Review: the Atelier Holgur Frømand

One of the great things about the current state of the watch world is the insane variety of watches that are available. We’re at a point (or at least approaching one) where brands of all stripes are willing to get creative in ways we haven’t seen in years. We’ve come out of a long period of time dominated by vintage inspired watches that all felt cut from the same cloth, and it feels like we’re now at the beginning of a new movement where makers large and small are aiming for narrower and narrower niches. I’m lucky to have seen some of the watches coming from brands we all admire later in the year, and I’m confident that when the dust settles we’ll be talking about a sea change toward more adventurous designs and a level of watchmaking once reserved for the super wealthy being made accessible to new customers for the first time.

This is why I’m more interested than ever in the micro indies I’ve discussed in these pages previously. It feels like there’s a nearly infinite opportunity for brands to create special, unusual, innovative, and original watches for an audience that’s simultaneously incredibly broad and highly specialized. There’s no shortage of collectors interested in getting something unique – a byproduct of the aforementioned decade of lookalike black dialed divers. And yet, each individual watch forces you to ask, “Who is this for?” That’s a question that most of us wonder everytime we look at an MB&F or De Bethune, and the answer has always been “rich guys.” Now, with similarly adventurous watches exhibiting high levels of craft coming in at less than $10,000, it’s a harder question to answer. 

The Atelier Holgur Frømand, on the one hand, is literally a black dialed diver. But it doesn’t feel like an homage to classic watches of the past. It has a funky case design and little flourishes and details throughout that elevate it aesthetically, and a movement that is surprising and also somewhat confounding. It’s not a perfect watch, but it’s a near perfect example of the type of highly specific, niche oriented watch making that I think is currently the most exciting thing happening in the industry. 


Review: the Atelier Holgur Frømand

Schwarz-Etienne ASE 200
Recycled ocean plastic
Water Resistance
300 Meters
Lug Width
Screw down

The thing that immediately appealed to me about the Frømand when it was first announced last year is Atelier Holgur’s insistence that this was an aesthetics first, luxury object. They set out to make a nicely made thing with the bones of a classic dive watch, but were upfront about being primarily concerned with things like wearability, how it looks, and tweaking sports watch norms in the name of creating something that people will look at and be immediately drawn to. I found this refreshing as it’s so uncommon for brands to be this honest – everyone wants you to believe that their watch was made with a specific type of technical diving in mind, or is perfectly suited to spaceflight, or whatever. The Frømand has specs that stack up, and it certainly makes a robust impression, but as a certified desk diver it feels good to know that a brand understands that a sports watch – even a tool watch – can be designed to look great first, and do all the things you may or may not need it to do second. 

In person, I’m happy to say that a lot of that initial appeal translates pretty well to the wrist. The Frømand has some design quirks that are very much in your face, and others that are a little more subtle, but starting with the obvious, we have an unusual case with extended and hooded lugs that increase the watch’s visual length without noticeably inhibiting wearability. The diameter of the titanium case is 40mm, and on my wrist it wears true to size, even though the space between what appear to be the watch’s lugs is filled in with bead blasted titanium, signaling a heft that isn’t really there in practice. This is basically a cushion case, but slightly exaggerated, and the design allows Atelier Holgur to create a visually compelling dynamic with the case finishing, alternating between highly polished elements and more industrial, blasted areas.   

The case is 13.5mm tall, but I found that it wears quite a bit thinner. It sits low on the wrist and is very comfortable, which is largely a function of the strap system, which I wasn’t expecting to like much as I did. Like the Pelagos FXD, the Frømand incorporates a fixed spring bar system that allows for the easy pass through of a NATO style strap. The strap of this style that was included with my review unit is a pleasing teal color and is secured via a hook and loop setup for infinite adjustability. It’s very comfortable and gives the watch a sporty vibe, but my preferred strap was the two piece option that Atelier Holgur ships with each watch. This strap, which is made from recycled ocean plastics and presents as a lightweight fabric, has a buckle on each piece that is designed to loop around the fixed spring bar and close securely on the other side. Because there’s no fabric crossing the case back, the watch sits that much closer to the wrist when wearing this strap. And the visual impression is great – at a glance, I don’t think you’d be able to discern how the strap is attached if you weren’t already familiar with how the watch is designed. 

The case can fairly be described with a word like “angular,” and takes on a nearly sculpted appearance from certain angles. The distinct facets that accent the case band would give you the impression that the Frømand has a much more unorthodox shape than it actually does in practical terms. On the wrist, it wears a lot like any other diver with a circular case, but giving it anything more than a second look reveals that it’s quite a bit more complex than that. One of the Frømand’s strengths is in the way it doesn’t reveal all of this complexity at once.

If the case is where the Frømand immediately distinguishes itself, the dial is a slower burn, taking a little more time to fully wrap your arms around. It’s a little jarring at first that there is a complete absence of color. We associate contemporary sports watches, I think, with the playful and respectful use of color, but here everything is deep black or crisp white. It makes for an immediately legible dial that feels stark and minimal, and it does a good job of hiding (and complementing) its key design feature. 

The dial is accented with an extremely fine circular snailing pattern that does a great job of picking up light and adding a sense of texture and depth. It really does sneak up on you, though, and sits on the opposite end of the spectrum of something like Grand Seiko’s White Birch, which has ridges that can be spotted from across a room. On the Frømand, the snailing gives the entire dial a subtle sheen, but only when lit obliquely. It’s very well executed, and while I’m sure the pattern is achieved with some type of stamping process, it feels quite a bit more refined than that and adds a great deal of complexity to the whole package.

The execution of the dial texture feels strangely like it’s a core component of Atelier Holgur’s mission, which seems to be to create something that’s visually arresting just for the sake of it. This idea really resonates with me, as I’ve leaned heavily into watches of late that appeal to me, for one reason or another, on a purely visual and aesthetic level. I’m less concerned than ever before with practicality, or the “genre” a watch fits into, and adding this type of detail to a dive watch is a small way that Atelier Holgur leans in that direction. We’ve all had experiences where it feels like a brand is in lockstep with your own perspective on watches, and Atelier Holgur approaches that for me at this particular moment. 

A concern with aesthetics is not just reserved for the components of the watch you can see while wearing it, but is very much part of why Atelier Holgur has decided to go with the caliber viewable through the sapphire display back. The Frømand runs on the Schwarz-Etienne ASE 200, a micro-rotor caliber commissioned for this watch by the Atelier Holgur, but architecturally identical to other Schwarz-Etienne movements used by Ming, Havid Nagan, and others. The use of a micro-rotor movement here accomplishes a few things simultaneously. First, in theory, it allows the watch to be thinner than it otherwise would be. That might be a subject of debate for the comments, but for now let’s stipulate that in a dive watch with a 300 meter depth rating, a basic Sellita automatic caliber might have marginally increased the thickness. Second, it makes for a hell of a view, and one that’s not usually expected on a watch in this category, nor at this price point. But that breaking down of predefined categories is part of the appeal, and results in Atelier Frømand being able to incorporate a movement that matches the visual language of the watch, even if it seems out of place from a 1,000 foot view. 

The movement itself is finished with a mix of industrial and more classic touches. Bridges have been lightly skeletonized and micro blasted in a way that matches certain elements of the case, and the whole thing has been given a grayish black coating that feels appropriate given the watch’s monochromatic palette. Bevelled edges are polished (Atelier Holgur says by hand) and the micro-rotor is signed with the brand’s wordmark. The movement has a power reserve of 86 hours and performed without incident during my time with it. 


The use of the Schwarz-Etienne movement puts this watch in a pricing category that will almost certainly immediately turn some enthusiasts and collectors away. The asking price for the Frømand is CHF 8,850, which at the time of this writing is about $9,990. Needless to say, there are a lot of watches out there for you at the $10,000 mark, and if you’re coming into the Frømand from a neutral and completely objective place, it seems a bit optimistic. This, after all, is only the brand’s first watch. 

But I don’t think it’s actually possible to come to this watch with complete objectivity. It exists in a world where watches like this are kind of a new prospect for all of us, coming out of years of incredible growth in the hobby spurred largely by the insane popularity of vintage inspired steel sports watches. The Frømond is very much not that, and your reaction to it is likely to be colored by your penchant for those types of watches. As someone who always had a pronounced shoulder shrug of a response to most vintage inspired divers over the years, I’m inclined to embrace the Frømand as an attempt at something fresh and different. But if vintage design cues are what gets you going and you’re not impressed by the movement, you’ll likely be asking yourself the question posed at the beginning of this review: Who is this for? 

One way to answer that question is to simply refer to the Atelier Holgur press materials and note that this is a limited edition of only 100 pieces. While I can’t imagine it’s easy to find 100 people willing to take a chance on a new brand with a funky $10,000 watch, the market has proven over and over again that there are buyers out there for more adventurous and off the beaten path pieces, and it’s simply a matter of Atelier Holgur being able to connect with those individual potential clients. 

I want to pause here for a moment to talk about pricing, and the way the community reacts to it. I’ve noticed that on Instagram, in forums, and in group chats that I’m in with other collectors, it seems like nothing is priced fairly. Regardless of the watch and its price, you can bet that someone is going to respond with a “shocked face” emoji regarding what the brand is asking for it. On one level, I get it: everything is more expensive than it was a few years ago. But blindly berating the price of a watch that you’ve yet to see in the metal is among the lowest forms of watch discourse. Asking questions and finding value is one thing, but let’s remember that watch brands have the right to ask whatever they please for completely unnecessary luxury objects. We’re not talking about a dozen eggs here.

The Frømand is expensive, there’s no way around that. But in handling it and wearing it for a short period of time, I didn’t find it to be hugely out of step with what I’d expect from a nearly five figure watch. Everything is finished to a very high level, the movement is killer, and I found the design to be coherent. Moreover, if you’re deeply connected to it and love the design to the point where you’d even consider owning one, there’s an emotional factor that trumps retail pricing. That’s a concept that I don’t think needs any further explanation. Your favorite watch, no matter what it is, is probably worth more than what you paid for it, to you.

I think that there’s a general rising interest in this type of thing from more seasoned watch collectors who have experienced the entry level from the big Swiss luxury brands and possibly already have a few favorite micro-brands that they like to collect as well. Personally, I’m priced out of watches from a lot of the quirky independents that I admire for their pure originality and craft, and watches like the Frømand fill a gap at a more approachable price point, at least comparatively speaking. 

For these brands to succeed, though, they have to offer something original while also being easy for the watch community to digest. The more these things have to be explained, the more difficult it becomes to sell. With the Frømand, it really comes down to the watch’s appearance, and the movement. You can poke holes in it for days and say that the Schwarz movement is overkill, or that the fixed spring bars kill the watch’s versatility, but if the look resonates with you, those things won’t matter. Personally, I’d prefer just a little bit of color on a watch of this style, but I can absolutely envision 100 Frømand fans lining up for their allocation, particularly if they get a chance to try it on first. There’s a harmony between the case and strap options that really works on the wrist. It’s a watch with an undeniable presence – a true conversation piece – that’s also incredibly easy to wear. 

It’s exciting to think that we’re heading into a period where every collector can essentially find their own Frømand, a unique and expertly crafted heirloom worthy piece that speaks to their own unique interests and sensibilities. Atelier Holgur is hoping that for 100 people, the Frømand is that watch. But if it’s not, it might be coming sooner than you think. Atelier Holgur

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.