August 13, 2019
by Ariel Adams
Fortunately for me, I actually like swimming. That quality does not define everyone who has a passion for dive watches. Every chance I get, I like to do something in the water with a timepiece designed for that purpose. Recently, I got the chance to take a watch I designed — the Undone Aqua BLK + YLW — with me to one of the best swimming spots in the world: the Bahamas (more specifically, the Island of Nassau, where I traveled for the first time). I spent at least two hours a day (often more) in the water while in this popular travel destination. There, a dive watch is not just a luxury status item, it is a tool.
No one ever thinks about watch durability until they actually consider getting their timepiece wet. There is a moment of worry each time you put a fresh watch into the water for the first time. I have had watches fog up before – but never flood – so the worry is not without merit. Dive watches aren’t just about water resistance; they must also be really easy to read, durable, and — most importantly – comfortable. On the customized black and yellow NATO-style strap, the Undone Aqua is surprisingly comfortable on the wrist for a 43.5mm-wide timepiece that also happens to have a surprisingly weighty case.
For hours on end, while sweating or snorkeling, the NATO strap didn’t cause me a hint of bother. It is sort of amazing how endlessly versatile and effective these sometimes crude and not at all luxurious straps can be. There is no way a leather strap would have been that pleasant to wear in so many different circumstances.
I think I did a pretty good job with the black and yellow color palette, along with aBlogtoWatch’s Art Director Matt Smith-Johnson, on making a new Rolex Submariner-style dial for Undone to produce for this special version of their Aqua product we call the Undone Aqua BLK + YLW (debuted on aBlogtoWatch with more information here). Legibility is excellent in most lighting conditions and underwater. The only drawback of having black-colored lume is that it isn’t very bright – but then, again, it is so darn bright in the waters of the Bahamas, you just need a clear dial — not a glowing one.
I’ve long wanted a watch with a yellow case, and Undone finally made one for me with this special edition that I’m happy to say is also making other people happy. Yellow is a difficult case color to achieve for a few reasons. The bottom line is that even though there are materials in any color you can imagine, not every material is good for a watch case. PVD coatings (which make for excellent metal watch case coatings) only come in a particular spectrum of colors, ranging from a sort of metallic green to black. Ceramic is the most logical material to construct a yellow case from, and soon, yellow ceramic will be available. At the time, it is not.
Lighter colors have proved very difficult to render in stable, smooth colors in ceramic. Dark colors or white is what ceramic (zirconium oxide or dioxide) is best for. We are starting to see blue ceramics becoming more popular, but brighter colors such as red or orange are still rather exotic, and mostly only produced as bezels as opposed to entire cases (with Hublot being an exception with its red ceramic case).
The lack of availability of yellow ceramic as a case material, as well as the inability to coat or color metal, has made yellow cases unavailable. If you want a yellow case, you need to make one out of ABS plastic (which honestly wouldn’t be the end of the world – though it wouldn’t be very durable). For the Undone Aqua BLK + YLW, we took a sort of shortcut to get the 200-meter water resistant thick steel case in yellow — each was given a Cerakote application. Cerakote is an industrial coating that happens to come in a lot of colors. While it is very durable by coating standards, it is of medium coating strength by watch standards. That means Cerakote – with enough hits and scuffs – will begin to chip off. It is just the nature of the beast and, frankly, it makes me want to tell people that in order to enjoy the Aqua BLK + YLW watches the most, get two — one you can wear and abuse, and another that you can keep in pristine condition. Come on, watch collectors have done far weirder things.
On the topic of durability, I will say that, after wearing several Aqua BLK + YLW prototypes, I have yet to damage any of them or have the Cerakote coating come off. I also happened to take the watch into salt water many days in a row and, so far, it looks unblemished. The rest of the watch is pretty durable, such as the black ceramic (Yachtmaster-style) bezel insert and the thick AR-coated domed sapphire crystal.
With a case inspired by Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms and other design elements inspired by Rolex (depending on the version, that is), the Undone Aqua is not trying to be a wholly original product, but rather a platform for fashionably playing with tried and tested good ideas in watch design. Pretty much anyone can customize the watches, thanks to Undone’s customization department (though I have to admit I did need to pull a few strings to get them to put this many new parts into something, as compared to one someone can order as a one-off piece), which is what makes the concept so fun. That said, it has taken me more than 10 years as a watch collector to even considering having the confidence to make my own designs. Some of you out there might have the confidence to design your own watches sooner. I am only coming into the designer mindset after years of critiquing some of the world’s best horological products.
Wearing the Aqua BLK + YLW is an interesting experience because you start to notice everything else around you that is black and yellow. Black and yellow represent two-thirds of the colors of the Bahamian flag (and against the turquoise blue waters around Nassau it becomes the flag). There are countless black- and yellow-colored fish swimming in the water, and lots of the diving equipment you’ll find is also black and yellow. There also happens to be a surprising number of outfits and bikini combos around the islands with the same coloration idea. I bet that, in different parts of the world, this and future BLK + YLW watches will take on all sorts of identities.
Powered by a Seiko Instrument NH35A automatic movement, the Undone Aqua is serviceably a workhorse and does a decent job in most conditions. It isn’t going to win any chronometry competitions but it is a pretty good value for the money and gets the job done (error free, in my experience). We decided to leave out the date window in this watch, even though I tested versions of the Aqua BLK + YLW with the date. Perhaps those might come in the future. Who knows….?
In fact, the future of the BLK + YLW watch theme is in collaborations – and Undone was the first. It isn’t trying to be a watch brand but rather an aesthetic concept whereby I will design BLK + YLW (black and yellow) versions of products by brands I choose to work with. They will be (predictably) focused on a black and yellow color theme.
It merits repeating what the sales concept for the Aqua BLK + YLW watch is since the model is (at least for now) uncommon in the watch industry. I prefer to do limited-edition watches as infrequently as possible. I don’t like the idea that not everyone who wants to purchase something can. Who is a watchmaker to say no to good money? So, I agreed with Undone to keep sales open for a few months until we feel everyone who wants to order one of the watches has an ample chance to. We then close sales, and production of the watches will end for good. This way, the people who got one will feel that their exclusivity is protected and, at the same time, no one feels arbitrarily left out of purchasing something when they were there ready with cash in hand. Clearly, I have a lot to say about limited-edition marketing — and I will save that for another discussion.
Yes, I have a business interest in the Undone Aqua BLK + YLW but at a retail price of just $585 USD (with margins being split multiple ways), I don’t think I need to defend against unfair profits here. My goal is to bring fun, accessible, and interesting wristwatch experiences to timepiece lovers just like me — and after wearing my Undone Aqua BLK + YLW, I feel that I have been able to deliver (at least to myself) just that.
Order Undone Aqua BLK + YLW Watch until August 21, 2019 here.