10 best quirky watch brands for every wearer: From unusual designs to classic timepieces

Wear your personality on your sleeve with these unmissable models from the likes of Swatch and Land Rover

Rachael Taylor
Tuesday 04 May 2021 12:43
<p>Choose from waterproof and limited-edition designs to pieces that support a worthy cause</p>

Choose from waterproof and limited-edition designs to pieces that support a worthy cause

Choosing the right watch brand is almost like choosing a tribe. Not only will it speak volumes about your personal style, it can also bring you closer to your hobbies and interests, and connect you with a crowd of like-minded people.

The first question to ask yourself when shopping for a watch is: what do I want it for? With the time being available digitally on everything from our phones to our ovens, you aren’t usually buying a watch to know the correct time.

If you plan to use your watch for sports, then you might want to consider a chronograph, which has a timer function. If you are into water sports, such as boating or diving, seek out a watch that offers a good level of water resistance. For travellers, GMT watches allow you to keep track of multiple time zones simultaneously. Then, of course, there are smartwatches, which offer a range of digital functions.

But watches can also be used to pledge allegiance to your passions. Aviator watches pay homage to the maestros of the sky, while many brands create watch collections dedicated to motorsports.

Art is also an increasing area of interest, with many watchmakers collaborating with artists to create limited editions, and many brands will also work with charities to raise awareness and funds through small runs. Fashion designers have long been producing timepieces that capture their style and identity, often offering shoppers a way to buy into a luxury brand at an affordable price.

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Price is, of course, a consideration, as this fluctuates wildly. Well-made, collectable mechanical watches start in the high hundreds and can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. Meanwhile, a fun classic digital Casio watch can cost less than a tenner. To make your budget stretch that little bit farther, the pre-owned watch market is an increasingly popular way of picking up luxury watches at lower prices through stores like Watchfinder, Xupes or auction houses like Philips, Vine Auctioneers and Fellows.

Across the price spectrum, all watches essentially offer the same thing – portable timing – but the delivery is wildly different. Some will favour style over substance with inexpensive quartz movements or digital displays; others will have been handcrafted by master watchmakers using the finest materials. This is why buying a watch is rarely about the time, but about deciding what is important to you and what you want from it. An accessibly priced fashion accessory? A status symbol? A style statement? A functional device? An investment piece?

Watch brands are like friends – each has its own personality and areas of interest, and some work better at dinner parties than others. Once you know what you are looking for in a watch, it’s time to find a tribe. Here are just a few of them.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Nomos Glashütte tangente 38, 50 ans de Médecins sans Frontières

Sometimes simplicity speaks volumes, and German watch brand Nomos Glashütte is famed for producing pleasingly minimalistic dials that send design geeks into a frenzy. The watchmaker is a member of the German Association of Craftsman, dedicated to making “good things for as many as possible” and is heavily inspired by the Bauhaus movement. This model from the “tangente” family has a clean galvanised dial, stainless steel case and a dark grey fabric strap. It is powered by a manually wound movement that is incredibly precise and only needs to be wound every second day.

The splash of red at 12 o’clock is a reference to the 50th anniversary of Doctors Without Borders, and €100 from every watch sold will go to the charity. The clean design continues all the way to the watch box, which is made of black poplar wood. If you would like to order from Nomos Glashütte directly, delivery will take 3 months, but you can pre-order from W. Hamond with a £500 deposit to receive it by the end of May.

AVI-8 Help for Heroes chronograph limited edition

If you love planes and aviation then do check out AVI-8 (pronounced “aviate”). This relatively new watch brand was created to celebrate pilots and the machines they fly. Rather than just producing another pilot’s watch – a typically chunky design with oversized, clearly legible dials – it wanted to go deeper and celebrate the stories behind aeroplanes. This watch does just that.

The Help for Heroes chronograph raises funds (a minimum of £25,000) for the veterans’ charity Help For Heroes. The brushed black PVD-coated steel case and bracelet is durable but also very light to wear, and it is finished with a crown embossed with a roundel, inspired by British Hurricane planes from the Second World War. The red, white and blue pops of colour on the dial are carried through to the canvas presentation box, which contains a second leather strap and instructions on how to swap the straps yourself. The watch is powered by a quartz movement.   

The Camden Watch Company no. 27 type II 5 year edition

The Camden Watch Company celebrates British design with a touch of Victoriana. Founded by watchmakers Jerome Robert and Anneke Short, the duo named their company after the area of London that they fell in love with on first arriving in the city. All of the watches are designed in Camden and are named after buses that travel through the borough. This watch, the no. 27 type II 5 year edition, like many of Camden Watch Company’s designs, finds its inspiration in the area’s Victorian past. The dial of the unisex watch, which is fitted with a Japanese quartz movement, is based on floor clocks and pocket watches of the era. The Roman numerals are illuminated in a colour the brand calls “Camden Lock blue”.

Land Rover x Elliot Brown holton professional

Adventure of all kinds is the driving force behind British watch brand Elliot Brown. Its founders, Ian Elliot and Alex Brown, both enjoy sports and the outdoors, and wanted to make watches that would match their active lifestyles on the Dorset coast. Wearable, affordable, tough – this is their motto. Over the years, they have put their watches in extreme situations, including strapping one to a Clipper ’70 racing yacht (spoiler, it survived).

For a rugged, truly British adventure, the watchmaker has now teamed up with car manufacturer Land Rover, leading to the Land Rover x Elliot Brown holton professional watch. This all-black timepiece, sold with rubber and canvas strap options, is as tough as one of the cars. It has scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, a unidirectional bezel, glow-in-the-dark dial and a screw-down triple-sealed crown that makes it waterproof down to 200m.

Raymond Weil limited edition AC/DC watch

Swiss watchmaker Raymond Weil is all about the music, from classical to rock ‘n’ roll. The watch brand was founded in 1976 and has been supporting the music industry ever since, including through its long-time sponsorship of the Brit Awards. As well as creating watches inspired by the general beauty and precision of musicians’ craft, it has also rolled out a number of artist collaborations over the years.

This limited-edition watch was created in homage to the American rock band AC/DC. The design is a twist on the freelancer model, with the band’s branding embossed on the leather strap and in the 12 o’clock position on the dial, which is decorated with a lightning-bolt pattern. The window on the dial and sapphire crystal caseback offer a glimpse of the quartz movement within.

Spinnaker bradner Atlantic blue

Spinnaker is obsessed with all things aquatic, and this passion shines through in both the aesthetic and functionality of its watches. Nostalgia plays a key role in these designs, and as such they have a distinctly retro feel.

The bradner Atlantic blue model is a chunky diver’s watch with a vintage-inspired, compressor-style case with a rotating bezel. The exaggerated bezel is the real star of the design and allows for a magnified view of the minute markers – something a diver would find useful when calculating remaining oxygen. It has two crowns – one to operate the bezel, the other to set the hands. The watch is water-resistant up to 18ATM, and is sold with a two-year guarantee.  

Timex marlin automatic California dial

There are some classics that everyone should have in their watch wardrobe, and a simple Timex is one of them. Timex emerged from Connecticut in the US in 1854 and by the 1950s, the American wristwatch was everywhere, accounting for a third of all watch sales. The styles of Timex watches have evolved over the decades, but in its simplest form it remains instantly recognisable.

This new Timex marlin automatic California dial is a reworking of an original 1960s model. On the vintage-inspired rose gold-tone dial, the numerals are split, with half Roman numerals and half Arabic, which is a style that originated in the 1930s. Within the watch ticks a 21-jewel automatic movement.

Triwa humanium 39 green limited edition

Triwa, short for Transforming the Industry of Watches, was founded in 2007 with the aim of challenging the status quo. The Stockholm brand sought to create watches that modernised timepieces, making them desirable contemporary objects rather than stuffy status symbols. Along the way, it has also become somewhat of an activist brand, raising awareness of the climate emergency and human-rights issues.

This humanium 39 green limited edition watch is from its “time for peace” collection, which raises awareness of the death toll caused by illegal firearms. The watches in this range are made from melted-down confiscated guns, and their sale has helped raise $100,000 for the Humanium Metal weapons destruction program. This model comes in olive green with a canvas strap decorated with graffiti-inspired images.

Swatch Keith Haring mouse marinière

Plastic fantastic is how many watch fans would describe Swatch’s timepieces. It may be one of the biggest watch brands in the world, but its collaborations and limited-edition runs can be full of fun. These affordable designs have been attracting kids and adults alike – including some serious collectors – for generations, and the company has been steadily reinventing itself since it first launched in the 1980s.

One of the latest to launch is a mash-up of the classic cartoon character Mickey Mouse and the pop artist Keith Haring. One of three designs within the collection, this red, white and black mouse marinière watch pays homage to the character’s shorts, with stripes on the strap and dial. The image of Mickey has been etched onto the glass case to create the illusion of depth.

William Wood triumph fuel edition

British brand William Wood takes its name from the founder’s grandfather, who was a firefighter in Newcastle and Gateshead for more than quarter of a century and won medals for his bravery. The brand was created in memory of him and all the other brave firefighters, which is why you’ll find a fire helmet in its logo and on the watch dials.

In this triumph fuel edition watch, the sub-dials take inspiration from the dashboard of a fire-engine cockpit, the crown has been forged from an original 1920s firefighter helmet and the strap is made from upcycled British fire hoses used in real firefights. On the back of the Swiss-made chronograph you’ll find a sapphire case back with the inscription in red and white: “In case of fire break glass.” The watch is also sold in a box that mimics a fire alarm. This piece is available to pre-order and is expected to be delivered by September 2021.

The verdict: Watch brands

Our best buy has to go to Nomos Glashütte tangente 38 for its clean, timeless design and the fact that it delivers a lot of watchmaking prowess for a relatively low price.

Elliot Brown’s collaboration with Land Rover in the holton professional is also well worth considering for outdoors types looking for a robust timepiece.

The Keith Haring mouse marinière by Swatch is also a brilliant buy – as all Swatch pieces are. Their affordable, limited-edition watches are fun to wear and can often appreciate in value if kept in a good condition.

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