As part of its celebrations for this year’s International Women’s Day, NORQAIN has teamed up with its ambassador Dean Schneider to create a new wildlife-inspired watch for women. For those who may not be familiar with NORQAIN’s list of brand ambassadors, Dean Schneider is a Swiss wildlife sanctuary founder who runs the Hakuna Mipaka Oasis in South Africa. This isn’t the first time that Dean has collaborated with NORQAIN, and just last year, he teamed up with the brand to produce a limited edition version of its Wild One sports watch that featured actual sand from the grounds of his animal oasis incorporated into its construction. The latest collaboration piece to join the lineup for 2023 is the NORQAIN Independence 40mm Hakuna Mipaka, and it embraces a leopard print pattern and a largely gray and black color profile to create a unique twist on one of the brand’s signature case silhouettes.

Unlike previous models from its Independence collection, the new NORQAIN Independence 40mm Hakuna Mipaka features a more compact case that measures 40mm in diameter by 12.05mm thick, with a lug width of 20mm and an overall lug-to-lug profile of 46.3mm. Crafted from 316L stainless steel with a black DLC finish, the case offers all of the same hallmark characteristics as the other larger models from the brand’s Independence collection, with its thick sculpted lugs, large angular crown guards, and the separately mounted plate attached to the side of the case at the 9 o’clock location (which also receives a matching black DLC finish). Similarly, the top of the case gets fitted with a flat anti-reflective sapphire crystal, the reverse side receives a screw-down caseback with a sapphire display window, and the signed winding crown at the 3 o’clock position screws down to help guarantee 100 meters of water resistance.

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While the case is essentially a smaller version of the classic Independence collection that has been given a black DLC finish, the dial fitted to the NORQAIN Independence 40mm Hakuna Mipaka represents a significant aesthetic departure while still feeling like one of the brand’s signature designs. At a quick glance, the dial almost looks a bit like the textured dials fitted to the Wild One series, although upon closer inspection, it is actually black with a gray leopard print pattern throughout its surface. Applied rose gold plated hour markers filled with white X1 Super-LumiNova surround the periphery of the dial, while a small date window sits along the interior perimeter at the 3 o’clock location. To match the hour markers, a trio of rose gold plated hands with luminous tips reside at the center of the dial, while the applied NORQAIN and Hakuna Mipaka logos also receive a matching rose gold finish.

While many of the NORQAIN Independence models receive the brand’s own manufacture calibers (which are produced by Kenissi), the new Independence 40mm Hakuna Mipaka is powered by the Cal. NN08, which is essentially NORQAIN’s version of the popular Sellita SW200-1. As such, it offers a proven, known-quantity design and runs at a frequency of 28,800vph (4 Hz) with a power reserve of approximately 38 hours. While I’m sure that there are a number of people who were hoping to see one of the brand’s manufacture calibers, it’s important to note that the movement fitted to the NORQAIN Independence 40mm Hakuna Mipaka is a COSC-certified chronometer, and in addition to being guaranteed to keep time to within -4/+6 seconds per day, it is also fitted with a custom rose gold finished NORQAIN oscillating weight, which can be viewed through the sapphire display window in the caseback.

Completing the NORQAIN Independence 40mm Hakuna Mipaka is a two-piece black rubber strap that continues the theme of the gray leopard print pattern that can be found throughout the dial. Produced exclusively for NORQAIN by its manufacturing partner BIWI SA, the rubber strap features fitted ends that contour to the shape of the lugs, and it fastens on the underside of the wrist using a chunky stainless steel pin buckle that has a matching black DLC finish. Additionally, rather than just being printed on the strap’s surface, the gray leopard print pattern is slightly raised, and it offers a soft velour-like texture for a slightly more elevated appearance.

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Along with being released on International Women’s Day, NORQAIN seems to be positioning the new Independence 40mm Hakuna Mipaka as a women’s model within the press materials, although with its versatile case size and neutral colorway, I could see this watch being equally appealing to anyone who enjoys its subtle wildlife-inspired aesthetic. Additionally, unlike the previous collaboration piece that NORQAIN created with Dean Schneider, the new NORQAIN Independence 40mm Hakuna Mipaka will not be produced as a limited edition, and it will be joining the catalog with an official retail price of $3,690 USD. Given that NORQAIN sells the Neverest 40mm with one of its manufacture movements for roughly the same price, this does feel slightly expensive, although it’s important to note that 10% of the proceeds will be donated to the Hakuna Mipaka Oasis in South Africa to help further its conservation goals, so in addition to offering a truly unique design, this watch also helps benefit a good cause. For more information on the NORQAIN Independence 40mm Hakuna Mipaka, please visit the brand’s website

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