April 23, 2023
Over the past few years, the watch industry has seen the dawn of a new age of affordable exotic complications. Hour chimes, world timers, and even tourbillons have moved into more affordable market segments than ever before, and brave budget-minded enthusiasts now have the opportunity to experience parts of the watch world previously restricted to the ultra-wealthy. ATOWAK is one of the young brands at the forefront of this new wave of more affordable complications, focusing particularly on unique hours displays. Its flagship Cobra design takes this philosophy to the furthest extreme, delivering an Urwerk-style satellite hours display in a suitably avant-garde package for the same price as a well-appointed Hamilton. For 2023, ATOWAK adds a set of dynamic new colorways to this design, spearheaded by the aggressive, high-tech Volcano Red option. The new ATOWAK Cobra Volcano Red might well offer more horological spectacle per dollar than anything else on the market, and while it may not reach the refinement of truly high-end satellite hours models, it’s surprisingly well made and undeniably fun.
Although the satellite hours display is certainly the ATOWAK Cobra Volcano Red’s centerpiece, its black-coated 316L stainless steel case is far from a shrinking violet on the wrist. At 43mm-wide and 16.2mm-thick, it certainly stands out, although a relatively manageable 50mm lug-lo-lug length makes it commendably adaptable for smaller wrists. Of course, using standard dimensions for the Cobra Volcano Red is more than a little misleading thanks to its singular case construction. When viewed on the wrist, the Cobra Volcano Red’s complex, asymmetrical planar case looks like a cross between a Nighthawk stealth fighter and a snake, and this resemblance is no accident. As the name suggests, the Cobra series is designed to emulate the silhouette of a hooded cobra’s head viewed from above, and the broad, vaguely trapezoidal outline does give off an air of stylized, serpentine power. The broad, sloping carbon fiber inserts at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock work to heighten this illusion, visually separating the Cobra’s “hood” from its “head” while lending the design a racy, aggressive feel. However, the wildest case elements by far are the dual sapphire crystals. A seven-sided sloping crystal stretching over the lower half of the case showcases the Cobra Volcano Red’s main timekeeping elements, but the brand also includes a smaller display window near 12 o’clock to frame its logo and give wearers a better look at the satellite hours mechanism in action. There’s a compelling blend of brushed and polished facets throughout the case to further break up this futuristic geometric form on the wrist, and while the finishing itself may not be world-class, it’s executed cleanly enough to allow this otherworldly shape to shine on the wrist. ATOWAK adds a small elliptical sapphire display window to the caseback as well, displaying a sliver of the movement within. Watches with these sorts of exotic complications are rarely robust, and the ATOWAK Cobra Volcano Red is no different with a miniscule 30 meter water resistance rating.
While the rest of the design is certainly striking, the semi-skeletonized dial is the heart and soul of the ATOWAK Cobra Volcano Red. Like many other satellite hours layouts, the Cobra’s timekeeping functions are relegated to a solitary third of the dial, in this case the sweep between 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock. A bold, easily legible two-layer minutes scale keeps track of the current time, and also adds a dose of modern personality to the layout through its graphic outer scale and sporty Arabic minutes numerals in vivid scarlet. ATOWAK opts for a complex variation on the basic satellite hours complication here, fitting each of the three centrally mounted satellite arms with a revolving block to display the current hours numeral, rather than the more commonly used rotating hours disks. Fitted to a gleaming red anodized aluminum central mount and adorned with carbon fiber outer cages, these arms cut an aggressive, futuristic figure on the wrist. In addition, these elements allow for an impressively clean and intuitive reading experience after a few minutes of acclimation. The brand also continues the venomous visual theming of the design through these arms, topping them with razor-sharp polished needle hands to give the Cobra Volcano Red a suitably deadly-looking set of “fangs.” Underneath this panoply of mechanical details, the main dial surface is rendered in ripple-textured matte black, adding impressive visual depth to the overall layout.
Although the ATOWAK Cobra Volcano Red’s satellite hours module is made in-house, the base movement inside the watch is the familiar Miyota 9039 automatic movement. Sharing much of its architecture with the ubiquitous 9015, the 9039 forms a reliable, simple platform for the brand to build upon with its complications. This eliminates one of the great concerns with “affordable exotic” watch designs, and should make the watch comparatively easy to service in the future. While it goes without saying that the 9039 lacks the panache of more ornate in-house movements, it does offer decent performance, with a 42 hour power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate. The movement finishing is on the basic side, with striping across the bridges and a signed blacked-out rotor, but at this price point it’s difficult to offer with the movement package offered here.
ATOWAK completes the Cobra Volcano Red with a pair of included strap options. First among these is a heavily padded strap in black leather. This offers a solidly attractive look on the wrist, with contoured padding segments that continue the lines of the Cobra’s offbeat quick-release central hooded lugs, but it does require a fair amount of break-in time. In addition, this strap gives the watch a tendency to slide around the wrist somewhat. By contrast, the black-coated three-link bracelet matches the angular lines of the case handsomely, but a lack of micro-adjustment can cause the lug structure to dig into certain wrists.
With a truly spectacular complication married to a futuristic serpentine design and a remarkably modest price point, the new ATOWAK Cobra Volcano Red is proof that the age of affordable exotic complications is well and truly here. The ATOWAK Cobra Volcano Red is available now through the brand’s e-commerce platform. MSRP for the ATOWAK Cobra Volcano Red stands at $1,999 USD as of press time. For more details, please visit the brand’s website.
>Model: Cobra Volcano Red
>Price: $1,999 USD
>Size: 43mm-wide, 16.2mm-thick, 50mm lug-to-lug
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a fun show piece for watch meetups, or when meeting enthusiasts new to the watch hobby.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Experienced collectors looking for a bold haute horlogerie complication without spending premium prices.
>Best characteristic of watch: Show-stopping wandering hours complication; impressively robust base movement.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Uninspiring fit and finish; chunky case dimensions; potentially uncomfortable straps.