Sean: It’s probably best if I start off my portion of this review with a disclaimer: Despite being a dyed-in-the-wool superhero fan, I was never all that into Batman as a kid. Other than the excellent animated series with Mark Hamill’s iconic Joker performance, I was a Marvel kid, far more invested in the struggles of Spider-Man, Wolverine, and the Incredible Hulk than anything going on in Gotham. Like many people, though, my outlook changed with the release of the Christopher Nolan films. This darker, more realistic take on Bruce Wayne’s world came right around the same time I began my journey as a watch collector, so having a chance to explore them both is an interesting experience.
Right off the bat, it’s clear to see Undone has drawn from a wide variety of sources for the limited-edition Undone x Batman series, which should appeal to fans of all Bruce Wayne’s 80-year history. The Caped Crusader is undoubtedly the bolder of the two, with a playfulness and daring to the design that combines the best of the wild and wacky ‘60s years with the punchy, dark color palette of Tim Burton’s 1989 film. On the other side of the coin, the Dark Knight takes a much more modern approach. The reserved, gray and black look wouldn’t feel too out of place in the Christopher Nolan trilogy, or in Frank Miller’s grittier takes on the character. The real question, however, is what is the Undone x Batman collection like to live with? How does it stack up out in the real world?
Without introducing all the Gotham City set dressing, there’s a lot to like about the basic design of these two timepieces. The semi-cushion shape of the 40mm titanium cases is straight out of the classic ‘60s Heuer Camaro, but the introduction of the darker, lightweight metal helps to make this one somewhat its own animal. It’s more purposeful, modern, and tactical without going fully into the realm of militarism. That said, that 40mm size is deceptive. Part of what gave this shape its charm in its original incarnation was the diminutive 37mm diameter, keeping the watch compact and manageable on the wrist. This wears like a square case overall, and at 40mm that leads to the piece taking up a lot of real estate on the wrist. It’s not quite overwhelming for my seven-inch wrist, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind as a buyer.
The case further differentiates itself around back with a broad display window. These are nothing new in this day and age as brands look to show off the artistry of their movement designs, but what makes this one stand out is that the Undone x Batman collection is powered by the Seiko VK64 meca-quartz hybrid movement. Outside of Grand Seiko, display backs for a quartz movement are basically unheard of, and it would be disingenuous to call this particular movement decorative. It’s a left-field design decision that shouldn’t work at all but somehow ends up endearing. It feels like a mark of confidence here: For the price, no buyer is expecting a mechanical chronograph, anyway, so why not embrace what this watch is? Beyond that, just because there isn’t a moving balance wheel to watch doesn’t mean the VK64 is devoid of visual interest. Around the edges of the movement and through gaps in the plates, the actuating of the pushers and the engagement of the chronograph is easy to spot and adds some offbeat visual charm.
Where these two watches begin to diverge are the dials. Even before taking in the Batman accoutrements, the Caped Crusader takes a more vintage approach with a set of ‘60s style square applied indices in stainless steel flanked by printed minute markers. The comic book material itself is a interesting array of both loud and subtle nods to the character’s history. The black and yellow color scheme and Batarang chronograph minutes subdial feel right out of Michael Keaton’s gothic, twisted 1989 take on the character, while the subtle lumed radar display that forms the backdrop of the main dial is pulled straight from the dashboard of Adam West’s 1966 Batmobile. The blend of bright color with subtle detail works surprisingly well in concert, and long glances at the dial reveal hidden visual rewards like the yellow 80 on the outer tachymeter scale to commemorate 80 years of Batman. While it’s all fun to look at, though, some of this stylized take makes the watch more difficult to actually use. That stylized chronograph minutes hand is basically impossible to read as the ears of the bat symbol don’t actually point to the current elapsed time, a problem that isn’t helped be the relative scarcity of markers on the sub-dial. In addition, that lumed radar display adds unnecessary visual clutter when trying to read the watch in low light. The 24-hour indicator at 3 o’clock, though, is clear as day.
The Dark Knight, on the other hand, is a cleaner and more modern approach. The indices here are sharper, more refined, and made of a titanium that blends in with the background rather than shouting for attention. While there are still nods to the character throughout, these don’t come at the expense of function. The Bat-symbol here, for example, is an almost ghostly presence recessed into the 3 o’clock sub-dial that only really comes to life in the dark (much like Batman himself). The Wayne Industries logo at 12 o’clock is another fun nod. Over the years, Bruce Wayne’s titular corporation has been involved in everything from military contracting to communications, heavy industry, finance, medical research, and much more, so why not watchmaking, as well? Overall, the design here feels a lot more usable, more everyday and less ostentatious. If the Undone Caped Crusader is Batman, then the Undone Dark Knight is Bruce Wayne, the urbane and low-profile alter ego.
The strap selection for these two watches reflects this philosophy, with the Caped Crusader receiving a matching black and yellow Cordura strap that wouldn’t feel out of place as part of Batman’s own costume. On the other hand, the Dark Knight feels more boardroom appropriate on slate-gray alligator-patterned leather.
The Seiko VK64 movement inside the Undone x Batman collection has become increasingly common among microbrands in the past few years for good reason. In many ways, this hybrid powerplant is a best of both worlds proposition. This powerplant combines the reliability, accuracy, and cost-effectiveness of a quartz movement with many of the tactile benefits of a traditional mechanical. The mechanical chronograph module means that the chronograph seconds sweeps like a mechanical, ticks like a mechanical, and the pushers snap into action with a viscerally satisfying action with none of the mushiness sometimes associated with quartz.
When trying to decide on my feelings about these watches, I kept coming back to a moment when I was about eight-years-old. It was Halloween, and my little sister was dressed up as Tinkerbell from Peter Pan. She loved that Tinkerbell costume, spent the whole month leading up to Halloween demanding to wear it, but that little green dress always bothered me since it had a picture of Tinkerbell herself printed on the front. “Why would Tinkerbell wear a dress with a picture of her own face on the front?” I thought. At first, I felt the same about the Undone x Batman collection. Why would Bruce Wayne want to wear a watch announcing he was Batman? The man has a secret identity to protect, after all. However with a little bit of time, just like my sister’s dress, I mellowed on the collection. It’s all for fun after all, and Undone clearly isn’t taking itself too seriously. With that in mind, the one that grew on me the most during its time on my wrist is undoubtedly the Caped Crusader. It’s loud, quirky, and far from the most practical timepiece in the world, but it makes no attempt to hide what it is or apologize for itself. Both the Caped Crusader and the Dark Knight shouldn’t be any collector’s first or only chronograph for these reasons, but at a retail price of $359, these are impressively well made and brimming with charm. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.
To offer a contrasting take on this distinctive collaboration, we’ve invited noted watch journalist Steve Lundin to offer his opinions on the collaboration below.
Steve: Hong Kong based Undone, under a license agreement with DC comics, has released a Dynamic Duo of watches to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Batman, everyone’s favorite Dark Knight. Undone has been thoughtfully building a niche in the custom/quasi-homage watch space with models that emulate everything from the Speedmaster to the 50 Fathoms. The X Batman collection joins existing X collabs that include a Monopoly Watch named Moneyman and designed by Stephen Bliss (Grand Theft Auto), and a Peanuts Lunar Mission watch, with a definite nod to the highly collectible Omega Speedmaster Snoopy award series. Future collaborations include Moomin (a Swedish Hippo things), Ultraman (when will they get around to Thunderbirds!) and a Peanuts watches (no explanation needed).
Watch tie-ins with comic book characters are nothing new, and Batman leads the pack as one of the most highly licensed pieces of 20th century intellectual property. Batman’s explosive and genre launching debut began on the cover of Detective Comics # 27 (1939), carried him through the second world war, the 50’s, a massive resurgence in the 60’s with ABC’s high camp television show (in living bat-color), through the mid-80’s with the Dark Knight series, the late 80’s/early 90’s Tim Burton series reboot, then again in the 2000’s with Christopher Nolan’s three movie take on the Dark Knight. No other character, including usual suspects Superman, Captain America or even Spider-Man, has enjoyed the 80 years of popularity and merchandising success as Batman, the original masked (comic book) superhero.
The Batman name has been associated with several dark-themed watches over the years, notably the Rolex GMT Master II, with a blue and black ceramic bezel, named by collectors, NOT the company, and the Romain Jerome (excuse me, RJ, these days) licensed Batman-themed watch (a limited edition that missed the mark for plenty of Batman fans). How has the Batman character and mythos lasted so many generations? Batman’s greatest contribution to the superhero genre stems from the fact that he’s not super. Alright, he’s super-rich, a super-socialite, in super shape and has the ability defy aging and is a genius, but besides that, he’s just like the rest of us, right? Like Bond, he’s flesh and blood, not powered by a spider bite, genetic mutation or bolt of lightning. So, in a sense, he could be any of us, on an endless quest to complete Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey.
Character treatment watches, outside of the flat out disposable “toy” watch, seem to fall into two camps: the outright novelty watch (think Swatch Flik Flak “Superman’s Back in Town” or the branded version of an existing product, like the Casio G-Shock Avengers Series). What makes the Undone Batman collection so interesting is the treatment — it’s literally a new product that makes as much a statement as a watch as it does about the wearer’s feelings about comic book characters.
Undone celebrates what are arguably two of the milestone periods in Batman’s development arc: the 1960 bright, loud, pow, pop, bang, ziff, whoosh period and the much more sedate and monotone rebirth as penned by Frank Miller during the now classic Dark Knight series. It’s the latter bookend that’s probably most familiar to Undone wearers; however, as everything old is new again to the Millennial crowd, the camp brilliance of the 60’s series will no doubt be “discovered.” (I’d add bell bottoms, macramé and decoupage to that list, as well.)
Undone treatments are wrapped around the company’s first-ever all-grade-II titanium vintage Heuer-style cushion-shaped case, with nicely domed Speedmaster type crystals, surrounded by integrated pushers for the subtle tachymeter scale surrounding the dial. Next to rose gold titanium is my go-to fave case material. It’s a great travel option and communicates “tool” sensibility without the cheap feel of polymers or plastics. The case measures in at 40mm in diameter (43mm, including crown) and 48mm lug-to-lug length. Both watches are powered by the Seiko Caliber VK64, a hybrid mecha-quartz movement derived from the pioneering work of Frédéric Piguet and Jaeger-LeCoultre in the mid-late 80’s, designed to instill a mechanical feel into a quartz chronograph.
The “Caped Crusader” features bold yellow accents on a black dial with a Batman chest-plate logo at the 9 o’clock position. Turn out the lights and the dial reveals a green luminous detect-a-scope and bat signal minute sub-dial that rotates as the chronograph times, crossed by the ice-blue hands and indices. Proud comic collector, vintage rerun junkie, or just plain over-the-top geek? You’ve found your watch.
The “Dark Knight” is a much different animal, subdued with a stealthy gray palette, “Wayne Industries” centered at the top of the dial and the bat signal at the 3 o’clock subdial. This is the watch for anyone who wants to quietly announce a Batmania fetish without parading it in anyone’s face, something Don Draper might wear if he read comic books.
In creating character-driven watches on a new platform, Undone has taken the novelty treatment to a new level. While we can’t imagine Daniel Craig’s James Bond wearing a James Bond-edition Omega, it’s not hard to see Adam West sporting an Undone Caped Crusader.
Each watch within the Undone x Batman collection retails for $359, with Undone donating a portion of the proceeds to support the work of the Hope for Henry Foundation, which helps ill children and their families.
Steve Lundin is a journalist and author who has been covering the watch industry since 1998.