The UNDONE Zen Cartograph is the brand’s latest design, and is a marked departure from the brand’s iconic line of Urban Chronographs. It features a new movement, dial layout, and even case design! To top it off, it is also the most affordable watch in UNDONE’s current collection. Let’s see if it’s any good!
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, 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, and the UNDONE Monopoly here.
Without further ado, let’s delve into the review!
UNDONE Zen Cartograph – Build Quality
Despite the relatively low price tag, I would say that the Zen Cartograph has decent specifications for the price.
Firstly, the UNDONE Zen Cartograph watch uses a hardened domed K1 crystal. In my previous reviews, I criticized the usage of hardened K1 crystal – instead of sapphire – as a weakness of the UNDONE Urban Chronograph series, However, those are watches that are twice the price of the Zen Cartograph. At this price point, I’m satisfied with the hardened K1 crystal, which is still significantly more scratch-resistant than the mineral crystals that most fashion watches at this price point (Daniel Wellington, Fossil, MVMT, etc) use. In addition, the Zen Cartograph has a water resistance rating of 50M, which is an appreciated improvement over the 30M WR rating of the Urban Chronographs.
Interestingly, the rather uncommon Seiko VH31 Sweeping Quartz movement is used on the UNDONE Zen Cartograph. It’s a battery-operated quartz movement that beats four times a second, resulting in a sweeping-like motion similar to that of a mechanical movement. In the UNDONE Zen Cartograph, the brand utilized the unique movement to depict passing seconds with a rotating Yin and Yang symbol, as illustrated in the video above. In other words, it has the appearance of a mechanical movement, and the convenience/accuracy of a quartz movement – the best of both worlds, in my opinion! The use of a quartz movement allows UNDONE to price the Zen Cartograph affordably too. To me, it is clear that much thought has gone into the choice of movement here.
By default, the UNDONE Zen Cartograph comes on a black cordura strap. As I’ve stated in some of my previous reviews, cordura straps are one of my favourite straps due to their lightweight yet sturdy properties, as well as their breathability. Although the black cordura strap fits the aesthetics of the Zen Cartograph well, I do wish that there was an option to choose one’s preferred choice of strap, given how customisability is a core tenet of the UNDONE brand.
All in all, I do think that the specifications of the UNDONE Zen Cartograph are pretty decent for its price. Compared to similarly priced fashion watches, the Zen Cartograph’s hardened K1 crystal is more durable, the Seiko VH31 Sweeping Quartz movement is more intriguing, and the cordura strap definitely feels more premium than the cardboard-like leather straps often seen in this price range. Not bad at all!
UNDONE Zen Cartograph – Design
Of course, the main draw of the Zen Cartograph is in its unique design.
The UNDONE Zen Cartograph features the “Luo Pan”, an ancient 4000-year-old Feng Shui instrument used for the quantitative and qualitative measurement of “Luck”. Obviously, I have no idea how to read it, and unless you’re a Feng Shui master you probably wouldn’t either. It is, however, undeniably cool. If you’re from a Western country and have no idea what Feng Shui is, this probably isn’t the watch for you. But as an Asian, the “Luo Pan” aesthetic is instantly recognizable, and personally for me, a recollection of my childhood.
When I first saw the watch in its press pictures, I was a tad worried that the watch’s busy dial, as well as the monochrome colour scheme, would result in a lack of legibility. However, I’m pleased to report that I actually found it relatively easy to tell the time – I never had an issue. A big reason why is due to the minute indicators on the outer circle of the dial. Its clean design, which juxtaposes nicely against the crowded “Luo Pan” dial, makes for easy time-telling. I also found it smart of UNDONE to skeletonise the hands of the watch so as to not obscure any portion of the “Luo Pan” dial. As always, the UNDONE branding is subtly tucked away at 6 o’clock. Overall, there’s nothing much for me to knock about the dial of the Zen Cartograph. My only quibble would be the raised pinion cap of the hands, which creates this visible bump in the middle of the rotating Yin/Yang disk. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means, but I certainly wish it wasn’t there!
The case of the Zen Cartograph is polished throughout. There isn’t a bevy of finishing techniques here, but the watch’s polished case gives it a premium feel. I should also mention that the case is stepped, which I found very interesting given its low price tag. There’s a concave nature to the case, whereby the dial of the watch is actually substantially smaller than the case diameter itself, resulting in a metal bezel of sorts. There’s a depth to the case that I really like, and I find the overall design innovative.
In an interesting twist, the crown of the watch is actually hidden away at 12 o’clock! I’m conflicted about its placement. On one hand, I understand UNDONE’s reasoning – positioning the crown at 12 o’clock allows the case of the Zen Cartograph to possess a clean, circular look, mimicking the circular nature of the Yin/Yang disk. On the other hand, it is a bit weird that you can’t actually access the crown without removing the strap. As the default cordura strap has quick-release spring bars, and the movement is quartz (so you don’t have to wind the crown) I can live with it, and personally for me I would say that form outweighs function here. Still, it is a curious choice that I had to point out.
When purchasing the Zen Cartograph, customers have the option of inserting their date of birth into the customiser. UNDONE will then translate it to the corresponding celestial deity name printed on the caseback. Again, I’m not a Feng Shui practitioner so I don’t actually know who/what my deity is, but from my understanding, it’s sort of like the Chinese equivalent of horological signs – each of us has a specific celestial deity based upon our date of birth. Pretty interesting, and a unique way of personalising a watch!
On my 6.5 inch wrist, the UNDONE Zen Cartograph’s 40mm diameter fits like a charm. I’ve reviewed a lot of watches over the years, and I always find the 39-40mm watches fitting the best. At 40mm, the Zen Cartograph will fit a wide variety of wrist sizes too. Being a quartz, the watch is relatively thin at 12mm, and should fit under a shirt cuff.
Overall, I must say that the Zen Cartograph simply has a unique design. It’s obviously an aesthetic that’s aimed at the Chinese market, which happens to be the biggest consumer of watches worldwide. It fulfils an interesting niche with its “Luo Pan” dial and Yin/Yang disk, possesses an interesting case design, and features some of the customisation that UNDONE is known for on its unique caseback. Given that its only $179 USD/ ~S$250, it certainly packs a lot of visual interest!
Shootout: UNDONE Zen Cartograph (MK1 Prototype) vs UNDONE Zen Cartograph (Feng Shui Grandmaster)
Usually, I’ll compare the watch that I’m reviewing with another similarly priced alternative from another brand. However, due to the unique nature of the Zen Cartograph – I don’t know of any other Feng Shui inspired watch – I think the best alternative to the MK1 Prototype I’m reviewing is actually its sibling, the Feng Shui Grandmaster.
Both variants share the exact same specifications, with the main differences between the “Feng Shui Grandmaster” and the “MK 1 Prototype” being aesthetic. Unlike the “MK 1 Prototype”, the “Feng Shui Grandmaster” features a more stealthy all-black look, with a black dial, blacked-out case, and a pair of red hands for a pop of colour. Which looks better is, of course, subjective. The “Feng Shui Grandmaster” looks cooler in my opinion, but the “MK 1 Prototype” sticks closer to the traditional inspiration of the Zen Cartograph. However, the “Feng Shui Grandmaster” looks to be the more legible option, due to the high contrast between the red hands and the black dial.
Aside from the aesthetics, the main difference between the two variants is the price – the “Feng Shui Grandmaster” costs S$60 more than the “MK 1 Prototype”. That’s a 24% premium on what is essentially a different colourway! To me, the cosmetic differences between the two doesn’t warrant the 24% extra in price, especially given that the specifications are the same.
If they were the same price, I would personally go with the “Feng Shui Grandmaster” due to its cooler and more legible aesthetics. However, taking into account the price difference, I would definitely opt for the “MK 1 prototype” variant as it is undoubtedly the better value proposition. S$60 is not an insignificant sum of money – you could get a nice, handmade Pueblo Slim strap from Delugs for that amount!
Conclusion – so the UNDONE Zen Cartograph “shiok” or not?
Obviously, the UNDONE Zen Cartograph is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the watch. It has very decent specifications for the price – including a Sweeping Quartz movement! – and it packs a ton of visual intrigue. I’ve worn the Zen Cartograph out several times, and it definitely started some conversations. I also personally know of a reader who got the watch as a “Good Luck gift” for his client to thank him for his business during these trying COVID times. Whether as a gift or simply as a fun watch to wear on the weekend, you’re certainly much better off with the UNDONE Zen Cartograph than a fashion watch from Daniel Wellington/MVMT/Fossil/etc.
For those interested, the promo code “WAHSOSHIOK” will grant you 10% off most purchases from UNDONE! After the discount, the Zen Cartograph (MK 1 prototype variant) can be had for just $179 USD/ ~S$250, which I personally think is a very reasonable price considering its specifications and design. I think it’s commendable that UNDONE is venturing away from releasing yet another variant of the Urban Chronograph, and instead investing in introducing brand new designs. If the Zen Cartograph is any indication, I’m excited to see what else UNDONE has to offer in the near future.
View the UNDONE Zen Cartograph here.
View the full UNDONE offerings here.
Check out other reviews of the UNDONE Zen Cartograph here!
Watches don’t just tell time anymore – they tell stories. Enter UNDONE and its countless customisation options. After all, it’s your wrist, your style.
12 Month Warranty from purchase date
Case – 316L Stainless Steel
Lens – Hardened Single Domed K1 Crystal
Seiko Instruments Inc. VH31 Quartz Movement with Sweep Second Hand
Case Width – 40mm excl. crown
Case Thickness – 12mm incl. crystal
5 ATM / 50 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.