UNDONE’s approach to watchmaking isn’t to everyone’s taste but every now and then they come up with something very interesting, whether it be part of their customisable collections or a cool collaboration. Their latest project is their third collaboration with Simple Union, a Japanese fabric craft house, together they have produced the limited edition UNDONE X Simple Union Sometsuke and the UNDONE Urushi.
Sometsuke is a style of Japanese porcelain decoration and the watch named after it uses a glossy enamel-painted dial to replicate its pure white and blue design. The unique layout of the blue numerals and hour markers is a lovely touch because it is a redesigned form of the California Dial, which UNDONE has named the Kyoto Dial. Instead of Roman numerals on the top-half of the dial it uses Kanji (Japanese script), which read ‘impermanence’, ‘suffering’ and ‘absence of self-nature’ – the three marks of existence.
Another tradition that the Sometsuke watch emulates is Kitsugi, the art of repairing porcelain with gold. It is believed that it is the trials and scars of our lives that help shape our stories and being, so when a porcelain object is cracked or broken it is not discarded out of hand but instead repaired with precious material, gold, thus increasing the value of the object. This is replicated on the dial of the timepiece by a crack in the white enamel-painted dial that reveals a gold-coloured skeleton movement below. The movement is the Japanese TMI NH71 skeletonized automatic calibre, which has a 41-hour power reserve and an accuracy of -20/+40 seconds per day. It’s a reasonable movement and being from Seiko it’s part of what some people like about UNDONE but this watch was not designed to be a technological masterpiece, it is far more a work of art and history.
Speaking of history, each and every UNDONE X Simple Union Sometsuke is technically over 150 years old because of the material used in its strap. The straps are created by Simple Union out of their signature, antique Katazome fabric, a material that was first produced in the 1600s. It is a form of patterned fabric that is made through a combination of stencils and dye, often depicting cranes, peonies and other flora and fauna. The patterns are so intricate that no two straps on the 300 limited edition watches are identical, and being 150+ years old, each strap can be considered a genuine antique.
The second of the Japanese inspired timepieces is the UNDONE Urushi. Urushi is a traditional black lacquer technique that is used on important pieces of decoration and furniture like the tea table in a traditional tea service. Similar to the Sometsuke, the style and appearance of Urushi has been replicated using a delicate enamel-painted dial.
The gold-coloured decoration and Kyoto Dial are also an homage to traditional art styles, in this case Maki-e, which is often used alongside Urushi. Of course, the Urushi, Maki-e and Kitsugi styles on both watches are only emulations of the techniques that are genuinely used by the haute horlogerie houses of Japan, like Grand Seiko, but the imitation here allows them to have a fraction of the cost as we’ll discuss later.
Housed below the Urushi dial is the TMI NH35A automatic calibre, supplied by Seiko, a movement with a 42-hour power reserve and +/- 15 seconds per day accuracy. It’s fractionally better than the movement in the Sometsuke but as it isn’t skeletonised or visible from above, it has a few less restrictions.
Both watches have stainless steel Tartaruga cases that measure 37mm by 43.7mm, the ideal size for wear by any gender. They also both have display casebacks, lumed hands and water resistance up to a depth of 50m.
I think both designs are cool and execute on their Japanese concepts really well. Of course, part of me wishes that they used real Urushi lacquer as well as the other techniques and not replicas but that would send the price skyrocketing, a watch with an Urushi dial, such as the Chopard Urushi Year of the Ox, can have price in excess of £22,000.
As it is, the UNDONE Urushi is an eminently accessible $445 and the Sometsuke, limited to 300 pieces, is priced at an equally accessible $488 (approx. £320/£350 respectively). Although considering the previous UNDONE X Simple Union limited edition watch sold out in less than 48 hours, good luck getting hold of one.
Price & Specs:
Model: UNDONE x Simple Union Sometsuke & Urushi
Case/Dial: 37mm diameter x 12.8mm height, stainless steel, white enamel-painted dial with a “Kintsugi” crack revealing a golden-coloured skeleton movement (Sometsuke) and Maki-e-inspired
decoration on a black enamel-painted dial (Urushi)
Water Resistance: 50m (5 bar)
Movement: Japanese TMI NH35A (supplied by SEIKO Manufacturing (H.K.) Limited), automatic
Frequency: 21,600 vph (3 Hz)
Power Reserve: 42h
Functions: Hour, minutes, seconds
Strap: Indigo-dyed 150+ years old Katazome fabric (Sometsuke) or brown leather (Urushi)
Price/Availability: $488 USD, limited to 300 pieces (Sometsuke) and $445 USD, non-limited edition (Urushi)
More details at UNDONE.