Welcome to Dialed In, Esquire's weekly column bringing you horological happenings and the most essential news from the watch world since March 2020.
The boutique brand watch segment has grown into a very interesting place for people who love watches but don’t necessarily have the funds for a big-name brand. Not all boutique brands are created equal, however. Many, in parallel with millennial fashion brands, brag about market disruption and transparency and cutting out the middleman in order to bring you watches that are “exceptionally designed” (read: over-designed) and “exceptionally priced” (read: the off-the-shelf parts cost pennies). Such marketing hyperbole is increasingly a red flag, and faux limited editions are increasingly met with skepticism. But at a moment when product integrity is starting to hold more meaning for people than clever marketing, brands like Unimatic have a distinct advantage.
Founders Giovanni Moro and Simone Nunziato, trained industrial designers, hit on a workable formula when they launched Unimatic out of Milan five years ago. One-and-done runs are limited—more by the scale of the two-man company rather than artificially—to a few hundred watches at most, and occasionally to just 50 or 100 for special editions like 2019’s “stonewashed“ white NASA watch or the brand's collabs with Massena Lab’s William Massena, the second of which sold out in no time flat in early December.
Also debuting in December was the U-4A shown here, a 40mm piece with a new, entirely bare, brushed-steel bezel. It came in a limited run of 500 and sold fast. And breaking with precedent, this time around fans can sign up to waitlist for a second batch—at this point it’s not known how many will be in the run—for delivery in February. So, if you’re into it, you still better get your skates on.
To be affordable, Unimatic’s movements (including in the UM-4A) are the reliable Seiko NH35 rather than Swiss; straps are mostly NATO style. Yet the 316L surgical steel cases have a weightiness to them that’s not common in boutique brands. And design is as much about what was left out as what was put in. In a period when restraint in watch design is rare as brands fall over themselves to persuade you of their luxury proposition, there’s a sense of consistent authenticity, value, and, critically, style in a Unimatic. That has created a fanbase—as much style nerds as watch nerds—able to geek out at a fraction of the price of conventional Swiss brands. If numerical proof were needed, however, just go check out the resale prices on eBay. These are frequently significantly higher than the original list price. You’re certainly better off buying direct if you’re quick enough.
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