The modern luxury watch industry offers a more diverse landscape of products today than at virtually any other point in history, with watches to suit nearly every taste and budget. Until now, however, I’ve never seen a modern watch I could rightfully describe as “psychedelic.” The wild, trippy world of psychedelia is an intriguing visual space to explore, but these qualities also make it difficult to balance against the practical needs of watchmaking. Danish boutique brand Arcanaut appears to have squared this design dilemma with the new Arcanaut ARC II Fordite, combining a cleanly Scandinavian minimalist form with a truly one-of-a-kind dial material that pays tribute to American automotive history while presenting a dazzlingly chaotic array of colors and patterns. The end result is one of the most striking and visually compelling independent releases in recent memory, and one that remains balanced and impressively easy to wear.
The 41mm-wide 316L stainless steel case of the Arcanaut ARC II Fordite is sleek, futuristic, and restrained, counterbalancing the wild spectacle of the dial with a clean and adaptable form. This is an ergonomic, impressively restrained design overall, with a unique inverted lug structure, curving case profile, and a significant case side undercut that work together to provide a compact, balanced stance on the wrist. Although simplicity may be the keyword to the ARC II Fordite’s case design, it’s not without its own subtle flourishes, including raised polished case side edges that add dynamic highlights to the largely matte blasted case surfaces. The narrow sloping bezel takes on a classic radially brushed finish for a touch of added contrast, but the real visual standout here is Arcanaut’s unique rectangular crown design. Rather than screwing down for security and water resistance, the 3 o’clock crown instead clicks into a specially designed recess in the case side, preventing unwanted rotation. A fingernail-shaped cutout on the underside of the crown allows the assembly to be pulled back out for winding and setting, but when not in use the entire crown design fits seamlessly into the case side, echoing the design language of the semi-integrated lugs. Arcanaut keeps the watch’s only branding confined to the caseback, where a printed representation of the chaotic Fordite pattern is surrounded by a ring of standard text. The Arcanaut ARC II Fordite offers a solidly sporting 100 meters of water resistance.
With a fully pared-back layout and skeletonized hands, the Arcanaut ARC II Fordite’s dial exists primarily as a showcase for the Fordite material itself. For those who are unfamiliar with Fordite, this is not a precious stone or some exotic organic compound. In its most basic, unromantic sense, Fordite is nothing more than ordinary car paint. It’s a naturally occurring byproduct of automotive factory painting. As cars are sprayed with paint on an assembly line, overspray and residual paint begin to build up on the spray booths and equipment used in the process, and over the years layers of various paint colors solidify into blocks of rock-hard colored material. Like any natural gemstone, this can then be cut, shaped, and polished to reveal a wild, often unpredictable pattern of colors. Each layer of paint here represents another car on the road and another story in the life of the factory, whether the car was a humble economy commuter or a roaring muscle machine. A recent conversation with James Thompson of Black Badger (the company that cuts and finishes the dials themselves) confirmed that Arcanaut’s Fordite material is sourced from various automotive factories around the Detroit area, and dates from between the 1970s and the 1990s. Modern multi-stage paint technologies and manufacturing techniques make Fordite a far scarcer material in contemporary auto assembly lines, so the majority of available material with any provenance dates back to this era at the latest. Although the name suggests it comes strictly from Ford assembly lines, Fordite is a catchall term, and the specific material used in the dial of this watch potentially came from a Dodge or Plymouth assembly plant (for reasons we’ll delve into later).
The dial of this particular Arcanaut ARC II Fordite is a wild, psychedelic mix of whites, blacks, silver, and vibrant pops of red, green, blue, and even a tiny spot of yellow, all spread through a bubbling chaotic mix of amorphous shapes. In short, it’s one of the most dynamic dial layouts in recent memory, and Arcanaut wisely avoids any dial text, scales, or indices that might detract from this surface. The brand’s broad skeletonized “Grand Paw” handset does add a set of orange-coated (non-luminous) tips to aid visibility against this complex backdrop, and this slight concession to utility does make the ARC II Fordite a more usable design than initial impressions might suggest. Given the nature of the material, every example of the ARC II Fordite will offer a truly distinct dial layout, ranging from parallel stripes of color to nearly monochrome blocks with embedded nodules of contrasting hues. This dial hits a sweet spot between complexity and overwhelming color, however. While paint colors such as white, black, and silver are understandably nigh-on impossible to identify at a glance, there are hints of several distinctive ‘70s-era Plymouth paint codes on this dial, including Rallye Red, Lime Light, Jamaica Blue Metallic, and a near-microscopic spot of Lemon Twist near the 5 o’clock position. It’s naturally a dial that rewards deep scrutiny and contemplation, but despite the dreamlike swirls and colors it never veers into feeling overbearing. Much like another Danish psychedelic designer, Verner Panton, Arcanaut weighs its vibrant spectacle against a simple, streamlined overall form for an impressively balanced presentation (although this adventurous style will naturally spark divisions among enthusiasts).
Inside the Arcanaut ARC II Fordite beats the Soprod A10 automatic movement. This is a lesser-seen Swiss alternative to the ubiquitous Sellita SW200 or ETA 2824, and it offers comparable if unspectacular performance. The A-10’s listed 42 hours of power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate is beginning to feel a bit long in the tooth when compared with newer, high-power-reserve movement options, but this remains a reliable and easily serviced powerplant. Without a running seconds hand, however, we were unable to determine overall daily accuracy over the testing period. Arcanaut completes the ARC II Fordite with a wide array of clean, semi-integrated rubber straps in colors ranging from classic black and navy blue to brown and vibrant red. Over the course of the review period, I personally gravitated toward the white strap option, as it echoed the large white patches of the dial while still providing a clean visual backdrop for the overall design.
With its genuinely unique, psychedelic Fordite dial material and a robustly built Scandinavian minimalist platform, the new Arcanaut ARC II Fordite delivers a distinctive, satisfying, and remarkably balanced on-wrist experience (even if this sort of style is almost inherently divisive). The Arcanaut ARC II Fordite is available to preorder now through the brand’s e-commerce platform. MSRP for the Arcanaut ARC II Fordite stands at $3,950 USD as of press time. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.
>Model: ARC II Fordite
>Price: $3,950 USD
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a bold and psychedelic weekend wear, or as a subtle enthusiast flex at automotive events.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Enthusiasts looking for a truly one-of-a-kind dial design; American car buffs looking for a statement watch.
>Best characteristic of watch: Excellent balance between minimal form and wild, vibrant color, solid construction, comfortable straps.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Average movement; low legibility.