Inside & Out: The Orion 1 from Watches by Nick
How I got this watch: I contacted Watches by Nick to request a review piece. I wore the watch for just over a week before sending it back. This is not a paid review.
The Orion 1 aims to take Watches by Nick from back room modding to bona fide brand, from a field watch to the stars.
Despite the obstacles of patience and dexterity, watchmaking is seemingly becoming more accessible than ever before as the availability of parts allows new brands to enter the market with their own creations. After inheriting his great-grandfather's 1955 Omega Constellation, Nick Harris of Watches by Nick became increasingly fascinated with the inner workings of mechanical watches and soon started tinkering with old Seiko movements. Earlier this year I reviewed his Traveling Watch, an example piece which showcased the combination of Nick's Seiko modding experience and his friend Damon's engraving and now I have his latest offering, the Orion 1.
Nick has been teasing out the specs and concepts for the Orion since early March and on paper the watch seems like a perfect list of everything that a watch enthusiast would want: a reasonable case diameter, screw-down crown, drilled lugs and no date window seem to tick all the boxes. The non-Swiss Seiko NH35 movement might irk some purists but I'm more than happy for a movement to impress me solely on its capabilities rather than its birthplace.
Watching the Orion 1 evolve from concept to prototype to bonafide finished product (saying that, I doubt Nick will ever consider it finished. The work of a modder is never done.) has been rather fascinating to observe. The name Orion came from Nick's love and fascination with the night sky and the cosmos, specifically the Orion constellation, and the watch's logo seen on the crown is inspired by the constellation's famous belt. Throw in some wisdom from Calvin and Hobbes and you've got yourself the beginnings of a watch brand.
Nick designed the Orion 1 himself with some small changes having to be made to accommodate part availability and the limitations of the manufacturing process. All in all, Nick says the watch is pretty close to what he imagined, an achievement in itself considering all the different variables at play from concept to manufacture. With an initial run of 300 pieces, Nick obviously isn't able to assemble all the watches himself and instead focused solely on assembling the engraved limited editions with a third party assembling the main run.
I wore the watch for just over a week and whilst it all seemed near perfect on paper, there was a certain je ne sais quoi I felt was missing. The Traveling watch had so much character and I didn't quite feel that with the Orion 1 as I couldn't get a sense of what it is or where it comes from. I imagined myself traveling across Berlin whilst wearing the Nomos 38 Datum or climbing mountains with the Bremont MBII-WH but with the Orion 1 I had none of these flights of fancy. Nick describes the Orion 1 as a robust dress watch that can handle an assortment of environments and can give you "peace of mind if you get thrown in the pool at the wedding you wore it to". Perhaps it is this sense of attempting to cater for all scenarios that leaves me wondering what the Orion 1 is meant to be.
Whilst I'd like to be able to wear my Zenith Dual Time everywhere, I know it's a dress watch and on the whole I am for the specialization of watches. Give me a dive watch for diving and a dress watch for weddings, so several of the design elements of the Orion 1 seem contradictory to me.
The dial is perhaps the best example of this are the cross hair detailing and alpha hands which are at odds with the sporty case. The cross hair dial was a real staple of mid-century watch design and alpha hands provide more detail than a simple stick or baton, but lack the impact of a paddle hand or broad arrow so are rarely seen on sports watches. The hands are crisp and well designed, especially for a watch at this price, but I didn't feel they work with the 'watch for all seasons' ethos that the Orion 1 is aiming for. The applied hour markers complement the minute track yet feel too delicate when paired against the thick bezel and case.
Is it a dress watch? A dive watch? Or maybe a tool watch?
Both the hands and the hour markers are lumed and glow really well in the dark, despite the seemingly small amount of lume on the hands, so low light visibility was never a problem. The black dial has a splash of color with the depth rating being either in red or blue depending on your preference. It's a nice touch but I found the typeface far too small and all but illegible at arms length.
The movement inside the watch is the Seiko NH35, a self-winding movement with hacking seconds that beats at 21,600 bph. It's been compared in the past to the economie grade ETA 2824-2 and whilst NH35 isn't adjusted to multiple positions when tested, I never saw more than a thirty second variation. At $400 (Full price $500), it's unreasonable to expect a swiss caliber inside of the Orion and seeing as the NH35 is often seen used in the Seiko modding community, perhaps its inclusion over a Swiss movement is fitting given its creator. I wonder if Nick has thought about fellow modders, now potential customers, taking apart his creation and tinkering with it!
The knurled machine turned finishing on the crown provides a good grip when unscrewing, changing positions, winding and adjusting the hands. Unfortunately the 9mm crown is far too big on a watch this small. The large crown does however get to show off the Orion logo engraved on the side, three spiraling shooting stars that are inspired by the titular constellations belt. Like all great logos, it's simple and easily identifiable and as Nick's operation grows, I hope he's able to start putting it either on the case back or on the dial itself.
You could compare this tool/dress watch with the early Rolex Explorers that can change moods with the swap of a strap but I feel the extra long lugs of the Orion 1 hamper it's versatility. I've got pretty average size wrist and will happily wear a 46mm watch without complaint but the exaggerated lug length, 49mm from tip to tip, of the Orion 1made it feel awkward on the wrist. Ironically these lugs were designed to accommodate straps of different thickness however on the wrist they dwarf the 38mm case.
The lugs and especially the bezel are bare, especially when compared against the limited edition engraved watch that is now sold out. Once engraved, suddenly the blank canvas of the bezel is full of intricate swirls and floral motifs, the sparse and sprawling lugs are now covered in exploding leaves. My issues with the dial are still present but the engraving suddenly adds a lot of character that I feel is lacking from the standard Orion 1.
In attempting to make the watch seem more professional and 'branded', the Orion 1 lacks personality and looking at Nick's past creations, it's a real shame. Late last year he was experimenting with Mokume-gane (a wonderfully interesting metal that looks like a mixture of tie-dye, Damascus steel and wood grain) and I would have loved to see it added to the Orion 1 as a unique selling point; the black swirls, glowing under UV light, mimicking the eternal, mesmerizing nothingness surrounding us all.
The Orion 1 from Watches by Nick is a valiant first effort, especially when it's a near-solo endeavor, and I hope that future watches bring back the character and charm I know Nick is capable of bringing to a watch.