The label ‘elegant tool watch’ is a bit of an oxymoron when you think about it. Objects we’d traditionally refer to as tools are generally far removed from any context under which they could possibly qualify as elegant. A few bar tools come to mind, a restored felling axe perhaps, but definitely not that wrench set you got on sale at Wal-Mart. Yet, it’s a description we find ourselves faced with in regards to many watches that walk a fine line between tool and jewel. The Rolex Explorer immediately comes to mind as just such an example, the Monta Noble another. A new brand hailing from Berlin called Ten Eleven Nine is aiming to enter these ranks with three new watches being funded through Kickstarter. We got our hands on a prototype of the Researcher model to see just how close they get.
Review: The Ten Eleven Nine Researcher
Ten Eleven Nine is the brainchild of designer and photographer Leif Henrik Osthoff, who began work on this collection back in 2019 after being unsatisfied with the current offerings on the market. With studios in Berlin, Leif formed Ten Eleven Nine, named for the zip code of Berlin Mitte, 10119, and is meant to reflect the city’s “attitude towards life involving cosmopolitanism, tolerance, diversity, creativity and respectful coexistence of different life plans.” The name might not roll off the tongue with ease but it’s a sentiment we can get behind. To emphasize that ethos, the caseback is engraved with a “Truth Beauty Love” motif applied tastefully above the “Made in Germany” marker. This sets the stage for the rest of the watch, which is an exercise in restraint.
Review: The Ten Eleven Nine Researcher
Ten Eleven Nine is launching with three models, each a slight variation on the same minimal base. The Weltweit features large circular hour plots; the Minimal, which uses batons around the dial and no numerals; and the Researcher, which places an Arabic 12 and 6 on the dial between single stick markers in between. The Researcher stands out from the others for this unusual layout, which works rather well here in keeping the dial clean and legible while also providing a point of interest.
The dial of the Researcher, and the Weltweit and Minimal for that matter, is sterile in nature, taking a balanced approach to the information it chooses to represent. That means the oversized hour indices take priority, with thin hash marks for each second fading to the background. The 3 and 9 o’clock markers are ever slightly larger than the rest, completing the cardinal hour priority. The printing is stark white, creating a crisp contrast with the dial. Likewise, the hands and numerals are bright white making for exceptional legibility. There’s really not much else to get in the way.
The only non-functional elements on the dial are the labeling of the brand and the model. At 12 o’clock you’re presented with the brand, meaning the words “TEN ELEVEN NINE” appear in very close proximity to the actual hour markers of the same values. It’s odd, but it doesn’t get in the way of telling the time so it really comes down to taste here. It’s the same with the wording under the brand, which is “KING SIZE” in reference to the 39mm diameter being a large watch in the ‘70s (think “Jumbo” Royal Oak). Again, this feels a bit odd to see actually written on the dial of a ~$1,000 watch rather than your favorite candy bar.
Moving to the 6 o’clock side of the dial and we find the model of the watch labeled above the word “AUTOMATIC”. Nothing strange here, other than perhaps the priority of these words. If anything, you might expect the model to receive top billing here over the fact that it’s an automatic watch. The labeling in total amounts to a suitable amount of quirk in an otherwise very serious design, if we may invoke the wisdom of Doug DeMuro.
One thing you won’t immediately notice, but will gradually start to get a sense of is the true color of the dial. It reads as dark grey, even black at a glance. But in reality it is grey/blue, begging a closer look in the right conditions. This small detail is indicative of the level of thought put into the watch as a whole, even though few may recognize each individual element, the end result becomes greater than the sum of the parts in a way that you will most certainly notice.
The Case & Bracelet
The Researcher features a steel case that measures 38mm in diameter and 11mm in thickness. With a lug to lug measurement of 46.5mm it is just as wearable as you’d imagine. The case is polished along the walls and brushed on top with a soft bevel connecting the surfaces. This is a very soft bevel, appearing as a once crisp line that’s been carelessly polished, but the chamfer is there and it is intentional. In relation to the rest of the watch, that tension between finishes is defused and the focal point remains in the dial itself.
The crown is a prominent fixture that extends around 5mm from the case allowing for easy manipulation, and you’ll find no design flourishes at its end cap. Like the rest of the watch, it is function-forward and presents itself as such. The crown screws down helping contribute to the impressive 200m depth rating, which is a detail you wouldn’t notice otherwise as it’s not labeled on the dial. While not a dive watch necessarily it seems plenty capable of handling extremes.
A polished bezel ring leads up to an ever so slightly domed sapphire that gets an AR coating on the inside. The case and accompanying accents do a suitable job of hosting the design as a whole, but they aren’t the star of the show here by any stretch. At best, it does a good job of getting out of the way. Likewise with the bracelet, which is a three link oyster style unit that wears comfortably enough, but isn’t something you’ll find yourself admiring. Great bracelets are few and far between in this price range, and while this one isn’t winning any awards, it’s certainly everyday usable.
Ten Eleven Nine is using a top grade Sellita SW-200 in the Researcher (as well as the Weltweit and Minimal) which allows for the lean case design and 11mm overall thickness.
On The Wrist
The Researcher wears beautifully thanks to the constrained proportions and gentle case design. The lugs gently slope toward the wrist and the end links continue that angle to keep things flush against the curvature of your wrist. The slim case slips under all but the tightest of sleeves, disappearing when not in use.
When you do need to get a read on the time, the simple dial with high contrast hands makes it trivially easy even at a distance. It is the greatest strength of the watch and gives it a level of practicality you’ll find yourself coming back to. The hands are filled with BG W9 Super-LumiNova which match the indices on the dial, and while there’s not enough to be super legible in the dark, it creates a clean, crisp contrast in daylight.
The design of the watch will lend itself to all manner of strap, and serves as a great canvas for something colorful out of your fabric strap collection.
The Ten Eleven Nine Researcher is an impressive effort from a new brand that puts forth a clear point of view without compromise. Considering it’s the first release from the brand, the potential is clear and we’d love to see this ethos fleshed out more fully in other collections and complications. There is a surgical precision to the execution of the Researcher, but an underlying sense of levity from the brand tells me there’s more to look forward to.
The Researcher, Weltweit, and Minimal are each available now through the Ten Eleven Nine Kickstarter (which has already reached its funding goal) for pledges starting around $1,300. That’s about 30% less than what the retail price will be when production is finished. Learn more about the brand right here and explore the Kickstarter right here.