The drive of an artist is always towards the original expression of authentic inspiration. While a reductive formula for “how to make art” admittedly ignores all the ups, downs, and challenges along the way, as a music composer I find it helpful to not lose sight of that general idea. The Phoibos Wave Master (ref PY010C) stands as an horological example of this principle, as Ethan Guo and Emily Feng (the founders of Phoibos) offer a unique and personally inspired design with impressive specs and build-quality at a budget price point. More than the sum of its parts, the Wave Master is an artfully executed piece with real character, charm, and originality.
On the Phoibos website, we find a refreshingly personal and honest back story on the founding of the Tianjin-based company. We don’t read tales of volcano-rappelling, war heroes, or the genius of someone who was tired of the old ways of the watch industry. Instead, Mr. Guo and Ms. Feng explain (in first person) that the founding of their company was inspired by the history and beauty of Greece, where the couple had vacationed a few years earlier. When I’m learning about a microbrand, I’m most interested in the product (show me the watch!), but reading such an honest introduction certainly gives a warm first impression, and that attitude/brand ethos is echoed in the watches Phoibos produces.
While the Phoibos range comprises a number of interesting watches with varying degrees of originality (but all with excellent design and build-quality), it’s the Phoibos Wave Master that best embodies the brand’s inspiration. As is the case with almost any watch, we certainly see nods to other brands here and there, but in total the Phoibos Wave Master stands alone as unique to the brand.
The dial of the Phoibos Wave Master is where we find the elegant and artistic expression of the founders’ Grecian inspiration, offering visual cues that poetically conjure a Mediterranean panorama. The word Phoibos (meaning “radiant”) is used in Greek mythology in conjunction with Apollo, the god of light and sun. The sun is present on the dial in the bright orange central seconds hand radiating out to the perimeter of darker orange indications on the chapter ring. This plays against the sky-blue of the minute and hour hands, applied indices, and lollipop balance of the seconds hand (all lumed with BGW9). Below these “sky elements”, the sea is cast in the subtle wave pattern of the matte black dial, with its sole inhabitant—the brand’s octopus logo—just below twelve o’clock (Editor’s Unhelpful Note: I thought it was the Spectre logo from Bond when I first saw it…).
The dial elements are balanced and well-proportioned, with applied bar indices at three and nine, a double bar at twelve, and circular indices at all other positions. The black-on-white date at six o’clock keeps the Phoibos Wave Master’s dial symmetrical and clean, and in conjunction with the two lines of white text above it reading “300M” and “Automatic” it balances nicely with the octopus logo below twelve. The handset is simple and works well in this context. The paddle hour and minute hands reach their tracks perfectly, and the polished steel tips offer increased legibility. The orange seconds hand is narrow and non-tapering, with the lumed lollipop visually tying it together with the main hands and indices.
Phoibos is discerning and restrained in using these adventuresome dial elements, and despite the bold design the Phoibos Wave Master’s whole package works. While the dial does register as “colorful,” the predominant colors are the matte black background and sky-blue indices and hands. This particular shade of blue is just bright enough to aid in legibility without really jumping off the dial.
Also, the indices are slightly smaller than we might typically see on a dive watch, further minimizing their effect on the overall color accumulation. This leaves the orange seconds hand as the main pop of color. The real restraint though is in the choice of a more muted orange for the sloped chapter ring markings (Arabics in five-second increments with intervening hash marks). As mentioned, these orange markings thematically relate to the seconds hand, but while a perimeter of bright orange indications (matching the seconds hand exactly) in this setting would be too much, the darker shade allows the brightness of the seconds hand to almost fade subtly.
While this is a great choice for color balance, I will say that it does occasionally make reading the chapter ring a little more difficult in certain lights and at certain angles (nothing beats white-on-black for legibility!).
The Tudor-style stainless steel case measures 42mm in diameter, 48mm lug-to-lug, and 14mm thick, with a lug-width of 22mm. The Phoibos Wave Master’s case design is simple, with polished sides and brushed lug-tops. One subtle touch is that the polishing of the sides bevels up to the very edge of the brushed lug-tops, offering a slight textural contrast.
The absence of crown guards, in combination with the slight downward slope of the short lugs, contributes to a generally compact and streamlined look; even on my small (6.75”) wrist it looks tastefully sized. At a head-on view, the only part of the case that is visible are the lugs, as the bezel protrudes ever-so-slightly from the case.
This head-on view also reveals a minor issue of proportion: the 22mm lug-width seems a bit too wide for the case. This perception is exacerbated a little by the non-tapering bracelet, but I do sometimes wonder if a 20mm lug-width would work on this case. What would probably work best (and also be super-annoying) is a 21mm lug-width, but Phoibos isn’t out to make any horological enemies. It wears great (if maybe a bit heavy) on the bracelet, but for my taste the 14mm case-thickness makes it just a bit too bulky on a NATO.
The back of the Phoibos Wave Master’s case is beautifully decorated with the brand’s octopus logo in the center and watch information around the perimeter. Maybe it’s cheesy, but I really do love that octopus logo, and being able to see it on a larger scale on the back is nice. The screw-down crown is well-executed in brushed stainless steel with deep ridges offering plenty of grip. From the center of the crown, a narrower surface protrudes slightly, providing space for the brand’s octopus logo once more.
At every turn in this watch’s build and design there are opportunities to cut corners (especially at this price point), but at each opportunity, Phoibos declines. The Wave Master’s bezel is a perfect example. The action on the 120-click unidirectional coin-edge bezel is smooth and without any back-play (while offering just enough resistance and a very satisfying click). The ceramic insert is marked with an inverted triangle at zero, Arabic numerals at 15, 30, and 45, and hash marks at intervening five-minute increments. These markings are lumed with Superluminova (it’s not clear exactly which variant, although it appears slightly greener than the BGW9 of the hands and indices), and the whole watch glows all night on minimal charge.
This bezel insert is beveled up to a flat, AR-undercoated, sapphire crystal for a clear, legible dial in all conditions. With all the structural quality of the bezel, it’s a shame to note that on my model the alignment is just the slightest bit off (with the zero-marker sitting a hair to the right of 12 o’clock). It’s a slight deviation, and easy to adjust to, but with everything else so well-executed, it’s unfortunate to see that issue.
The Phoibos Wave Master’s stainless steel engineer bracelet is remarkable. At $230 I’d expect this to be where Phoibos saves on production cost and cut on quality, but that’s not the case. The solid-link bracelet (with solid end links) is polished on the sides and brushed everywhere else. One odd issue is that the watch ships with Loctite adhesive in the link screws (yes, screws, not push-pins!). So for sizing, it’s recommended to take it to a jeweler, which is what I did with no problems at all (Phoibos may have since changed their bracelet system, but I have read several people complaining that they tried to size the bracelet themselves, and had a very difficult time doing so).
Stamped with the name “Phoibos”, a milled deployment clasp with double push buttons and flip lock keeps the bracelet fastened. Together with the watch head and bracelet the whole unit feels heavy and incredibly solid. As mentioned, the 22mm bracelet is non-tapering (avert your eyes, Michael Peñate!) which doesn’t typically bother me, but I do wonder if perhaps a tapering 22mm bracelet or a non-tapering 20mm might work a little better.
As someone who doesn’t know much more than the general basic info about watch movements, I am quite happy with the Seiko NH35A in the Wave Master. Commonly used in microbrand watches, it’s a hacking, hand-winding, 24-jewel, 21,600 bph automatic movement with 41-hour power reserve. I’m getting remarkable accuracy at +5” per day. For my purposes (and for the purposes of a brand trying to offer a simple, solid, quality movement) the movement is perfect.
I don’t really spend much money on any single watch in this hobby. I’m an artist with a wife, two children, and a mortgage… and I actually think it’s a blast to research and find pieces within that under $500 range (often significantly under). The Phoibos Wave Master is certainly the best value I’ve encountered, and I would have imagined it closer to twice its price. But even for collectors/enthusiasts who operate more at that next price level (and for whom the Wave Master’s specs don’t represent anything particularly out of the ordinary) this watch is worthy of consideration.
The Phoibos Wave Master doesn’t feel like a watch that has dutifully and dispassionately checked off boxes, nor does it feel like a budget piece. Rather than a piece of assembled specs, the watch wears as an honest, harmonious, artfully rendered expression of the founders’ inspiration. The Wave Master is fun, versatile, and reliable (more than rugged enough to stand up to anything that comes its way), but also appropriate for semi-formal wear (in this black-dial variant, anyhow).
As a composer, I’ve been working recently with texts from some of the Ancient Greek poets, and I’m always sure to wear the Phoibos Wave Master to the performances of these compositions when I can attend. I haven’t yet traveled to Greece, but I have visited Sicily, and when I have the Wave Master on, those memories and images come back to me a little easier. Even without considering the remarkable value, the Wave Master is the total package: excellent specs and build quality, unique and original design, from a company with a sincere, personal backstory. With the Wave Master, Phoibos reminds us that sometimes we find art where we least expect it.