Celebrating Seiko’s NH35 movement – the unsung hero used by top microbrands in everything from indestructible divers to vintage stunners Celebrating Seiko’s NH35 movement – the unsung hero used by top microbrands in everything from indestructible divers to vintage stunners

Celebrating Seiko’s NH35 movement – the unsung hero used by top microbrands in everything from indestructible divers to vintage stunners

Thor Svaboe

Is Seiko’s NH35 movement ubiquitous due to its brilliance or sheer availability? This hand-wound, hacking movement is today widely used on the microbrand scene and is basically the unbranded version of Seiko’s 4R35 movement that’s universally admired for its toughness and accuracy. Similarly reliable and robust, the NH35 is a strong mechanical heart fitted to Seiko’s mid-price Prospex and Presage families, including the Turtles, Samurais and round-cased Cocktail time references. It’s also bafflingly affordable. While in ETA or Sellita movements we talk about the ease and accessibility of service costs, a box-fresh NH movement can be bought for half the price of a service. Yes, I’m feeling guilty even writing this from an environmental standpoint, but the ability to avoid changing toxic lithium batteries over time, makes up for swapping out a movement should a big fault arise. These strengths mean the NH35 was utilised by a diverse mix of top microbrands in 2020, from vintage-inspired pilots and diver’s tool watches to whitewashed minimalist designs.

Unimatic x Mihara Yasuhiro U1

Italian flair, sharp design … maybe it’s time to recognise Unimatic as the Bulgari of microbrands? They’ve managed to make two designs, the strong tool watch designs of the U1 and U2,  the base of a plethora of sharp, limited-edition diver’s watches. Brandishing all the prerequisite toughness we expect – 200m depth rating, great legibility, sub 40mm wearability and sharp-clicking unidirectional bezels – they have layered this functionality with exquisite styling. From the craziness of the SpongeBob SquarePants dial through to blacked-out minimalism and vintage/modern mashups with the Massena LAB tropical dial, Unimatic’s design game is very strong indeed. This model is a fashion-centric crisp white version, still strong of lume, and with a distinctive hand-finished case that already trades at more than its retail price on the second-hand market. Strong minimalist vibes through the influence of the Japanese designer Mihara Yasuhiro covered by us here, makes this the freshest white summer watch of the year. This watch, and both its retail price and subsequent value, proves that the NH35 is strong enough to instantly sell out watches in this price range. More than the sum of its parts indeed. Price: $1300 AUD

Undone Aero

undone aero

We were lucky enough to launch this in partnership with Undone last year, two distinct, battle-ready vintage pilot-inspired watches that we presented here. Like the brilliantly customisable Undone range, these two represent superb value for money. The Commando (right), as the name suggests, is a classic pilot’s watch, with a black, granular dial, delicately contrasted by creamy lumed Arabic numerals, a baton-style handset and a military-esque orientation arrow located at the 12 o’clock position. The Scientific (left) has a busy off-white dial with distinct beige Arabic numerals that are set off by the eye-candy of the bright blue hands. A hand-sewn leather strap completes this retro hymn to aviation adventure. Price: $510 AUD

Dan Henry 1970 Automatic Diver

The best entry ticket I can imagine to the world of the Super Compressor style of vintage watches, this eye-catching 40mm diver from Dan Henry has a lot to offer — all for its slightly incredulous price tag. The skin diver case with comfortable stubby lugs sits comfortably on the wrist, and is fit for purpose with its 200m depth rating. Blue is one the strongest colours of this year, and here we’ve got a veritable bonanza, with a midnight blue dial centre, light blue minute track and a bold, curved internal diver’s bezel in a deep navy. Large blocky indices and lumed baton hands complete a fresh and legible dial, with the delicious orange pop of a mandarin-orange lollipop seconds hand. Check it out in our story on our favourite Dan Henry watches here. Price: $290 US

Helm Watches Komodo

In my story on sub 40mm divers that are still ultra tough tools here, the value proposition was this tough nugget – Helm Watches Komodo. You’re well advised to check out their page, as this is superb value for a diver. Despite a Goldilocks 40mm diameter, this ain’t svelte at 15.5mm thick, but this little monster of a dive watch is pressure tested for 300m and is the classic tool with a super legible dial, huge applied indices and massive sword hands. The classic diver’s trick of an ultra-fresh orange minute hand ignites the dial in a watch that  punches several leagues above its price point – even as it takes you a similar distance down to the ocean floor. Price: $299 USD

Zelos Swordfish 42mm Forged Carbon 

Zelos is one of the strongest microbrands. It musters staying power and a deep supply of stock instead of pre-orders, managing several drops each year. It’s consequently developed a strong fan base and exemplifies the attraction of microbrands, with owner Elshan Tang proving himself to be approachable and active on social media to both owners and prospective buyers. It’s a winning formula that manifests itself in a strong value proposition in models such as this Swordfish 42mm diver’s watch. While also available with an ETA calibre, it starts at $349 USD with a distinct design, full 300m depth rating and a brushed steel bracelet. This Zelos has a superb angled case with a mix of brushwork and polished bevels that sets it apart from other microbrands. The dial is the star of the show in this version with its unusual marbled carbon surface. While vintage in colour through its black brushed bezel insert, cream lume and gold details, it’s refreshingly homage free. The intricate dial is circled by a silver minute track, while the sandwich construction has the indices cut into the dial to intersect the minute track before being filled with cream lume. The glitzy tool aspect is underlined by a gold applied logo, a strong gold handset and lollipop seconds. Price: $449 USD