Welcome to the reviews section of Independent Watch Projects. Our aim is to present to you the most noteworthy examples of affordable horology. Our main focus is always on the small independent brand that, out of necessity, offer more bang for your buck, but we sometimes feature pieces from more established brands if they are particularly meritable. We’re looking for cleverness, uniqueness and the ability to inspire. If we don’t find it, we’ll tell you; if it’s there, we’ll tell you how to get your hands on it and how to support the brand producing what we all want to see: quality watches the every-man can afford to wear.
Ocean Arc is a relatively new company based in Bristol. I first encountered them and their ware at last year’s (2013) Salon QP. Their stall itself was not what caught my eye as I drifted past, rather the arresting shirt and short combo sported by the brand’s owners. The surf-inspired patterns leapt out of the oh-so-civilised backdrop of Salon QP and demanded I take a look at what these upstarts had to offer. I will get to the watch in a moment, but I must mention that the personality of the Ocean Arc representatives was so endearing that I wanted to like what they were selling. This is great for business, but can somewhat obfuscate the view of the reviewer. I have been as impartial as possible in regards to their physical production, but should make it clear that their positive attitude is perfect for success in the watch industry: they are humble, aware and passionate. This is not a company of watchmakers (setting them at an immediate disadvantage in this writer’s opinion), but as designers the Joie de Vie and honesty they bring to the table cannot be ignored. Furthermore, they are respectful of the industry into which they are trying to break.
How true is this watch to the brand’s ideologies?
It is safe to say that this watch could not be mistaken for a watch of any other brand. This is always a good thing. You may not like it, but as long as it is sufficiently different to stand out from the crowd then it will have fans. It is true that small brands, despite no doubt eye-balling the big time, need only a similarly small group of followers to float on an initial basis at least. In fact, the ability to sire an ardent group of aficionados is more important than the immediate acceptance of the industry en masse. To do that you have to scream your arrival. The Ocean Arc does that with a bold and cool design that flouts many traditional conventions. The dial shouts originality and the case and strap echo this unusualness well. Ocean Arc are a company based by the sea, founded by surfers with surfers in mind. It is tough, functional and individual. But what exactly sets this watch apart from the products of other small brands?
What are its unique selling points?
The most noticeable thing about the Ocean Arc One is the dial and the hands. Sure, the case is big and black and the stingray skin strap is ostensibly revolutionary, but it is the dial that draws the eye. The second hand specifically, cut in a unique shape and coated entirely in vivid red superluminova can not be ignored. The dial pattern might distract the gaze of some, but it is a conversation starter, which is exactly what you want from a start-up brand. If you are going to invest a couple of thousand pounds, then you probably want your peers to ask you why.
DLC coatings are all the rage. The Ocean Arc One may well lack the sophisticated, research-heavy treatments applied to similarly priced models from Bremont, but it is there (and there in abundance). This is an arresting and functional aspect of the watch and one that could earn it a few promoters.
The watch utilises a standard ETA 2824. It does nothing out of the ordinary and the closed case back may disappoint a few would-be purchasers, but the movement cannot be faulted for robustness. Ocean Arc does not boast a chronometer certificate, but these movements, when correctly tuned, are more than capable of keeping time within those tolerances (+6/-4 seconds per day). The greater thickness of the 2824 in comparison to that of the 2892 could be said to improve the movement’s resistance to shocks, though this arguable benefit is often disregarded in favour of the superior finish and time-keeping capabilities of the 2892. In summary, it works. It will not blow your mind, but it should not give you any problems whatsoever. Little is known about the after sales performance of Ocean Arc, given the brand’s nascence, but they assured me they had trustworthy watchmakers on board to rectify any problems with their product.
The watch rates coolness over class. The case is too tall and too aggressively styled to be worn with a shirt or suit. The lume of the bezel is decently applied, but looks like the design was rushed. The finish is matte and does not provide any contrasts or interest. Worst of all are the lugs, which were admittedly an afterthought. The designers paid sole attention to the case (which itself has no particular aesthetic), and let the case-manufacturing company handle the design of the lugs. What they provided was a thoughtless pair of stock lugs that, although inoffensive, offer nothing in the way of cohesion. They are purely functional. It is a bit of a shame that no more was done to accentuate the fixings of the watch’s most unusual component – the strap.
How could this watch be improved?
The finish needs to be more classical. When using DLC, you can be bolder with the finishing pattern as it is less likely to scratch or wear. Furthermore, there is little-to-no advantage to applying a sandblasted finish to a coated watch – any serious damage incurred by the piece can not be rectified without re-coating or replacement, so you might as well do something cool. It would be good to see graining along the case sides, more anatomically consistent lugs and maybe a slight angle to the bezel to reduce its violent profile. With all that said, it is a totally likeable watch for all of the things I would change. If you want a gaudy show-stopper that cares little for convention, you could not go far wrong with the Ocean Arc One.
Why should you buy this watch?
You should buy this watch if it represents your life ethos. If you are brash, active and a little bit bonkers, then this could be the watch for you. If you love haute horlogerie but find the majority of the industry a bit stuffy, this could be the watch you have been waiting for. The case is bulky and proud; the dial is funky and loud; the strap stands out from the crowd and the whole package comes in at less than three grand.
Why should you support this brand?
The founders are good guys with the right mindset to make it in the industry. They understand their limitations and are trying to do something that transcends the barriers cost and heritage impose. They are saying something different and that deserves to be listened to and respected, even if you don’t agree with it.
Overall build quality
The build quality is very good. The watch is as tough as any in its immediate price bracket and then some. The strap is well made and the dial is absolutely top drawer. I am an enormous fan of the hands – my personal favourite aspect of the watch. It is actually quite rare – and extremely refreshing – to see a start-up get it SO right with hands. Too often – even with watches whose prices run into the tens of thousands – are the hands neglected and traditions too heavily leaned on. In this instance, Ocean Arc smashed it out of the park.
Case silhouette, iconography and consistency with brand ideals
This is a very poor part of the watch. The bland lugs and weirdly basic bezel/case sides give you nothing to get excited about. This is no Omega Seamaster, no Cartier Tank Francais, No Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. In short, the silhouette is totally forgettable. For the Ocean Arc, the beautiful details lay elsewhere.
Case construction and durability
Solid and unwavering, the Ocean Arc One is powerfully built. Like a weightlifter that wears shorts to Michelin Star restaurant, the beefy DLC case will be noticed, but not for its cultured appearance. It will, however, win any fight in which it finds itself. You could probably throw this watch out of a plane and find it in decent condition on impact. It is not my cup of tea, but it can not be criticised for its resilience and quality.
The bog-standard 2824 within and the lack of any extraneous complications mean this case has little to do. The bezel is superb, however. It has a lovely solid click and is easily manoeuvred into position. The lugs are big enough for the strap and provide enough distance from the case so that the strap is not under constant strain.
Future refinishing capacity
Practically none. Such a coating means you should never need to have this watch refinished. If you, you’ll probably be looking at a replacement. Touching up coatings is ill-advised unless the entire watch is sandblasted again. This might work, but we’ll have to wait and see how the design fares a few years down the line. The coating looks too thick to make it a simple job.
The watch is water resistant to 500m. This is a great feature of the watch, and justifies its description as a dive watch. I had horrible visions of scrolling to the technical information and seeing 3bar jump out me, but thankfully Ocean Arc have ensured the brand’s DNA runs from surface to core by guaranteeing their ware will stand up to the rigours of practical use.
Dial material, quality and legibility
The dial is made of printed brass in a traditional fashion with the functional components applied vertically. The print quality is good and striking. The lume is absolutely excellent. This watch actually looks relatively better in the dark. It comes alive in deep water. The hands pop and the dial gleams when the light dims.
The design of the dial itself is too busy for my tastes, but it is at least identifiable. The hands are beyond excellent. The design is cool, but the functionality seals it for me. For a watch designed for practical use in the sea, this is an element that can not be overlooked. Ocean Arc have done a brilliant job in ensuring this essential component receives the care it requires.
How well does the dial represent the brand ideology or range themes?
Very well. It is obvious that this watch belongs to these guys. Credit has to be given for the team coming up with a strong first outing with plenty of upside. A little more refinement with watch number two and this brand may just survive. If you buy the Ocean Arc One, your friends may not understand why, but you will certainly get your money’s worth in conversation and you can be sure that your investment is one that will remain recognisable for years to come.