"Whatever happened to Gary Cooper, the strong, silent type?" - Tony Soprano to Dr. Melfi
Naturally, the first thing one does when unboxing a watch with no seconds hand is flip it over, put the caseback to one ear and listen. When I do the same with the Unimatic Modello Tre (aka the U3C) there is only the faintest tick, tick, tick from deep inside, under all those gaskets and all that steel. Good.
To get an idea of the Unimatic MO, I recommend you go to their site, and then look up ”Unimatic” on Chrono24. What you’re hit with is a fine balancing act of immense faith in their own sense of aesthetics and a classy execution of variations of that design language with a coterie of co-conspirators: MassenaLAB, Hodinkee, Biotop Japan and our very own FiveFortyFive.
And just so you know it’s not all about tastemakers, here’s a few ultraniche collaborations: tuners Automobili Amos, Saudi Arabian car community Veloce Life,and a tribute to Russian space scientist and the Soyuz Apollo Mission.
Oh, and there’s a coffee themed collection too. Just because.
Microbrands grind for ages to find an identity.
A distinguishing case shape, say. Perhaps a specific kind of dial layout or handset. What is quite interesting about Unimatic is that from the beginning they struck it. The “it”. You look at a Unimatic, and you know. You could call their slab sides cases inspired by Tudor, their dials by Rolex, and handsets by the entire genre of field watches. Put one on the wrist however, and what you look down at resembles something altogether its own: a brutal kind of functional minimalism.
And with that we come back to the U3C. Whereas their OG design platforms, the Modello Uno U1 (diver) and Modello Due U2 (field) can be described with one word inside a set of brackets, the U3 takes two, and in the world of watches, the woods chrono-diver induce a reaction that can best described as Marmite (or Vegemite, or Pineapple on Pizza, if you’re American).
Is it a diver? Yes. It has 300m of water resistance, and a 120-click unidirectional bezel.
Is it a chronograph? Yes, a flyback one no less! Unscrew the robust pushers and click away.
But will I like it? Aha.
Unimatic are not minimalist in the same way Nomos or Junghans are. The “fat” (their words, not mine) 8 mm crown is an early indication of that. The Milan outfit doesn’t slim down typefaces or sculpt petite lines. They strip down a watch to its core purpose, identify the physical aspects that serve said purpose, and eliminate anything that gets in the way.
In the case of the U3C, that means no markings on the wonderfully clicky bezel but the presence of a C3-filled pip for your single point of orientation. Sure, you might take an extra fraction of a second to figure out whether your oven-bake is done, but it also means that if you’re the type that finds all those lines and dots and numbers on a fully graduated bezel a bit overwhelming, this will deliver a zen-like experience.
The chronograph aspect is very Unimatic. Because the movement is the reliable battery operated Seiko VK64 mecha-quartz, you get a decidedly mechanical sweep of the chronograph. Whereas a mechanical piece will often pull power from the mainspring to work the chronograph (thus perhaps losing accuracy), the VK64 is designed to work both the seconds hand and the chronograph function without compromising either.
Most watchmakers who use this movement favour a tri-compax layout. Unimatic decided against the seconds sub-dial and date complication. What we are left with is a 24 hour indicator at the three, and an elapsed minutes sub-dial at the 9.
All this combines to produce a very legible chronograph experience.
Set on a near inky-black dial, the text and dial furniture are crisply printed: a triangle at the 12, a horizontal rectangle at 6, and mini vertical ones at the 3 and 9. These indices, and the by now on-brand solid Unimatic hands and second hand lollipop counterweight all get an even application of C3. In use, the lume longevity is good, with everything evenly applied, but not Seiko Lumibrite.
On paper, the idea of a 41.5 mm case with a 51 mm lug-to-lug can seem intimidating, but on the wrist, it sits rock-solid. It presents as confident, but not showy. On the supplied black “heavy duty” Unimatic nylon nato strap, there is no wobble. On my 6.75 inch wrist, there should be overhang, but there isn't. The lugs turn down ever-so-slightly. It’s not exactly a hug, but just enough to be comfortable.
Giovanni Moro and Simone Nunziato, the founders, met at a Milan industrial design school, and a part of me thinks that it’s there, in the capital of modern fashion, that these guys learned practising the finer touches. If you flip the case over and you’ll see that the midcase is longer than it is round, which allows the watch to look bigger than it actually is. Those aforementioned lugs drop off to a shear face that is angled the tiniest bit towards the strap. The near-unblemished aluminium bezel sits between two brushed stainless steel rings, which serve to draw your eyes into the dial, and past that 2.5mm thick double domed sapphire (with AR on the underside) that rises gently above. The caseback doesn’t miss out either, getting a finely executed compass etching. They even bothered to give it a name, the Rosa dei venti.
When reviewing a watch, I like to get into the designer’s headspace, and I imagine what the design brief was.
After all, there is no perfect watch because every physical form has a limitation. The only way to judge if a watch is good, if we can judge at all, is to imagine what it was meant to be.
I imagine the Unimatic U3C was meant to be a chronograph that feels like wearing a Valjoux 7750 piece without the thickness and maintenance, but with the presence and reliability.
It’s a straight shooter that looks good on natos and rubber, but after a couple of Peronis will tell you, without a hint of drama, that it prefers leather. It will pay for your drinks, and the tip, but you won’t know. It is, as far as affordable, unique, everyday watches go, a strong, silent type.