Hands-On: the Foliot Scubanaut Collection

Anyone who has been in the watch world long enough knows how hard it is to be surprised. New releases often feel like a revolving door of familiar brands tweaking existing models. Maybe that means a blue Pelagos FXD instead of a black one, or adding a piece of flair such as Kermit the frog to a date wheel without changing any complications. Iterations such as new dial colors and puppets on wheels make for temporary amusement, but fall short of evoking genuine surprise from enthusiasts who are no stranger to seeing their favorite childhood characters adorning their wrists.

When bombshells from the big brand fizzle out, I often turn to the microbrand space in my quest for a bit of shock. I foster a special affinity for microbrands and applaud any brand that dares to enter a crowded arena to contribute something new. But even in a constantly shifting microbrand landscape, things can be predictable. Slimmer versions of existing dive watches and fan favorite brands jumping on the integrated bracelet bandwagon can start to feel a bit formulaic.

But in a rare occurrence, I had the opportunity for surprise by spending time with two travel watches from Foliot, a brand not previously on my radar. And, spoiler alert, one of these watches actually did manage to scratch that awe inspiring itch. Fighting the urge to research brand history and sleuth for fellow enthusiast’s opinions on the forums before the mail truck arrived, I decided to go in blind with this review. Afterall, how often do you get to experience a watch and form opinions without any influence? 


Hands-On: the Foliot Scubanaut Collection

Stainless steel
Miyota 9075
Blue, white, black
Steel bracelet
Water Resistance
200 meters
41 x 48mm
Lug Width
Screw down

After unboxing and some initial head scratching at the logic behind a three handed Miyota 9075 powered watch, I would later learn that Foliot is a relatively new microbrand based in NYC, founded by software engineer Izzy Alsafa to celebrate his love for horology and travel. Had I read the “About Us” section of their website first, I’d have been greeted by photos of Izzy scuba diving and at the controls in a cockpit, fitting for the two Miyota 9075 powered watches equipped with timing bezels now in my possession. 

Not Just Another GMT

There have been a lot of automatic GMTs in the sub $1000 range released recently. Shortly after Seiko shocked us all with the NH34, Miyota followed suit with the 9075, upping the ante with an independently adjustable 12 hour hand. With two new affordable movements available at previously assumed impossibly low prices, the flood of GMTs from brands both big and small was inevitable. But entering the second year of these releases, I’m suffering from GMT fatigue. Maybe this is cynical of me, but my first thought when I hear of a new GMT is: Why? Now that we’ve proven affordable automatic GMTs are a new reality, how will this one differentiate itself other than the name on the dial? 

I quickly learned the ‘why’ of Foliot’s adventure inspired offerings lies within their practical yet creative use of the Miyota 9075. But the specs are pretty darn impressive too, so let’s take a quick look at those. The two watches on my desk were the Scubanaut 200 White (it also comes in black) and the Scubanaut World Diver. On both watches you’ll find all the bells and whistles that have become the microbrand industry standard including sapphire crystals with anti reflective coating, 200 meters of water resistance enabled by screw down crowns, C3 Swiss Super-LumiNova, and ceramic bezel inserts.

Let’s start with my favorite of the two, the Scubanaut 200. At first glance, it looks and wears like any other dive watch. It has a clutter free dial, three hands and a timing bezel.  If you pull the crown all the way out, it will hack the second hand and allow you to set hours and minutes simultaneously, just like any other three handed watch. But pushing the crown in one position transforms this otherwise normal dive watch into the perfect travel companion by activating an independently adjustable hour hand.

While not the most common feature, the use of a jumping hour function on non-GMT watches (the Scubanaut 200 cannot track a second time zone) has long been enjoyed by travelers seeking the practical ease of adjusting time in hour increments without sacrificing accuracy. Ming has offered a jumping hour on watches such as their 17.09, made possible by a modified Sellita SW330-2, and the Omega Globemaster achieves the same feat with a Co-Axial Master Chronometer movement. With the Miyota 9075, this feature now has a considerably lower price of entry, and I expect we will continue to see more of it moving forward. Sure, the 9075 doesn’t come with chronometer accuracy, but Foliot does regulate their movements in-house, providing a bit more incentive to adjust hours while the second hand keeps ticking away.

While I’m partial to the simple layout of the Scubanaut 200, the Scubanaut World Diver presents a true GMT for travelers looking to squeeze the most possible functionality out of a 41mm watch. In addition to the timing bezel (with elapsed and countdown timing), the World Diver comes equipped with a date at the 6:00 position that is integrated seamlessly into the 24 hour track. It also has what Foliot refers to as a “mirror hand”, a double sided GMT hand that offers the benefit of tracking an additional time zone with the GMT hand, providing an exact 12 hour difference between the two time zones.

Though both watches offer a unique take on the traveler’s watch, they share a notable commonality by answering the age-old question of how many watches to take on vacation. With Foliot, the answer is: one. Aside from the obvious benefits of a jumping hour hand when changing time zones, the stylish stock bracelet paired with 200 meters of water resistance allows for this watch to be an environmental chameleon. An easy glide clasp permits tool free on the fly adjustment- practical for travel when environmental changes will impact wrist size, and something that I hope becomes an industry standard in the same way sapphire crystals and 200 meters of water resistance has. And after you’ve adjusted the time in your new destination, a red crown tube serves as a reminder to screw in the crown before using the timing bezel for aquatic activities.

Final Thoughts

I went in blind with the Foliot Scubanaut 200 and World Diver and was pleased to discover a brand focused on unexpected yet practical functionality. Foliot’s two new models offer both ends of the travel watch extreme: a bare bones three handed jumping hour dive watch, and a busy, true GMT equipped with a double sided GMT hand. Would I consider purchasing a Foliot watch? Absolutely. Even for a guy with GMT fatigue, the new Scubanaut watches offer designs capable of standing out in an increasingly crowded market.

Foliot is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of the new Scubanaut collection, which you can find here.

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Nathan Schultz is a New Hampshire based writer, equally obsessed with watches and outdoor gear. He specializes in dad jokes, breaking NH35s while modifying watches, and testing the limits of recreational equipment. Micro brands hold a special place in his heart, and he aspires to stop buying and selling so many darn watches.