Images and text by Adam Morin
UNIQ is a small brand started by industrial and automotive designer Zviad Tsikolia. Their focus is to design affordable watches based on historically significant vehicles. While a few designs have been shown, the M21 is the first watch to be released to the public (read about the UNIQ Caterham Seven here). A limited edition of 300 pieces, the M21 is based on design elements of the Soviet GAZ M21 car which was produced in three series from 1956 to 1970. This watch was created with input from GAZ M21 expert Ivan Paderin and there are a number of notable design features from the GAZ which are used in the M21 watch.
Car and watch tie-ins are far from uncommon but more often than not are merely the addition of a logo or an element designed to look as if it were part of a car. Typically such elements end up looking like a tacked-on afterthought and not an integral part of the design. The M21 stands out because it doesn't necessarily look like a "car watch". UNIQ was able to select identifiable elements of the vintage car while combining them into a cohesive design which is capable of standing on its own. With no knowledge of the GAZ M21, the M21 watch would likely be seen as a good-looking watch with a retro vibe. With its modern 44mm size and color scheme, the M21 is a watch that can easily dress up or down. The flat caseback sits comfortably while the waterproof leather strap conforms nicely to the wrist. The 13.5mm thick case feels light but not cheap and doesn't move around on the wrist. A stainless butterfly deployant clasp closes firmly and is engraved with the M21 logo.
The most obvious design element carried over from the car is the general look of the dial. It was clearly based on the dashboard clock found in the GAZ M21. This multi-layered display consists of a raised grey central disc and outer ring while the space between is black with a phonographic finish. The Arabic numerals around the outer ring are printed with SuperLuminova. The numbers at 12 are flipped to read "21", a subtle tie in to the model number both the watch and car share. The hour marker at 12 o'clock on the inner black ring was swapped for a profile view of the GAZ 21 stag hood ornament. A date window sits in place of the 3 o'clock marker and is thinly framed in orange, the color used in the GAZ company logo. It's a nice splash of color that is just enough to be fun without looking out of place on the otherwise monochromatic watch. UNIQ's brand logo sits unobtrusively at 6 o'clock on the central disc. It would have been nice to see hands closer to those on the original dashboard clock but that would have likely pushed the price significantly higher. This choice is understandable given the company philosophy of affordability. The ends of the hands are also painted with SuperLuminova which help with night legibility. The hands do look a little small for the dial but that is the same on the original clock. Also like the clock, there is no second hand.
The M21's polished bezel is one of the more unique features and contrasts nicely with the brushed 316L stainless case. Modeled after car's chrome headlight surround, the bottom portion is steeply tapered and only slightly higher than the crystal while the upper half juts out further with less of a rake. There is some optical distortion at extreme angles from the domed sapphire crystal but this actually helps legibility as the far numerals appear to stand up somewhat. A five-point star sits at the end of the crown in reference to the grill of the Series I GAZ M21. Later models had a different grill without the star. The screw-on caseback is styled like hubcaps of the era and has the limited edition serial number engraved around the edge along with additional model information.
Inside is a quartz Ronda movement and the water resistance is rated to 50 meters. $475 might seem like a lot for a quartz watch unless you are a GAZ M21 fan but there are numerous elements unique to this watch alone. Also, given that only 300 are going to be made, you will probably never see one on the wrist of another person nor one looking similar to it. The M21 watch is available for purchase direct from UNIQ.