X-Frame Vulcan Automatic

Last year, I wrote about the Umbrella Watch Company's X-Frame Vulcan in one of my crowdfunding compilations. I had seen its Kickstarter campaign and was not impressed. I blasted its weird bumper, small hands, honeycomb dial, and open-heart feature. I said the design went "right off the rails," deriding it as "bizarre," "fussy and overdone," and declaring the dial "a disaster." So imagine my surprise when the company's founder wrote to tell me he respected my opinion. He said I had made some valid points and had taken them into account when designing his next model. He enclosed a picture of the updated version and asked if I would conduct a hands-on review.
Taken aback, I re-read my initial impressions and while I stood by my comments, I had to admit they were pretty brutal. I figured if he was willing to accept my criticism in the spirit in which it was offered, and even tweak his design as a result, the least I could do is take a second look and maybe not be quite so snarky this time. So with a fresh perspective, I collected a new black-on-black Vulcan from the mailman and set to work.

The second generation X-Frame Vulcan retains the original case, a large elongated hexagon with dramatic facets, integrated lugs, and a ten-sided, multilayered bezel bolted into place around a flat sapphire crystal. I'd say this angular case is the Vulcan's best and most defining feature, setting it apart from the crowd with a funky, 1970's sci-fi vibe. The exposed fasteners on the bezel would still not be my first choice, but they work much better now that they are not fighting the dial for attention.

The left side extension that I so disliked on the first Vulcan is still present. I see how it was intended to balance the equally blocky crown guards, but I believe the case would be better off without it. X-Frame agreed and have excised the bumper from the forthcoming chronograph model. I would suggest they examine the crown guards next. I like their shape, but they guard the crown just a bit too well, making it difficult to pop it free after it is unscrewed. Shaving them down a little would improve both appearance and ease of operation. Speaking the crown, this one is mighty cool. Four pairs of fins create a chiseled, conical shape unlike any other. It is sealed for 100m water resistance. 
My biggest issue with the case is not its appearance, but its size. It is 45mm wide (50mm if you include the guards and bumper), 14.5mm thick, and 55mm long. This is simply too much for my 6.5" wrist. It hung over either side of my arm, loosely flopping out of place even with the strap cinched to its last adjustment. It would be fine on a 7" wrist or larger, but I am just not big enough to carry it off. A 40-42mm case would suit me better, and given the overall proportions, the watch would not lose an ounce of its impact as a result, but I realize that many buyers would be turned off if they saw smaller dimensions listed in the specs. 
One of the most significant differences between the first and second models is the switch from the Chinese PTS dual time to the Seiko NH35 automatic. Time Bum readers are no doubt familiar with this hardy, 24-jewel workhorse. It hacks, hand winds, has a power reserve of over 40 hours, and hums at 21.6k bph. You can see it through the sapphire case back, but it is not particularly decorated, and the review sample appeared to have some sort of smear on the rotor. 
Unlike the PTS, the NH35 is three-hander with a date. Running with this change, the designers transformed the Vulcan's face, stripping away all of the unnecessary gingerbread that clashed with the ultra-modern case and interfered with readability. They purged the second dial, the incongruous open heart feature, and the honeycomb surface. In place of all that clutter, the new Vulcan has a clean, open dial. With the decks cleared, I could finally appreciate novel details like the hexagonal date window and matching applied hour markers on the rehaut. 

The blunt skeleton hands remain but no longer seem lost or undersized, and the red, paddle-tipped second hand provides a sporty accent. When I saw the photos, I worried that they had gone too far, wiping away so much that the face would be bland and featureless, but my fears were unfounded. The new dial is brushed with a pronounced vertical grain that enlivens the expansive dial without overpowering it, complementing the Vulcan's retro-modern character. Night illumination is good on the hands, but the markers are weak. 
X-Frame offers the watch in various combinations of silver, black, and rose gold with black, white, gold, or brown dials. I think the black and silver monochrome versions work best as they highlight the Vulcan's industrial appeal. The strap is made of black alligator embossed leather tapering to a signed buckle. Being an incorrigible strap swapper, I thought I might try something offbeat with this unique case like a carbon fiber weave or segmented rubber, but it was not to be. The watch uses a proprietary strap secured with screws. You can order replacements from X-Frame, but aftermarket is out of the question.

In the end, I am glad that I took a second look at the Vulcan as the new watch is very much improved, but it is not the watch for me. The design is not yet fully resolved, the case is far too large, and it would benefit from some streamlining. In addition to the Chronograph, I know X-Frame has some other ideas in the works, and I am curious to see what they do next.

The X-Frame Vulcan is available for $559 at x-framewatch.com. If you are feeling lucky, click here and enter to win the review sample.





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