UNDONE is a true case study in bespoke. A microbrand to be sure, but one that’s continuing to offer intriguing, customizable mechanical watches at affordable prices. We recently reviewed its Aqua dive watch and customization for that piece was pretty impressive. Multiple case finishes, bezels, over two dozen dial options, with or without date, over 30 hand combinations ensured that you could order exactly what you wanted, right down to the colour of the date disc on the movement. I walked away impressed. The story doesn’t end here, as there’s a new watch following this rather cool strategy. It is named the UNDONE Basecamp and here’s our review of this new watch.
The UNDONE Aqua was clearly a dive watch. The new Basecamp is a bit more versatile. It’s smaller and lighter for starters, and via customization options can act as a field watch or a diver, depending on the bezel (although I’ll touch on the latter further down). Regardless of options, it has a vintage military aesthetic that harkens back to the 1950s and brands like Rolex. This is the third line in UNDONE’s portfolio, following the Urban and Aqua collections, and it’s a unique offering that still maintains the brand’s identity. It’s also an excellent value proposition that sits somewhere between a Seiko 5 and Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical. Let’s take a closer look at UNDONE’s latest tool watch.
Founded in 2014 by Michael Young, this emerging brand is all about customization. Prebuilt models are available for each line, but digging in with the sizeable, itemized list of options allows for a piece as unique as you. Young was never impressed by brand labels, believing that true luxury involves a product being tailor-made, whether it’s a suit, piece of furniture or a timepiece. Young restored vintage Rolex watches prior to UNDONE, so he also knows a thing or two about luxury timepieces. The company is based in Hong Kong and, unlike the majority of microbrands, most of the operations are completed in-house. Research and development, component manufacturing and assembly are finished within the brand’s facility, leaving little more than the crystals and movements being outsourced. This commitment to in-house development and production is more in-line with brands from Switzerland and Europe, yet prices are surprisingly reasonable, especially with such a bespoke setup.
The two previous collections, the Urban/Mystique chronographs and Aqua divers, are very distinct. The former uses quartz (hybrid) movements, while the latter uses a proven Seiko NH35A automatic. The same Seiko calibre runs the UNDONE Basecamp and while customization options remain aplenty, like the new design itself, they’re toned down a bit. That may be a good thing as the Aqua diver’s options were almost overwhelming. Simplicity is the name of the game with the Basecamp and I think UNDONE found the perfect balance with its latest piece. The watch I have for review is almost exactly as I would’ve ordered, save for a couple of minor details. As I had recommended with the Aqua, don’t be in a rush when designing one online (and perhaps design several variants before committing).
Case and design
The 316L stainless steel case is a comfortable 40mm in diameter and 15mm in height. It’s certainly not ultra-thin but wears slimmer than the height suggests. This is down from the Aqua’s 43.5mm diameter and 16mm height, and the weight is reduced significantly (the Aqua was a hefty tank). The Basecamp is much better suited for daily wear and can go from the boardroom to the hiking trail to a night on the town without skipping a beat.
The reviewed piece has a polished steel case, although either a PVD-coated black or gold finish is also available. A nice chamfer also spans the top edges from lug to lug. The bidirectional bezel is a sterile black ring with a single triangular marker (with lume), although a standard graduated “diver’s” bezel is available as well (starting in May 2019). It rotates silently and smoothly without a ratcheting action and is both tight and precise. The case is rated at 50 metres of water-resistance, making it a questionable choice as a true diver’s watch, but rumour has it that UNDONE tests these to 100 metres and rates them conservatively. The signed screw-down crown, like the Aqua, is a smooth octagon and there isn’t a crown guard this time around.
The crystal has a tall, 3mm dome that contributes to the retro vibe, comprised of LEXAN Polycarbonate instead of sapphire (perhaps explaining the conservative water-resistance rating). What is LEXAN exactly? Well, it’s a polycarbonate thermoplastic found in headlamps and motorcycle helmets with 250 times the impact strength of glass. I do like the vintage look and feel, and the high arch creates cool distortions at angles, but I worry how it will hold up to pits and scratches over time.
The screw-down exhibition caseback is made from sapphire and shows off the Seiko automatic movement, and a personalized image can be printed on the underside of the crystal. Classy and understated, the Basecamp’s vintage-inspired case and domed crystal were two years in the making.
Dial and hands
There is currently only one combination of dial and hands, although customization options will be available in the coming weeks. What we currently have is a matte black dial with vintage tan/brown indices and large Arabic numerals printed at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. Tan Super-LumiNova covers the four numerals and main indices every five minutes, which glow in a bright green. You can also have your initials printed under 12 o’clock (up to three letters/numbers) with the choice of a few different fonts.
The hour hand is a large orange triangle the company proudly admits is inspired by the Rolex Explorer II. It seems fitting given Young’s background with Rolex. There is lume inside the triangle and the minute hand, and the white lollipop seconds hand has a spot of lume in its circle. A date window sits diagonally between 4 and 5 o’clock, and there’s a choice of either a black or white date disc.
The aforementioned Seiko NH35A automatic runs the show and is UNDONE’s only automatic calibre, also powering the Aqua series. It has 24 jewels, beats at 21,600vph (3Hz) with a 40-hour power reserve. It includes shock-resistance for the balance and functions include central hours, minutes, hacking seconds and date. This well-proven workhorse is reliable, easily serviced and an affordable alternative to off-the-shelf Swiss movements.
Its rated accuracy is within 20 to 40 seconds per day, although my watch averaged only 15 seconds fast per day over a two week period. It’s certainly not a chronometer, but more than accurate enough for most wearers and generally comparable to a standard grade ETA automatic (accurate to within 30 seconds per day).
My piece is fitted with a 20mm Cordura olive green NATO strap with a matte steel buckle and loops, and orange and black are also available specifically for the Basecamp. If there’s one thing I don’t like about the watch, it’s this strap – but to be fair with UNDONE, I don’t like NATO straps in general… However, this strap does fit the overall aesthetic well and is water/corrosion-resistant and easily removed. UNDONE has a wide variety of 20mm straps available with dozens to choose from when ordering, so this is really a non-issue.
I’ve been fortunate enough to wear watches from all three of UNDONE’s collections and the new Basecamp is definitely my favourite. I really enjoyed reviewing the Aqua diver, but it was a heavy, purposeful beast that favoured serious water adventures over daily wear. This one is an excellent everyday piece with a cool, vintage style and easy 40mm diameter. Notwithstanding my concerns about long-term durability, the high-domed LEXAN Polycarbonate crystal is awesome in person and complements the tool-ish military vibe perfectly. There are design cues from Rolex and Blancpain (the unmarked bezel mimics a vintage Fifty Fathoms for combat divers), but these are simple nods and not shameless copies. The Basecamp is its own unique piece and a cool, affordable addition to UNDONE’s lineup.
The UNDONE Basecamp starts at only USD 295 and adding initials to the dial or an image to the rear sapphire glass adds USD 20 for each. That’s a real value proposition for such a customizable piece with a proven Seiko automatic and unique high-domed crystal, and the build quality is great for the price. The Basecamp ships worldwide for free within 7-10 business days, comes with a one-year warranty and has a 14-day return window. For more information and to place an order, visit www.undone.com/hk.