When Italy-based small watch maker Unimatic originally launched a few years ago, aBlogtoWatch was among the first brands to review it. Since then, the company has launched a successful stream of mostly under-$1,000 fashionable sport watches that all share a similar theme, inspired (mostly) by Rolex vintage sport watches and building on those designs to make them a refined men’s fashion timepiece wearable today. Pretty much all of the Unimatic watches I know of are limited editions — which is part of the smart concept behind the brand. In essence, they are able to take a few core dial and case designs and render them in a variety of watches for different tastes. Today, for example, I go hands-on with the really cool Unimatic U1-EMN with its minimal “skeleton” dial.
Unimatic, as a brand, is a result of various influences, ranging from Rolex to Bamford (a once-prolific and unbridled aftermarket Rolex customizer). I recall seeing these “stencil-style” hour markers in the Submariner style on a Bamford first. Where Unimatic entirely beats companies like Bamford is price, and what the brand can be most credited for is not its particular take on modern watch design, but rather appreciating that borrowing tactics, such as limited-edition production and using a traditional tool watch design, made a lot of sense as these price points. Unimatic watches aren’t actually cheap for what you get, but they don’t come with $20,000 price points — you can have a hip and rather exclusive timepiece on your wrist in a relatively affordable vintage-military style.
The Unimatic U1-EMN begins with the brand’s main current case design that is original but clearly inspired by a lot of watches that came before it. The size is 40mm-wide in steel and it has 300 meters of water resistance. The soft edges and matte black DLC coating on the case make it feel both modern and minimalist. Parts like the crown are unique for Unimatic and they further play with aesthetics and functionality, adding a simple-dot rotating bezel. Extremely uncommon on professional diving watches (on which the U1-EMN core theme is based), the single-point bezel is found more often on some vintage aviator watches. What it is doing here? It just looks cool — is that not enough, sometimes?
Unimatic is funny because, while most of the brand’s core essence is inspired by Rolex, they take a lot of small measures to say “no, we are different.” Look, for example, on the dial of the watch at the 6 o’clock hour marker. It is placed in a horizontal position (as opposed to vertical, as you’d normally find it). For me, this is Unimatic trying to distinguish itself from the large universe of watchmakers directly inspired by the passion that many collectors have for vintage Rolex watches.
While the Unimatic case is tough and anitmagnetic, the movements Unimatic uses are still ones that enthusiasts like me like to forget are in the case. It isn’t that the Japanese Seiko Instruments NH35A automatic movement is bad — it is, in fact, quite hardy. The NH35 family is, however, not the most accurate and it’s exceedingly common even at much lower price points. Competitor Citizen released a lot of much better movements small brands can buy, but Seiko still offers great movement prices and can deliver them on time. Eventually, I believe Seiko will make even more modern mechanical movements available for purchase by brands like Unimatic — because I think collectors want 4Hz versus 3Hz movements in watches such as this.
Unimatic’s customers appear to be a steady mix between fashion/mainstream consumers and watch collectors. The latter will always demand more for the money, but they are the best testbed for new designs and ideas. The U1-EMN also comes with some spirited strap choices, my favorite of which is a fluoroelastomer NATO-style strap. It also has a simple Horween black leather strap (whose black ink rubbed off a bit on my skin). The Unimatic U1-EMN was produced as a limited edition of just 200 pieces. As far as I know, they are sold out right now. Retail price is 625 Euros. Learn more at the Unimatic website here.