The popularity of microbrands is rapidly spreading and unique mechanical watches are being sold at cut-throat prices. An interesting piece can be had for well under USD 500, but odds are you’ll be getting a Chinese movement and parts that are far removed from Switzerland. That doesn’t mean that many of these watches are bad products, but from both a reliability and collector’s standpoint, they’re often considered a lower tier. UNDONE is a popular microbrand that stands out from the crowd with its customisation options. Colours, cases, dials, hands, straps and even materials can be individually chosen to create a unique timepiece just for you, all for under USD 500. Many of its watches are attractive chronographs – equipped with quartz movements instead of mechanical ones. Their Aqua series of dive watches, however, have proven Seiko automatics inside and are an excellent value proposition for budding enthusiasts or active divers. Dive watches are among my favourite styles and the level of customisation offered by UNDONE is almost overwhelming. Standard editions are also available if you’re happy with their selection of pre-built models. I have their pre-built Aqua Silver-Grey unit (with date) that I’ve been wearing for several weeks.
UNDONE was founded by Michael Young in 2014 with the goal of offering affordable, customisable watches without arbitrary markups. As Young puts it, “All top designer labels were once small, boutique in size.” He believes that luxury is all about products being tailor-made, not simply stamped with a brand’s logo. Major operations are based in Hong Kong and all assembly is carried out in-house. Research and development, and component manufacturing are also completed within the facility with relatively little being outsourced, such as movements and crystals. And while Hong Kong doesn’t sound as glamorous as Switzerland, Germany or France, the commitment to its products and in-house operations are appreciable.
UNDONE offers two distinct watch styles, the Urban/Mystique chronographs with quartz (hybrid) movements and the mechanical Aqua Divers. There are over a dozen standard, pre-built Aqua models to choose from, including military and collaborative styles, but full customisation allows for a seemingly unlimited amount of combinations. You can choose a polished stainless steel case or from a wide range of either PVD or Cerakote (polymer-ceramic) coatings. The bezel can either be glass or ceramic, there are over two dozen dial options with or without date, over 30 hand combinations and so on. The movement even allows for a white or black date display. My advice is to build several models and then choose your overall favourite, and don’t be in a rush. But for now, let’s take a closer look at this silver-grey Aqua diver.
Case and Design
The stainless steel case has a 45mm diameter and is 15mm in height, which is typical for a diver (if not a little thick) and wears smaller than the diameter suggests. The crown guard is so fortified that it literally takes up the entire right side of the case. The present unit has a polished finish on the sides and a brushed top with a subtle chamfer around the top edges.
The unidirectional rotating bezel (with a 15-minute detailed scale) is made from K1 glass with a full coating of Super-LumiNova on the underside, resembling a fluorescent tube when glowing in its bluish-green hue. It’s modern, cool and bright, and doesn’t take much to get it glowing. This solution is not only nice to look at but also efficient in diving conditions.
If there’s a downside to the case, it’s the weight. The Aqua is built like a tank and you feel that on your wrist. The screw-down crown isn’t knurled like the majority, but rather a smooth octagon that a socket wrench could be fitted to. It works with the masculine aesthetic. The caseback is brushed stainless steel and allows for a 300m depth rating. An exhibition caseback is also available but the depth rating drops to 200m. The crystal is sapphire with an anti-reflective coating and features a cyclops lens over the date – non-cyclops crystals are also an option. The overall look reminds me of a vintage atmospheric diving suit. It’s thick, heavy and industrial, and is just begging to be submerged in your favourite diving spot.
The heart of the Aqua isn’t a Chinese Seagull or the like, but a proven Seiko NH35A calibre automatic. It has 24 jewels, beats at 21,600vph (3Hz), has shock resistance for the balance staff, hacking seconds and a 40-hour power reserve. Functions include hours, minutes, central seconds and a date.
The 21,600vph frequency is common for Japanese movements (instead of 28,800vph), but the Seiko NH35A is reliable, serviceable and relatively inexpensive for microbrands to keep overall costs competitive. Accuracy falls within 20 to 40 seconds per day, but I found my unit to run about 18 seconds fast per day. With the exhibition caseback, the movement is undecorated but again fits the industrial aesthetic.
Dials and Hands
The dial on my Aqua is matte grey with white indices and numerals (12, 6 and 9) filled with Super-LumiNova. The outer band of white seconds indices does not have lume. A host of dial combinations can be chosen, with different lume colours, date or no date, with or without numerals, etc. The hour and minute hands are of the Mercedes style (similar to a Rolex Sub) and plongeur hands are also available (You can read more about the most common watch hands in our Hands of Time article).
The hours and minutes hands have Super-LumiNova, but not the central seconds hand. Everything glows in the same bluish green, but different dials and bezels with various lume colours can be chosen. As I said before, the possibilities are endless.
The strap on mine is a calf-orange Italian leather with cream stitching. It has a brushed stainless steel buckle with UNDONE’s name and logo stamped. The lug width is 22mm and the strap has quick release levers that are always appreciated.
As is the theme with this watch, multiple straps are available. You can get Cordura fabric, Chromexcel leather, suede and rubber, and most third-party straps can be fitted as well. Surprisingly, UNDONE doesn’t have a steel bracelet option. For most divers, the rubber or Cordura straps will probably work best.
I recently reviewed the Farer Endeavour dive watch from another young brand that builds their watches in Switzerland with high-grade ETA movements. UNDONE falls somewhere between Farer and microbrands like Mercer Watch Co. that use Chinese Seagull movements. I think the best middle ground for microbrands is to go with Japanese movements from Seiko or Miyota, which are proven workhorses, inexpensive and readily available. UNDONE hits this middle ground well with Seiko calibres and affordable prices. You won’t mistake an UNDONE Aqua for an Omega or TAG Heuer, but the fit and finish is impressive for the price, customisation is endless and buyers are likely to get decades of reliable usage from one.
The Aqua dive watches start at USD 475 and can climb to USD 605 depending on the configuration. Those are fair prices for what you’re getting, especially considering the breadth of customisation. You can find a pre-built model or design your own at UNDONE’s website. They offer a one-year warranty on movements and 14-day return window.