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A Support System for the Independent Watch Industry



Although things change all the time and very fast, it’s easy to see where the micro and independent watch market (“MIW” for short) is headed. Or, more accurately, where it could not be headed. Based on my own observations—as a journalist and consultant—MIW brands have fewer and fewer opportunities to effectively market themselves. Whether it is because the market is saturated or because they don’t have the budget to meet the ever-increasing fees charged by larger media outlets. And successful brands that were formed in the past ten years—Baltic, Lorier, Nodus, and Maen amongst many others—worked hard to instill a dream in the creative minds of those who also wanted to contribute to the industry. 


In other words, watch enthusiasts who, too, wanted to create a brand. 


Contrary to the past when Rolex, Omega, and the other big brands were first created—when there were fewer of them and an established nomenclature for watches—today’s MIW brands do not operate following a commonly agreed upon set of rules and references. While one can type “Rolex Explorer 1 reference 114270” on Google or Chrono24 to find the most appealing listing for pre-owned models, one cannot easily (or successfully) search “Lorier Neptune Second Generation Blue Dial with White Hour Markers.” It just doesn’t work. Starting from this simple observation—and many others—Maxime Bertin-Mourot decided to create Extropian, the first online platform solely dedicated to educating watch enthusiasts about the captivating world of micro and independent brands. 


But before we delve into Extropian, let’s see where MIW brands stand today.

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Maxime Bertin-Mourot, Founder

Current State of the Independent Watch Market


While I won’t claim to be a know-it-all about the independent watch market, I can confidently tell you this: one must have a certain deathwish for wanting to create a watch brand today. Or suffer from a serious desire for self-imposed torture. Picture this: you have a secure Monday through Friday job, you don’t have to worry about paying your electricity bills, your rent, or putting food on the table. Your family is doing well. But you had the unfortunate experience of discovering the niche world that is horology and—more specifically—the ultra-niche domain of micro and independent horology. The one where authentic, community-oriented watch nerds and entrepreneurs create the watches of today and tomorrow. The watches that we buy not to flex, but to express something authentic about ourselves and to connect with like-minded people. 


As an entrepreneur myself—I invested all savings I had left after losing my job to COVID-19 to create Mainspring and make horology a full-time career—I understand how much risk watch brand owners take to transform their dreams into reality. And they take many more risks than I do because they not only have to design watches, but they also have to get them manufactured (well and on time), marketed, distributed, and serviced. Brand owners must front a lot of money to get started with the hope that more than a few people will appreciate what they do. And if their first collection is successful, then they’ll have to go through the same ordeal for the next collection and the one after that. It’s endless and hard work. 

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Meanwhile, there are new brands popping on the market every day. They are—literally—thousands of brands to discover and get acquainted with. And hundreds of thousands of models to read an article or watch a YouTube video about. And amongst this vast world of the MIW, there are many good brands producing great watches and wanting to tell fascinating stories. And there is an equal number of sketchy brands marketing low quality, soulless watches, and wanting to tell you about bogus origin stories. It’s a mess and it’s overwhelming. And something had to be done about this. Someone had to create a platform to help sort through the good brands from the bad ones, the interesting watches from the forgettable ones. 


Enter Maxime Bertin-Mourot (“Max” for short) and Extropian. 

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The Beginning of Extropian


At first glance, Max is just another watch enthusiast and collector who, many years ago, immersed himself in the deep world of watches. He bought watches from established brands and new young ones alike—he never discriminated—and was quickly fascinated by the breadth of the offering and creativity emanating from the independent watch industry. As someone who buys and sometimes sells watches, he quickly realized that finding out about certain brands or models was not easy, as no two brands adopted the same naming convention. (Or any, for that matter.) And, by their very own nature, MIW brands do not come with the legacy and heritage many watch enthusiasts seek when shopping for their next timepiece. In other words, it’s hard to know who’s behind the brand and whether or not the brand will still be around next year.


Before creating Extropian, Max latest professional stunt before entire the world of horology was to be commissioned by the LVMH Group—the luxury fashion and retail giant that owns, amongst many other brands, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Hublot, Tag Heuer and Zenith—to study new trends in consumerism and, in particular, how the group’s new customers shopped. This encompassed all of their retail arms including that of horology. This one-in-a-lifetime experience prompted Max to extrapolate his work in the luxury industry to the mid-tier horological market. What we, again, refer to as being micro and independent horology. (I know there are many ways to define what this means and I promise to take a stab at it later.)

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To make a very long story super short, Max saw a need to organize the MIW industry around a central platform so that brands could tell watch enthusiasts about their collections and watch enthusiasts could learn about the brands, who created them, why, and what demarcates one from another. Watch collecting is an obsession that spans all continents and cultures and for which, therefore, brands found one of hundreds of ways to market their watches and to share their stories. Where one can type “Omega Seamaster Professional 300M 2254.50.00” on Chrono24, one should be able to filter hundreds of database entries on Extropian to search for “Diver 200m Double Dome Hesalite Crystal Seiko NH36” to find out about such models. 


This is, in a nutshell, how Extropian started and what sets it apart from all other MIW-inclined websites. 


By the way, the name of Max’s enterprise itself is a clear indicator of where his head is going: Max saw the current state of the MIW market as being entropic which, in the physics world, refers to a system that comes with a high degree of disorder and randomness. So Max wanted to create something that would have the opposite result, where things evolve in a progressive and orderly fashion—what is called extropian. I must say, the name Max went for is genius, easy to remember and powerful.

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How I Met Max (Because It Matters)


While we are all too familiar with cold marketing sales calls and emails, which also translates to something which us, watch enthusiasts, experience on Instagram whenever someone sends you a direct message that starts with “We love your content and we want to work together to promote our latest amazing watch”, it’s nice to be able to talk to a human being who actually cares and knows about the products he would like for you to know about. Not a chatbot or AI or a nondescript sales rep, but someone who knows how cool BGW9 lume looks on a ceramic bezel and whether or not a Miyota 9015 is worth the asking price compared to a Sellita SW200-1. Or whether 14mm is too thick for a three-hander and $2,000 USD too expensive for a quartz-powered timekeeping device.

So now would be a good time to tell you how I met Max. 


One beautiful October day in 2023, I was working the floor of the We Love Watches fair in Paris (organized by online retailer O’Carat) where I would meet and chat with brand owners. I miraculously made my way up to the third (and last) floor where established MIW brands such as Nivada Grenchen and Formex were exhibiting. While standing in front of the latter’s table and talking to the team, a tall and handsome Frenchman walked beside me, shook hands with Formex’s CEO Raphael Granito who promptly introduced the two of us. The room was cramped, hot, and loud, and I could only make out that this guy's name was Max and that he was from Extropian.


I had no clear idea what Extropian was but the name sounded familiar.

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Then we went our separate ways for the rest of the fair and didn’t exchange until we met again at the 2023 edition of the WindUp Watch Fair in New York City. This time, we talked a lot and walked the busy floor of the fair together, me introducing him to people I knew and vice versa. I was fascinated by the fact that Max flew all the way to New York from Paris to meet brand owners, and that a few weeks later, he would be flying to Prague for the WatchPraha fair. His passion for and dedication to the micro and independent watch market was palpable, as he not only spoke with great interest about MIW brands but he did so while wearing a limited edition Formex model. 


After our meeting in New York City, I knew that Max and I would be bound to talk again. So here we are.

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How Extropian Works with Brands


What might seem odd at first is the fact that Extropian is completely free to use for brands and consumers alike. I’m saying it's odd because it’s common for any business to want to charge someone to use their service or platform, whether we’re talking about selling pre-owned cars or finding out about the latest trends in Western-monetized meditation practices. And it’s especially very common nowadays that we have to pay a monthly membership to access any kind of information. However, all 330 and some brands currently listed on Extropian didn’t spend a dime to work with Max, nor do the thousands of people who peruse through the website on a daily basis. That’s one of the first and main draws of Extropian.


By way of an organized onboarding process, each brand is guided to create a profile on the website and to list all of their models, complete with all specs. Max and his team created the database using a unique referencing system so that one can filter through the thousands of watches indexed on Extropian by movement type, frequency, whether they’re looking for a pilot watch or diver, a black or rose pink dial, or even a single or double domed hesalite crystal. Extropian was built this way, again, because MIW brands do not use classic reference numbers for their watches in the way Rolex, Omega, or Tissot do. There is a Lorier Falcon MkIII but not a Lorier Falcon 5620.13.56-2. 


Brands which are on the platform are responsible for keeping their inventory up-to-date so that anyone can look up any watch at any moment to know when it was first released or what a RZE Endeavour is made out of. Furthermore, it’s possible to know how much a Formex Essence retailed for when it was first released—as Extropian lists the release date and original MSRP—and, very soon, see how much it goes on Extropian’s pre-owned marketplace. (The latter exists but is still under development.) By being so expansive, Extropian’s website finally makes it possible for any watch enthusiast interested in MIW brands to learn about all past and current models, new trends, and upcoming releases. 

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Who Finances Extropian and Why?


Before we further talk about the brands one can get acquainted with on Extropian, we ought to talk about how Max pays his monthly bills and those of his employees. At the time of writing, Max employs eight people who each manage a specific portfolio of brands. That means onboarding the brands and making sure all of their information and entire catalogs are on the platform. (That and many other things the website does for the brands.) Although he wishes he could, Max cannot pay himself or his employees with positive affirmations and hugs, so he had to find a way to finance Extropian so that it remains free for brands and users—the latter being you and I. 


To make another long and complex story very short, every few years Max runs fundraising campaigns through which he brings on investors. Whether it be people who directly invest in Extropian or by way of firms who do so on their behalf, Max spends several months articulating his projects into compelling presentations and sales pitches so that like-minded people can help brands and for us to know more about the micro and independent watch market. His investors can be involved with the day-to-day operations of Extropian or not, but none have any interests in any of the brands listed on the platform, nor are they linked to any business that makes parts or markets watches for the brands listed on Extropian. What they bring—besides cash—is professional expertise and support in many aspects of running a business. 


In other words, there is nothing about the way Extropian functions that would give one brand an unfair advantage over another. At least, that’s how Max explained it to me.

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I believe all of this is important because more often than not, I discover that a brand I support or a magazine I champion is not as clean and honest as I thought them to be. (Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as I make it out to be but it remains a problem.) There is a lot of shit going on in the horological world—as it is the case with all aspects of humanity in general—and it is necessary to have transparency here. As when anyone or any firm invests into a project, somewhere down the line they hope to be able to resell their shares for a profit, which is how those who invest in Extropian get an eventual return on their investment. Brands, for their parts, also benefit from data on trends, prices, and what consumers are looking for so that they can better understand the niche market within which they operate.

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What Brands Are on Extropian?


Now is the time when I will take a stab at defining what micro and independent brands are and why it matters here. Although we don’t live in a perfect world where we make no mistakes and can always smell bullshit 100 miles away, Max and I align in that we see MIW brands in the same way. Although this is not a complete and perfect definition of what they are and why we like them, all brands listed on the platform share the following common characteristic: they are independently owned and run by those who created it (with a few exceptions where a brand is linked to another horological enterprise,) but none belong to a retail group that would be the equivalent, in our micro and independent watch world, to Swatch, LVMH, or Richemont. 


Furthermore—and as mentioned earlier—none of the brands listed on the platform are linked to the investors and vice versa.  


This means, in other words, that the brands on Extropian are run by those who founded them. Furthermore, the platform sticks to watches that retail below $3,000 USD—although this might be bound to change in the future since everything keeps getting more expensive—and which offer good value, original designs (as in: not replicas or downright homages that photocopy a design,) and whose owners are invested in the horological community. These brands design their own watches and handle all of the typical after-sale services that follow the sale of a timepiece, as well as collaborate with one another and partake in the few independent watch fairs that currently exist. (By the way, we need more of those!)

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At Last, a Conclusion


By way of writing this article, I wanted to tell you about a new kind of business we sorely needed in the micro and independent watch world. As Extropian exists not to tell you what to buy but only to inform you—by sharing information on brands and watches. And whenever it is applicable, Extropian links to written or video reviews created by third-party journalists and content creators. In other words, their goal is to inform the customer and support independent brands that do not exist within the realm of luxury horology. At the end of the day, Extropian collects and shares information about MIW brands so that we consumers can be more up-to-speed as to what is new and what X amount of money can give us. 


I highly suggest you check out Extropian’s website to learn more about it.


Thanks for reading. 

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