Obris Morgan is one of the stranger brands out there. It’s not the watches themselves that are so weird, though they do have their own quirks and personalities, it’s the way in which the brand works that is strange. In the last two years they have released, back to back, a handful of watches that take inspiration from here and there, have an undeniable appeal to us tool-watch fans, and come in at remarkably low prices. Each watch seems to be a test of something new or different, whether a style, component or finishing technique. When the watches arrive, they are all very cool and fun to wear, though noticeably imperfect, as though each is an iteration leading towards the real thing.
Their newest watch, the Explorer, takes it’s name from this process. Unlike the famous Rolex that is shares it’s name with, it’s not about reaching great heights or depths, though you could probably put it through its paces, but rather about finish and function. The exploration here is in DLC (diamond like coating), silk (satin?) brushing, a helium escape valve and the movement within, which for the first time is a Miyota 9015. Most remarkable is the use of DLC for the black model. Though not totally unheard of, at this price range it’s pretty rare. The Explorer, with all of the aforementioned qualities, plus a sapphire crystal, engineer bracelet and rubber strap, comes to a mere $299, less without DLC.
How do they do this? I honestly don’t know, it doesn’t add up. If this watch costed 500-800 with the same components, it would still be an attractive price. But, their business model is their business, and we’re not going to scoff at a good deal. Of course, none of this would also matter if the watch itself wasn’t attractive, and like the Branco and Nevon before it, the Explorer happens to be cool looking. Simple, sober and a bit severe, it speaks to modern German made tool watches without aping any. It’s got a sleek and easy to wear design with well thought-out proportions.
Obris Morgan Explorer Review
Movement: Miyota 9015
Strap: Steel Bracelet + Rubber Strap
Water Res.: 200M
Dimensions: 42 x 51 mm
Thickness: 12 mm
Lug Width: 20 mm
Crowns: 8 x 3 mm
The Explorer has a straight forward case design with a robust build and surprisingly slender profile. Measuring 42 x 51 x 12mm DLC steel case with 20mm lug width is quite tame for a modern diver, giving it a purposeful look and feel. Geometrically, the design is elegant, with flowing curves and rounded ends. From above the shape is familiar with thick lugs and a well-proportioned bezel. Though on the thin side, it looks just right with the dial and case.
From the side, the case is pretty flat, only curving at the very ends of the lugs. It’s also pretty thin, with no fussiness, and a decent amount of height coming from the bezel. On the 9 o’clock side is an automatic HEV for those saturation divers out there… i.e., it’s mostly for the aesthetic and bragging rights. On the 3 o’clock side is a surprisingly wide and flat screw down crown that measures 8 x 3mm. Though I was initially surprised by the lack of crown guards, I do really like how the crown looks. Hinting a bit at vintage dive watches, it compliments the case well, is easy to grasp and doesn’t dig in to your wrist at all.
The stout lugs give the watch a strong feel, and to emphasize this they used screw bars rather than spring-bars. On the outside of each lug is a rather large flat head screw with a matching black coating. Aesthetically, it looks great, adding an industrial detail to the already masculine look. Unfortunately, it’s a pain the ass. Using two screw drivers (though the watch only comes with one), you can fairly easily unscrew the screw bar, though slippage is always a risk. The issue is that the threaded cap end is tiny and proprietary. So, when it inevitably rolled off my table (though I was working on a soft surface that things usually don’t roll on) while I was changing straps one day, it was gone likely forever. As hard as I tried, one black speck underneath my work table proved hard to pick out. The Explorer ships with one extra set, but I imagine in the life of the watch I’d need many more than that. Is it worth getting screws shipped from China? So… if you are a brand and you want to use screw-bars, send 50 or 500 spares. But, for the sake of our sanity, please use drilled lugs and spring bars we can replace. Or, if you must have a screw, make it one sided. (update, lost the spare too…)
The bezel on the Explorer is the best we’ve seen from Obris Morgan. It has a 120-click uni-directional mechanism with a nice clean snap that lines up. It’s stiff enough to feel good, though could potentially click over if you hit something with it. Proportionally, the bezel really hits the mark, and the wide toothed sides are very easy to get a hold of.
The DLC finish is, as one would hope, a very deep and consistent black over a matte surface. For those unaware, DLC is a variety of PVD (physical vapor deposition) that uses a very hard and therein scratch resistant material. Typically, DLC is used on watches of a higher price (Steinhart too has a few affordables with it), though it’s hard to say what material is being used in typical “PVD” watches. Regardless, it’s a value adder for the Explorer.
The dial of the Explorer is sparse and reserved. It’s sort of a mix of tactical diver and modern pilot aesthetics that combine for something cold, yet masculine. The primary index consists of white rectangles for the hours or every 5 minutes. At 3 and 9 are longer rectangles with a small flange coming off towards the center of the dial. At 6 is a double rectangle and at 12 is a large triangle. The use of varying markers makes it very easy to read at a glance, and the various chosen designs balance out well. It’s symmetrical, and has no element that out weights the rest. The markers at 3 and 9 give the dial a strong horizontal pull, which makes it seem as though there is a crosshair design. Between the markers are small white lines for the individual minutes/seconds.
The use of text on the dial is pretty limited and restrained. It reads “Obris Morgan” just beneath 12 and “Explorer”, “200m” and “Automatic” just above 6. The text eats up some of the negative space that would have been too empty otherwise. The very small font also has a technical look that works with the design.
The bezel insert of the Explorer seems to be a divisive element for a few reasons. The layout is simple enough, touching on retro designs but feeling modern. It features rectangular markers at intervals of 5, small dots for individual minutes, large numerals at 15, 30 and 45 and a triangle at 60. The markers themselves are negatives in the black space, showing the aluminum (I believe) underneath. The only lume on the bezel is in the form of a small pearl or pip within the 60 triangle.
The controversial elements are the font used and the orientation of 30. Rather than being upside down, as it would be on a typical dive bezel, it’s right side up. When looking at the watch with the bezel aligned at home, it reads logically. When you turn the bezel, however, it’s off. Functionality aside, once you are aware that it’s not the way bezels typically are, it’s a bit awkward. Though this seems to be a deal breaker for some, I got over it rather quickly. Fact is, I keep the bezel in home position 99% of the time, so It actually integrates with the dial, making it more legible.
The other issue for some is that the font is rectilinear, almost looking like a “digital” design. It’s an inherently harsh look, but I think it works with the watch. This isn’t a friendly looking time-piece. It’s coarse and industrial. As such, the font, while not pretty or elegant, suits it. Yes, other fonts probably would have worked too, but I don’t think this was a misstep. As with anything else, it comes down to the individual’s taste, but for me it fit right in.
The Explorer features matte steel mil-styled ladder hands with lume for both the hour and minute. They both thick and bold, standing out well against the dial. The seconds is a thin stick with a large counterweight and lumed rectangle towards its tip. The matte finish on the hands has a nice look makes sense with the watch’s aesthetic. Unfortunately I did notice a bit of a smudge or mark on the counterweight of second hand.
The lume on the Explorer could use some improvement. On the hands and the bezel pearl, it’s medium bright and a bit spotty. On the dial, it’s quite poor, only lasting a few seconds and looking visibly thin. Unfortunately, on a watch this style, especially one that wants to have some dive credentials, this is an issue that can’t be overlooked. Sure, the watch is inexpensive, but legibility in the dark is at the core of the concept and more important than an HEV or DLC.
The Obris Morgan Explorer is powered by the Miyota 9015, our ever-growing favorite Swiss alternative. We’re seeing these more and more often (even earlier this week), which is a great thing as they are quality movements that, so far, have proven to be very reliable. The implementation in the Explorer is nothing exceptional unto itself, but this is one of, if not the, least expensive watches to currently use the 9015, which tend to start around $500.
Straps and Wearability
The Explorer comes with 2 very nice and useable strap options. First is their 5 link “engineer” style bracelet with matching DLC coating. It’s a nice quality bracelet with good heft and a comfortable feel. It’s got a bit of wiggle to it at the lugs, but I think that actually adds to the comfort, as it allows for a bit of natural movement (admittedly, my favorite bracelet is on a 34 year old Tudor, and is very broken in). The bracelet is secured by a fairly standard clasp with push-buttons and a flip lock for good security. On the watch, it looks perfect. It’s technical and industrial, but not overbearing, like the watch itself.
The other option is an isofrane-clone rubber strap, complete with super wide buckle tang. It’s also a very nicely made and comfortable strap that is a logical alternative to the bracelet for sport applications. While I wish they didn’t copy a famous straps style, it does look very nice on the watch. The large rectangular spaces towards the lugs, like the holes on a rally strap, add an aggressive detail that plays off of the severe design of the dial and bezel.
For the price, just the bracelet would have been more than enough, but the addition of the rubber strap is a great value adder (though it does encourage strap changing, which means you’ll be confronted with those tiny screws and the peril therein). Naturally, the watch will take to many other strap styles as well, but being who we are, we couldn’t help but try it out on an Olive Horween NYC NATO. The tactical looks of the watch just called out to the drab green color, which combined for a pretty awesome result. The color of the strap contrasts against the case, making it appear starker and more fierce. Along with the matching hardware, this combo was a winner for me, and how I would likely where the watch most of the time. Also, being able to slide the strap out makes for safer strap changing than removing the screw.
On the wrist, the Explorer wears very well, regardless of strap choice. It’s a very smartly sized watch that gets across the robustness needed in a tool diver while maintaining practicality. The 42 x 51mm case sits nicely, and the 12mm height keeps it pretty flush. Presence wise, the watch has a strong look, but doesn’t draw attention. It’s subtle and restrained, so it will go under the radar, which isn’t a bad thing. Aesthetically, I’d probably wear this only with casual clothes, but it’s reserved enough that it could be pulled off in other settings, especially the steel case models.
The Explorer is a big stride forward for Obris Morgan. The execution on most things is better than it has been before and the overall design is more refined, though perhaps at the cost of personality. Compared to the Branco, which had way too many fonts, hour and minute hands that were indistinguishable and a bezel that looked like it should rotate, but didn’t, the Explorer is a much more careful design with a better eye for proportions and better execution all around. But, the Branco was more unique and fun, and as such a bit more appealing despite its obvious flaws.
The Explorer seems like another step towards something bigger, which has yet to be revealed. That said, I do like the watch for many reasons; the case was a particular highlight for me design-wise, and I find the overall aesthetic to be appealing. The DLC is cool, can’t argue with sapphire and the Miyota 9015 inside means this is a good watch in the most fundamental of ways.
The drawbacks of the screw lugs (which is a personal preference, but one that is based on functionality) and more significantly, the lume, keep this from being a stronger piece. Of course, it’s also quite inexpensive, which has me always saying “well, they did what they could at the price”. But, that’s a bad argument to make, because the watch is so inexpensive that it could easily cost more. If it had been $500 – 600, with the same credentials (a handful of extra screws) and potent lume, we wouldn’t complain. Heck, it would still be a decent deal.
review watch supplied by Obris Morgan
By Zach Weiss