August 12, 2020
by Bilal Khan
Last week, Norqain released the new Independence 20, the young brand’s limited-edition sports watch that debuted its new NN20/1 movement done with Kenissi. We covered a lot of the aspects of the partnership with Kenissi, as well as initial thoughts on the Independence 20 when it launched last week, so I will try to stick to hands-on impressions and my thoughts about handling the watch in the metal. My first impression of the watch actually had nothing to do with the green dial (which I do like), but rather how impressed I was with how well-built and finished the case is. For a brand that’s just about two-years-old (though the leadership team is steeped in and highly connected to the Swiss watchmaking industry), Norqain is hurtling toward being a serious player in the highly competitive low-to-mid five-figure sports watch price category.
The big topic of conversation about the Independence 20 has been the COSC-certified manufacture calibre NN20/1, which is Kenissi’s first movement for Norqain. Largely speaking, the NN20/1 and the also-Kenissi-produced Tudor MT5621 are very similar, with the exception of the latter using a silicon balance spring and having a power-reserve indicator function. With a 70-hour power reserve, the NN20/1 operates at 28,800 vph and is chronometer-certified. The movement is finished nicely enough and has a customized rotor, though it’s the balance bridge that reflects the Kenissi connection between the NN20/1 and the MT5621.
The dial of the Independence 20 is a “scratched forest green” that is right on trend for the moment (a neutral statement, by the way). The execution of the scratches creates some nice patterns on the dial, and no two dial patterns will be exactly the same. The matte forest hue of green looks so good here, and it’s a refreshing change of pace from some of the brighter greens out there. Norqain clearly has taken a cue from Grand Seiko here, understanding that the time and money a thoughtful signature dial takes are well worth the effort in today’s market.
Norqain understands the importance of dial legibility, with healthy AR coating and matte finishing essentially eliminating glare. For this, two-year-old Norqain deserves a lot of credit, as some brands who have been around since the Mesozoic era have apparently still not figured this out. Rounding out the dial are the raised chapter ring, nice-quality lumed applied indices, and lumed hands that are legible and have appropriate length. I do feel slightly ambivalent about the red-arrow tipped seconds hand. There were times I appreciated it and other times it felt a bit out of place. I am, however, reminded of the long ties and history between Norqain’s ownership and Breitling, which often uses a similar red arrow seconds hand.
Also, yay, no date window.
The steel case is 42mm-wide, 11.8mm-thick, and has a lug-to-lug height of 48.75mm. I was immediately impressed by the finishing on the case. With polished, sandblasted, and satined finishes throughout the case, the Independence 20 comes together in a cohesive way. The milled recesses on the lugs and stylized crown guards add a design touch that lends personality to the watch, if not a slightly aggressive vibe. What did surprise me was how much I appreciated the case silhouette created by the Norqain plate on one side and crown guards on the other. Clearly inspired by the Nautilus case shape, the Independence 20 looks natural and balanced. The Norqain plate is standard on every watch from the brand (and can be customized), and the crown guards here do an excellent job at balancing the case.
The 100M water-resistant case is robust enough to be used as an actual sports watch, though on the steel bracelet this is not a lightweight piece. I personally like the feeling of some heft on the wrist, so this isn’t a negative at all. That said, if you aren’t sure where you land on wrist weight as a factor, then definitely try it on first.
Almost all photos I’ve seen of this watch have been on the bracelet, as is the piece that was sent to me, though it does also come on a leather strap. The three-link bracelet has brushed outer links with polished center links that have something of a cleave running down the center. The bracelet feels nice and solid though I do wish there was some robustness to the folding clasp with a micro-adjust system. Given Norqain’s trajectory, I will assume they will upgrade their bracelet game fairly soon, but right now I can only comment on what’s in front of me.
The Norqain Independence 20 is limited to 200 pieces and occupies the very crowded ~$3,000 sports watch category. Yes, there’s a lot of competition out there from brands like Oris, Longines, and several others, including a handful of the independents. Still, Norqain has the shine of something new while not falling into being part of a big group or being a small independent brand and all the challenges that entails. In terms of finish, build quality, movement, and design, the Norqain Independence 20 delivers something on par with just about every competitive brand you can think of. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement when it comes to the bracelet, but it really is impressive that a two-year-old brand can deliver a product like this. If you have the opportunity, try it on and decide for yourself. The Norqain Independence 20 is limited to 200 pieces and has a price of $2,840 on leather strap and $2,990 on bracelet. You can learn more at norqain.com.