Unimatic U1 Review

By: Jesse Bielasiak

There’s no shortage of options in the world of automatic dive watches. If you need a diving aid or a desk diver, icons like Seiko’s SKX and Rolex’s Submariner dominate the market. But many compelling offerings from newer microbrands exacerbate the challenge of picking the right dive watch. Enter the Unimatic U1.

Founded by a pair of industrial designers in 2015, Unimatic offers limited production Made in Italy divers, chronographs, and field watches. With the Modello Uno line, Unimatic utilizes instantly-recognizable design language reminiscent of the Submariner and Benrus Type 1 divers. The brand does this while straying clear of the “homage watch” moniker.

The Unimatic U1-D became the most expensive watch in rotation when I was gifted it for my birthday. Since then, it’s become a nearly daily wear – worn on almost every variety of strap and bracelet. It’s my favorite watch in my collection, and (while it has quenched some of my collecting thirst) it’s only made me hungrier for the next piece.

With iconic dive styling, the Unimatic U1 conjures images of Cousteau, Bond, and deep sea expeditions – even though most who will wear it (guilty as charged) will never wade more than a few feet into the ocean with it on. It’s also a watch that gets noticed by other collectors – just the other night it was complimented by a stranger wearing a vintage Speedmaster, which, unsurprisingly, led to about 2 hours of further conversation built upon our shared hobby.

Unimatic U1 Movement

It sports a Seiko NH35A movement with a 41hr power reserve, conservatively rated to just -20/+40 seconds per day. But I’ve found the Unimatic U1-D performs much better than the factory rating indicates (usually within +/-5 seconds per day). While some may balk at the idea of paying $525 for an NH35A timepiece, it has its merits. With features like hacking seconds and bi-directional winding, this is a simple, reliable movement that any repair shop will be able to work on. In its first 6 months, the movement has been faultless. My only complaint is the power reserve. I would love an extra 10+ hours. That way it could survive two days in my watch box without requiring a fresh wind.

Case & Straps

The tight, angular case is finished in a brushed steel that beautifully complements the matte dial and glossy sapphire crystal. Measuring 40mm across, 41.5mm including bezel, and 49mm lug-to-lug, the Unimatic’s neat proportions create a nearly universally wearable timepiece. The only potential sticking point would be the thickness. While not exactly hulking at 13.6mm high, it wears especially tall when paired with the included NATO straps.


 

Delivered with gray and blue NATOs, the dial appears to take on a rich, midnight navy tone when worn with the blue strap, which itself is rendered in a fantastic not-quite-navy shade of blue. Concerns about size aside, the NATO straps are charming and appropriate on this small-run diver. However, Unimatic also produces an excellent tapered steel bracelet. It is not included with any of their watches and costs a rather whopping €150 on its own. I recently found a lightly used example on WatchUSeek for significantly less and immediately strapped it on.

With the Unimatic U1-D now closer to the wrist, it feels perfectly proportioned. The matte brushed steel lacks the look-at-me factor you’d get with polished links, but that’s fitting for this workhorse. On the bracelet, it loses some underdog charm and blends in more with the masses of oyster and jubilee-clad dive watches, but it’s worth it for the flush fit. The bracelet is great in its own right, with solid end links, a micro-adjustable diving extension, and a subtle taper down to 20mm at the clasp. I’ve not had any issues with it catching on my hairy wrists, a problem with most cheaper bracelets.

Bezel & Dial Design

The U1-D (now sold out, the U1-E is the most similar current production model) is among the most classically styled options in the Modello Uno line, complete with a familiar dive bezel and a pared down black dial.

On wrist, I often find myself circling a finger around the soft sapphire bezel insert, which feels like a smooth clay, cool and inviting to the touch. The bezel is highly legible, with markers every 10 seconds, a lume pip at 12, and a 120-click unidirectional bezel. Though the look and feel of the bezel are fantastic, rotation is stiff, making it hard to adjust on wrist. Coupled with the relatively poor luminescence, this potentially ruins the Modello Uno’s efficacy as an actual dive tool.

Legibility at night is undone by the weak lume, rendered in white C1 SuperLuminova. It is difficult to charge, doesn’t glow brightly, and doesn’t last long. Newer models, like the U1-E, have been upgraded to blue BGW-09 SuperLuminova and additional luming on all bezel demarcations. I understand these upgrades have gone a long way to improving the legibility in low light.

The dial features a triangle at 12, bars at 3 and 9, and a subtle date window at 6 o’clock. There is no text on the upper half of the dial. It does feel bare at times, but this design quirk helps the Unimatic to stand out from the field of Submariner lookalikes. Here, all the text is at 6 o’clock, highlighting the brand, Made In Italy credentials, and dive rating.

Final Thoughts on the Unimatic U1

The Unimatic U1-D is what I call my first “big boy” watch. Before receiving it, I was splitting time between a lightly modded Vostok Amphibia and an old Tissot quartz PRC model. As a first (relatively) high-end automatic watch, the Unimatic has surpassed my expectations. Some initial concerns about the case size quickly wore off as I got used to wearing it. It’s a versatile watch that evokes classic dive styling and looks equally as charming on a rubber dive strap, a NATO, or the brand’s excellent tapered steel bracelet. It pairs perfectly with jeans and a t-shirt but also looks at home with a sport coat, though I opt for a thin, vintage Stauer with a leather band when donning a formal suit.

No matter what strap it’s paired with, this is a watch that will maintain a spot in my rotation for years to come. Wearing this tidy diver makes me feel like I’m never far from the beach, even though I’m usually in an office or on a plane traversing the US — and Unimatic, if you’re reading this, I’ll be first in line if you release a GMT version!

Check Out the Unimatic U1 site for more info.

*Unimatic Photos with Bracelet by Michael Rooders


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