So Labs Layer 1, $175
Case Diameter: 38mm
Case Depth: 11mm
Water Resistance: 30m
Movement: Miyota quartz
Sometimes (read: every. damn. day.) I think we might take this whole "watch" thing way too seriously. We scream at one another in online forums about movement provenance, case diameter and other design nuances. We criticize one another's choices. Why? Watches are no longer a necessity in our lives, so shouldn't they be fun?
So in the spirit of fun, we bring you the So Labs Layer 1. Inexpensive, quartz-powered, colorful, and different, it's perhaps not typical GP fare — and that's exactly what attracted me to it. It could be a watch for the design-obsessed; it could be a watch for kids; it could be a watch for those simply seeking a fun weekender, a respite from the seriousness and worry of watches that cost much too much for what they are. Without further ado, let's get into it.
We tend to think of quartz watches as a) cheap, fashion brand junk or b) over-built stuff for the military or professionals. (Ok, maybe we don't all think this way, but consider the dichotomy for a moment and you may find that it rings true.) The Layer 1 fits into neither category: it's relatively inexpensive, to be sure, but only compared to its mechanical cousins — it's certainly not so cheap that you'd be hesitant to purchase it for fear that it's garbage. And it's incredibly thoughtfully considered, from the case to the dial the diameter and strap. That's something worth taking notice of, especially when you're looking for a gift for someone.
Who It's For
Ok, the Layer 1 may not be appropriate for the Wall Street set — fair. But walk into most modern offices with one on your wrist and you're sure to pique someone's interest. I could see anyone with slightly adventurous tastes loving the Layer 1. Given it's size (38mm), it's a perfect unisex watch, and it would also work well for kids and teens (especially given its colorful appearance). Given its price, it could function well as a gift for anyone interested in art, design or fashion.
The alternatives to something like the Layer 1 are precisely the type of things you'd find in a design or museum shop. To wit: the Redundant Watch ($190) from the MoMA Store, based on a 1990s clock design by Ji Lee, is exactly the type of thing someone in the market for a "fun" watch would appreciate. Virtually anything from British watchmaker Mr Jones is also a good pick, but especially so their Colour Venn ($325), which uses colored discs to display the time. Perhaps the coolest alternative to something like the Layer 1 is Paul Smith's collaboration with Braun ($225) — a subtle twist of the brand's classic quartz watches. However, it's sold out at the moment, so you'll have to wait 'til it returns.
And it goes without saying that virtually anything from Swatch is also a worthy alternative, both in styling and in price. It's hard to pin down a specific model given the Swiss juggernaut's vast catalog, but the entire point of the brand was to make fun, affordable quartz watches from all.
The Layer 1 is the brainchild of designer Rick Cosgrove and his business partner Andrew Perez, whom you might know as the principal at Astor & Banks. It comes in five colorways, each of which consists of five Pantone colors but otherwise uses the same dial design. The case itself is 38mm and made from transparent acrylic, allowing the wearer to glimpse all the dial layers sandwiched one atop the other. (The case back, however, is steel and engraved with an individual number, so there's no peaking at the quartz movement beneath. Perhaps this would've been a cooler approach, but here, at least, you get your individual serial number.)
A signed, push-pull crown offers only 30m of water-resistance, but we don't expect anyone will mistake the Layer 1 for a dive watch anytime soon and plunge headlong into a lake. Each case is paired with a comfortable suede strap with quick-release pins and brushed steel hardware — a premium appointment on a watch at this price point, to be sure.
The dial, however, is where most of the action is on the Layer 1. Eschewing the use of traditional watch hands, each consists of several parts: a flat sapphire crystal, a seconds disc, a minute disc, an hour disc, and a die-cut dial. Together, these layered parts form the time-telling apparatus that is visible as a watch dial. The Pantone colors, in turn, contrast from and compliment each other well, making for bright dials that beg for closer examination. (Indeed, the Layer 1 is perhaps not the watch to wear if you're trying to fly under the radar.)
Though it's by no means the first watch to replace hands with revolving discs, the Layer 1 is surely amongst the most playful and least expensive. I wouldn't spring for one if you needed the most easily scannable watch dial possible — indeed, the seconds indicator is easy to miss, seeing as it's simply a tiny dot on the innermost dial ring. However, these aren't meant to accompany you while you execute a coordinated, platoon-sized attack on a machine gun nest. They're meant to be fun.
On-wrist, the Layer 1 sort of literally disappears into your body, given its transparent case. Given its dimensions (38mm x 11mm), it's incredibly comfortable, especially with its leather strap. Slipping easily under a cuff (thought you'd doubtless be wearing one with a t-shirt), it's a watch so light and well-sized that you sort of forget that you're wearing it. (Needless to say, others will likely remind you — this is the type of watch that elicits comments and compliments wherever you go.)
The watch's packaging, though perhaps not the eco-friendliest, is also interesting and different from that of many watches: Within a cardboard box with a foam insert is a large plastic disc — sort of like an oversized petrie dish — transparent and with a transparent top. The watch head sits within the center of this disc within another foam insert, and the strap, separated into its top and bottom halves, has its own cutouts beneath the watch head. A label on the outside of the "dish" gives the watch's specs and individual number. It's a cool design and easily wrappable if you're giving the Layer 1 as a gift, so extra points there.
The Layer 1 is just plain cool. It's not stuffy, it's not geared at anyone in particular — it just wants to be worn and enjoyed. Affordable enough to be gifted but well-built enough to be worn regularly, it helps round out a market that tends to focus disproportionately on overly serious designs for people who probably don't wear their watches in overly serious ways. If you're looking for a plain ol' fun watch, definitely give the Layer 1 a try.