How to start your own watch brand, and why so many boutique watches look alike

I was researching Deep Blue, a Brooklyn based "maker" of dive watches, and the concensus of watch forum people was that it used Chinese manufacturers and "catalog cases." That led me down a rabbit hole, and when I emerged I had learned that there are thousands of Chinese companies that you can hire to make your own boutique watch brand (although only hundreds of them can get you a product that will comply with CE and CPSC regulations and laws). These companies in turn just obtain the parts they need from thousands of suppliers (including Miyota, Ronda, etc., so you can sort of claim the watch is Japanese or Swiss) and put them together.
The thing that surprised me is that the cases used in most of these boutique watches are standard off-the-shelf cases, "catalog cases," available to and used by many companies. I know that Weiss Watch in Los Angeles designs its cases and a contractor makes them using a CNC milling machine, but apparently that is not the norm, and it's probably why Weiss charges $1,000 for a somewhat bland field watch design.
Let's say you want to sell a dive watch of your own. It turns out that you can order as few as 100 units. Does that number sound familiar? How many watch runs have been in the realm of 100? It's the minimum risk for the new watch marketer, and reduces risk if they have lead content that requires that they be scrapped. If you want to sell cheap but not have the watch seem too cheap, you choose a Miyota movement, or maybe a Seiko, a catalog case and crystal, maybe customize the back and crown and hands and bezel or bezel insert, and definitely customize the face. The more parts you choose from the catalog, the cheaper the watch will be. If you want to customize everything and have a small unit run, the watch price goes into four figures.


thumb_upMikeMD, ltopper, and 6 others

Nov 3, 2017
which is why im such a big fan of Orient watches. All made in house, including watch movements.
Nov 4, 2017
Yes, the same with Steinway, Yamaha, and Kawaii pianos. Even the Germans buy the huge iron "harps" from a Steinway subsidiary, and the actions and strings tend to be sourced from just a couple of German companies. Better quality Korean and Chinese pianos are like better quality Chinese watches: put together from components bought abroad.
Nov 3, 2017
A review of the dozens of watch offerings on kickstarter and indiegogo makes it seem that they also outsource to the same writer(s) for off-the-shelf company backstories and product descriptions:) The whole process is remarkably similar to what's transpired with another of my interests (tenkara) - in fact you could probably re-title the chart above "How to Get Your 12 ft, 6:4 Action Tenkara Fishing Rod Made in China!" All kidding aside, with the right amount of passion, innovation, R&D, and customer support, some individuals/companies have turned that model into something worthwhile. Having a community of enthusiasts, like here on MD, is helpful in discovering the good ones.