Over the past several years character-themed watches have seen a major resurgence in the enthusiast community, going from kitschy retro throwbacks to genuine fashion statements, and much of the success of these new character watches comes down to design philosophy. These modern character watches aren’t so much watches with a character slapped on them as they are watches with character, designed from the ground up to fit the look and feel of the fictional character they evoke. UNDONE has been at the forefront of this character watch revolution for years, bringing to life timepieces inspired by fictional characters as disparate as Astro Boy and Batman. The brand’s latest, most exclusive series to date aims to launch a new, aggressive blacked-out take on existing designs, starting with a pair of watches inspired by beloved cartoon sailor Popeye. The limited edition UNDONE Popeye Mono and UNDONE Brutus Mono are a fittingly stylish launch for its new Monochrome Series concept, giving these familiar characters a new rock-and-roll design sensibility without losing any of their playful charm.
Both the UNDONE Popeye Mono and the UNDONE Brutus Mono begin with matte black DLC-coated 316L stainless steel cases. The Brutus Mono takes the bolder and more modern approach of the pair, measuring in at 43mm-wide and a hefty 16.5mm-thick with a rounded contemporary take on traditional dive watch cues. Everything about the case design, from the curving broad crown guards to the tall knurled “pistol grip” edge of the dive bezel, aptly reflects the barrel-chested and imposing stature of Popeye’s longtime nemesis Brutus (or Bluto, depending on the version). Although undeniably bold and beefy in initial images, the Brutus Mono’s case does showcase some solidly nuanced visual detail, particularly through the raised polished numerals of the dive bezel and the signed display caseback. By contrast, the Popeye Mono takes a slimmer, more traditional approach, measuring in at a balanced 40mm-wide. The Popeye Mono’s case is flowing and skin diver-esque in initial images, with a smoothly tapering chamfer on the sporty lugs and an unguarded octagonal crown. The most impressive feature of this case, however, is its engraved zirconium dioxide ceramic bezel insert. Ceramics of any kind are a rarity at this price point, and UNDONE’s full dive scale appears crisp and moody in initial images. Like its counterpart, the Popeye Mono uses a signed display caseback with a frosted effect in initial images. Although both models are certainly diver-inspired, there is a marked difference in capability between the two. The larger, more modern Brutus Mono is dive-ready at a hefty 300 meters of water resistance, but the smaller Popeye Mono is rated for a decidedly less impressive 100 meters.
In keeping with the blacked-out minimal philosophy of its new Monochrome Series, both the UNDONE Popeye Mono and the Brutus Mono simplify their dial designs as much as possible. This new black-and-white look fits particularly well with these characters, hearkening back to the prewar black-and-white Fleischer Studios film cartoons that made Popeye an international star. Both dials use the same printed dive indices in bright optic white, complemented by bold outer minutes tracks and heavily grained dial surfaces in matte concrete gray. Dial text is similarly minimal, restricted to a well-hidden UNDONE signature embedded in the 6 o’clock section of the minutes tracks. This pared-back approach keeps as much focus as possible on the characters themselves in images, allowing the classic Popeye and Brutus line art to come to the fore. The lack of color on these classic prewar cartoon designs both grounds them solidly in the past and gives them a sharper, more visually punchy edge.
UNDONE powers both the Popeye Mono and the Brutus Mono with the reliable Seiko NH35A automatic movement. While finishing on the NH35A is decidedly workmanlike, UNDONE’s use of a frosted display window for both watches allows some of the visual complexity of these automatic movements to shine through in images without revealing too much of their undecorated natures. In terms of performance, the NH35A is fairly average for the price, offering a 42 hour power reserve at a 21,600 bph beat rate along with an unspectacular (but likely conservative) stated accuracy of +15/-15 seconds per day. To complete the monochrome looks of these watches, UNDONE pairs both models with black strap designs. For the Brutus Mono, the brand opts for a minimalist black rubber strap, while the Popeye Mono takes its more vintage-inspired case design a step further with a black DLC-coated oyster-style bracelet in matte 316L stainless steel.
With edgier, blacked-out designs and minimal presentations, the limited edition UNDONE Popeye Mono and UNDONE Brutus Mono offer a more aggressive and fashion-forward take on the modern character watch. Only 300 examples of the UNDONE Popeye Mono will be made, while the UNDONE Brutus Mono is further limited to only 100 examples. In addition, both watches will be limited to only 50 examples per region – for example, once 50 pieces of each model have been sold in the United States, these watches will only be available outside the country. The UNDONE Popeye Mono and UNDONE Brutus Mono are available now for purchase at MSRPs of $599 and $699, respectively. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.