Innovation is a tricky business. You can’t just wake up in the morning and think “Today I will be brilliant!” and develop a cure for the common cold. But when, unwittingly, in a moment of clarity, a new idea arrives, it is often depressing to find out that some other guy in a faraway land had already patented it a million years ago.
Real innovation in the watch world is also rare. I mean, in how many different ways can you tell the time? It looks like it’s all been done before, even a Joker watch that tells the time with his looney eyes has been made! Some have tried by adding incredible complications to the point of madness but coming up with a little window that tells the wearer the time and date Kim Kardashian last got her legs waxed, in my opinion, is cheating, expensive, and useless.
And so we have Kustom Watches, an Italian Micro-brand led by 3 very young entrepreneurs that began design work just 4 months ago. The result is a patented modular 4 piece system, the likes of which I’ve never seen before at its price. No complications, no bells, and whistles, just a clean minimalist design that almost anyone can tailor to his or her tastes in a matter of seconds.
The watch comes in a “boxes inside a box” affair with 4 small containers inside the main sleeve each of which contains one of the components, within a well designed, cut to size, foam padding. YouTube Unboxers rejoice.
The case comes in a fairly common 41mm diameter with a 20mm lug width 48mm lug to lug and a surprisingly thin 9mm. The thickness, or better lack of it, comes from the use of a Miyota 2035 quartz movement. QUARTZ I HEAR YOU SAY? Yes, quartz, I don’t pooh-pooh quartz watches cheap or otherwise. In my collection, I have a number of digital and analog quartz pieces (Seikos from the 70s, Swatches from the 80’s and a couple of Fossils from the ‘90s). I am also the happy owner of one of the finest quartz watches currently made: a Grand Seiko GMT from the SBGN line which is accurate to a few seconds A YEAR. Case closed on quartz, if you don’t like them, nothing to see here, please move on.
For the two people left reading, Kustom must be commended for their strategy. Instead of postponing the time to launch and raising the cost of the final product by casing an automatic movement, they took the smart choice of putting out a reliable quartz piece in order to showcase their innovative design and gather feedback from the user base. Given the risk of failure in the highly competitive world of micro-brands, I believe taking one small step at a time will diminish the odds of going bust. The founders do assure me that if the design gathers accolades and success, an automatic movement will be added together with other versions.
Back to the watch. The piece weighs just 109gr on a bracelet and 58gr on a leather strap, that, combined with the aforementioned thinness, make it an extraordinarily comfortable watch to wear. On a precisely sized bracelet on my wrist, sometimes I forget I have it on.
The Bracelet is a solid link design with small links, solid end links, an “invisible” signed butterfly clasp and quick release spring bars. Three colour choices are available: steel, PVD black and rose gold. The bracelet has a nice weight to it: tolerances are loose, like an old jubilee. It’s a bit off-putting at the beginning but that looseness enhances comfort incredibly. I am also happy to report that no hairs were pulled off of my wrist while I was wearing it. Sizing is achieved by hairpins. The clasp closure is quite hard initially, I suggest you open it by pulling on the sides and not by putting a fingernail under the clip.
All straps are black in either soft Italian leather or nylon, with signed buckles in the same steel choices as the bracelets for the leather bracelets. As above spring bars are of the quick-release type. I didn’t have any of the nylon straps for review, but I can say that the leather strap is light, soft and flexible with a strong taper from 20mm to 15mm at the finely finished buckle and a flat rectangular pin and holes. Not that it matters but it smells quite nice too! None of that Chinese factory horse glue smell!
Cases bezels and movements come in (you guessed it) steel black and rose gold, the movements having a choice of black of white, the white coming in two dial styles, a diver style dial and a “Yacht-Master II” style with an inner 24-hour inner track. Water-resistance is 100m. The back is fixed by multiple screws.
The crystal is a piece of dead flat mineral glass with blue-tinted AR coating on both sides, so beware of scratches! To my disappointment (being an addict in that sense) the dial and hands are not lumed. The printing on the dial is surprisingly good for a watch of this price: it is a little “fuzzy” but that is due to the matte “orange peel” finishing of the dial. Indices are applied, and together with the hands are finished to accurate standards
The case is mirror polished on the sides with a straight finely brushed finish on the top of the lugs and a radial brushed finish on the bezel. The crown has a nice sharp coin edge and is signed with the “K” logo. All in all, I can safely say that the overall finish is well above the standard of your run-of-the-mill “fashion” quartz watch.
Assembly is quite straightforward if you follow the right technique, especially for the metal bracelet. The movement module fits in the back of the case and is secured by the bezel that screws on top: less than a quarter of a turn is enough to keep everything tightly in place. A rubber O-ring on the border of the case provides enough friction so that the bezel does not come loose. In contrast to the bracelet, tolerances here are incredibly tight. Once assembled nothing jiggles and it feels like a regular one-piece watch. The straps are very easy to attach. In any case tutorial videos will be provided for the more ham-fisted among us (that includes me!).
On my average 18cm wrist the watch wears well, sits very flat and looks elegant on leather, and sporty on the bracelet. On the bracelet, it wears ever so slightly larger due to the fixed protruding center on the end link.
If you have smaller wrists and/or have issues with larger wearing watches, stick to the strap.
In summary, I like this watch and wear it regularly. It’s fun to play around with different combinations of modules and I am certain that the choice of bezels, straps, cases, and dials is only going to grow larger and more interesting. As it stands now the combinations are pretty much endless. I would have liked to have seen a larger selection of strap colours other than black from the get-go, but that is easily remedied with aftermarket offerings from the likes of Barton and Archer.
The only niggles I have are the mineral crystal and the lack of a lumed dial and hands. I can understand that both those features involve additional complexities and can increase costs. But with a base price of 200 Euros (225 USD) for the entry-level configuration (steel, case bezel, movement, and nylon strap) I feel that at the very least a lumed dial and hands should have been offered. The top configuration of all steel in rose gold finish costs 285 Euros (315 USD) and that can be viewed as a bit of a stretch for an unknown brand trying to make its way in the jungle that is the watch market.
I do not see the use of a quartz movement as a handicap at this point for all but the most hardcore watch nerd. Having said that I believe that given the lack of an automatic movement and the other shortcomings, a slightly more aggressive price should have been offered: a base price of 160-170 would have been fairer in my opinion.
The only watch I have seen that has a comparable modular design is an offering from Hegid but with a base price of around 3000 Euros, a non specified “swiss automatic movement” (and for 3k that had better be at least a COSC certified ETA) and a limited to a few hundred pieces, this can’t be considered as a viable alternative.
Like I said in the introduction, innovation is a rare beast indeed. Innovation has a price: if this watch did not have its special features I wouldn’t have recommended it at its selling price. As it stands I give the watch a 3.5/5 for its design originality, good workmanship, interesting style and as an encouragement to develop new accessories and add missing features. The design has enormous future potential, and if higher production volumes help to lower final prices I can only recommend it more.
The Kustom Watch launches October 15th for sale worldwide on the Kustom Watches website and in select stores in Italy.
Keep an eye on my Instagram feed for an upcoming video on review on YouTube and IGTV with assembly demos!
Gigi @ Time To Talk Watches. Instagram: @timetotalk_watches, YouTube: “Time To Talk Watches”
I was given this watch unpaid to review by Kustom and do not have to send it back. This review expresses my unbiased opinions and is not a solicitation to purchase this product.