Hands-On: The 02SERIES Field Watches from Studio Underd0g Avoid the Sophomore Slump

As hard as it is to create a certifiable hit watch in the cutthroat independent watch space, it’s perhaps even more difficult to deliver on a follow up. The sophomore slump is a real concern, and I imagine many indie darlings have thought long and hard about how to make good on the promise of an exciting, popular debut. 

Studio Underd0g burst onto the scene a few years ago with colorful chronographs that conjured a surprising variety of culinary delights. Everything from pizza, to blueberries, to their iconic watermelon chronograph, pleasing watch enthusiasts with designs that are pure fun. They’re also quite unapologetically transgressive, and part of the exciting thing about Studio Underd0g is the idea that we’re seeing a brand that exists at an affordable price point write their own rule book. It’s a sensibility that is more attuned with streetwear, or contemporary art, than old-school watchmaking. 


Hands-On: The 02SERIES Field Watches from Studio Underd0g Avoid the Sophomore Slump

Stainless steel
Sellita Manual Winding SW210-1
Multi layer full lume/sapphire
Water Resistance
100 meters
37 x 46mm
Lug Width

So the question really becomes: where do you go artistically after an initial success that’s objectively kind of weird? Thinking it through, a brand like Studio Underd0g has two options. They can double down, get stranger, and really lean hard into the aesthetic they established with the fruity chronographs. Or they can strip things back, make something simpler that still has their DNA all over it (because, how could it not?). 

This is a question that has plagued creatives forever. And Studio Underd0g has framed the release of their new 02SERIES field watches as a “second album,” so I’ve been wracking my brain looking for parallels in the music world. For a brand that has the touch of a real artist behind it, the obvious comparison point to me is perhaps the most important Art Rock band of them all, the Velvet Underground. Their debut, The Velvet Underground and Nico, was a co production with none other than Andy Warhol, and has a freewheeling, acid-dipped sound that is also undeniably beautiful, particularly with the addition Nico’s evocative vocals. If ever there was a record that was like hearing color, it was this one. It’s a Watermelon chronograph for sure. 

The Velvet Underground’s follow up, White Light/White Heat, is a very different thing. It’s scaled back considerably in scope but is still deeply intentional thematically. On the surface, it’s a collection of stripped down, guitar driven rock music. But if you look closer you begin to see Lou Reed and John Cale playing with the form of the traditional rock song in meaningful ways. It’s apparent in the “The Gift,” which is largely a spoken word piece, and “Sister Ray,” the colossal closing track that Reed would later say gave birth to heavy metal (debatable, but not totally out of line). The production has a homemade quality, with layers of fuzz that make every instrument sound like you’re hearing them amplified through a potato. And of course the subject matter, always with the Velvet Underground, was transgressive and dangerous for its era, which is a big part of why the band famously didn’t really find its audience until after they dissolved. 

The field watch, the underlying subject of the 02SERIES, gets flipped inside out, twisted and pulled apart with these releases in the same way Lou Reed disguised his hymns to NYC street life with catchy melodies throughout his entire career. These watches aren’t as immediately artful as Studio Underd0g’s chronographs, but they’re every bit as intentional and perhaps even more thoughtful in their execution. 

We covered it in the intro to these watches prior to Windup NYC, but a quick refresher: the 02SERIES imagines that the brand has received an identical design brief as those charged with making field watches for the British Ministry of Defense in the World War II years. So we get a compact, water resistant (100 meters) watch that prizes wearability and ease of use with a reliable manually wound movement hidden behind a closed case back. We even have drilled lugs for easy strap changes. Studio Underd0g gets creative, though, with the dial, sticking as closely as they can to the original design brief while still giving us a taste of the brand’s quirkier sensibilities. 

On the surface level, especially compared to the chronographs, the 02SERIES is incredibly restrained. And I’ll be honest, at first, it felt a little disappointing. I’m someone who wants a big, brash debut album to be followed by an expansion of that sound, and something even bolder. Why not push the limit? This is the Radiohead arc, a band that starts with run of the mill Britpop when they drop Pablo Honey in 1993, but reach outer space by the time they get to Kid A in 2000.

But just as you always go a little deeper with music, you must do the same with watches. Looking beyond the surface reveals (literal) layers of complexity in the 02SERIES that will surely be rewarding to owners and, in the process, expand what it is that Studio Underd0g actually does in an exciting way. Because these are not just brightly lumed dials as you might have heard. They actually represent some real manufacturing ingenuity, and a level of creativity that goes beyond coming up with a new, dramatic colorway (but they’ve done that, too).

The dials in this series create an eye catching illusion of depth that rewards close inspection. This is achieved through a multi-layer dial construction, with the base layer being made entirely of luminescent material, and a top layer of sapphire with the branding, hour markers, and minute track printed on its surface. The effect is sort of a cousin of the famous “mystery dial” watches that were popular in the 1970s, which appeared to have hands magically floating across the dial’s surface. Here, everything floats. 

Studio Underd0g, in the leadup to this release, has really focused on the way the printed elements cast a shadow on the lower lumed layer of the dial. I think this will ultimately be an attribute of the watch that some collectors will really take to, but might annoy others, as it leads to a certain blurriness in some lighting conditions that doesn’t exactly lead to legibility problems, but is a little, I don’t know, disconcerting. It might make you think you need to get your eyes checked by a professional. If you’re shopping this watch as a true field watch, it’s something to keep in mind. But if your interest is in aesthetics (that’s certainly where I’m at) than there’s a lot to like here, and the 02SERIES is doing something that few other watches are attempting. 

Another design element that has caught a lot of attention is the pair of exposed screws on either side of the dial that hold the sapphire disc to the layer of lume. I’m a fan of this design choice for a few reasons. First, it accentuates the sense of depth, because the screws sit flush with the top of the sapphire disc. It gives you an additional physical element to mark those shadows against, and breaks up the texture, making the dial just a little bit more visually interesting. 


The other reason I like it is because it reinforces the idea that Studio Underd0g, in spite of making a watch that appears more reserved at first than their debut, have upped their watchmaking chops considerably. Because this isn’t just a visually striking dial design, it’s a new manufacturing technique that the brand has employed to achieve a specific artistic vision. Not to take anything away from the intricacy and attention to detail that went into the 01SERIES chronos, but this is a clear step up in terms of degree of difficulty, and those little screws serve as a reminder. 

Like the classic field watches the 02SERIES is based on, the case used for these watches is, almost by definition, not really the center of attention. It serves mainly as a vessel for the dials and the ideas contained within them. Measuring 37mm across and 12mm tall, it’s a compact and easy to wear size. I wouldn’t want the case to be some radical creation for this collection – simple definitely makes the most sense – but I do wonder if there’s a sketch somewhere at Studio Underd0g HQ of a more creative case design that they’re just not ready to swing for quite yet. Perhaps an eventual 03SERIES will see the brand shift some of the ingenuity we see here in the dial execution to the case work, but the brand is not quite there, and I think that’s completely fine.

Of course, this is Studio Underd0g, so there’s naturally going to be a focus on dial color. There are a total of four 02SERIES watches at launch, ranging from truly subdued to Watermelon Chrono level colorful. It will be a matter of personal preference when it comes to what you’re drawn to. The most sedate dial, by far, is the Midnight variant, which is the only example to not feature a lumed base layer. Instead, the base is black, and the printed elements on the top sapphire layer are lumed. You lose the “shadow” effect with this watch, but gain some dial clarity. Still, it’s not only the most straightforward of these four watches, but kind of straightforward in general. It’s the only watch that, on that surface level that we’re supposed to look beyond, feels like it could have been made by many other brands. 

Then you’ve got Full Mo0n and Steffany Blue, with the former using a cream colored base layer of lume, and the latter a shade of blue that is reminiscent of the incredibly popular shade associated with a major jeweler that has become so collectible these last few years. The Steffany is my personal favorite of the bunch, not just because I happen to like the color, but because it feels like Studio Underd0g founder and designer Richard Benc inserting some subtle commentary into the watch itself through its name. Giving your creations a name that forces an audience to think about them in a larger context is actually a very rock and roll thing to do. Returning to our earlier metaphor, you can look up what “White light, white heat” means easily enough. Suffice it to say, it’s not merely an evocative way to describe the sound of the record. 

Both of these variants glow an intense shade of blue when the dial is fully charged, lighting the printed numerals from behind. The same is true for what I imagine will be the star attraction of this 02SERIES release, the Pink Lem0nade, with it’s gradient dial that moves from yellow at 12:00 to pink at 6:00. This one is clearly the most reminiscent of the watches that got the brand so much attention initially, and it’s very cool and a lot of fun in person, but part of me thinks it’s almost unnecessary for this collection, which feels so much like it’s all about shifting the brand’s template a little. It’s the lead single of the follow up album that’s a big hit, gets licensed for prime time TV commercials, and gets played on the radio (remember the radio?) but is maybe not the best example of what the rest of the record is all about. 

The 02SERIES from Studio Underd0g was easily one of the most anticipated releases of the year in the small, affordable indie space that they occupy, and the reaction among enthusiasts and collectors at Windup in New York City recently appeared to be overwhelmingly positive. That’s heartening to see, because I think it means that the crowd these watches are aimed at already understands what I’ve been getting at in this review, which is that they represent a step forward for the brand that initially appears to be a step to the side, at best. It means that people are already doing the work of peeling back the layers of these watches and finding the rewarding pieces on their own, even before they’ve shipped. That’s a good thing, because there’s also a world where these watches are too easily dismissed, where fans just ask for more fruit themes with bright colors. It seems to me that Studio Underd0g has loftier ambitions than making that type of watch exclusively, and it’s fun to see them move toward those goals incrementally. Studio Underd0g

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.