January 21, 2023
A big part of the reason why I enjoy Isotope as a brand is that the company has its own distinct aesthetic identity. All of Isotope’s watches incorporate the brand’s signature lacrima (teardrop) shape into their designs, and while some look like they could be plucked straight out of a video game or cartoon, others have a slightly more sober and serious overall aesthetic. Sitting toward the later end of the spectrum is the Old Radium series. This is Isotope’s version of a traditional pilot’s watch that goes about reimagining this category of function-forward timepieces by thinking about the watches that Isotope would have produced many decades ago had it not been founded more recently in 2016. The end result is a lineup of timepieces that have a distinctly vintage overall vibe. However, they don’t actually look like any one particular vintage timepiece from history, but rather one that might have come from a previous era in an alternate reality. The latest addition to the lineup is the Isotope Old Radium Bronze Tobacco, which continues the core design of the original model but doubles down on its vintage vibes with a sophisticated time-only brown dial and a duo of matching custom leather straps.
The case of the Isotope Old Radium Bronze Tobacco offers a fairly traditional round shape and is crafted from CuSn8 bronze, which gives it a warm rose gold color versus the more yellow brass-colored tones of other types of bronze alloys. The case itself measures 40mm in diameter by 10.1mm-thick, with 20mm lugs and an overall lug-to-lug profile of 47mm. Fitted to the top of the case is a thin smooth bezel that frames a flat sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating. At the 3 o’clock location sits a signed onion-shaped crown that is reminiscent of the style fitted to early pilot’s watches, and it screws down to the case to help create a fairly generous 100 meters of water resistance. The shape and texture of the crown make it easy to operate, although since its size is relatively compact, its onion-shaped profile means that a small bit of attention is required when lining up the threads to screw it back down to the case. While the bezel, crown, and middle case are all crafted from CuSn8 bronze, the screw-down caseback is made from sandblasted titanium to create a non-corrosive and hypoallergenic point of contact with the wrist, and it is set with a sapphire display window to offer a view of the self-winding mechanical movement that powers the watch. Despite being constructed from bronze with a titanium exhibition-style caseback, the overall shape and profile of the Isotope Old Radium Bronze Tobacco are very traditional and similar to what you would find on a classic pilot’s watch. However, its contemporary 40mm sizing and relatively flat overall profile make it perfectly suited for regular use as an everyday timepiece, rather than as a dedicated pilot’s watch to be worn exclusively over the thick sleeve of a flight suit.
Compared to the original Isotope Old Radium models, it is the dial of this latest edition that is the most significant departure in terms of the watch’s overall aesthetics. Arguably the single greatest update to accompany the new model is that the Tobacco Brown dial now features a symmetrical time-only display, and it omits the date window that previously appeared at 3 o’clock. That said, despite its differences, the dial of the Isotope Old Radium Bronze Tobacco also offers a number of similarities to its siblings, and it features a deep granular texture with the brand’s signature lacrima shape recessed into the center of its surface. While the majority of the dial appears in the model’s namesake Tobacco Brown color, the recessed lacrima is finished in a darker military olive hue that almost looks like a deep shade of brown in certain lighting. On the tobacco brown section are printed Arabic numerals in Old Radium colored Super-LumiNova. Extending toward the center from both the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock locations are small slanted luminous T-shaped lines that give the dial somewhat of a more instrument-inspired overall appearance and are a feature not found on the other Old Radium models. The Isotope logo and the word “Automatic” appear in white letters within the recessed lacrima section, along with the word “Limited” in small dark red text as a reference to the fact that the Old Radium Bronze Tobacco is produced as a limited-edition series of 100 examples. Surrounding the dial is an angled rehaut in a similar Military Olive color to compliment the center lacrima, and it features a white and black minute track punctuated by red squares and numerals to denote the five-minute markings. Since the angle of the rehaut gives it two surfaces, the slanted one adjacent to the dial features a standard white minute track, while the other surface that sits parallel to the crystal has a finer scale printed in black. This multi-dimensional rehaut combined with the recessed lacrima in the center gives the dial of the Isotope Old Radium Bronze Tobacco quite a bit of visual depth, and ultimately work together to create a very cohesive and integrated overall appearance.
At the center of the dial are a trio of brushed bronze hands for displaying the time. While the seconds hand on some Isotope models like the HydriumX are really no more than small running seconds indicators, the Old Radium watches receive full centrally-mounted seconds hands that extend to their minute tracks and can easily be used to measure short intervals of time. While the overall shape of the handset is rather similar to that of a traditional pilot’s watch, consisting of flieger-shaped hour and minute hands paired with a long and thin seconds hand, Isotope has ultimately put its own unique twist on them. In addition to having luminous centers filled with Old Radium-colored Super-LumiNova, the tips of both the hour and minute hands also receive a small luminous accent for a unique appearance and added legibility in the dark. Similarly, while the tip of the seconds hand also has a small luminous accent for added low-light visibility, it lacks any type of counterweight whatsoever, which gives the dial of the watch a more streamlined and modern overall appearance. Despite the firmly vintage overall vibe of the watch, the design of the dial is uniquely modern, and this contributes to the model’s distinct appearance. It’s also responsible for making it look as though it is a vintage watch but one that comes from some different planet or alternate reality.
Powering the trio of centrally mounted hands for the Isotope Old Radium Bronze Tobacco is the Swiss-made Landeron Caliber 24 automatic movement. At its core, this movement is essentially the same as the tried-and-true ETA 2824 or Sellita SW200, and it, therefore, runs at a frequency of 28,800vph (4 Hz) while also offering users a power reserve of approximately 40 hours. While my personal experience with Landeron movements is fairly limited, it has all been quite positive thus far, and every example that I’ve encountered has kept better time than its listed specs without exhibiting any issues or atypical performance. Similarly, due to the fact that the overall design of the movement is essentially the same as the versions produced by both ETA and Sellita, the Landeron Cal. 24 promises to be reliable and easily serviceable, with a near-endless supply of compatible replacement parts. Despite being virtually identical from a technical standpoint, the Landeron Caliber 24 is more elaborately finished than what you will find on comparable movements from both ETA and Sellita. It features perlage on the bridges and plates, blued screws, and a rotor with Geneva stripes that also is adorned with Isotope’s signature lacrima emblem. Additionally, the version of the Landeron Cal. 24 fitted to the Isotope Old Radium Bronze Tobacco is a proper no-date movement to perfectly correspond with the watch’s time-only dial, and it does not feature the annoying “phantom position” that can sometimes be found on time-only watches that use a ubiquitous third-party movement design. All things considered, when it comes to small-scale independent brands, a proven third-party caliber design is exactly what you want in watches at this price point. The Landeron 24 promises to provide exactly that, along with also giving you something decently pretty to look at through the sapphire window in the sandblasted titanium caseback.
One additional nice feature about the Isotope Old Radium Bronze Tobacco, compared to its siblings from the Old Radium collection, is that it comes with two different strap options. The first is the standard two-piece strap made from dark brown Italian calf leather that features integrated quick-release spring bars and tapers from 20mm at the lugs to 18mm where it connects to a chunky Isotope-signed CuSn8 bronze pin buckle. This standard two-piece strap is quite soft and incredibly comfortable, although it is the second strap option that is arguably the most interesting. Handmade in Barcelona by DidymoStraps exclusively for this version of the Isotope Old Radium, the strap offers a design that could best be described as a variation of the Marine Nationale style strap that is characterized by its flat hook-style latching system. That said, rather than passing under the case like a traditional fabric Marine National style strap, this variation connects separately to each springbar, meaning that it does not add any thickness to the watch’s overall case profile. The strap itself features bronze hardware to match the case of the watch, and it is crafted from full-grain vegetable-tanned leather from Tuscany, Italy. Additionally, it features a vintage style finish that is designed to naturally age and compliment the patina that will form on the case of the watch. While both straps are ultimately made from brown leather, they offer two very different styles, and while the unique Marine Nationale style strap would be my choice for casual wear and everyday use, the two-piece option makes an excellent alternative that elevates the watch and makes it more capable of being worn with more formal attire. Both of these straps equally suit the personality of this watch, and I’m happy that Isotope provides both with the purchase of it, rather than forcing buyers to choose between two equally lovely but very different options.
When it comes to bronze watches, many of the best options available on the market will exist within somewhat of a sweet spot when it comes to their price range. Although there are a number of surprisingly decent options that can be purchased for as little as a few hundred dollars, most collectors are going to want to spend a bit more to ensure that they receive a watch that truly satisfies them from a more discerning, enthusiast-driven level. That said, bronze is a metal that naturally ages, and once you are paying too much more than a couple thousand dollars, there is certainly a case to be made for choosing a different material (such as steel, titanium, or even ceramic) that might be better suited to serving as a medium to showcase the superior levels of finishing that likely exist on those more expensive timepieces. At the time of writing, the Isotope Old Radium Bronze Tobacco has an official retail price of $1,083 USD, although the actual retail price is £900 GBP, and this will automatically get converted to your specific currency at the current exchange rate. This allows the watch to sit perfectly in that sweet spot of cost, where you get a unique design and solid attention to detail, yet it is not so expensive to the point where you feel as though its appearance is something that needs to be protected or preserved. While it does cost slightly more than the other Old Radium models, this is simply due to the fact that two very nice leather straps are included with the watch. Given how challenging it can be to find decent straps with proper matching bronze hardware, I think the small retail premium is well worth the additional price. Bronze watches aren’t for everyone, and neither is Isotope’s signature lacrima-based design language. However, for those that are fans of both, the Isotope Old Radium Bronze Tobacco is a remarkably fun timepiece that offers vintage vibes, highly versatile proportions, and a unique twist on a classic pilot’s watch design. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.