February 17, 2021
by Nick Lehner
You might assume that the name of watch brand CuleM is derived only from Founder Matthew Cule’s last name and first initial. According to the brand, the name is also derived from the combination of the suffix “-cule,” which represents something small (think molecule), plus M for “meaningful.” And meaningful things are what the brand aims to do, starting with donating 3% of all sales to conservation and humanitarian causes (unless there’s an “unsale” going on, in which case donations are increased).
Founded in 2018, and initially funded via Kickstarter, CuleM was inspired by Cule’s love of travel. As with many small watch brands, he was inspired to build watches in his own style, but Cule also wanted to use the opportunity to do something good for the world. The lofty goal of CuleM is to pivot the Swiss watch industry toward sustainability and encourage others to follow in its footsteps. CuleM says that, for every watch sold, it will plant 100 trees, protect six acres of rainforest, assist in the cleanup of our oceans, and help impoverished women and children around the world. The brand says that it has already planted over 10,000 trees as part of the CuleM forest in Madagascar.
The dials are the highlight of the Frame collection watches. The deep blue dial on the version I’m reviewing features lacquered lines radiating from the center, giving the appearance of scallops, in certain light. Over the top, a map of the world is represented by geometric patterns in blues and grays separated by thin metal frames (hence the name). The map even overlaps the white GMT hour ring and protrudes toward the minute markers. The appearance of the dial changes drastically depending on ambient lighting, with the main surface, as well as the continents, shifting from vibrant blue to gray to black.
If you’re someone accustomed to more traditional watches, the dial can come off as a bit busy, but that is not what CuleM is after. The buyer of this watch wants something that looks dressy and a bit formal from a distance but has unique details upon closer inspection. I see this watch being a conversation starter, even if you’re not in a crowd of watch collectors.
The diamond-shaped hands are proportioned well, with the long minute hand reaching over the GMT ring and applied, polished indices, and the seconds hand reaching the small hashes. The drawback of fully polished hands is that they tend to disappear in certain lighting conditions, in this case, exacerbated by the shapes on dial (the exception being the red-tipped GMT hand, a reference to the Welsh dragon from the area in which Cule grew up). If legibility is your top concern, some of the other models have lighter dials with dark hands that should be better in this regard. I do like the sectored dial of the Frame best out of all the models, though, so I think it is a worthy tradeoff. Another small nit to pick is that it is a shame to disrupt the artistic map with a large white date cutout. Having the date is surely useful to world travelers, though, and its placement at 6 o’clock is the best possible location.
In keeping with the dressy theme, the Frame GMT’s case is fully polished with beveled lugs and a stepped bezel. At 40mm-wide and 10mm-thick, it sits squarely in the middle of the preferred size range for many men. It is large enough to give some real estate to the dial but still small and thin enough to be worn under the proverbial cuff. As watches with thin bezels tend to do, it wears larger than the diameter dimension indicates, but I think it’s still small enough that people with small wrists can wear it too. CuleM says the gold-colored models are especially popular with women.
The relatively flat caseback and long, downward curved lugs allow the watch to sit flush on the wrist. The AR- coated sapphire crystal is flat, making it feel as thin as its 10mm dimension indicates.
The crown is slightly recessed into the case, meaning it should never apply any pressure to the back of your hand. This does, however, make it a little difficult for those with larger fingers to adjust the GMT hand. Said crown features an engraved CuleM “C” logo. This is intended to represent a dragon’s eye, another reference to Welsh symbolism. Recently, I’ve been noticing a fun trend of crowns with helical grooves cut in, and CuleM has employed that in the World GMT’s push-pull crown. Its website says they were inspired by the waves of the sea.
Flipping the watch over, you’ll find that the caseback features a display of various cities’ time zones and their offsets from GMT and BST (British Summer Time) laser-etched into the polished surface. Around the perimeter, the names of the six continents are engraved. A mineral display window gives a view of the top grade ETA 2893-2 automatic movement (making it an office GMT), including an extra cutout for the balance wheel which gives some additional appeal to the back. It is held down by six screws and provides 50m of water resistance. Featuring 21 jewels, the 2893-2 beats at 28,800 vph, and will run for 42 hours on a full wind. With this application, it has nicer finishing than many standard ETA calibres. I think buyers of this watch will appreciate being able to see the heart of their CuleM.
All of the World GMT watches include a thin and supple matching leather strap with quick-release spring bars. They also include your choice of a second color leather strap, or a Milanese mesh steel bracelet, also with quick release and a slim clasp with a flip-lock. This watch came with the standard blue strap and the mesh bracelet option, both of which are quite comfortable. The leather gives the watch a more subtle look, while the polished bracelet ensures that it attracts a bit more attention. The bracelet has a nice taper and is very comfortable. The 21mm strap is also very comfortable, but a taper to 18mm rather than 20mm would give it a more elegant look, and make it that tiny bit more wearable. The strap is still quite nice and makes me wish that all brands would spec their watches with quick-release spring bars like these.
At $1,100 USD, the Swiss Made CuleM Frame GMT offers a unique alternative to the larger entry-level Swiss brands. Most big-brand watches at this price do not feature a top-grade ETA 2893 movement or a five-year guarantee, and none that I’m aware of has a dial with this level of detail. The CuleM will turn more heads and elicit more comments from observers than your typical similarly priced Hamilton or Tissot that one might cross-shop it with. To learn more, visit the brand’s website.
>Model: Frame GMT (Blue)
>Size: 40mm-wide, ~10mm-thick, and ~47mm lug-to-lug distance.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: To a meeting where business attire is required, especially one in another time zone.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: A world traveler who is well-dressed and likes something unique that could be a conversation starter.
>Best characteristic of watch: The variety of colors and textures make the dial mesmerizing to look at.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Fully polished hands and that intricate dial mean that legibility is compromised in some lighting conditions.