Umbra is Latin for “shadow” and, of course, a direct reference to the source of inspiration of this watch. Unlike the original Gnomon (the brand’s first project), which had a single hand conventionally rotate around the dial, the Umbra has a static hand with a rotating time disc, more reminiscent of an actual sundial. The design of the Solar Lab Co. Umbra is interesting, unconventional and affordable. It’s a modern take on the ancient concept, works surprisingly well, and is now live on Kickstarter.
Solar Lab Co. is a microbrand based in Toronto, Canada that focuses on the earliest horological concept known to man – the sundial. Its first project, the Gnomon watch, was a single hand, sundial-inspired piece with a Miyota 8215 Automatic and was successfully funded on Kickstarter in 2017. The company is back in 2019 with its second single-hand watch, the Umbra, again inspired by a Roman sundial.
Single-hand watches are nothing new, with brands like MeisterSinger specializing in the format. The rotating disc is unique, however, and helps separate the Umbra from more established designs. Looking at the dial, only the top two-thirds of the disc are visible, which was a deliberate design element as sundials are only functional from dawn to dusk (leaving a “blank” space at night). The disc rotates clockwise, which is actually backwards from what would be expected with this setup, but it’s just a matter of acclimatizing to the format.
Roman numerals and an inner minute track are printed on the time disc, with the numerals representing the hours, index markers between them representing half hours, and the index markers on the inner track representing 15-minute increments. A faux minute track surrounds the outermost perimeter of the dial (the single hand never rotates) but adds to the overall aesthetic. The hand itself is shaped like a traditional sundial piece with a triangular base stretching to a narrow point. The time is set by the crown, which simply rotates the disc to the proper position. There isn’t a date or other complications, so you’ll have to scrawl your calendar in the sand like our distant ancestors.
The 316L stainless steel case is 43mm in diameter and 11mm in height, and comes in three colours – silver, black and rose gold. This was a deliberate colour palette as those colours resemble materials used in ancient artisanal crafts and sculptures, including marble, granite, copper and alabaster. Alabaster and marble were primarily used for statues and sculptures, copper was the first metal used in artisanal work and black granite was a symbol of style and power in both construction and decoration. Turn the watch over and you’ll find engraved zodiac signs on the outer steel perimeter with a tinted mineral glass exhibition window to match the case colour. Under the glass is a Miyota 8215 automatic with 21 jewels, 21,600vph (3Hz) and a 40-hour power reserve. First developed in 1977, it’s a readily available, reliable workhorse. Both crystals are mineral glass with the front being domed and the case is water-resistant to 50 metres.
The 20mm leather straps (narrowing to 18mm) are made in Chicago by the Horween tannery and come in three colours – coffee for the silver case, dark chocolate for the gold case, and black for the black case. Based on customer feedback, Horween was chosen over the Vintage Italian leather straps from the Gnomon series and the brand is confident they’ll be even more comfortable and durable. Kickstarter prices start at EUR 239 for Super Early Bird buyers (for any model), Early Bird buyers get the silver model for EUR 255, the black model for EUR 260 and the rose gold model for EUR 265. Multiple watches can be purchased at a Kickstarter discount as well. For more information, visit the Solar Lab Co. Kickstarter page.