Posted on September 03 2019
Undone Watches - Creating a Bespoke Luxury Watch
“Fancy popping around to my house and having a coffee while we design a watch?” I asked Graeme.
Of course he said yes. If you’ve collected watches for years, Patek’s and Rolex’s with a scattering of microbrands, then you’ll jump at any chance to chat watches with friends. So he’d have come anyway, regardless of the free coffee. But what really intrigued him was the watch design part of the invite.
How often do you get to design a watch?
For most people the answer is going to be ‘never’. Other than a Subway meal, bespoke, made to order products are for the rich. There’s a reasonable assumption that with customisation comes additional cost. It’s the price of luxury.
Undone Watches have their own take on the concept of luxury. It’s the ability to personalise the product and have it made to order that is luxurious. The price tag doesn’t have to be astronomical. If you haunt the watch forums and Instagram you’ll be familiar with the company and the concept - pay a few hundred pounds to put a watch together online, have Undone build the watch and ship it to you in a week or so. Simple.
Armed with a discount code for a complimentary watch we decided to test the concept and see what we could build.
The first thing that we noticed is that there’s a decent selection of Undone watches already there for the buyer. There’s four styles. A chronograph, a tool watch, a diver and a collection of collaborations. The first design decision you’ll need to make is whether you think you can improve on what Undone already supply as standard.
There’s probably not a great deal of sense in designing a bespoke but ugly watch. It’s worth taking your time and considering one of the off the shelf designs.
“Diver?” I asked Graeme.
“No, it’s got to be a Chrono”
“But everyone loves divers”
“Let’s do a Chrono. Something vintage”.
It turns out Graeme had done a little bit of homework. As he explained;
“The Undone founder used to repair and restore vintage watches and his designs reflect that. He’s called Michael Young, is based in Hong Kong and has spent more than a decade working on old watches”.
“So I can’t have another diver?” I moaned.
“You’d not prefer a Rolex Dato Compax look-a-like? Or something that resembles your favourite Russian watch, the Strela?”
He had a point. We fired up the Undone customiser and selected the Chronographs from the Urban collection.
First, we just messed with designs we had no intention of using. Like this black, minimalist design. As Graeme pointed out “Those minimalist watches have had their day”. I agreed.
Next I tried a classic, simple look. Silver, a few touches of gold and basic black hands. I liked that one. But maybe a nice 1960’s chronograph should be a little busier. With a bit more colour. Both the Rolex and the Strela have a lot more going on.
“How many dial options are there?” I asked.
Graeme counted 26 just in the chronograph section. A mixture of vintage, modern and sunray. The modern were a little too bright for what we wanted and the sunray plainer than we needed. Funnily enough, for our vintage inspired design we chose a dial from the Vintage category.
So for my watch I took Undone’s Urban Vintage Killy as my base. It was actually pretty close to what I wanted anyway. It was mainly the hands I fancied changing. The Undone design came with blue feather hands.
“Baton hands i reckon?”
We played around with some colours. The dial is cream with blue, black and red markings. So we tried hands in each of these colours. Turns out the blue from the standard design looked the best anyway. We fiddled with the second hand but left that as blue too - although we did opt for the lollipop style.
We were agreed that my watch looked pretty cool. The only contentious issue was the strap. By default I go with distressed leather on any watch that doesn't have a bracelet. Graeme suggested Perlon, his argument being that it’s suitable for a vintage piece and, being light and breathable, it's ideal for summer.
I wasn’t totally convinced but I picked a grey one and was very happy with the finished design. I’d left the case back as the solid version not being too fussed about displaying the Seiko VK61 Meca-Quartz movement.
“Your turn” I told Greame.
He designed this beauty, but it was all a bit academic. I had the discount code and would be writing the review, so we’d be doing my watch no matter how good his looked.
And that was it. A couple of cups of coffee, a discussion about vintage Rolex’s and some googling about Undone’s history - it’s initial launch on Kickstarter and it’s recent rapid growth. We were done. The watch was designed, the order placed and then it was just a case of waiting a week for shipping from Hong Kong to the UK.
Skip forward a week and the watch is here.
With Northwind Watches we wanted to sell the watch as a tool rather than a piece of jewellery. So the packaging was simple, almost spartan. Plain recycled card with the logo in black. Undone haven’t quite went that simple, but the packaging is definitely tasteful and understated. I like it a lot. A simple grey canvas box with a neat little leather holder to open and close it. The date of purchase stamped on the label gives another little nod to personalisation.
The watch itself is an impressive quartz chronograph that ticks the boxes we were aiming for. It’s 40mm and has a domed crystal that makes it 12mm thick. There’s 30M water resistance and the strap is 20mm.
Ah, the strap. I can’t help thinking that the Perlon strap doesn’t quite do the watch justice. A leather strap would have really enhanced the look and complimented the vintage aesthetic we were aiming for. With hindsight I would have probably preferred the leather rally strap in mud brown. That’s the last time I listen to Graeme.
But let’s not dwell too much on the specs. We know what you can get for the £205 that this watch costs. You could spend that and get a low quality fashion brand on the highstreet or a lower end mechanical watch online. The specs are pretty much what you’d expect at that price point. But that’s not really what the brand are selling.
What Undone want to sell is the experience. It was fun to get a mate around and spend an afternoon chatting about watches, googling our favourites and then trying our hand at recreating something similar on the Undone website. What they also want you to buy into is the concept of a customised watch. When your bespoke watch arrives you’re wearing something that you had a hand in producing and you’re unlikely to ever see the same watch on someone else's wrist.
In a world where every highstreet is dominated by the same chain stores selling the same brands, the smallest expressions of creativity can be thrilling. If you’d like to dip your toe into watch design, then this is an affordable and fun way to start.
Remember the company's ethos. Luxury is about choice, not price.