Some months back, I checked my phone while making dinner and the following text message exchange occurred.
“I’m a few fingers of gin deep and I’ve got this early ‘90s NOS dive watch in my cart. I need a sanity check.” – a friend who shall remain naimless
“Well, I’ve drunkenly ordered a watch before haha. My first 6117 in fact.” – me
“You are not helping. That’s a great watch!” – unnamed friend
In the moment it gave me a good laugh as I think collectors of all stripes can relate to the feeling of a find you weren’t necessarily looking for, but are suddenly scared to lose out on. My friend ultimately passed on this particular piece, but his initial reaction got me thinking. Vintage watches seem to stir these strong and at times (read: often) irrational emotions while contemporary watches seem to fall short. To me, it seems the reason is tied up in how ideal vintage design often was, and how hard being different today is. Micro-brands are in a constant struggle with this juxtaposition. They both want and need to be different from each other and from what’s come before them, yet what’s worked before did so for good reason. There’s only so much room to maneuver and striking a delicate balance isn’t always easy. Changing strictly for change’s sake often falls flat as it provides no real value, and the search for balance has chewed up and spit out more brands than I can recall in the decade I’ve been writing about watches.
One of the few brands I’ve seen of late that seems to strike this balance with seeming ease is Unimatic. When I first saw photos of the Unimatic U1, it was on their website, which featured highly retouched, professional looking shots. Studio shots usually don’t do much for me — they’re far too detached from real life. This wasn’t the case with the U1. It caught my eye, and demanded I look at it again and again, and then even closer still. There were heritage influences, for sure, but it wasn’t a “heritage” watch. The U1 was most certainly new, but felt like something you’d always wanted to save up for.
All of Unimatic’s watches are limited runs of varying quantity. To date, they’ll usually make 50 to 600 pieces of a given design. With the U1, this has delivered some variants that, while they’re the same watch, look wildly different in their appearance. There are numerous dial colors, bezel colors, index colors, bezel configurations, and case finishes. Once they’ve sold through a variant, Unimatic retires it to the Archive. They play the scarcity game and they play it well, and it’s an interesting twist to an already interesting brand and product.