Hands-On With The Upcoming Marin Instruments Skin-Diver

I don’t envy young brands looking to make their mark in the ~$1,000 dive watch category. Finding acceptance with a clean sheet design is no easy feat, and neither is producing a watch to a standard that can hold up amongst the titans of the genre. This hasn’t stopped a seemingly endless amount of upstart brands from trying, however, and for that, I am thankful, because every now and again one breaks through the noise. One design that made such an impression on me when I first saw it on Instagram, was the Marin Instruments Skin-Diver. I say design because these things can be an entirely different experience in the metal, which we’ll get to. But I want to first start with the concept of the Skin-Diver, and what might be the perfect jumping off point for a new brand looking to make their so-called mark. 

I love the idea of a skin-diver, which is to say, a more casual approach to the often hard-core, over-engineered dive watch. A dive watch that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s got the chops to dive recreationally, and the style to match. Read more about the concept of skin-divers right here, and you’ll appreciate the need for these kinds of watches within the budding culture of recreational, ie. no skin suit, style diving. Skin diving, if you will.

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Without the need for extreme depth ratings, helium release valves, and bracelet extension gizmos, skins-divers were free to be a bit more ergonomic and stylish in their approach. That often meant thinner cases, and some funky dial designs, giving us watches like the original Zodiac Sea Wolf 53 and Oris Divers Sixty-Five. It’s a great niche and ripe for modern interpretations that stand out in a crowded field of more traditional divers. And that’s exactly the route Marin Instruments has taken with their aptly named Skin-Diver. 

The Skin-Diver is a modestly sized diver with a bold yet simple nature to its design. It’s steel case measures 39mm in diameter and a scant 11.5mm in thickness, while the full lug to lug length stretches to 48mm. There’s not much in the way of finesse to the case or its finishing, with a brushed top surface and polished case wall and not much in between to differentiate the surfaces. No chamfers, twists or curvature in sight. This is a watch that appears to have been designed entirely around its top down view. 

This isn’t a problem save for two areas that create a compromise to wearability and usability. First, the case, when viewed from the side, is nearly entirely flat, meaning the lugs kind of hang out there on the wrist, which is rounded. This is of course entirely dependent on the size of your wrist, but on my 7.2” wrist, the edges of lugs had a tendency to become the focal point when viewing the watch. Overall, not a huge deal and I’d still call this a very comfortable watch, but a slight re-working of the case profile would go a long way here (see it compared to the Seiko SPB149 in the video above).

Second, the crown guard does not leave adequate space for easy crown manipulation. This was the bigger issue for me, as the height of the crown guards was nearly the same as that of the crown, leaving little surface area for the fingers to grab hold of. It’s worth noting, this is the first watch from a new brand, and the watches I was given access to were the first prototypes, leaving ample room for revisions to be made prior to full production. And hey, this is why you get prototypes made. 

The dial and bezel are the unequivocal stars of the show here, blending classic dive watch archetypes with a clean, modern aesthetic that features bold graphic components capturing a familiar theme in a refreshing manner. This largely comes down to one of the most important elements of any dive watch: the bezel. 

This is a simple bezel, with a matte black base that places Arabic numerals at each 10 minute increment, and a large two-piece cavity that spans from 0 to 15. Each of the demarcations are filled with lume, making for a dramatic appearance in the dark that upholds the core aesthetic. There is a Ming-like quality to the design of the bezel while still falling very much on the classic side of the fence vs the avant-garde side.

The dial itself sits, what feels like, nearly in contact with the underside of the crystal. A steeply raked chapter ring puts the dial front and center, making great visibility. The dial is fully matte with oversized hour markers and little to get in the way, which also helps. The white dial features matte black surrounds filled with lume, and a color matched date wheel at 3 o’clock. The black dial reverses the situation with white surrounds that give the hour markers a maxi-feel at a glance. With a triangle at 12 o’clock, blocks at 6 and 9 o’clock and circles in between, this layout feels very much in line with other divers, and offers a familiar sense of legibility. 

The blocks at 6 and 9 o’clock also get a small line pointing to the dial’s center, which feels a little superfluous but it helps distinguish them from the other hour markers. 

Labeling is sparse, and I’d call it a graphic designer’s master class in proper leading, kerning, and tracking. There’s plenty of space between everything (almost too much?) leaving a crisp and airy appearance. The depth rating, 200m – 660ft, is scripted, deviating from the blocky sans-serif type seen elsewhere.

The Skin-Diver ships on a rubber strap that flares around the lug to create a flush look with the case. This adds a bit of wrist presence without compromising the wearability, but it does accentuate the lug situation explained above. This look seems to be very much on trend at the moment, and this is the first application of such a rubber strap I’ve seen at this price point. If it’s not to your taste, the watch will also be offered with a single pass Maratac Zulu fabric unit that nearly overpowers the case of the watch. The 20mm lug span will allow any manner of strap to your preference. 

Inside, Marin Instruments is using a Sellita SW200-1, an increasingly popular option in this price range, that helps to keep both the dimensions and the price in check. The price, by the way, will be $895 at time of preorder and $1150 at full retail.

In total, the Skin-Diver is a unique experience thanks to the well considered dial and bezel design and execution, housed in a case that could use a bit of massaging. On the wrist, this is a fun and easy watch to get along with. How full production will shake out remains to be seen, though given the owner and designers penchant for the small details, I have high hopes for the final product. See the video above for more thoughts, including a comparison with the Serica 5303 and Seiko SPB149, both of which can be had for a similar price. Keep an eye out for more official timing of this release over the coming months. Marin Instruments.

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Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent the past decade covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seikos to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for classic cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.
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