You're probably not going to improve on the concept of a basic tool watch by adding a lot to it. Boutique Italian microbrand Unimatic understands this, and their approach of simplifying and refining traditionally utilitarian watch styles even further has underpinned their success. The brand's fourth and most recent watch collection is the U4, or Modello Quattro, and it takes another step in the reductionist direction that the brand's already minimalist watches began. By subtracting, you end up with somehow more than a tool watch, as the U4 is eminently affordable with a hell of a look, to boot.
Case Diameter: 40mm
Case Depth: 13.9mm
Water Resistance: 300m
Movement: Seiko NH35A automatic
Unimatic's debut offering, the U1 (or Modello Uno), was a strikingly pared down version of a dive watch, and the U4 is a pared down version of that, both in terms of aesthetics and functionality: Instead of a rotating diver's bezel, it's got a fixed bezel executed in plain steel with no markings. The result is a robustly built watch with an understated but sleek style. With a basic Seiko automatic movement inside, it's also in the affordable range of automatic sport watches.
Who It's For
Unimatic is straight-up one of the hippest watch brands around, generally appealing to a younger, design- and budget-conscious crowd. Though the brand stays true to the tool watch ethos with solid specs and build quality that'd surely hold up in the field, its appeal is more military-chic than that of a true "beater." The U4 will satisfy the watch nerd that obsesses over design, fetishizes ruggedness and appreciates its under-the-radar, in-the-know status that the Italian brand has cultivated.
It's hard to think of many watches that can be directly compared with the U4. With an aesthetic/use case parked firmly between a dive watch (like the Unimatic U1) and a field watch (Unimatic U2), the U4's ideal owner might be interested in either of those broad genres, or neither. So what does the U4 offer specifically? A general tool watch with a minimalist, military-inspired design. That exact combination of elements might be hard to pin down, but there are some other options in the same price range:
Visually, the Victorinox INOX ($495+) has a similarly chunky footprint with a bold bezel and crown guards that take it in a more modern direction than the average field watch. It comes in a range of colors and iterations, including different case materials, as well as quartz and automatic options. What it lacks is Unimatic's design sensibility and personality.
In a more traditional field-watch vein is Hamilton's Khaki Field King that offers a slimmer profile and Swiss automatic movement starting at a retail price of $575. In the dive watch realm, a Seiko Samurai has some visual similarity with its angular case and can often be found for less than its retail price of $525.
The Unimatic U4 is almost a dive watch. Although it's 300m water-resistant and features the same case and bezel profile as the brand's U1 diver, the bezel is devoid of markings and doesn't turn. We're left with a wearing experience that's like that of a dive and a field watch at the same time, and yet neither.
Maybe we don't have to worry about exactly what to call it aside from a handsome, affordable, rugged and downright stylish casual watch. Its specs and pragmatic design make the U4 reassuringly robust, but Unimatic ultimately stands out most for its tasteful design sense and the buzz that surrounds it.
Yes, the young brand's production runs regularly sell out quickly, with models often trading on the secondhand market for above retail prices. Limited-edition, sometimes quirky collaborations further paint Unimatic as a phenomenon in the watch and fashion spaces — the brand's "Made in Italy" angle doesn't hurt their image, either.
In other words, Unimatic is one of the hottest microbrands around, and its popularity is built on a solid foundation of value and the principles that make classic sport watches themselves so enduring. The U4 feels solid and is highly legible, with a simple and clear dial with plenty of contrast and C3 Super-LumiNova that glows a pale green in the dark — though more brightly on the hands than on the indices.
Unimatic's own website doesn't blow smoke in your face about their simple formula and calls this Modello Quatro (U4) a "military take on the iconic Modello Uno" (U1). Its military theme is expressed through its generally stark, brutalist design, but is most overtly communicated by the olive-green nylon strap paired to its black dial. It nails the look, but I found the included strap slightly uncomfortable and immediately started wearing the U4 more often after switching it to a soft, green seatbelt-style NATO from B&R Bands ($25).
The U4 was made to be worn with a strap like this, but NATOs do tend to add bulk — and though measuring only 40mm in diameter, the case's chunky proportions further amplify its presence: the bezel stands high from the case middle and the case back extends below. Slim-wristed wearers might want to try it on a two-piece leather or rubber strap to cut down on its height and visual heft.
An overall angular design also makes it sit prominently on the wrist, and a closer examination of its all-brushed surfaces reveals some interesting details, with the bezel itself boasting multiple facets. The crown has a grippy texture and is decorated with a cool design. The same mix of stark elements and thoughtful design characterizes the dial: instead of the typical positioning of the brand name at 12 o'clock, placing it at 6 o'clock leaves the rest of the dial feeling very open — and somewhat reminiscent of unbranded vintage military watches.
"Simple, tough and functional" seems to describe Unimatic's design approach, and it also describes pretty well the automatic movement they chose to power the U4: With a 41-hour power reserve, the Seiko NH35 is the same as the 4R35 that's found reliably driving many modern Seiko watches in collections like Presage and Prospex. You really can't complain about it, as more premium offerings such as the Miyota 9015 (and related) or Swiss movements would inevitably drive up the price.
You're going to get respect from watch guys and style-savvy types with something like the Unimatic U4 on your wrist, but even without that validation it should prove a fun and capable watch for those attracted to the aesthetic. It also does all this for not a ton of cash, and this reviewer's respect for it grew over the time spent wearing it. It's impressive that Unimatic makes such a classic style and simplified design actually stand out in a crowded space.