What’s the best way to create a watch that customers want? Well, why not ask them which design elements and specifications are most appealing? Pinion, a rising microbrand based in London, posted an online survey on its website in September 2018 and applied the feedback to its latest tool watch, the Atom 39. This is a follow-up to the original Atom from 2017, which featured a 41mm diameter case, black dial and Japanese Miyota 9015 automatic. The new Atom 39 reduces the size to 39mm, offers a white dial variant and upgrades the movement to a Swiss ETA automatic, all based on public feedback.
The watch is a clean, no-nonsense tool watch that represents an entry point to the brand’s portfolio, but it’s certainly not a “little brother” looking up to the rest. Nothing was sacrificed this time around to hit a specific price point and the military-inspired aesthetic (coupled with public feedback) should appeal to a wide audience. Let’s take a closer look.
With the exploding popularity of watches over 40mm in diameter (at least according to current sales), Pinion’s survey showed that 64% of over 250 respondents wanted a case smaller than the original Atom’s 41mm with the majority choosing 39mm. 53% wanted a lighter colour option for the dial (the original Atom only came in black) and 55% wanted the original’s date display to remain, with 30% requesting it be moved from 6 to 3 o’clock. These results directly contributed to the Atom 39 design – democracy in action! It’s not quite an à la carte offering like that from Hong Kong-based microbrand, UNDONE (with the Basecamp and Aqua diver as examples), but it was still an awesome invitation to potential customers to have such an influence on a new watch’s development.
Pinion was founded by Piers Berry in London in 2013, whom we interviewed recently (click here for the interview with Piers). A professional graphic designer by trade, he left the digital agency that he had co-founded with friends after working with Bremont in 2012 to help produce the ALT1TUDE SE. Limited to 30 pieces, the watch sold out within 24 hours after Piers was in charge of promoting, retailing and engaging with the customers via the Bremont forum. The experience solidified his ongoing passion for both mechanical watches and watch design, and he formed Pinion the following year.
Defined as “a gear with a small number of teeth designed to mesh with a larger wheel or rack”, the brand’s logo is an 8-toothed pinion (after watch movements, think rack and pinion steering on a car). His first watches, the Axis collection, were a trio of automatics inspired by the World War II era. Several more watches would join his portfolio before the first Atom was introduced in 2017, an entry-level piece with a Miyota movement priced under GBP 800. The design and price proved popular enough to sell out within months. The sequel maintains the entry-level position (with a bit of a price increase) but makes several improvements to both design and specs, thanks in large part to the enthusiast community.
Case and design
The Atom 39 has a bead-blasted 316L stainless steel case at 39mm in diameter and 11mm in height (the original was 41mm x 11mm). Lug to lug is 48mm. The watch is all dial, however, and wears a bit larger than the 39mm diameter suggests.
The solid steel caseback has a matching matte finish with an engraving of Pinion’s logo surrounded by the outline of an atom. The straightforward military aesthetic reminds me of Hamilton’s 2019 Khaki Field Mechanicals, but with a more upscale presence. The integrated lugs slope downward for a comfortable fit on the wrist and a stepped bezel adds some flair to the design. The darker, blasted, metallic finish combined with a sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating results in virtually no reflections or glares. A military/tool watch to be sure.
The crown is oversized, making it easy to wind manually if needed and set the time, and is stamped at the end with Pinion’s logo. It doesn’t screw down, but the case is water-resistant to 100 metres courtesy of double O-rings.
Dial and hands
As mentioned earlier, there is now a white dial option (along with black), which is the version I have on hand. The white dial has a railroad watch vibe that I prefer over the more common black variant, but both are utilitarian and to the point. A few creative design elements keep my version interesting and anything but generic.
For starters, there are eleven printed Arabic numerals with 12, 6 and 9 significantly larger and bolder than the rest. Those are printed in black, while the smaller numerals are blue. A dark grey minute track spans the outermost perimeter with green markers every five minutes, and green spots of Super-LumiNova outlined in black sit just below. A date window sits at 3 o’clock, outlined in the same green as the five-minute marks with a black rectangular marker to its right.
Pinion and its logo are printed in blue at the top, with ATOM in grey at the bottom. Twelve grey dashes form a circle just inside of the hour numerals – subtle, but cool. The hour and minute hands are coated brass and match the case, with Super-LumiNova inserts. The black central seconds hand has a small insert of lume near the tip. The interesting colour palette remains surprisingly low-key compared to a brand like Farer that’s known for its creative use of colour.
Replacing the original’s Miyota 9015 is an ETA 2824-2 Elaboré grade automatic with 25 jewels, 28,800vph (4Hz) and a 38-hour power reserve. Functions include central hours, minutes, hacking seconds and quick-set date. This Swiss workhorse was introduced in 1982 and is perhaps the best known of all ETA movements. The aforementioned Farer uses it for its Aqua Compressor line (non-date version) and it’s common with both small and well-established brands. The ETA brings Swiss quality and status to the new Atom, but also increase the price.
The Atom 39 is fitted with a vintage-inspired 20mm black leather strap with a bead-blasted steel pin buckle. Cream stitching is seen just under the lugs and it’s a handsome, straightforward strap that perfectly matches the theme of the watch. It’s not padded, but also not too thin or flimsy and was comfortable and supple out of the box. A matching strap in brown is also available.
I was a fan of the original Atom (and very limited, non-date Atom ND) and find the new Atom 39 even more appealing in both design and specs. It’s a no-nonsense, utilitarian watch, but one with a surprising amount of design flourishes. The bead blasting, stepped bezel and oversized crown keep the case interesting, while the dial is subtly awash in colour – black, green, blue and grey. The colour palette isn’t nearly as conspicuous as watches from Farer or Martenero, but it enhances what could’ve been a monochromatic and spiritless effort. This tool watch has a deceptive sophistication and I applaud Pinion for really focusing on details while remaining restrained. A balance like that is hard to pull off and Pinion really nailed it. The watches are finished, assembled and tested in England with components from both Switzerland and Germany.
The Atom 39 retails for GBP 1,150 and is available with a white or black dial, and still represents the most affordable of Pinion’s current portfolio. All watches come with a two-year warranty and a 28-day return window. Either variant can be purchased at Pinion’s online store and more information is available at their website.