Now I have reviewed quite a number of UNDONE watches over the past year, but it has admittedly been some time since they have last came up with a distinctly new model. The UNDONE Basecamp is their first new model (new dial, case, crystal, everything!) in quite some time, and they have graciously sent me one for review!
UNDONE – the Brand
I have previously covered UNDONE as a brand here. In that article, I covered UNDONE’s philosophy, as well as my opinion on the customisation process. 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, and the UNDONE X ULTRAMAN here, and the UNDONE Peanuts here. As you can see, the last 4 UNDONE watches I reviewed were all essentially variants of the Urban Chronograph – a new dial in an old case. As aforementioned, that’s not the case (no pun intended) with the UNDONE Basecamp, so I’m stoked to review it!
Without further ado, let’s see if UNDONE’s new offering is any good.
UNDONE Basecamp – Build Quality
Despite being priced similarly to the Urban Chronograph, the build quality of the Basecamp seems to be a step higher!
The Basecamp gets off to an intriguing start with its choice of watch crystal. It’s not sapphire (as found in the Aqua), or K1 mineral (as found in the Urban chronographs) – instead, it’s a 3mm domed LEXAN polycarbonate, a “polycarbonate thermoplastic found in headlamps and motorcycle helmets with 250 times the impact strength of glass”. In fact, a quick Google search states that LEXAN is a common material used in the manufacturing of bulletproof glass as well. Now, guns are banned in Singapore (thankfully), so I can’t really put this to the test. That being said, LEXAN polycarbonate is generally known to be highly impact resistant, so I doubt I’ve to worry about shattering the watch crystal anytime soon! In terms of scratch resistance, it is also tougher than regular acrylic/plexiglass, though it is still nowhere as scratch resistant as sapphire. I have to give UNDONE credit for innovating in this area -I think they are the only watch company to use LEXAN as a watch crystal- and at this price point. I’ve previously criticised some of the Urban Chronographs for their mere use of K1 mineral crystal, so I’m glad UNDONE decided to take a step up here without increasing the price. In my opinion, it’s the best of both worlds – it has that warm, retro look of the domed acrylic crystals of yesteryear, but with modern durability. However, the high 3mm dome coupled with a lack of internal AR coating means that the crystal is highly reflective. Unless you’re staring at it straight on, you’re going to encounter substantial reflection (as shown in the photo above). This is a shame, as it sometimes hinders the legibility of the watch.
The Seiko NH35 movement serves as the beating heart of the Basecamp. 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 at this price point). 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. Elsewhere, the WR rating of the Basecamp is rated at 50M. This means that the Basecamp should be fine for most everyday activities, except in the pool/sea/shower. Personally, I think that for the Basecamp to truly be called a “tool watch” it should have a WR rating of at least 200M (so that it can be used in the sea or the pool), so that’s another shame.
In typical UNDONE fashion, one gets to choose between a whole host of straps for their Basecamp watch – caviar, race, nato, rally, calf, cordura, and perlon strap. Personally, UNDONE’s vintage calf strap (pictured above) is my pick from the lot, though the Basecamp is $20 USD cheaper ($247.5 USD after the promo code) on the perlon! Also, all of UNDONE’s two piece straps comes with quick-release pins for easy interchangeability and added convenience, which is a nice touch.
The Basecamp uses what UNDONE calls “Asian lume”, which is not Swiss Superluminova. The luminosity is alright, but it does fade rather quickly. If you’re counting on it shining bright in the night for a prolonged period of time…don’t.
All in all, the Basecamp is still a pretty impressive everyday watch given its affordable price tag. You get a sturdy LEXAN plexiglass, a Seiko NH35 automatic movement, and a wide variety of strap choices to choose from. However, despite UNDONE’s marketing claims otherwise, the Basecamp is not a “tool watch” – it’s mere 50m WR rating, coupled with weak lume and highly reflective crystal undermines that claim.
UNDONE Basecamp – Design
UNDONE’s founder, Michael Young, is a collector of vintage Swiss watches. The vintage inspiration is clear in the Basecamp, though it certainly isn’t a homage in the typical sense! Rather, it borrows different design elements and combines them in an original fashion.
The dial of the Basecamp is clean and legible, giving off a very utilitarian vibe. The oversized numerals is instantly reminiscent of some of Bell & Ross’ models, though again it’s not a direct copy of any. The markers and indices are ‘faux-patina’ – faux patina will always be controversial, but I think it makes sense here given that the Basecamp is supposed to be a modern retro watch. In addition, the stock variant (which I have here) of the Basecamp comes with a white date window at 4.30. I’m not a fan of this – it looks jarring, and breaks the clean look of the dial. Thankfully, UNDONE allows customers to choose between a white and black date window in their Basecamp customiser, and I have to say the black date window version looks much better. Definitely opt for that in the customiser! Lastly, I like that the UNDONE branding is subtly placed at 6 o’clock, instead of a big brand logo below 12 o’clock as most brands do. As the UNDONE branding is subtly integrated, the clean, utilitarian look of the dial remains unbroken, which is a smart touch.
The stock version of the Basecamp comes without any text at 12 o’clock. As a result, the dial looks a tad empty. However, UNDONE allows customers to input their own intials/text under 12 o’clock. I’ll definitely opt for this, even though it’s a $20 USD premium. Not only does it make the dial look more symmetrical, peersonalisation is also the raison d’etre of UNDONE. There’s nothing more UNDONE than having your initials on the dial, or having your loved one’s initials when the watch is intended as a gift. Elsewhere, the hands of the Basecamp have been a huge talking point in the discussion of the watch thus far. I’ve followed some of the comments after some early reviews of the Basecamp have been published by other media outlets, and it seems that the hands of the Basecamp are rather polarising. Some don’t get the usage of the orange “GMT” hands as the hour hand – they think it’s confusing. I however, disagree. Now, I’ve never owned a Rolex Explorer II GMT (never had the opportunity to), so I didn’t find time-reading confusing at all on the Basecamp. If anything, I like that each hand of the Basecamp (hour, minute, seconds) look distinct from each other, which allows me to tell the hour or minutes almost instantaneously. Lastly, I like the little ball/lollipop counterweight of the seconds hand – it’s a nice vintage touch.
The UNDONE Basecamp comes with a ‘sterile’ bidirectional bezel without markings. It’s bidirectional without clicks, so one won’t get that satisfying clicking action as we get with most dive watch bezels. UNDONE states that the Basecamp’s “transparent bezel is engineered to simulate the old-school aesthetics of classic Bakelite bezels, with colors and lume applied underneath.” Personally, I quite like the bezel of the Basecamp. Not only is it retro vintage, the lack of markings also means that it looks sleek and minimalist, and complements the sparse dial rather well. However, due to the lack of markings (and clicks), the bezel isn’t very functional. Unlike on proper tool watches, you won’t be able to measure elapsed time on this, nor use it to denote a second time zone. It’s purely for aesthetic purposes, and while it does look the part pretty well, those looking for functional bezels will probably have to look elsewhere.
Despite the Basecamp’s low price tag, I was pleasantly surprised by the contrasting finishing found on the watch! The front of the watch is brushed finished, while the sides of the watch are polished. In addition, chamfers can also be found on the lugs of the Basecamp, which is a rare sight in affordable watches. For the uninitiated, chamfers refers to the polished cut along the lugs of the watch (see photo above) – a finishing method typically found in luxury watches for added sophistication and attention to detail. Colour me impressed! Also, UNDONE allows users to customise the case colour of the Basecamp, with black, silver (as seen above) gold and rose gold available as options.
UNDONE has worked hard at trying to develop a svelte form factor in the Basecamp. While the Basecamp is 15mm thick on paper, 3mm belongs to the ultra domed LEXAN plexiglass – the height of the dome is very striking, especially when viewed from the side. Unlike the Aqua, UNDONE has also decided to do away with crown guards on the Basecamp for a smaller form factor. Speaking about the crown, it is nicely sized, and signed – again, not something we see every time on ~S$300 watches. Hand-winding the Basecamp is an ease.
At the back, the Basecamp features an exhibition caseback, with some relevant information inscribed on the edges. I’m always a fan of exhibition casebacks, as it’s always a pleasure to gaze at the mechanical marvel nestled within. Unfortunately, the Seiko NH35 movement is mostly undecorated – with the rotor unsigned – but at this price point, I wasn’t expecting much anyway. That being said, UNDONE does offer customers the opportunity to print an image on the exhibition caseback, for an additional fee of $20 USD. If you’re intrigued by how that would turn out, I actually opted for that in my UNDONE Aqua – you can see how the caseback turned out in my review of the Aqua here. Furthermore, I like the play of shape involved here. If you look carefully, the upper layer of the caseback is an octagon, while the bottom layer is circular. The resulting contrast is quite striking in the metal, and it adds some flair to the caseback of the Basecamp.
On the wrist, the UNDONE Basecamp wears rather well. I’ve been gravitating towards smaller sized wristwatches for quite some time now (on a vintage collecting spree at the moment), and I love the smaller dimensions of the Basecamp especially when compared to the bulk of the UNDONE Aqua. At only 40mm wide, the Basecamp is right in my size sweet spot, and judging by the watch community’s reaction to the Black Bay 58, I think the watch will be in the comfort zone of many watch enthusiasts as well. Whilst the 15mm thickness may sound daunting on paper, it actually sits rather low on the wrist, due to the fact that a substantial portion of that thickness comes from the crystal. It still won’t fit under a shirt cuff, but it’s not going to be a hulking presence on the wrist either.
To add icing on the cake, UNDONE allows users to customise the Basecamp to their own individual liking – for me, I’ll definitely go for a blacked out case, black date window, and opt for my initials on the dial and a picture on the back to complete the personalisation. Looking at the render above, I think it would look pretty stealthy and cool, don’t you guys think?
Overall, I’m a fan of the design of the new Basecamp. I like the clean, legible design of the dial, and the quirky styling of the hands is intriguing to me. While faux patina can be hit and miss, I think it makes sense on this modern vintage watch. Elsewhere, I like the sleek minimalist look of the sterile bezel, and the finishing is pretty good for a watch of this price too. Lastly, the high domed crystal of the Basecamp is absolutely lovely, and the smaller proportions is a winner.
Shootout – UNDONE Aqua vs UNDONE Basecamp
To be honest, the closest competitor to the Basecamp – in terms of a customisable automatic dive watch – is probably UNDONE’s own Aqua. As such, I’ll be comparing both watches against each other in today’s shootout!
In terms of build quality, both watches are actually pretty even. Both watches are powered by the Seiko NH35 movement, the strap options are the same, and the same lume is used as well. The main difference would probably be the use of sapphire in the Aqua, as opposed to the LEXAN polycarbonate in the Basecamp. Sapphire is definitely more scratch resistant than LEXAN, though LEXAN may be more shatter-resistant. If I have to pick, I might give the Aqua a slight edge in build quality, due to the availability of unique case options (such as cerakote) in its customisation.
In terms of design, I have to give it to the Basecamp. I love the utilitarian vibe of the dial, the unique combination of the hands, the sleek markerless black bezel, the ultra domed crystal, and the lovely finishing on the case. As compared to the Aqua, it looks more striking and original. Most importantly, it wears much better than the Aqua, at least on my 7 inch wrists. It’s much smaller in diameter (40mm vs 43.5mm), and it wears much lower. In contrast, the Aqua is quite a bulky watch on the wrist. The vintage aesthetics of the Basecamp, and its smaller proportions appeal stronger to me, and as such I have to say the Basecamp pulls ahead of the Aqua in the aesthetics department.
Where the Basecamp trumps the Aqua is in its price – despite both watches having similar specifications, the Basecamp is over S$200 SGD cheaper than the standard version of the Aqua! In fact, the Basecamp would be roughly half the price of the cerakote version of the Aqua (a whooping $585 USD). As it is a better value proposition, the UNDONE Basecamp is the winner of this shootout for me.
Conclusion – so the UNDONE Basecamp “shiok” or not?
For me personally, yes. I think the Basecamp is a great bang-for-buck option. It has better specifications than the similarly priced Urban Chronograph, and is significantly cheaper than the similarly spec-ed Aqua. I quite like the design as well – the design is simple but striking, and you have the additional option to personalise it if you wish through UNDONE’s customiser. That being said, if you’re looking for a true “tool watch” (as the Basecamp seems to be unfortunately marketed as), you will probably have to give the Basecamp a miss. With a paltry 50m of WR rating, a sterile bezel without clicks and markings, and weak lume, the Basecamp probably wouldn’t be of much use in the jungle or in the sea. It’s definitely much more in the fashion watch territory. However, if you’re (like me and 99.9% of the population) merely wearing a watch for aesthetic purposes, the Basecamp will do more than fine as a desk diver!
For those interested in UNDONE watches, the promo code “WAHSOSHIOK” will grant readers 10% off most watches from UNDONE, collaborative watches excluded. If you’re looking for an affordable, customisable dive watch, you can’t do much better than the Basecamp!
The UNDONE Basecamp can be bought and customised here.
View UNDONE’s full range of watches here.
Case Width: 40 mm excl. crown
Case Thickness: 15mm incl. crystal
Watch Movement: Seiko Instruments Inc. NH35A Automatic Winding Mechanism
Case Material: 316L Stainless Steel
Crystal Material: LEXAN Polycarbonate
Water Resistance: 5 Bar / 50 Meters
Strap Size: 20 mm
P.S Do check out the new “Discounts!” page for exclusive discounts for Wahsoshiok readers! More brands will be added very soon – stay tuned!