Watch Review: alkin Model Two – Brilliantly British Design (Plus bonus Q&A!)

The microbrand sector of the watch industry is one that divides the opinion of the enthusiast community. It has its fervent followers and fans, and it also has its critics and naysayers. I myself am very firmly entrenched in the positive side of the debate. I love the creativity that you get from some of these small, independent, one-man brands that you don’t get from the big-name brands. These microbrands are forced to continually channel their creative juices and produce new and interesting designs. They cannot rest on their laurels and rehash the same model over and over again (looking at you, Rolex). Today’s review is a shining example of this positivity that exists in the microbrand space, and an example that is truly deserving of celebration.

Let me introduce you to the wonderful, non-nonsense Model Two from British brand, alkin. Note: the brand styles its name with a lowercase ‘a’.

As it’s probably fairly clear at this point, I very much enjoyed the time I spent with the Model Two. I was fortunate to see an early prototype of the watch back in June 2019 at the WatchItAllAbout Watch fair in Rugby. This was the first time I’d met or spoken to Charlie Fowler, the man behind alkin, but he and his watches were the big winners on the day for me. Considering they were joined by the likes of other popular British brands like Christopher Ward, Pinion and Hamtun, that was no mean feat. Since then there’s been a couple of subtle-yet-positive upgrades/tweaks from the original prototypes so let’s dive in (pun totally intended).

The Model Two is a compressor-style watch and it’s a very nice example at that. The two crowns at 2 and 4 immediately give an indication of the internal bezel lurking within. I’m a big fan of internal bezels as they ooze retro coolness and retro functionality.

Scottish Watches and Bark and Jack

The case is a 41mm steel affair with downward curving lugs providing a snug fit upon the wrist. The case is very nicely machined and the finishing is impeccable, especially for this price range. The case quality here is definitely punching well above its price point. I think there’s a tendency for many people to focus too much of their attention on a watch’s movement these days. This focus leads one to look for most of the value from said movement. Given most microbrands are using the same movements this is very nonsensical because it blinkers you to some of the value offered by other aspects that make up the watch. I was certainly guilty of this myself up until fairly recently!

As mentioned previously, there are two crowns found here. One at 4 sets the time and winds the movement, and the other at 2 is to operate the internal bezel. Both screw-down which is nice to see, particularly on the bezel crown. Both crowns have a satisfying pop when unscrewed and both turn very smoothly and were a pleasure to use. Whilst still on the topic of the crowns, a touch I really like here is that the bezel crown features crosshatch markings. This is a nod to the original EPSA-cases supercompressor watches from the 60’s which featured the same markings.

The dial on this sample I have is fully-lumed. The application of the BGW9 lume looks flawless in daylight. In low-light conditions it has a strong, icy-blue glow and, whilst not as bright as the hands and bezel markings, it performs admirably indeed. Charlie has since told me he intends to turn the brightness up a bit more for the production models. Fully-lumed dials are never as bright in intensity as the hands though as the lume cannot be applied as thickly on the dial. Personally, I like the contrast this affords though and it improves the legibility against the dial. The rest of the dial construction is a sandwich style, with cutouts for all of the hour markers and the large numerals at 12, 3, 6 and 9. The depth on this dial is fantastic, with three distinct levels of detail when coupled with the wonderful stepped bezel. At a glance, the dial layout is quite traditional and minimal but with this depth it works very nicely. Charlie himself told me he believes a design is only complete when there’s nothing left to take away. The Model Two stands by this motto and comes out looking crisp and clean. All you see is what you need to see.

The internal bezel ring is one of the things that changed from the first time I saw the watch to now. Originally the ring was angled, but since then Charlie wasn’t happy that the numbers on the bezel were not lumed due to the difficulty in accurately executing this consistently from a production point of view. The decision was made to move to a flat/stepped bezel to allow for lumed numerals. I really like the change and it really is an improvement. The stepped bezel better complements the rest of the watch visually, and the added lume is always welcome. The lumed numerals are nice and bright, but Charlie has said he plans to crank this up further for production – I’m not going to complain.

As previously mentioned, the bezel is operated by the nice, large crown at 2. It pops out very satisfyingly when unscrewed. The only possible criticism here is the lack of click when adjusting it. In my opinion, it’s not acutely necessary, but I know some people prefer it so there you go. When screwing the crown back in, there is no movement from the set position so I can’t knock the action or function here whatsoever.

Powering the Model Two on the inside is a Miyota 9039. A Japanese-made movement and one that is popular with microbrands looking for a no-date movement. It’s a solid movement and offers a respectable 42 hours of power reserve. I like Miyota 9-series movements as they offer value for money. I definitely prefer them to the Seiko NH35 even if they cost a little more usually.

As with all Miyota movements, their value is their workhorse status. They’re reliable and accurate when regulated, but they’re certainly not the supermodels of the movement world. They do their job very well, but that job is not aesthetics. Despite this, alkin has used a display caseback here to show off the 9039 in all its plain-Jane glory. I would have preferred a closed caseback with a nice engraving but I get that many watch enthusiasts love to see the movements beating away, and watch them with great enjoyment. Personally, I’m not too fussed. Not a negative by any stretch, more just a personal preference. I can’t see this being a deal-breaker for anyone, and it’s certainly not for me either.

The bracelet is a standard Oyster-style design, but like the case it’s very well made. The machining and finishing are superb. I like to see effort put into bracelets as a poor bracelet is a big deal for me. I’d rather see no bracelet than a poor one. Alkin delivers the goods though. Whilst the Oyster design itself may not exactly be groundbreaking, the execution is not to be sniffed at. This is by far the nicest Oyster bracelet I’ve seen in a long time. Like the case, it punches well above its price point. The signed clasp is also very nice, featuring 6 stops of microadjustment and milled rather than pressed parts. Top marks from me. Note: Charlie said he will be slightly increasing the size of the logo on the clasp.

The packaging of the Model Two is quite sparse. In times of heightened environmental awareness, this is no bad thing. In fact, Charlie goes as far as to say that he actively tries to be plastic-free where possible. The watch came delivered in a sturdy cardboard box. Inside was a carefully tissue-wrapped vegetable-tanned leather watch roll with the watch inside. The roll was nice and slim affording ample protection without being overly bulky.

As I’ve made it abundantly clear throughout this review, I am a big fan of what alkin has done with the Model Two. I was sad to have to send this one back, but it’s one I’ll be hoping to purchase myself when it’s launched at the end of the month. Considering the pre-order price is just £325 (full price £399) this is one that I whole-heartedly recommend.

After writing this review I really wanted to find out more about Charlie Fowler and alkin, so I asked him a few questions that I thought offered a little bonus insight into what goes on behind the scenes and how he approaches things.

DS: In just two watches, you’ve developed a strong signature design DNA. How did this come about?

CF: I’ve been a furniture designer for many years and my work has always been underpinned by a strong desire to create pieces that represent quality, simplicity and longevity. After a visit to Baselworld a few years ago I started to look at carrying this same approach over to a watch design in my spare time and just see where I got with it. My ambition was to develop something that balanced form and function in equal measure while still retaining a strong character.

DS: How do you approach the design phase of a new watch?

CF: Generally I follow the principle that a watch is finished when there is nothing left to take away, but if you’re not careful you can easily end up with something that feels cold and a little boring. I work hard to avoid this by making lots of prototypes out of paper dials and rapid prototype cases, slowly distilling down all the elements in an attempt to create visually balanced pieces that offer maximum legibility, functionality and versatility, but also clearly possess the ‘alkin DNA’. It sounds obvious, but simple things like finding a font for the numbers that are unique to the watch world is so important in helping to set yourself apart. Off the top of my head I could name a number of brands priced between £200 and £3000 that still all use Futura for their numbers! 

The final big factor for me is that I don’t want to start with a blank piece of paper for every watch, but to treat each watch as an evolution of the last. Many brands jump from one type of watch to the next with little relation to the last, other than the brand name. I have no issue with this at all, but my goal is for someone to cover up the brand name and still know it’s an alkin.

DS: What was the thought process behind the evolution from the Model One to Model Two?

CF: My process for choosing which watch to do next is maybe not as rigorous as it should be! I just knew I wanted to do a dive watch with a steel bracelet that possessed all the alkin qualities that I mentioned earlier. After that it’s just a process of trying things out until I start to get close to something that feels right and I’m happy with it. Primarily I design watches that I know I will love and wear myself. This makes me passionate about what I do and hopefully that comes across in the watches and the brand as a whole. The people who like what I’m doing and understand my passion are my customers and, as a result they have been very supportive and loyal. My other big ambition is to always make the next watch even better than the last in terms of design, quality and execution.

DS: What made you decide on a Supercompressor style dive watch?

CF: At the very start, this watch actually started out with an external rotating bezel, but it just didn’t feel quite right. After a while I took the dial and bezel design and put them in a compressor style case and it instantly started to work much better. I’ve always loved the vintage super compressors, like the Enicar Sherpa or the Universal Geneve Polerouter, but it just hadn’t initially occurred to me to go down this route. I think, in the end, it felt right because you have all the functions of a dive watch, but in a simpler and more restrained form than something using a bezel on the outside. Also, it maybe just felt like a more natural evolution from the model one, than to jump straight up to an out-and-out dive watch.

DS: What’s next for alkin after the Model Two? What are your goals for the brand moving forwards?

CF: After completing the model two it now feels like the right time to look at a watch with the bezel on the outside, so that’s what I’m working on at the moment. It’s such a challenge because there have just been so many done already. It’s proving hard to find something that feels simple yet has its own personality, but I’m sure I’ll get there! After that something a little dressier around the 38mm mark. Also, a lot of people have asked for a smaller version of the Model One, so I’m working on a 39.5mm version with a Miyota 9039. 

My guiding principle is to earn my place in the Microbrand community as a company that is known for particular design style and great quality, while also building strong and lasting relationships with my customers.

DS: Anything else you want to say to the Scottish Watches readers?

CF: Thanks for taking the time to read this and if anyone has any thoughts or questions please do get in touch with me via the alkin website or at info@alkinwatches.com. One of the best things about being a microbrand owner is the community… It’s so positive and friendly, and it’s always great to chat with everyone involved, from brand owners to customers.

In a world with new Microbrands popping up all the time, the Model Two from alkin is a watch that genuinely deserves your attention. The quality far exceeds the price point and this is one of my early picks for microbrand release of the year! I believe we’ll continue to see great things in the future from Bristol boy, Charlie and his charming brand, alkin. Be sure to check them out! Pre-orders start at the end of June 2020, and delivery is estimated for completion before the end of the year.

Technical Specifications:

Case – 41mm 316L stainless steel

Crowns – Screwdown 316L stainless steel

Lume: Swiss BGW9 Superluminova

Water resistance – 300m

Bracelet – 316L stainless steel is stainless steel clasp

Movement – Miyota 9039

Power reserve – 42 hours

Price – £325 preorder (£399 RRP)

Website – https://alkinwatches.com/