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Founded in 2018 by Ben Küffer, NORQAIN is a family-owned, independent watch company that has quickly built a reputation for producing robust tool watches with a fresh, interesting design language. Based in Bienne, Switzerland, the young, forward-facing brand prides itself on its open-minded, rebellious approach to watchmaking, and that ethos is most definitely evident in the brand’s most recent release: The Wild ONE Hakuna Mipaka Limited Edition.

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A limited edition of just 300 pieces, the Wild ONE Hakuna Mipaka Limited Edition is NORQAIN’s third collaboration timepiece with 30-year-old wildlife ambassador Dean Schneider. While Schneider had a promising career ahead of him in finance, he gave it up to move to South Africa and establish the Hakuna Mipaka Oasis, a wildlife sanctuary and animal rehabilitation center that is now home to thousands of zebras, giraffes, leopards, lions, and other species. Schneider’s passion, drive, and fearless spirit make him a perfect collaboration partner for the Swiss brand, whose slogan is “your life, your way.”

As perhaps the brand’s most ambitious model, the Wild ONE is NORQAIN’s first watch created under the guidance of Jean-Claude Biver — a legend in the luxury watch industry. Last year, it was revealed that Biver (who formerly served as CEO of TAG Heuer, Hublot, and others) had joined the NORQAIN board of advisors and would be playing a role in product strategy. Throughout his career, Biver has been known for his emphasis on innovative materials, as well as a modern, industrial-leaning aesthetic.

One of the defining features of the Wild ONE is its utilization of the brand’s proprietary NORTEQ material used in the case. NORTEQ is a carbon-fiber composite specifically developed to offer the perfect mix of density, elasticity, and shock resistance. In addition to its durability, the material is six times lighter than steel and three and a half times lighter than titanium, making for an excellent wearing experience. Also noteworthy is the fact that NORTEQ can be dyed in a variety of different colors, which is unique for a carbon fiber material.

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This particular iteration of the Wild ONE has several thoughtful design cues that pay tribute to its inspiration. It boasts a golden brown palette that echoes the color and texture of King Dexter of the Hakuna Mipaka Oasis — a lion Dean Scheider has known since Dexter was a lion cub at the Oasis. The dark brown laser-etched dial features a lion’s fur pattern and is adorned with the Hakuna Mipaka shield-and-spear logo. The warm aesthetic is accentuated by red-gold-plated skeleton hands and indices, which are meant to evoke the dusky evening light in the Hakuna Mipaka Oasis.

The 42 mm modular case of the Wild ONE is comprised of no fewer than 25 parts. While the different case elements (at least those that are visible) make for an interesting, dynamic design, the case construction serves an important functional purpose: It allows the watch to be both extremely light and shock-resistant. Weighing in at just 84 grams, the Wild ONE has been shock-tested to 5000g. Moreover, the watch also maintains an impressive water resistance rating of 200 meters.

Visible through the sapphire caseback of the Wild ONE Hakuna Mipaka Limited Edition is the Kenissi Calibre NN20/1, a chronometer-certified Swiss self-winding movement with 70 hours of power reserve. Engraved around the caseback window is Dean Schneider’s mission statement: “We need to learn to love them exactly the way they are and not the way we wish them to be!”

Taking into account its modular construction, use of new materials, and innovative design, the Wild ONE most definitely has Jean-Claude Biver’s DNA all over it. However, that is not to say that the piece feels derivative; in fact, it’s far from it. Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of this watch is that it manages to be completely novel yet somehow maintain a versatile, familiar feel.

All in all, the Wild ONE Hakuna Mipaka Limited Edition is a thoughtfully designed and extremely well-executed timepiece with a heartfelt and compelling backstory. Priced at $5,590 USD, the watch will be presented with a special sand-colored Hakuna Mipaka cap and special Hakuna Mipaka packaging. 10 percent of proceeds from sales of the timepiece will contribute to Dean Scheider’s animal preservation mission. Learn more at NORQAIN’s website.

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