UNDONE Aqua customized watch reviewed
There are three main types of people buying watches. In the first category, I would put those who just want a watch to tell the time; they will probably go with a quartz. Then, you have those that want to impress, for them the brand is very important, it has to show their financial success (or be a facade hiding their failure). Finally, there are those people who consider watches as a great way to express their personality, their interests. These people can go with mainstream brands, as long as the watch responds to their requirements, but often they will look for something more exotic, more eccentric, a piece that will be as unique as they are.
Microbrands are a fantastic playground for many of them, there is a vast selection, they have a limited circulation, and the entry price is affordable. Yet, I see these people quite often fantasising on forums about watches that are even more unique. They like such-and-such model, but they wish it had a different dial, or they order a watch and even before it gets shipped, they are already thinking about changing the strap. Where there is a demand, there is a supply and it is called watch customization.
While I knew that there are several companies offering watch customization services, I was not particularly interested in this field, and when the Hong Kong-based UNDONE invited me the to try out their services for our readers, I hesitated, but after visiting their website and scrolling through their Instagram feed (@undonewatches), I became really curious to find out more.
As it turns out, one of the co-founders is Michael Young, a watch collector himself, known in the Rolex community as the owner of Classic Watch Repair, the go-to place in Hong Kong for Rolex repairs and restorations. One of his clients is Bamford Watch Department, a major player in Rolex customization, and CWR is their Hong Kong service centre. This is where he got the idea to co-found UNDONE, offering high-quality customization at and affordable price, democratising a field reserved only for those with a thick wallet.
This is my first review that instead of starting with the description of the packaging, I have to begin by describing the process of ordering the watch. At this point, when you land on www.undone.watch, there is only one basic model to start from, called Aqua. It is a 45 mm typical stainless steel diving watch, with an unidirectional rotating bezel, screw-down crown and date with a loupe. I just had to click it to go to the next step, so far so good, that was easy. When I got to the part where the real customization starts, there was a quick tutorial explaining the logic behind the platform. Oh boy! This is where the fun part starts!
There are a series of tabs, breaking down the watch into its customizable parts: the case, the bezel, the dial, the hands, the strap, and the movement — although at this point the only choice is an automatic Seiko NH-35A, probably the door is open for a selection of movements to come in the future.
I wanted to make it a WatchPaper piece, so I tried the black PVD case with the K1 Glass bezel with red accents, with black dial and red numerals, but then, I changed my mind and I tried the stainless steel case, then the black ceramic bezel insert, and without realizing, I got hooked, like a kid playing with building blocks of different colors. I never imagined that it will take me so long to make up my mind, and it’s not the website to blame, on the contrary, it is very well conceived to show what the watch will look like in the end. It is a fantastic way to get a taste of what it means to design a watch.
The last step is where you can really make the watch your own, here you can choose between a see-through case back with an optional print, or a solid case back with the engraving of a name or a short message. While it’s not part of the platform, you will see in their gallery and Instagram feed that they can print on the dial too. If you want to add your logo on the dial, or you got other ideas, it is worth getting in touch with them.
As you see, I played it safe, and I went with the grey PVD case, black ceramic bezel insert, glossy white dial, white hour and minute hands filled with lume and red for the seconds hand, matched with a grey suede strap.
About a week later, the package arrived in a box that had a message printed on it: INDIVIDUALITY MATTERS. I’m always impressed when an e-commerce company uses personalised shipping boxes, it just tells me that they understand branding and the importance of reinforcing their identity in all their contacts with the customer. The rest of the packaging is even more impressive, giving a high-end feeling, as I was taking out the matt black wood presentation box from its dark grey cardboard protective case, there was compartment on the bottom holding an extra leather strap.
I knew from the specs, that the Aqua is not a small watch, so there were no surprises when I strapped it on. On my small wrist, it looks rather large, but surprisingly it’s not uncomfortable. I was wearing it in the past few days on the suede strap and I never felt that I’m wearing an oversized watch.
The bezel sounds like a 90-click bezel, offering a smooth rotation. While wearing the watch, I discovered an unexpected sound whenever I would tap on the bezel, but UNDONE reassured me that it’s a not a glitch, it is actually a special feature they use to make the bezels interchangeable. If a customer wants a different insert, they can send it back and UNDONE will easily replace it thanks to this mechanism. As I never handled a customized watch, this was new to me.
The crystal covering the dial is slightly domed and the loupe over the date window at 3 o’clock is placed on the outside. While not everyone likes loupes, in this particular case, I find that it goes well with the overall design of the watch.
I can’t tell you much about the dial and the hands, as this is up to you how you will choose them. All I can say is that you have a great selection of colours and finishing and you are the only one to blame if you’re not happy with the result.
Even when it comes to the strap, you realize that UNDONE is all about customization. The straps are equipped with quick-release spring bars, switching shoes on the watch can’t get any easier than this.
How does it feel to wear the Aqua? It is the first watch that I can say that I contributed to its conception and to me, as a designer, it gives a completely new dimension to wearing a timepiece. If the website gave me a taste of what it means to design a watch, wearing the final product gives me a glimpse at the pleasure and satisfaction of a designer sporting his own creation.
UNDONE opened my eyes to a completely new dimension of enjoying watches. I find it interesting that while they offer a lot of freedom to be creative, in the end, the watch keeps its UNDONE identity. Just search for UNDONE on Instagram and you will see the pictures posted by their customers and you will see that in all this diversity, the UNDONE design is very much recognizable.
UNDONE is a great choice if you are looking for a watch where you are in control. It is also a great idea if you want to make a special gift to someone, you will be offering not just a watch, but a timepiece that was customized by you.
The Aqua automatic is only the first model, soon they will be releasing the Aqua Chronograph that will be powered by a Swiss ETA 7750 movement. They will be also adding a tactical line using a durable ceramic coating used on rifles, offering case colours never seen in the watch industry before, including special battle-worn looks.
By the end of the year, UNDONE will introduce a completely new model, called Urban, which will come in three different Swiss Ronda movement variations, two chronographs and one 3-hands model. This will be priced cheaper than the Aqua (at around $200-$300 depending on customization), and it come in smaller sizes to accommodate customers who demand a smaller watch (especially ladies). It will be a vintage inspired smart casual / dress watch that comes in 39 mm. The 3-hands should come at 36 mm.
The value of the Aqua prepared for this review is $470 US, but this price will change slightly depending on your choice of materials.
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