07: CARPENTER by Damien Vizcarra

Carpenter Watches was founded in 2013 by Brooklyn-based industrial designer Neil Carpenter. Each watch is automatic, powered by a Miyota 821A movement. There are four different color variations and all of them are handsome. I opted for the M1 Brooklyn Field which has a cream colored dial housed in a polished stainless steel case. At first glance, there is something strikingly familiar about the watch. The M1 harkens back to a WWII era aviator appearance.  It is straight-forward, simple and utilitarian with form and visual cues that are reminiscent of an explorer's compass or a vintage military-issue field watch. Although the finishes, details, weight and materials elevate its quality far above a retro-inspired fashion watch. The overall shape is a clean round puck with a dome sapphire crystal lens that makes the entire form soft.  The lugs look like a craftsman hammered steels dowels into shape, welded them onto the housing, and gave every piece of metal a few hours of polishing. To neutralize the mirrored finish are muted, natural brown leather straps that feel substantial because of the layered cut-edge construction. It all comes together to feel handmade and bespoke.

The word 'Brooklyn' proudly takes center stage on the dial along with the brand mark, and the watch does look distinctly American.  In terms of timepieces, if Switzerland and France claim luxury, Germany claims utility and legibility, and Japan claims function, then America claims craft. The kind of craft from which the country was built during the turn of the last century.  That craft then thrived through the mid-century, but had a woeful architecture and design period through the 70's whose relics I try to rinse from my memory. Fortunately, craft in the US started to return around Y2K and has been getting stronger ever since. Craft now even takes the form of societal movements: maker movement, craft beer, handmade soft goods and accessories, artisanal food, local sourcing and rough lux interior spaces.  Craft is most certainly having an influence on contemporary industrial design, even as the world grows more digital (perhaps because the world is becoming more digital). This brings us back to the where we are with the design of goods like the Carpenter watch. Appropriately, New York and Brooklyn are places where you can still see some genuine artifacts from that industrial era.  You could find subway tiles, brass trim, brownstone architecture, clubhouse leather, pillars in open spaces, and weathered wood trusses long before bearded hipsters tried to claim the look or Restoration Hardware made it a thing.  Carpenter watches is not trying to inauthentically replicate that aesthetic. Rather, they have skillfully manipulated enough visual elements to capture some of that romance while establishing an identity of its own.

I discovered Carpenter watches on a design blog and noticed that they had a robust following on social media before selling a single unit.  As mentioned in my previous review, supporting new brands on platforms like Kickstarter is a win/win.  There was plenty of demand and built anticipation in Carpenter's case which is an enviable position to be in when you’re ready to put your product out for pre-order.  I can imagine there was probably a healthy amount of pressure on Neil when followers kept hounding, "When will these be available to purchase?", "Are these ever gonna be for sale?"  I quietly marked my calendar for the pre-order date and hit the pledge button once the campaign started.  I was #001/175, as marked on the watch's case backing as well as an etched black card included in the watch's wooden packaging.

In all, the Carpenter M1 watch is a fine, warm, well-made gentleman's watch that would also look pretty hot on a woman's wrist.  The design is simple, but getting simple just right can be incredibly deceiving.  I'm not sure if I should leave it pristine and flawless to retain its value even though I'll never sell it. Out of the box it is too nice to bang up, like a new car without any dings.  But if that new car is meant to drive through a safari then it is a crime to have it sit spotless in your garage. This is the type of watch that is meant to show the signs of all the places it has been and is made of the right quality materials to do it gracefully.  I guess I have my answer right there..

06: KLOKERS by Damien Vizcarra

In September 2015 I pre-ordered a KLOK-01 on Kickstarter from France-based Klokers watches.  After wearing mine for a few months, I am finally ready to write a review.  The timepiece is based on an interchangeable watch module that is meant to pair with a variety of accessories within an ecosystem.  The idea is to change straps, chains or pouch to suit your mood, and to buy more accessories of course.  I kept it simple and have decided to stick with the indigo blue leather strap to match the white + dark blue dial.  The dial design is a series of three concentric discs indicating hours, minutes, and seconds.  Whichever numbers fall within the vertical line from center to 12 o’clock tells you the current time.  The KLOK-01 does a better job than most other concentric dial watches since many of those have the timeline in weird counter-intuitive places, like at 9 o’clock.  The graphic face on this watch is inspired by an old school concentric slide rule.  I love it when products use visual metaphors tastefully. The result is a very technical, mathematical look that fits the watch since time itself is a unit of mathematical measurement.

The technical look carries onto the back side of the watch module, which uses a combination of surface finishes (brushed, polished, cast), exposed hardware, and precision markings (laser etched, machined).  The back side of the casing actually looks as good as the front and it feels secure when it is attached to the latch mechanism on the strap. It gives a really satisfying click when you attach the watch module to the latch.

I ordered my KLOK-01 early in the Kickstarter campaign, so I received a relatively low number, #43.  I think it’s a nice touch to make editioned versions of products. Aside from the fact that crowdfunding helps small companies launch products, investing early usually means getting the product before anyone else and at a lower price… win/win.

Visually, there is a lot more going on than the press photos lead you to understand, but it all comes together nicely.  The dials have perfectly even spacing between the concentric hour, minute and second discs, and the lines on the entire readout all match up as it rotates thanks to a Swiss-made Ronda quartz movement.  The vertical timeline marker is located on a magnifying lens that runs from the center to 12 o’clock. While the transparent lens doesn't actually magnify very much, it does give the watch face some additional optical depth.

The only real issue I have with this timepieces is its lack of heft.  The watch has good, substantial proportions which is 44mm in diameter. Couple this with the fact that it sits on top of the strap and you form an impression that it would be heavy.  Physical weight in this case would have equaled quality, so the fact that it is so lightweight relative to its scale almost makes it feel toy-like when you pick it up. Some metal parts feel plated (they describe it as metal-polymer composite) vs. all stainless steel or aluminum which is what I am accustomed to getting for a watch in this price point.  When metal parts are not cold to the touch, that usually means the part is plated.  This, along with the fact that the clear lens is a polymer vs. a mineral or sapphire crystal makes me concerned about its durability.

Overall, the KLOK-01 is a handsome and unique timepiece.  The dial is easy to read and people think it is an interesting piece because of all the numerals on the face.  This particular blue color combination works well, and my concerns about durability are mostly remedied by the fact that if you are as obsessive as I am about not scratching or dropping your watch, then you should be fine.