Paulin Neo, ~$519
To quote the great Mike Meyers: "If it ain't Scottish, it's CRAP!"
Alright, it might not necessarily crap if it's not Scottish. But one thing's for certain: the Scots have been on a horological roll these past few years, churning out awesome watches, one after the other. The latest timepiece to joins these ranks comes from a small, Glasgow-based brand founded by three sisters called Paulin.
Case Diameter: 38mm
Case Depth: 11.6mm
Water Resistance: 50m
Movement: Seiko NH35A automatic
Price: 396 GBP (~$519)
Paulin has been manufacturing watches for a few years now, but with the Neo, it feels like the firm has truly found it voice. A design-focused timepiece, the 38mm Neo features an automatic movement from Seiko, putting it squarely in cross-hairs of watch enthusiasts as well as those whose chief concern is a fun dial design. Let's check out the Neo C, its blue and pink form. (The other two available dials are pictured below.)
It's tough to find the sweet spot between attractive, modern design and things that are important to watch enthusiasts, such as mechanical movements, appropriate case sizing, and certain niche features, such as lug holes. Often, when you find a watch with a great modern dial design, it's either quartz-powered, or it's relatively high end (though watches from certain German brands, such as Nomos and Junghans, are notable exceptions). The Neo is an outlier, and it's priced like a "microbrand" watch, at roughly $519.
Who It's For
Previously, one of Paulin's watches (the Geo Mini) was stocked by the MoMA Design Store in NYC, which is appropriate — many of the company's wares contain no small hint of Bauhaus or other modernist design. I could easily see a casual fan of design — but not necessarily a "watch guy" or "watch gal" — falling hard for the Neo. At roughly $500, it would make a great gift for such a person.
On the other hand, a serious watch nerd — and especially one who gravitates toward "microbrands" and their wares — would no doubt love the Neo, especially at its attractive price. The dial of the blue and pink model, with its playful colors and font, might not be "masculine" enough for the private equity crowd, but those whose tastes extend to all different sorts of watches could easily find a Neo that excites them. (All the more so because it's available in a black and white variant, the Neo A.)
Jungans' Max Bill line immediately comes to mind, especially their less expensive handwound variants in 34mm. Braun's AW10 EVO is another design-focused watch for under $500, though it's powered by a quartz movement. If you're willing to spend a bit more, a Nomos Club gives you a similar feel to the Neo, albeit with a serious movement upgrade the in the form of the brand's in-house, handwound Alpha caliber.
I was sent a Neo C (blue with pink indices) for review. The watch showed up in handsome packaging that clearly indicated thoughtfulness and an eye towards sustainability: a stamped cardboard box with inner cork liner and an outer sleeve with time-setting and care directions printed on the back. I'll say right away that "my" particular watch came on a gunmetal black mesh bracelet, which I immediately removed — I hate these types of bracelets and knew the watch would work much better for me on a perlon from Crown & Buckle. (Rest assured that the watch is available with many, many different strap or bracelet options.)
I'm excited to discuss the watch's dial, but first, the case: it's a perfect (IMHO) 38mm, crafted from stainless steel, and nicely brushed. It's got a push-pull crown that ensures 50m of water resistance (this ain't a dive watch, after all), as well as a transparent case back. The NH35 is nothing to look at, and personally, I'd rather see a solid case back on this watch...but that's just me. Half the audience for such a watch is probably going to be downright fascinated looking at the movement, so for that reason, this may have been the optimal move, considering the potential target market. (Also, you "watch people" out there will be thrilled to know that this baby has lug holes — huzzah!)
Ok, the dial: So dope. Paulin teamed up with anOrdain on this watch (one of the Paulin sisters and anOrdain founder Lewis Heath are, don't you know, a married couple!), which entailed several stages: first, Paulin developed a special typeface called "Wim," designed by their in-house typographer. Then, the dials are laser-cut from aluminum, adonised, and sent to artist Helen Swan, who hand-dyes them in her Glasgow studio. Finally, the dials are sent to anOrdain's studio for pad-printing.
The results are pretty special: the C's dial is a gorgeous sky blue in which the aluminum's vertical "grains" are visible. Pad-printed on this surface are orange line-shaped markers at each hour and pink hour indices in the Wim typeface. Bold and unique, the numbers work together with the other dial elements for a fun, whimsical look. When combined with a red seconds hand (with no counterbalance — it simply extends from the center of the dial), a short, black rectangular hour hand and a skeletonized, rectangular steel hour hand, the results are highly legible. The NH35's date disc is rendered here in black, with the dates contrasting in white (this is the case on all three colorways).
Notably, because of the NH35's relatively slow beat rate of 21,600 vph, the seconds hand makes its way around the dial with leisure, similarly to that of a vintage watch. Combine this with a domed acrylic crystal and the case's lug holes and smaller size, and you almost feel like you're wearing a vintage piece. It's a feeling I quite enjoy, though again, I would've ditched the transparent case back. (One nice thing about the NH35, is that because it's so common, virtually any watchmaker should be able to service it. Though the Neo does come with a two-year warranty.)
The "B" variant of the Neo comes in a striking cream color, while the A is neutral black and white. I love the look of these two colorways — though I've only seen them in pictures — but for my money, I would have to choose the C variant, which seems most fun to me. Paired with an easy-wearing strap such as a perlon, you almost forget you're wearing a watch at all.
The Neo is too cool. While it's by no means a perfect watch (which watch is?), the design, price, look and feel are perfect for the design-obsessed, the horologically-obsessed, or simply anyone who appreciates a fun, good-looking accessory. I'd love to see a future option without the transparent case back, or maybe on a cool beads-of-rice bracelet instead of the mesh option. But ultimately, this is the type of watch that's fun no matter how you wear it.