Owner’s Report: A Year In With the Unimatic U1-DW

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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.

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$550

Owner’s Report: A Year In With the Unimatic U1-DW

Case
Stainless Steel
Movement
Seiko NH35A
Dial
White
Lume
Super-LumiNova
Lens
Domed Sapphire
Strap
Mil-Strap/Rubber
Water Resistance
300 meters
Dimensions
41.5 x 49mm
Thickness
13.6mm
Lug Width
22mm
Crown
Screw Down
Warranty
Yes
Price
$550

About a year ago, I managed to get a Unimatic on my wrist in the form of the U1-DW. From the moment it arrived, it was clear to me that the Unimatic team aren’t just watch nuts, but product and branding aficionados as well. Branded Unimatic tape sealed the shipping box, the watch box was simple (but also branded), and it all came with nicely executed documentation. None of these things provide function, and they currently sit on a shelf in my home, but this attention to the details in the purchase experience is impressive.

At 41.5 millimeters, it’s at the upper limit of what I generally wear, but it’s comfortable on the wrist and the proportions are well executed. All U1s have a 120-click, unidirectional, coin-edge bezel. The U1-DW has a blank black bezel with a 12 o’clock lume pip reminiscent of BUND dive watches of decades past. It provides a bold visual border around the white dial, which calls to mind the “polar” dials of the Explorer II without feeling like it’s trying to ape that design. I do find that the bezel can be a bit stiff to turn. While many people seem to gravitate toward very tight bezel action, I’ve found that to be impractical. When in the ocean, whether bare handed or in wetsuit gloves, an easy grip of the bezel is key, and if it has too hard a click spring, I find that my hands slip. I’ve also found that a bit of play in a bezel makes it easier to clean sand and grit out that gets caught in the mechanism during a dive.

The 300-meter-rated case is entirely brushed 316 stainless steel and the finish quality is above what you’d normally expect at the ~$550 price point of the U1. The facets are the right amount of sharp, and the brushing is very well done. The double domed sapphire crystal with interior AR coating looks great and has a small bottle cap profile for another neo-vintage touch. The crown is screw down with a great bullseye design good at the end. The 22-millimeter lugs make sense given the case size and shape, though I wish Unimatic had opted for a slightly beefier and drilled lugs.

The gray mil-strap that the U1-DW comes with is buttery soft and has an engraved buckle and a hidden name tag under the keeper strap. It’s a perfect pairing for the watch and I’ve rarely worn it on anything else. Inside the case ticks a Seiko NH35A at 21,600 vph. It’s not the sexiest movement in the world, but it’s reliable and cheap to service. For a tool watch barely above $500, it’s a very reasonable choice.

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In my time with the Unimatic U1-DW I’ve been nothing but impressed. It’s a great watch, it’s compelling, and it’s relatively affordable. I find myself picking it up just to look at even on days something else gets the wrist nod. On days I strap it on, it always gets a few comments from watch-heads and normies alike. Since acquiring this watch, Unimatic has launched a very nice steel bracelet for the U1 line. With solid end links, a ratcheting diver’s extension, and a safety clasp, it’s a worthy addition to any U1 purchase.

Will anyone find themselves a few drinks in 25 years from now hurriedly debating whether to purchase a Unimatic U1? It’s impossible to know, but it certainly seems possible. Unimatic is hitting all the right notes and I know I’ll be enjoying mine for years to come. For someone who’s into dive watches or looking to add one to a collection, not considering Unimatic would be disservice to themselves. Unimatic

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Jon is a native New Englander who enjoys traveling as much as returning home. He has a passion for watches that his significant other kindly tolerates whilst shaking her head in consternation. A tendency to plow through life with little finesse has led him to appreciate and pursue the utility of a good tool watch.
jongaffney
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