Minimalism is a term that has been overused in the product world the past few years. Minimalist wallets, backpacks, coffee makers — just insert the product you’re looking for followed by “minimalist” into a Google search, and you’re likely to find a whole trove of items you never knew needed minimizing. However, minimalist design, when truly done well, is something I really appreciate, and Unimatic is one of the companies that hit the mark.
Unimatic is an Italian microbrand that focuses on dive watches. Unlike many microbrand dive-watch companies, Unimatic offers no homage designs, but instead have built a line of unique, starkly minimalist products. Over the past few years, Unimatic has consistently released affordable designs that build upon their distinct minimal design language, and I’ve gotten to wear one of their more recent releases, the U1-E, for the past few months. I’ve found it to be a really fantastic piece. I’ve brought it along with me on two trips, taken it for a dip, worn it for a few rounds of sporting clays, several hikes, and along the way grew a deep affinity for this diver. Let’s take a closer look at the U1-E and what makes it tick.
The U1-E fits right into my sweet spot, size-wise. At a diameter of 41.3mm (44.3mm including the crown), a thickness of 13.75mm, and a lug-to-lug of 48.7mm, this watch wears very comfortably on my smaller wrist. The case retains a classic dive-watch case shape, with shorter, stubby lugs, and a large 7.9mm crown flanked by crown guards on either side. The all-around finishing here is smooth, brushed satin with no polished surfaces in sight — which, if you ask me, is exactly how a dive watch should be.
Moving around back, you’ll find a steel caseback engraved with a conversion scale, as well as your usual watch specs, such as water resistance (300m), and the Made in Italy designation. All in all, the case of the U1-E is harmonious with the rest of Unimatic’s design language. There are no double crowns, helium escape valves, or fancy accoutrements; the case remains minimal, clean, and undoubtedly utilitarian.
The dial of the U1-E is really what first captured my attention. It’s easy to become inured to seeing the same design elements used frequently when it comes to dive watches, but the dial design of the U1-E is starkly different from everything else I’ve seen, with a flat black dial, highly contrasting white circular hour markers, a large triangle at 12, and no Arabic numerals in sight. Everything here is kept as simple as possible, but is somehow still extremely eye-catching, with a uniquely charming minimalist vibe.
In lieu of a large Unimatic logo on the top half of the dial, this design opts for a small amount of text just above the date window at 6 (which is, coincidentally, my favorite date-window placement). The “phantom ladder” hands continue the black & white theme, as does the lollipop seconds hand, with a contrasting white-dipped tip. And at night, everything glows a cool blue, thanks to the generous application of BGW9 Super-LumiNova. While the lume isn’t blindingly bright, it is more than adequate for daily use.
If it seems like I’m smitten by this dial design, it’s because I am. Unimatic has achieved a unique design language that is instantly recognizable in the microbrand world. Every design element of the dial has been brought down to its most essential state, without losing any personality, and I really applaud Unimatic for striving to be different in this regard. Pulling off a minimal design such as this, without creating an ultimately bland watch, has got to be difficult, but it comes together very well here on the U1-E.
Because this is a dive watch, we must look at the bezel. Unimatic has gone for a black sapphire bezel insert, with a circular pip at the 12 position, minute markers all the way around, with Arabic numerals for 15, 30, and 45. The entire bezel and all the markers are fully lumed in BGW9 blue lume that glows (albeit dimly) along with the dial. I ultimately found that most of the time, I didn’t notice the lume in the bezel unless I got a really good charge in the sunlight, but the pip was usually bright enough to be noticed; nonetheless, it’s a cool addition, but the luminous material could have been better applied on the bezel.
The bezel has 120 clicks and, because it’s a dive bezel, it is mono-directional. Each click is satisfying from both a tactile and aural perspective, and there’s no noticeable play between the positions. The coined edge of the bezel is easy to grip, and by my eye, everything here is solid. This isn’t a bezel that I found myself turning for fun due to the amazing feel, but it’s overall solidly made, especially for the price-point of the U1-E. Aside from the lume application on the bezel, there are no changes I’d make here.