The rugged industrial motif of the Hydrium California carries seamlessly from the bead-blasted case to the brushed hands. And so, with the overall aesthetic tied together impressively well, anything out of place is destined to stand out- which led me to discovering my only gripe: the nearly-matching colors on the bezel, dial, and hands. Color matching is not a hill I will die on, and things like white date wheels don’t keep me up at night. However, the Hydrium California contains stark white text on the dial, off-white bezel markings, olive green indices, and beige luminous painted hands. I couldn’t help but find myself wishing for some, even a couple, of the components to match. It’s a minor detail, but when a dial begs to be admired as this one does, the last thing I want is a distraction.
As an enthusiast on a budget, watches in my personal collection tend to float around the $500 range. It’s a price point where you can get a lot of value for the dollar, but can also count on some predictable compromises: no-frills movements void of decoration, finishing that is perfectly subpar, and straps that are almost always worth replacing with a third-party option. Isotope makes it easy to see how far some additional dollars will go. Beyond the blued screws and a loupe-friendly dial, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more comfortable stock strap than the provided 22mm quick-release black FKM that comes with the Hydrium California. It’s easily the most comfortable stock strap I’ve experienced- notably supple to the point of having a leather-esque quality, and never once did I have an issue with the strap escaping its keepers, often a constant battle with other rubber straps.
Two years from now, I predict the Hydrium California will remain on my mind, just as the “Will Return” diver has. It’s a watch that represents the best of Isotope’s signature brutalist industrial design and makes a statement while still lending itself to practical daily use. Isotope