Of Mountains & Watches: UNDONE Basecamp Review

If you haven’t heard of UNDONE, it’s time you should. The brand is known for its amazing collaborations, and customisable watches. Today’s review takes a look at one of their classic models, the UNDONE Basecamp; but what’s this watch got to do with mountains anyway, and would it survive a summit attempt? Read on to find out.


When I heard the word basecamp, the first thought that came to my mind was “Everest”. Admittedly, I know nothing much about mountains, let alone scaled one, save for some hikes here and there whilst travelling in Europe. The association was probably planted in my head from one of the numerous Nat Geo documentaries I watched as a kid.

Looking at the UNDONE Basecamp, I couldn’t help but question, “What’s a mountain got to do with this watch?” While I never found an official answer, my guess lies in a little bit of history with (of all things) Rolex. Here’s the abridged version:


Sir Edmund Hillary & Tenzing Norgay, the first explorers to reach the summit of Mount Everest

Watches have been worn to the farthest ends of the Earth, and even beyond (literally, to the moon). Even way back in the day, watchmakers had been jostling with each other to slap their watches onto the wrists of explorers venturing into uncharted territories, pushing the boundaries of the human spirit. When a certain Sir Edmund Hillary embarked on an expedition to climb to the top of Mt Everest, Rolex was one of the sponsors, issuing several timepieces to the members. While testing the watches was a key objective, the more desirable outcome would be the success of the expedition, thus sealing Rolex in the history books as the first watch to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

If you’re wondering, Sir Edmund Hillary did indeed become the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest; whether or not he was wearing a Rolex however, has been a point of contention in the watch community for years. Turns out aside from Rolexes, Sir Edmund Hillary also had a watch from English watchmaker, Smiths. Nonetheless, the Rolex marketing team had a field day shouting about their achievements, which eventually led to the development of the Rolex Explorer – part of the inspiration for the UNDONE Basecamp (more of that later).


Yeah the connection’s a little iffy, but it’s still an interesting story and a heck of name, so why not?

The Brand

I first chanced upon UNDONE while I was still a student, and was instantly enthralled by the plethora of appealing designs. Along with the Seiko Samurai, UNDONE was one of those brands that made me go “Right when I start working, I wouldn’t mind one of these”. I make it a point to look out for watches that are different, and UNDONE is as different as it gets.

The UNDONE brand logo

From what I’ve gathered online, UNDONE was co-founded in 2014 by entrepreneur Michael Young, who had already made a name for himself repairing and restoring vintage Rolex watches. Michael, himself an enthusiast, was surprised that even at the prices people were paying for luxury timepieces, you “couldn’t even choose your own strap”.

One of UNDONE’s models, the UNDONE Vintage Killy, source: UNDONE Press Kit

UNDONE’s goal is thus to fill this gap in the market; to deliver you a watch that is made just for you, at price points that won’t break the bank. While other brands simply sell you the watches as they are, UNDONE allows you to customise each watch to your liking; from the case to the hands, to even engraving your name on the dial. The end result is a watch that is uniquely yours. The process is made buttery smooth thanks to their user friendly customiser, and even if you aren’t looking to get a new watch (c’mon who are we kidding here), I’d recommend you give it a go; it’s plenty fun and free anyway.

UNDONE also has a series of amazing collaborations, with familiar brands and icons ranging from Batman to Monopoly. How cool is that?

The Case & Specifications

UNDONE pitches the Basecamp as an everyday tool watch with a vintage, military look. Excluding the crown, the watch has a case width of 40mm, while the dial itself measures 28mm. Lug-to-lug comes in at 48mm, with a lug width of 20mm. These proportions are quite standard nowadays, and make the watch very wearable, though it must be said that the Basecamp is a bit on the thicker side, coming in at 15mm thick. This is due to UNDONE’s choice of using a domed, LEXAN polycarbonate crystal.

If you’re wondering “LEXAN poly-what?”, I had the same question too. Essentially, you can treat it the same as any other acrylic crystal, which means that while it won’t crack, it will scratch easily over time compared to mineral and sapphire crystals. Given its intention to be an everyday tool watch, the choice of LEXAN is arguably less of a functional decision but more of an aesthetic one to keep in line with the vintage look.

And for those of you who googled “Does Polywatch work on LEXAN polycarbonate?” but couldn’t find the answer (like me), public service announcement: yes, it does; I’ve tried it.

Side profile of the Basecamp; here you can clearly see the domed crystal peeking over the bezel

The case is made of 316L stainless steel and feels solid in hand, yet is light enough for comfortable, all-day wear. A signed crown at 3 o’clock is emblazoned with a “U”, clearly representing UNDONE. The crown has been cut into an octagonal shape to offer more grip during operation. These are nice little touches that other brands may not offer, even at higher prices (hint hint Seiko).

The Basecamp comes in multiple variants; specifically, the one I have on hand is the UNDONE Basecamp Sandblast Raider, which features a sandblasted, matte finish in contrast to the Classic, which goes with a glossier finish. As of this writing however, it seems that UNDONE is no longer producing the sandblasted variant.

The Basecamp also features a bi-directional bezel; you are given the choice between a graduated bezel or a sterile one. The one shown here is the sterile one, and between the two options I think this is way cooler, albeit less functional. The glossier black of the bezel complements the matte black dial, with a single triangular marker in faux patina adding a touch of contrast.

The bezel is knurled to offer better grip, and rotates smoothly without ratcheting.

One interesting detail I’ve noticed about the Basecamp, is that at the lugs, the watch case ends off with a chamfered edge such that the bezel sits atop a rectangular profile, in contrast to most other watches which simply follow the rounded profile of the dial/bezel.

While the Classic comes with a glass caseback to showcase the automatic movement, the Sandblast Raider uses a stainless steel, screwdown caseback, with the typical watch specifications engraved on it. Water resistance comes in at 100m, more than enough for the everyday use it’s intended for.

The Dial

It is here that the Basecamp’s military/field watch design shines through. The dial design is simple and clean, with large numerals printed at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. The rest of the hours are marked by large baton indices, in a matching faded-orange colour, while the minutes are marked by smaller white baton indices. Against the black dial, the markers contrast nicely and are highly legible; something you’d expect from a field watch.

The hour hand is styled as a chunky, bright orange arrow, with a needle tip that extends outwards to the minute track. The minutes hand is comparatively thinner, and coloured in white instead. A lollipop seconds hand is used here, also in white.

Printed just above 6 o’clock are the words “100m = 330ft” in red, and the words “AUTOMATIC” in white. Below the 6 o’clock marker, you will find the brand logo. UNDONE allows you to add your initials, with a maximum of 3 characters. If you do so, the initials will be printed in white, below the 12 o’clock marker. Otherwise, the area will be left sterile. A date window can be found in between 4 and 5 o’ clock, which can be a deal breaker for some people. Unfortunately, UNDONE doesn’t do a date windowless version.

The lume of the Basecamp compared with the lume of my Seiko Samurai King

All 3 hands are lumed, together with the hour markers. From my experience however, the lume isn’t fantastic, and doesn’t last long.

While the dial design is relatively simple, you get a really good sense of depth when looking at it thanks to the domed LEXAN polycarbonate crystal. The distortion makes for interesting viewing angles, and the dial feels as though it sits deeper in the case than you’d expect.

The domed crystal in all its glory

Supposedly, the Basecamp drew inspiration from the Rolex Explorer models. While not immediately apparent, you can see some similarities when comparing the watches side by side.

Rolex Explorer, credits: rolex.com
The Basecamp
Rolex Explorer II, credits: rolex.com

The Basecamp seems to have mixed and matched elements from the Explorer & Explorer II models, with the dial having a similar layout to the Explorer while the hour hand seems to be inspired by the Explorer II’s orange GMT hand. That being said, the Basecamp is definitely unique in its own right, and the overall design language is vastly different from its supposed sources of inspiration.

The Movement

The Basecamp uses a Seiko NH35 movement, commonly found in watches at this price point by microbrands. The movement is known for its reliability and accuracy, rated at -20/+40 seconds per day. It has a power reserve of 41 hours, and features hacking and hand winding.

While I haven’t had experience with the NH35 movement before, my King Samurai uses the Seiko 4R35 movement, which apparently is pretty much the same thing. I had thus expected the experience to be relatively identical; however, I found that adjusting the crown on the Basecamp was not as smooth in comparison. In fact, it was stiff enough to warrant a trip to the local watchsmith, who fixed it up with some grease.

I haven’t read of similar encounters online, so it may be a one-off QC issue, albeit unexpected.

The Strap

UNDONE allows you to choose from 6 different kinds of straps, each with its own set of colours. Most people seem to opt for their 5 ring-NATO, which goes along with that whole “field watch” look.

From my experience, I didn’t find their NATO strap to be the most comfortable; the material is a bit stiff for my liking, and despite my smaller wrist size, I’m not left with much of a “tail” to tuck back into the ring. The rings also seem to add on unnecessary bulk to the otherwise compact case, and I found it to be a bit visually imbalanced.

I got to try the cordura strap as well, and definitely liked it way more than the NATO. Personally, I’d recommend one of their cordura or rally straps.

Styling

The Basecamp lives up to its name of being an everyday watch, and is very versatile when it comes to straps. My favourite way of wearing the Basecamp is with a Marine Nationale style strap; on top of retaining the military vibe, the entire package remains light and comfortable for whole day wear.

The Basecamp with a MN Style Strap

With a more smart casual outfit, I’d opt for the cordura strap which you can purchase together with the Basecamp. The strap itself is well-made and comfortable to wear, while the matte texture helps to keep the look a little more subdued.

The Basecamp on a black cordura strap

While it wouldn’t be a boardroom watch of my choice, I suppose it could work with a leather strap.

The Price

The UNDONE Basecamp retails for US$335 (SGD$455 at time of writing), with free shipping and 12 months of warranty. UNDONE says the Basecamp may be the “best affordable automatic watch under 500 USD out there”; though you should probably take that with a pinch of salt. For what you’re getting, the price is pretty reasonable and I don’t think there are any similar watches out there.

At the same price point however, you can choose to opt for an entry level Seiko or other microbrands with similar specifications. I would say that the Basecamp may not necessarily be the best automatic watch under 500 USD, but if you do end up getting one, you wouldn’t end up feeling like you didn’t get your dollar’s worth. The Basecamp would likely be most suited for someone who appreciates its design, or for someone who’s looking for customisable options.

Overall Thoughts

I’ve had my eye on the UNDONE line of watches for a while, and was quite thrilled to get my hands on the Basecamp. Strangely though, I didn’t connect with it the same way I did for my King Samurai, which was essentially love at first sight. Rather, the Basecamp slowly grew on me, and I found myself enjoying it for its versatility, and unique retro-field watch design. The Basecamp carries the essence of UNDONE with it; of striving to be uniquely you, yet keeping it just subtle enough to cater to most.

There are a few “trade-offs” you will have to accept with the Basecamp however. The lume could be better, and the LEXAN crystal will be scratch prone. Despite being named the Basecamp, it’s also unlikely to survive a mountain, though it does live up to UNDONE’s promise of being an everyday watch.

That being said, with the specs to boot and a well thought out design, chances are you won’t regret getting one once its in your hands.

A simple yet eye-catching dial with a robust case makes the Basecamp a versatile option for most occasions


Images

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