My first review of an UNDONE watch was the original Aqua, which I customised with a white Cerakote case. That was over three years ago (time really flies), and since then UNDONE has introduced a new-and-improved version of their diver, now aptly named the Aqua II. Let’s see how it fares as compared to the original.
UNDONE – the Brand
I have previously covered UNDONE as a brand here, where I chronicled my experience customising the Aqua. In that article, I covered UNDONE’s philosophy, as well as my opinion on the customisation process, though the customiser has been significantly upgraded over the years. If you’re interested in the UNDONE brand story, do check out the above article.
In addition, I’ve also reviewed multiple UNDONE watches in the past. For those interested, you can read my review of the Aqua here, the Urban Vintage (one of my favourites) here, the Urban Tropical here, the UNDONE X ULTRAMAN here, the UNDONE Peanuts here, the Basecamp here, the Type XX (another of my favourites) here, the UNDONE Monopoly here, the UNDONE Zen Cartograph here, the UNDONE Batman here, the UNDONE Terra here, and most recently the UNDONE 4:20 Cali here.
UNDONE Aqua II – Video Review
For those interested in seeing some hands-on footage of the UNDONE Aqua II, do watch my Youtube review of it below:
UNDONE Aqua II – Build Quality
I would say that the UNDONE Aqua II has decent build quality for its price.
Firstly, the UNDONE Aqua II features a curved sapphire crystal. As aforementioned numerous times in my previous reviews, I’m a huge advocate of sapphire crystal due to their inherent scratch-resisting properties. Personally, I always look for sapphire crystal in my modern watches as it adds greatly to the durability of the watch. However, the combination of a lack of anti-reflective coating and the curved nature of the crystal results in the watch being too reflective for my liking.
The ubiquitous Seiko NH35A movement powers the UNDONE Aqua II. Some quick specs: the movement beats at 21600 vibrations per hour, has 42 hours of power reserve, contains 24 jewels, and is hacking. I’m a fan of the Seiko NH35 movement, and greatly prefer it to the Miyota 8 series movement (which is the alternative movement commonly seen with microbrand watches). This is due to the fact that unlike the NH35, the Miyota 8 series movements are non-hacking, suffer from a stuttering second hand (some models), and in my own experience with the Miyota movements, are also more prone to accuracy problems. In contrast, the Seiko NH35 is a movement that is as reliable as they come. The movement can also be seen through an exhibition caseback, but it’s virtually undecorated, which is a shame.
The Aqua II comes on a black rubber strap by default, though there are other colours and materials (leather and cordura specifically) available as well. However, I think the Aqua II definitely works best on the black rubber option. The black palette complements the black dial and bezel, while the rubber enhances the sports watch vibe of the watch. It’s also immensely comfortable, and thick enough to offset the heft of the Aqua II.
I also really liked the buckle design. Crafted out of brushed metal, it’s signed with the UNDONE logo and features diagonal striping on the grooved sides. The strap buckle is an oft-overlooked aspect of watches at this price point, but the buckle of the UNDONE Aqua is visually intriguing enough that I felt it warranted a special mention.
Being a dive watch, the Aqua II features plenty of lume, though UNDONE doesn’t state which specific type of lume is used. Nonetheless, the lume is sufficiently bright and long-lasting, though perhaps not particularly remarkable, especially for a dive watch.
All in all, I would say that the UNDONE Aqua II has solid specifications due to its sapphire crystal, workhorse Seiko NH35A movement, robust rubber strap, and decent lume. My only knock is its mere 100M of water-resistant rating, which puts the Aqua II firmly in the desk diver category, much like Panerai watches for example. It should still withstand a dip in the pool, but if you’re looking for a watch to actually dive with, the Aqua II may not be the best option.
UNDONE Aqua II – Design
The updated UNDONE Aqua II has a sleek, minimalist design that I much prefer over its predecessor.
To say that the dive watch segment is overpopulated when it comes to microbrand watches is an understatement. There are plenty of affordable dive watches out there – just go on Kickstarter and you will probably find half a dozen. However, most affordable microbrand divers tend to be derivative in their design, taking perhaps too much inspiration from more illustrious peers like the Rolex Submainer, Tudor Black Bay, or the Seiko Prospex models. With the Aqua II, the reductive design feels modern and stylish, equally at home with streetwear as well as formalwear. Furthermore, the white hands and hour markers contrast sharply with the matte black dial, resulting in an eminently legible watch, while the red accents add a pop of sportiness to the otherwise monochromatic watch.
The Aqua II remains impressive even when viewed up close. The text is sharply printed and aligned well, while the white indices reveal themselves to be applied, thus giving the watch a slight sense of depth. Furthermore, the lume-filled hands have a granular texture that is reminiscent of the Grand Seiko “Snowflake” dial.
Being a dive watch, the Aqua II boasts a unidirectional bezel that’s rendered in matte black, giving the watch a stealthy aesthetic. It looks cool, but unfortunately the bezel feels tight and a tad too small, making it incredibly difficult to rotate. Again, this isn’t a deal-breaker if you’re looking at the Aqua II simply as a desk diver, but if those actually planning on using the diving bezel to record elapsed time will be sorely frustrated.
What I do like about the bezel is its hobnail textured rim. Again, it’s not the most practical and doesn’t lend much in terms of tactile grip, but it does add a utilitarian look to the watch. The screw-down crown also possesses the same hobnail texture, and is signed with the UNDONE logo. Lastly, the case itself is made from 316L stainless steel, and features satin-brushed finishing on its front, and mirror polish on the sides. The juxtaposition of different textures culminates in a watch case that feels refined, both visually and to the touch.
While the original UNDONE Aqua was a beefy 45mm, the Aqua II is thankfully more manageable on the wrist due to its reduced 43mm case size. On my 7-inch wrist, the watch wears perfectly fine, and doesn’t come across as too large or bulky. It is a tad thick at 16.5mm, but as far as dive watches go that’s still well within the usual ballpark. In other words, the Aqua II is undoubtedly a bigger watch, but it doesn’t feel overly so.
The Aqua II is simply a more striking watch as compared to the original Aqua. I applaud UNDONE for going back to the drawing board with the Aqua II, and introducing a dive watch design that feels fresh, not derivative. The pared-back design also makes for a great canvas for personalisation, should you opt for text of your choice on the dial (additional $20 USD).
Shootout – UNDONE Aqua II vs Unimatic U1 Classic
If you’re in the market for a sleek, minimalist desk diver, the top contender would be the Unimatic U1 Classic.
In terms of specifications, the watches are pretty similar, with both using sapphire crystal and the Seiko NH35 movement. The U1 Classic does have a higher WR rating of 300M (compared to just 100M on the Aqua II), but it’s still impractical for actual diving due to its markerless bezel.
From an aesthetic standpoint, both watches are sporty a steathly, monochromatic look. If I had to pick a design, I would probably go with the U1 Classic for the simple fact that it’s the emblematic design of the Unimatic brand – the same can’t be said for the Aqua II and UNDONE. However, the real difference lie in the dimensions. The Aqua II is 43mm wide and 16.5mm thick, while the U1 Classic is substantially slimmer 41.5mm wide and 13.6mm thick. Personally, I prefer the svelter dimensions of the U1 Classic – I’m more of a Tudor Black Bay guy, rather than a Panerai person. Still, if you have a preference for bigger watches (many do), the Aqua II will be your cup of tea.
Where the Aqua II undoubtedly trumps the U1 Classic is in its value. Despite both watches sharing similar specifications, the Aqua II is almost $300 SGD cheaper than the U1 Classic, making it the obvious value proposition. You can also customise the Aqua II, thus in theory creating a “unique” piece – the same can’t be said for the U1 Classic.
Conclusion – so the UNDONE Aqua II “shiok” or not?
Let’s get one thing clear – the new Aqua II is definitely an improvement over its predecessor. It has an attractive design, decent specifications, and is relatively bang-for-buck as compared to some of its competition. It’s still a big watch, but one that’s fairly wearable at 43mm, though I wish it was a 1-2mm slimmer so that it fits better under a shirt cuff. Still, if you like bigger watches and are looking for a reliable and stylish desk diver, the UNDONE Aqua II is one to consider.
For those interested in UNDONE watches, the promo code “WAHSOSHIOK” will grant readers 10% off most watches from UNDONE, collaborative and new launches excluded. After the discount, the UNDONE Aqua II would cost just US$414/~S$559, making it a viable alternative to similarly priced Seiko divers. Lastly, the Aqua II can be personalised, thus making it a great choice for a gift, or perhaps simply as a commemorative watch.
12 Month Warranty from purchase date
Case – 316L Stainless Steel
Lens – Sapphire
Japanese TMI NH35A Automatic Winding Mechanism
Case Width – 43mm excl. crown
Case Thickness – 16.5mm incl. crystal
10 Bar / 100 Meters
P.S Do check out the new “Discounts!” page for exclusive discounts for Wahsoshiok readers! More brands will be added very soon – stay tuned!
P.S.S.S Shiok is a common word Singaporeans use to express admiration or approval. As of 2016, you can find the definition of the word in the Oxford English Dictionary.