The term 'microbrand' is thrown around a fair amount in watchmaking. At the fringes of the industry and especially over the last decade or two, there's a continuing insurgence of start-ups run by forward-thinking creatives playing with the form.
It's probably an inevitable response to an industry that has for so long been run by a ruling class of heritage brands – and ones that have pretty much controlled most of the luxury watch industry for two centuries or more – and it can fall into two categories. There are those who play on traditional watchmaking form and function, and those who not so much tear up the rulebook, but take the rulebook, roll it into a ball and kick it into the centre of the nearest volcano.
While recent startup brands like Furlan Marri are classic – more along the lines of building on the aesthetics of iconic references from big-name houses and reinventing them for a newer audience at a fraction of the price – Studio Underd0g falls square in the latter category. Founder Richard Benc can count on years of experience in the watch industry before turning his hand to starting a microbrand, and in terms of function, this is a fairly classic mechanical watch with a chronograph complication and a tachymeter around the chapter ring. Its form, on the other hand, is unlike pretty much anything else on the market.
The 'goofy' look could be disastrous in the wrong hands, but the placement of the logo and descriptor brings much-needed balance
In fact, even taking the more muted colourway, black and off-white Go0fy Panda, into account, it's plain to see. Whereas most chronographs on the market are symmetrical, the Studio Underd0g models are offset, the chronograph's minutes dial a fair bit bigger than the small seconds, and in a contrasting colour.
This 'goofy' look could be disastrous in the wrong hands, but the placement of the Studio Underd0g logo and 'Bicompax ST-1901' (the name for this type of chronograph and the Seagull Manual Winding ST-1901 hand-wound movement that keeps things ticking over) bring much-needed balance. And the more classic touches – a dégradé dial and the beautiful caseback showing off the movement – are undeniably classy, no matter what you think of the colours.
Ah yes, the colours. There were another two on launch – the Desert Sky, in sandy off-white and sky blue; and the much-loved Watermel0n, which I tried on for size – both of which push that design a little further by the use of those ridiculously bold colours. But they both work beautifully to inject a huge dose of personality to a watch that was hardly lacking it in the first place.
As recently as today (at the time of writing), the brand has launched a newer colourway still. The Mint Ch0c Chip takes inspiration from (you guessed it) the nation's favourite ice cream flavour, and while it's not quite as out-there as the Watermel0n, its balanced and beautiful palette is further proof – alongside the watches' happy habit of selling out within minutes of being made available – that while Benc's designs are wild at heart, they still stay true to watchmaking fundamentals. Just about, anyway.