“Designed in California, Made in Switzerland” is Xetum’s motto. With the Tyndall, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” meets Eighties Swiss pop band Yello’s “Oh Yeah” – and what you get is California chic wed to überlegen Swiss tradition, giving us one precocious love child.
Last year ago we introduced Xetum to our readers and later we showed you many photos of our favorite Xetum model, the Tyndall, in our Weekly Watch Photo. Today we’re pleased to share our thoughts on the Tyndall after we got to wear it.
No alfalfa or bean sprouts here, think Ghirardelli square; but Xetum does embody a Berkeley-esque environmental consciousness, which is rare for a watch company. Xetum (pronounced ZEH-tum) has emerged from typical boutique obscurity as a mainstream, internet watch brand, and they have done so with style, offering the mid-priced market a quality timepiece.
Why is Monochrome reviewing a mid-priced watch? The Xetum Tyndall is an original.
Many smaller companies make watch-clones with catalogue cases and budget movements, but San Francisco-based Xetum stands alone in design, quality and appeal. Xetum is a one-of-a-kind company, and the Tyndall, named after SF Tyndall park, is without comparison.
Just as Calvin Klein made minimalism the style in fashion, so Jeff Kuo, Xetum’s founder, has designed a watch with a minimalist appeal. Less is more. Simple geometric shapes and symmetrical lines provide a crisp appearance. Instead of a bold braggadocio of a watch, the Tyndall offers an understated personality, which incorporates pocket watch cues such as the recessed subsidiary seconds dial with modern styling.
For me, this watch wears best as a dress watch. I tried wearing the watch with shorts and a T-shirt, but the watch felt more at home with business casual or a coat and tie. Does that say more about me or the watch? In particular, the Tyndall is a sharp accoutrement that completes the wing tips, power tie and cuff links look with what the Louisiana French call lagniappe, a little something extra. This watch pairs well with the boardroom and for only $1495 would doubtless be a Warren Buffet favorite.
This watch speaks through its dial, and everything it has to say is immediately accessible. Are you going to wear another watch for a day or a bit longer? No problem. The Tyndall has a 42-hour power reserve. There is an AR coated sapphire crystal on the front, but the display back has a mineral crystal. What you see is what you get.
One feature that is not immediately apparent is the company’s green commitment, symbolized by the green hexagon underneath the 12. From the organically tanned leather strap, to the rubberwood box, to the ecologically friendly carton made of Forest Stewardship Council certified Rainbow 70 paper, to other initiatives, Xetum is a green company and one that other companies, regardless of industry, would do well to emulate. The California roots are showing nicely.
Customer service is another hidden feature. Whether you buy a Tyndall or the lower priced Stinson model, Xetum is responsive to its customers.
The dial’s symmetry expresses itself in a quaternity of, going clockwise, company logo, date, small seconds dial, and automatic designation. The upper quadrant displays the company’s brand symbol, a green hexagon, with the name “Xetum” running down vertically to the subsidiary seconds dial, creating a vertical axis that intersects with the horizontal axis of the word “automatic” on the left and the date window on the right. The hand’s cannon pinion rests at the center of that intersection. Two circumferential rings surround this inner area. The inner dial marks the PM hours in 24-hour military time with smaller Arabic numerals, while the outer dial marks the AM hours with larger numerals. The minute hand lines up perfectly with the hash marks on the outer dial, and the hour hand lines up perfectly with the hash marks on the inner dial. This watch has some serious feng shui.
The dial is available in black or off-white as with the model that I had. At the bottom under the 6, the dial has the official “Swiss” designation. The hands are white outlined with black, and their contrast with the cream dial makes for instant recognition. The black numerals on the white date wheel are very close to the font size of the 24hr inner ring, maintaining a consistent circle, but for legibility, I would have preferred a larger font, closer to the size of the outer circle. Another feature that reinforces the quadrants on the dial are the oversized hour numbers at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock, and like the hands, these oversized numerals are white outlined in black. At night, the lume on the hands and these four numbers make telling time reliable. Day or night, searching the dial to tell the time is never the issue.
The strength of the Tyndall is in its clean design, which we might credit to some illustrious art school graduate, but instead comes from a management consultant who taught himself how to use a CAD program because he could not draw. What Jeff Kuo lacked in artistic credentials, he more than surpassed with vision. His drive has made Xetum a reality.
The round lugless case immediately separates the watch from the herd. Two raised lines sandwich the barrel of the case and provide the perfect touch of personality. At 40mm wide and 11mm thick, the case has a conservative size, but still makes its presence known. On the back, the movement is visible through a rectangular window with two rounded sides. “Xetum” and “Swiss Made” adorn the top of the case back, confirming the watch’s pedigree.
I have a love/hate relationship with the crown. Let’s start with the love. The aesthetic appeal of the crown is an artistic achievement that balances the watch while simultaneously embodying the overall design. The crown’s hexagonal shape matches the company’s green hexagon, which is also featured on the dial. Tying the crown to the case, it shares the same sandwich lines on its edges that also run along the case’s circumference, and the crown’s proportion is spot-on. It sits between the case’s lines and sits closer to the lower line. The crown looks good and balances the watch perfectly, preventing comparisons of the lugless case with a hockey puck. If I only had to look at the crown, then all I would have is love.
Unfortunately, I also have to unscrew it and wind it. This is when it becomes apparent that art has triumphed over function because the crown lacks ergonomic friendliness. The lines on the edges become slick runways for the finger or thumb to travel only to scrape the hexagon’s hard angular point upon liftoff. After hearing women complain about the discomfort of wearing high heels while simultaneously praising how good they look in them, I feel the same way about the Tyndall’s crown. It looks good, but it is murder on the forefinger and thumb. Its redeeming feature is that the crown turns effortlessly without a trace of friction, so little effort is required.
The leather strap may be my favorite thing about the watch, and instead of a jab at the watch, my comment is an acknowledgement, that yes, the strap is that good. The watch has a steel bracelet alternative that I wore for a few days, but I quickly returned to the leather strap. To my mind, concerning the look of the watch, the strap is the only option. In step with the company’s green commitment, they tan the leather strap using a vegetable-based tanning process, which gives the strap a rubbery feel that I love. There is no problem with length. The accent of white stitching keeps it from hiding in obscurity and adds yet another attention to detail. The thickness of the strap is substantial, and the cork lining adds a softness and breathability that makes me want a Xetum strap for all my watches.
The deep etching of the company name adorns the locking buckle of the deployment clasp. An important detail of the clasp is that the release buttons sit recessed almost under the strap, keeping them accessible, but preventing them from binding into the arm. This is one comfortable strap.
Xetum uses an ETA 2895-2 to power the off-center small seconds hand and thereby adds some quality. The strong etchings on the case match the company name on the rotor, which appears in eye-catching blue. The rotor’s responsiveness is without hesitation, and it rotates in a circle like a skater glides across the ice. At the rotor’s bottom edge are decorative gear teeth, and the movement’s elaboree finish is superlative, providing a silvery sheen. I especially like the 2895-2 identifying ribbed circle at the rotor’s center.
Some Questions for Jeff Kuo
Intelligent, articulate, but above all passionate, Jeff Kuo has been able to do what others only dream about: start his own watch company from scratch.
Would you please share something of your journey from a passionate watch aficionado to the founder of a new watch company?
I began designing watches because I was a watch enthusiast who was unable to find a watch with the combination of aesthetics, sizing, Swiss mechanical movements and pricing that I was looking for. When shopping for a watch, nearly everything distinctive that I found was either too big, too flamboyant or too expensive (and often all three). Many other watch enthusiasts that I knew shared these same concerns. So I started working on designs, going to Switzerland and developing the collection. I had to teach myself CAD in order to do the first designs (which was a challenge, since I come from a business and not a design background). But I think that going through the process of designing myself was necessary, as opposed to hiring a designer. I went through hundreds if not thousands of iterations in the early stages to get the proportions and feel how I wanted them to be, and the only way to do this was by working on the designs directly. From there, the designs became polymer prototypes, then prototypes built in actual materials, and finally in late 2009 the Tyndall and Stinson collections were ready to be introduced, after more than a year and a half in the making. At each stage, I received a great deal of helpful input from enthusiasts and experts. I’m very grateful for the constructive feedback received throughout the design process as they have helped make the collection what it is today.
What is the watch scene, the environment, the ethos of a watch company in San Francisco? Why San Francisco?
I have lived in the San Francisco bay area for more than 30 years, so San Francisco has had a profound influence on my design aesthetic & values. There is a strong appreciation in San Francisco for independent and artisan brands in many areas ranging from fashion to cuisine to design. I believe that Xetum has a deep appeal to discerning customers looking for a mechanical watch that is independent and not something that everyone else has one their wrist. Another San Francisco characteristic is how international the city is. When designing our watches, I have tried to use a modern design style that has a broad appeal to watch enthusiasts from around the world. I’ve heard from customers in a range of different countries saying how they think our style fits very well with the design aesthetic where they are. It feels great to get this feedback from a diverse audience and we plan to continue designing in a modern & internationally appealing style. Environmental responsibility is also an important value for me, having grown up in California. We try to make environmentally conscious choices in our production and company operations such as using naturally tanned watch straps with cork linings, making our solid wood boxes of eco-friendly rubberwood and supporting re-forestation initiatives.
Being a new company, Xetum has found success in a very competitive marketplace. Why do you think consumers have responded to the Tyndall?
Most of our customers are first drawn to the distinctive, yet understated style of the Tyndall. Even just a few months after the launch of the company, I heard of people who saw a Xetum on someone’s wrist and recognized it as a Xetum. The lugless case has a unique and recognizable look without being too over-the-top. I think there is also a strong demand for a mid-sized watch with a distinctive look & I expect that there will be increasing demand in the ~40mm case size range in the upcoming years.
The Verdict: Pros and Cons
- The overall concept of the watch creates a new chapter for American watch design.
- The lugless case contributes to the watch’s uniqueness.
- The leather/cork strap is my favorite.
- The dial speaks volumes.
- The crown looks exquisite.
- Though not a bargain, the price is more then fair.
- The case size is only 40mm. For many the size will be a positive, and this watch has a reasonable size, but I prefer 42mm and bigger. The reserved sizing only confirms my judgment of the Tyndall best used as a dress watch.
- Not really a con, but more of a preference, I would like a bigger date window.
- The crown is tactile torture. Maybe it could have some rounded edges or a coin edge to prevent fingers slipping.
- For the money, I would like a sapphire crystal on the back.
The Tyndall is a unique watch, a celebration of creativity and design, which stands as a David in the midst of many Goliaths, and against the odds, Xetum is still standing. Why? It is a great mid-priced watch. Given its quality and fifteen hundred dollar price point, the Tyndall is an excellent value. For the money, you are getting a snazzy timepiece that can run with the big dogs, but the Tyndall does not try to be more than it is.
In this tale of two countries, the Swiss identity is very important to Xetum, and the consumer readily identifies quality with Swiss production, but the U.S. roots are equally important to me, and I suspect to others. No longer is true American watchmaking limited to RGM or Kobold, because a new icon has emerged. The United States shares Xetum with Switzerland, but know that we Yanks sure are proud.
You can find more about the Xetum Tyndall and Stinson (with central seconds hand) on the Xetum website. That’s also the place where you can order a Xetum watch.
- Swiss-made ETA 2895-2 elaboree-grade automatic movement with 27 jewels
- Hour, minute, small subsidiary seconds, and date
- 28,800 vibrations per hour
- 42 hour power reserve
- 316L stainless steel case
- Screw down crown
- 40mm diameter x 11mm thickness
- 10 ATM (100 meters) water resistant
Dial and hands
- Black or off-white dial
- Recessed small second subdial
- Super-LumiNova on 12, 3, 6, 9 hour indexes and hour/minute hands
- Sapphire front crystal with anti-reflective coating on interior of crystal
- K1 hardened mineral crystal on exhibition back
Strap and buckle
- Naturally tanned leather strap with inner lining of Italian cork
- Pushbutton-release stainless steel butterfly clasp with engraved Xetum logo
- Watch strap attached with 20mm springbar