Though Italy may not be known for its long heritage in horology, the country is most certainly known for its style and fashion. From Armani to Versace, you could write a children’s alphabet book of the Mediterranean country’s fashion brands. So, while Milan-based Unimatic may not have the centuries of experience in watchmaking that its Swiss neighbors to the north can claim, there’s more than enough fashion history for the brand to call upon. And Unimatic certainly understands style and design — a fact that’s abundantly clear from even a quick glance at the brand’s catalog and its latest release, the 36mm Unimatic U5S-ML, created in collaboration with fellow design virtuoso, William Massena.

If you’ve been following the world of watches, this likely isn’t the first time you’ve run across William Massena and his eponymous design group, Massena LAB. Over the past few years, Massena LAB has collaborated with brands as diverse as MB&F, Ming, and Habring2. What these brands — and Massena LAB — all have in common is a willingness to experiment and take creative leaps, resulting in collaborative pieces that push the boundaries of the brands’ traditional design language. While MB&F may be well outside the budget of most of us mere mortals, the Massena LAB collaboration with Unimatic represents a much more accessible and wallet-friendly option for the rest of us.

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Like most of Unimatic’s watches, the U5S-ML is stripped down to the basics. Indeed, when approaching this collaboration, Massena took things a step further and looked toward mid-century German design and the works of luminaries such as Dieter Rams. Born out of the Bauhaus school of design that emphasized functionalism, Rams’ work on Bavarian automobile dashboards of the 60s and 70s was characterized by a utilitarian aesthetic with clean lines and a minimalist aesthetic. Though Bauhaus-inspired design, with its focus on function-first minimalism, can sometimes err towards simplistic (some might say boring), when done right with watches (e.g., NOMOS, Junghans), the results can be exceptionally stylish and legible. And that is definitely the case with U5S-ML. Simple, sure, but absolutely stylish and legible.

The black dial on the U5S-ML is interrupted only by thin, unlumed minute markers, the hours demarcated by slightly longer indices. Branding and text are kept to a minimum and, in typical Unimatic fashion, located above 6 o’clock with the upper half of the dial kept sterile. The hour and minutes hands are oversized and stark white and filled with Super-LumiNova C1, making a stark contrast to the dial. Even in low light, when the markers are hard to discern, the hands jump off the dial making time-telling easy. We’re used to connecting oversized hands with large, luminous hour markers, so the effect here is unexpected. While luminous markers would have improved nighttime legibility, they would also disrupt the aesthetic and lose the originality of the piece. One knock against the legibility of the piece, however, is the domed sapphire crystal that can be rather reflective.

The only slight bit of color you’ll find on the otherwise monochrome watch is at the leading edge of the seconds hand, which is finished in straw yellow — a colorway that’s something of a calling card for Massena LAB. Interestingly, the lollipop counterweight is lumed, providing the only dynamic movement you’ll see in low light and adding an unexpected touch as it rotates close to the center of the dial. Rounding out the details, at 6 o’clock on the dial, you’ll find a color-matched white-on-black date window. While some may argue that a no-date dial would be more in keeping with the Bauhaus ethos, remember that Bauhaus is all about functionalism, and for many, a date window is a functional must. If you’re going to add a date, this is about as unobtrusive as it gets.

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The 36mm stainless-steel case is straightforward and unadorned. The lines are clean, the brushing is smooth and consistent, and you won’t find any visual superfluity like beveled edges or contrasting polished surfaces. In other words, it’s a good aesthetic match to the dial — stripped down and straightforward. The lug-to-lug distance, at only 43.7mm, is nice and short, sloping down from the mid-case. Unimatic lists the case height at just over 11mm (presumably not including the crystal), though given the dimensions of the rest of the piece, it does look and wear slightly thicker. It’s not a deal-breaker, but something to be aware of if you’re looking for a piece that wears more like a dress watch, which this certainly doesn’t. That said, the 8mm crown, 300m of water resistance, and wide lugs (I’ll get to those in a moment) should probably be a giveaway that this is no dress watch.

Now we get to the 22mm elephant in the room. Compared to the 18-20mm lug width we’re used to on watches of this diameter, the 22mm lug width seems massive. And it is. But those wide lugs, coupled with a rubber strap, really set the U5S-ML apart as something more aggressive than a typical 36mm watch. On the wrist, thanks in large part to the wide lugs, the watch ends up wearing larger than expected, but not in a way that’s as easy to quantify as simply saying, “It wears like a 38mm watch.” It simply wears differently than other 36mm watches.

In addition to the tapering black TPU strap, Unimatic includes an additional straw-yellow strap. Both fit well with the watch, though I found myself gravitating toward the black, as it fits better with my personal style. This is a watch that could easily pull off a wide range of straps, but the rubber straps are quite comfortable and I didn’t find myself interested in swapping them out.

Inside the Unimatic U5S-ML is the automatic Selita SW200-1. Beating at 28.8kbph with 38-40 hours of power reserve and 26 jewels, this Swiss Made movement is always a welcome sight at the sub-$1000 price point. It’s not fancy, but it’s robust, reliable, and accurate. Hard to ask for much more.

The Unimatic U5S-ML sneaks in at just under the $1000 price point, with a retail price of $995 USD. With only 300 produced, it’s unlikely the U5S-ML will be available for terribly long. Also, if you like the style of the U5S-ML but are looking for GMT functionality, check out the U5S-ML24, though only 99 of those are available. To learn more about the Unimatic and the Massena LAB U5S-ML collaboration watch, please visit either Unimatic or Massena LAB.

Necessary Data
>Brand: Unimatic
>Model: U5S-ML
>Price: $996
>Size: 36mm diameter, 43.7mm lug-to-lug, 11.05mm thickness, 22mm lug width.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: This is a classic go-anywhere-do-anything watch, albeit with an extra bit of style and panache, so I’d wear it anytime… but maybe save the yellow strap for weekends.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: A style-conscious friend looking for a smaller, comfortable sports watch but who is afraid of it looking too small. Or someone who happens to have an abundance of 22mm straps and doesn’t want to have to stock up on new straps for a small watch.
>Best characteristic of watch: Extremely legible thanks to the oversized handset and minimalist dial. Wide lugs give the watch a unique look that will be quite appealing to some.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Wide lugs give the watch a unique look that will be off-putting to some.

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