November 25, 2022
Microbrands can often produce either some of the best or worst timepieces available within the industry. When they are created as quick cash-grabs by people who don’t actually care about watches, the resulting timepieces end up being absolute junk, and the owners soon abandon the companies to pursue other trendy endeavors such as Bitcoin mining or starting a beverage company. However, when created as passion projects by genuine watch enthusiasts, the brands become true labors of love, and the end products are well-conceived timepieces that often offer more value for the money than what you will find from the big-name brands. Foster Watch Company is of the latter variety, and it is a company founded by Everett (one of the hosts of the watch-centric 40&20 podcast) and his friend Christian, who is a more recent convert to this hobby and helps bring the business side of things to the table. Named after a well-known street in the founders’ original home town of Portland, Oregon, Foster Watch Co. is a brand-new entry into the vast and diverse microbrand landscape, and the company’s very first model — the 11 Atomos Skin Diver — is officially now available.
Soft-launched in somewhat of a guerilla-style fashion earlier this month, the Foster 11 Atmos Skin Diver is the brand’s inaugural model and it offers a rugged go-anywhere, do-anything aesthetic with a unique blend of modern manufacturing techniques and vintage-inspired design details. The underlying concept behind it is somewhat similar to the utilitarian skin diver models produced during the golden age of the mechanical sports watch, although its design isn’t based on any one specific model or even the design codes of a single brand. The overall effect is a watch that feels familiar and accessible, yet also somehow doesn’t bring to mind any one pre-existing timepiece. You have likely seen pictures of the 11 Atmos floating around on Instagram, and there were even a few final-production examples out in the wild before there was a single word of information about it available on the brand’s own website. Rather than taking pre-orders or crowdfunding prior to launching, Foster self-financed the entire first batch of 11 Atmos watches, meaning that there will be zero discrepancies between prototypes and production models. In addition, buyers will be able to immediately receive their watches after buying them, rather than having to endure a lengthy wait before delivery. I had stumbled across a few photos of the watch online, and when I ran into the Foster team at Nodus’s Intersect 2022 event, I happily took them up on their offer to let me spend some time with the new 11 Atmos Skin Diver to put it through its paces for a proper hands-on review.
At the time of launch, Foster is offering the 11 Atmos Skin Diver with dial colors that include black, green, and orange. I personally like all of the colors, and while all three watches are otherwise identical beyond their dials, each of the different colors offers its own unique flavor. Black is easily the most versatile, and the green variant might actually be my flat-out favorite among the trio. However, I selected the orange version for review, simply due to the fact that it offers the most distinct overall appearance. That said, during the time that the 11 Atmos has been in my possession, the orange dial has been continuously growing on me, and I honestly didn’t think that I would ever find myself wearing an orange watch this much on an everyday basis. While I still might opt for either the black or green model due to their superior versatility, the orange strikes a nice balance of offering a vibrant pop of color without being too obnoxious or in-your-face about it.
The case of the Foster Watch Co. 11 Atmos Skin Diver is crafted from 316L stainless steel and it offers what can best be described as a curved H-shaped profile with completely brushed surfaces. The particular style of brushing featured on the case isn’t especially crisp or luxurious, and it offers a much more utilitarian aesthetic compared to the sharp brushed lines that can be found on five and six-figure watches. The case itself measures 39mm in diameter with a total lug-to-lug distance of 48mm, and it features short squared-off lugs that are set 20mm apart and have drilled holes in them to help facilitate easy strap changes. At the 3 o’clock location sits a slightly recessed screwdown winding crown that is signed with the Foster “F” logo. This works in conjunction with the solid screwdown stainless steel caseback to help provide users with 110 meters (11 ATM) of water resistance (hence its “11 Atmos” name). Foster has said that it’s highly likely that the watches could be rated to quite a bit deeper. Since even recreational scuba diving only requires 100 meters of water resistance, the brand intentionally chose this number to signify that the watch is tougher than what you need, without entering the realm of superfluous and borderline hypothetical depth ratings.
The overall case is quite thin, and it has a curved side profile that has been achieved by sinking the caseback into the middle case itself. Rather than just being screwed onto the back surface of the watch, the rim of the caseback actually sits below it when it is fully screwed down. This allows the watch to hug the wrist and carry an extremely flat profile that comes in at a total of 12.1mm, which includes the prominent domed acrylic crystal that sticks up above the edge of the bezel. The use of an acrylic crystal was a highly intentional design choice, as it reflects light differently and provides a distinct appearance that cannot be exactly replicated by sapphire. While acrylic is significantly more susceptible to scratches, most marks and scruffs can easily be removed by a dab of polishing solution and a soft cloth. Additionally, when you consider that nearly all of the famous vintage tool watches that now serve as the subjects of legends were originally fitted with acrylic crystals and survived some of the most demanding conditions on Earth (and beyond), the perception of acrylic crystals being fragile isn’t exactly accurate. Even being fully aware of this, I initially wasn’t sure if I would have still preferred to see sapphire, but after spending some time with the 11 Atmos, I’m ultimately glad that Foster stuck to its original design concept. The warm reflections provided by the acrylic dome are an inherent part of this model’s overall charm, and I honestly don’t think it would have been quite the same watch had it been fitted with a modern sapphire crystal.
Beyond the unique recessed caseback, the other most noteworthy feature of the Foster Watch Co. 11 Atmos Skin Diver is its bezel. Featuring a single-piece construction and coated in black PVD with a white engraved 12-hour scale, the bezel uses a ball bearing-mounted setup to provide it with 48-clicks of bidirectional motion, which properly corresponds with its dual-time capabilities. In the same way that 60-click bezels are more difficult to manufacture than their 120-click counterparts, a 48-click bezel increases the margin of error even further. Foster was originally told by its manufacturing partners that a one-piece bezel design wouldn’t be possible, and that the brand would need to opt for the more traditional style of a bezel fitted with an insert if it wished to have this type of motion. That said, clearly those manufacturing hurdles were overcome. The bezel on the 11 Atmos Skin Diver is constructed from a single piece of stainless steel and it rotates smoothly with 48 symmetrical and satisfying clicks. The modern bezel design paired with the vintage vibe of the crystal creates a unique contrast, although it is one that I personally enjoy. The overall result of this pairing is a bezel that is objectively superior in functionality to the vintage friction-fit variety, since the 48 clicks provide a distinct tactile feedback, with each click corresponding to 15 minutes on its dual-time scale.
Further playing into its fairly laid-back and utilitarian overall aesthetic, the dial of the Foster Watch Company 11 Atmos Skin Diver is flat with an entirely printed design that doesn’t include any applied or embossed elements on it whatsoever. The orange surface features a subtle metallic quality that can be observed in bright lighting, and this ultimately makes the orange version of the watch quite a bit more versatile and dynamic than if it were to have a standard gloss or matte finish. The overall design of the dial follows a fairly traditional sports watch style layout with geometric shapes for the hour markers and an inverted triangle at 12 o’clock. That said, the three markers at the cardinal points aren’t simple rectangles. They have rounded and tapered outer ends that compliment the natural distortion provided by the curved edge of the domed acrylic crystal. The dial printing appears in black, and other than the words “Foster” and “11 Atmos,” there isn’t any other text whatsoever. The time itself is displayed by polished baton-shaped hour and minute hands that are paired with a seconds hand that features a thin profile with a Seiko “stoplight” style tip.
Personally, I’m a bit torn about the choice in seconds hand. It is a design that I very much enjoy from an aesthetic standpoint, but also one that I cannot mentally separate from the Seiko brand itself. Given that the rest of the watch is distinctly not one of the famous Japanese manufacturer’s designs, the use of the stoplight seconds hand ultimately gives off slight “Seiko mod” vibes. However, from an objective standpoint, the seconds hand both looks good and is nicely proportioned, extending all the way to meet the markings of the minute track. While I would have probably still preferred to see something like a classic lollipop-style hand used here instead, this design detail was chosen by the brand to offer a splash of Japanese influence and serve as a small nod to a company that holds a special place in the hearts of countless collectors all around the world. The hour markers and all three of the hands receive a solid application of green-glowing luminous material. While you don’t get the same nuclear levels of light emission like on some pro-spec dive watches, the 11 Atmos actually glows far brighter than I originally anticipated, especially considering the fairly minimalist design of the hands and markers themselves.
Powering the Foster Watch Co. 11 Atmos Skin Diver is the Miyota 90S5 automatic movement. While Miyota’s 9xxx series is very much a known-quantity within the industry, it’s important to note that Foster has opted for the proper no-date version to properly correspond with its time-only dial. This means that there is no vestigial “phantom position” for the crown, and this is a nice touch considering that you even see this often-overlooked detail missing on watches that cost over a thousand dollars. Just like the rest of the movements that make up this highly popular series, the Miyota Cal. 90S5 runs at a frequency of 28,800vph (4 Hz), while offering users a power reserve of approximately 42 hours. This range of movements is known for being rather thin, and this detail is what allows the 11 Atmos Skin Diver to have its caseback recessed into the underside of its middle case. Had Foster opted for a Swiss alternative, the price point would have inevitably been higher, and if a movement from Seiko had been used instead, the case would have needed to be quite a bit thicker. All things considered, I think the Miyota 90S5 is an entirely appropriate choice for the 11 Atmos collection, and it can be easily serviced, repaired, or even flat-out replaced without encroaching upon the cost of simply buying another watch.
The Foster Watch Company 11 Atmos Skin Diver comes with both a stainless steel bracelet and an additional black FKM rubber tropic-style strap. The solid-link bracelet offers what could best be described as a flattened Jubilee-style that features completely solid end-links, with the removable ones secured by screws rather than friction-fit pieces or a pin and collar setup. The clasp offers a fairly standard double latching fold-over design, and while it does feature solid machined components and four holes of micro-adjustment, it doesn’t feature any type of push-button release or built-in extension system. I’ve seen this style of clasp used on watches made by other small-scale independent brands, and while it is entirely auspicious, it is also better than the stamped metal variety that exists on most entry-level bracelets. Opening and closing these clasps can sometimes require quite a bit of force when they are brand-new due to the friction-fit style of their latching mechanism, but after a short break-in period, they relax and you ultimately end up with something that is more than serviceable.
Both the clasp on the bracelet and the stainless steel pin buckle for the black tropic-style rubber strap are signed with Foster’s logo, and both options also include integrated quick-release systems to make swapping between them a simple and tool-free process. Although the tropic-style rubber strap is somewhat long, the material itself is soft and flexible, making the strap quite comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. In regards to the stainless steel bracelet, due to the rather flat shape of my wrist and the similarly flat profile provided by the reverse side of the watch, I can actually sometimes slightly feel the small quick release tabs against the top of my wrist. To call this uncomfortable would be a massive exaggeration, but it is something I still noticed while wearing the bracelet around over the course of several days. With that in mind, should someone ever find this minor detail to be legitimately uncomfortable to wear, the quick-release pins can be removed using a small screwdriver and swapped out for a more traditional style of spring bar, which would completely remedy any potential issues altogether.
As the brand’s inaugural watch, the Foster 11 Atmos Skin Diver will be a sold as a standard production model. This means that while availability will be limited by the output capacity of the company, those who want to buy one will ultimately be able to do so, without having to worry about missing out on their favorite color or paying a premium to obtain one of a finite number of examples on the secondary market. Additionally, with an official retail price of $500 USD, the 11 Atmos Skin Diver is firmly positioned on the affordable side of things. When you consider what you are actually getting for your money, it ultimately offers quite a lot of value. In addition to including both a strap and a stainless steel bracelet, most watches from small-scale independent brands at similar price points will be powered by lesser movements. When you factor in the well-conceived design and certain details like the domed acrylic crystal and innovative bezel, you ultimately get an incredibly charming and unpretentious watch that checks a lot of enthusiast-driven boxes and is flat-out fun to wear. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.