradition of quality timepiece production, but we were optimistic. And eventually, Sigurður’s father, Gilbert Guðjónsson, a master watchmaker with nearly 50 years of experience, joined the venture. That was the icing on the cake.”
Now taking this article back full circle, let’s talk about my Norwegian friends from Micromilspec. The brand was founded in 2019 by Henrik Rye (the CEO), Anders Drage, (the Creative Director), and a third founder who is still in active military service and whose name cannot be disclosed at this time. (I may or may not have met him personally, and he may or may not be cool as hell.)
Right now, Micromilspec is doing what only a handful of microbrands are doing; full-on customization. Their watches are made to the specifications requested by every customer, with many of those customers being in the military, police or special operation’ units. “We provide a level of customization that few [if any] other brands offer in the same category.” says Rye. “Still, our main strength is probably our streamlined process for completing complex projects in a relatively short amount of time. We oversee everything here in Norway, from design, development and production, to sales, financing, logistics and after-sales service.”
I can attest to this after a tour of their facility in Oslo. However, while they are proud Norwegians, their movements are Swiss, which the brand is happy to make known to the world. “We started out using ETA movements, but are now focusing on Sellita. For a few of our special projects, we use movements from La Joux-Perret and Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier. Everything is sourced from Switzerland,” says Rye.
As each timepiece is bespoke, it’s hard to give a price range. Rye states, “We’ve sold watches for 950 euros and for 30.000 euros. It all depends on the materials and complications each purchaser or unit is looking for.”