Undone Aqua Pro-Custom “Santiago”

I reviewed the Aqua in 2015, back when Undone had first launched its line of customizable diving watches. I ordered up a blue sunray dial in a brushed stainless steel case with my blog name on the case back. Since then, I have reviewed several other Undone models, so many, in fact, that when they offered another watch for review, I took the ultimate Undone challenge and created an Aqua Pro-custom dial. Given carte blanche for the watch of my choice, I set to work with the widest range of Undone options ever offered and created the first and only Time Bum Santiago 84 Days.

Undone Aqua Pro-Custom Time Bum Santiago

Before I tell you about my design process, a little recap of the base watch is in order. The Aqua is a 200m diver powered by a Seiko NH35 automatic. It is a hefty tool, measuring 45mm wide, 52mm long, and 15mm thick. On my 6.75” wrist, I can just barely get away with it. The stainless steel case features wedge-shaped crown guards and a straight bridge between the lugs that eliminates the gap between the strap and the barrel. A signed, screw-down octagonal crown and threaded case back help seal it for a 200m depth rating.

Undone Aqua Pro-Custom Time Bum Santiago wrist

Ok, now for the fun stuff. 

Undone’s system walks you through the customization process step by step, starting with the dial; however, considering that the whole point of the Pro-custom is to design your own, the dial you select is really just a place holder. Once you have chosen all the other elements (case, bezel, hands, date, strap, and case back), you submit your order and when you get your confirmation email, you request the Pro-custom option and submit your artwork and description. At that point, you will work with the Undone design team to make it a reality. Pro-customs can be existing Undone dials with custom colors or artwork, or full-on 3D printed creations. Their gallery includes lunar surfaces, tire treads, diamond plate, you name it. Once you and the designer have hammered out your idea and you approve their rendering, the watch can be produced and shipped in under two weeks, which is frankly amazing for a custom-built watch. 

Undone Aqua Pro-Custom Time Bum Santiago

It would have been great if I could have whipped up my own concept rendering in Adobe Illustrator or a similar software package, but I don’t know how and have no desire to learn. Fortunately, such skill is not required. The Undone folks were able to work with my photos of sample watches and detailed descriptions of the design elements, providing an illustration after each exchange. It only took two or three emails for us get it exactly right and their suggestions were very helpful. 


The idea of designing my own watch set my head spinning. Even though some key elements like case shape and hand length are already set in stone, the prospect of creating a dial from a blank sheet of paper is a bit daunting. Add to that 2 handsets, 9 case coatings (PVD or Cerakote), and 25 bezels (domed mineral or ceramic), and you can see how your choices can quickly get out of hand. Moreover, it is easy to step over the line from a watch designed around a novel theme, to a novelty watch that will never see the outside of your watch drawer. 

In the end, my search for a novel theme actually yielded a theme from a novel — Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. For those of you who skipped your American Literature class, the old man is Santiago, who makes a meager living deep sea fishing from his tiny skiff off the coast of Cuba. He is in dire straits, having gone nearly three months without a catch before he hooks a mighty marlin and struggles to bring it to shore. 

After playing around with dozens of combinations in the online configurator, browsing the gallery of previous pro-custom creations, and scratching out several back-of-the-envelope sketches, I finally settled on a vintage dive-style dial and black and Old Radium color scheme. Dial design is not an easy task, and I am not a trained designer, so to avoid making a hash of it, I decided to steal an existing, tried-and-true layout: raised trapezoids housing the 12, 3, 6, and 9, and triangles for the remainder. I’d seen this on several 1960’s skin divers but the images I pilfered were from late 60’s Galcos and a Phillys. I asked the Undone team to copy the marker shapes exactly and use my own text. I toyed with the idea of putting a leaping marlin on there, but it would have looked like a Tommy Bahama. Besides, it was too obvious. Better to keep it low key. 

I had originally wanted raised white frames filled with Old Radium lume, but I soon learned that Undone only prints white lume on the custom pieces. Not wanting to change my design all that radically, I opted for white lume frames with a raised center on which they would print a tan insert. The numbers would be left black. Now, Old Radium is an option for the hands and bezel (and for their off-the-shelf dials too) so I selected that for the black Mercedes hands and black domed K1 mineral bezel. These are good and bright. My dial, on the other hand, looks fabulous when recently lit but there just isn’t enough surface area in those thin white outlines and it pales quickly against the much stronger hands and bezel. 

Undone Aqua Pro-Custom Time Bum Santiago lume

Undone provides day and night renders in the design process, so this wasn’t a surprise I knew the overprinting and thin outline wouldn’t provide all that much light, but it was worth it to get the color I wanted, and I do like the way the white frames mimic the originals’ metal markers. I feared the printed tan would not match the Old Radium and yes, it is ever so slightly off. If I were designing this watch for mass production, I would make sure it all matched. For my own use, it is just fine. 

Undone Aqua Pro-Custom Time Bum Santiago

For dial text, I went back to the book. My “brand” would be Santiago. In a riff on the Panerai 8 Days, I marked my watch “Eighty-Four Days” — not for the duration of the power reserve of course, but for the length of time the old man had gone since his last fish. I made it red for a pop of color to complement the red lollipop second hand, and as a bit of a joke on the famed Rolex “red” Submariner. Finally, “100 Fathoms” for the approximate depth rating of the watch (200m) and the depth at which Santiago hooks his marlin.  I chose Copperplate for the typeface as just about every software package has it and it is reasonably close to the style used on 1960's divers like the old Doxa SUB 300. I let the design team finalize size and placement and I am very happy with the result. 

Undone Aqua Pro-Custom Time Bum Santiago

The case is the standard Aqua unit. While there are some very cool colors to play with, I wanted black PVD. This was going to be a conservative tool watch and I had already sampled the steel finish. Bright red Cerakote, while pretty darn cool, was not going to work here. Also, knowing how big the watch was, I went for the black-on-black Johnny Cash look to make it appear a tad smaller. In my earlier review, I took issue with the case finish, noting that it was sharp between the lugs and the brushing looked rough. I’m pleased to report that I did not encounter either problem on my new watch. 

Case back options include an exhibition window with customer supplied art or a solid, engraved lid. I tried the window before so this time I asked for engraving, inscribing a quote from the book, “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” It’s a bit heavy-handed for a watch, but it does sum up the book rather nicely. The engraving is deep, clean, and filled with the same tan color as the dial printing.

Undone Aqua Pro-Custom Time Bum Santiago case back

My last custom item was the strap. On this order, Undone offered to transfer my color art onto any of their leather straps. This something new that they are trying out, and it is not yet available to the public, so it was a pretty special thing for them to let the old Bum try it. While I would have loved to do something of the bomber nose art variety (and would likely do that on another day for a different watch) it did not make sense for the Santiago. Instead, I requested something on the order of the Bell & Ross printed Heritage strap and provided a photo for reference. On the long end, I used my favorite quote from the book, "To hell with luck. I'll bring the luck with me." Now, it always bugs me when I see modern literary quotes displayed in flowing calligraphy. Hemingway didn’t use a quill and ink; he banged out his works on an Underwood, Corona, or Royal Quiet DeLuxe, so I had his words rendered in American Typewriter typeface.

Undone Aqua Pro-Custom Time Bum Santiago strap

The short end has the number 84 again, another watch nerd reference, this time to the Panerai 74 strap. I think it came out great. I asked them to position the quote right over the adjustment holes, knowing full well that the buckle would rub some off. I’m good with the worn look because I think this is the kind of watch that should look like it has seen some real use but if you really want to preserve your image, I’d recommend you keep it near the watch head -- when Undone launches the service, that is. 

Undone Aqua Pro-Custom Time Bum Santiago  strap

As mentioned above, this watch was provided in exchange for my review but had I ordered it myself, it would have cost $475 for the base watch and $185 for the Pro-custom dial for a total of $660. This is not impulse-buy cheap but it is entirely reasonable for a one-of-a-kind creation. If you sign up for their mailing list, you can shave 10% off. 

I am immensely pleased with my Undone Aqua Pro-custom. Are there things I might do differently next time? Sure. But that is part of the fun. Once you have created your first custom piece it is almost impossible not to want to try more. That said, I will never give up my Santiago. If you are ready to try your hand at a customized or Pro-custom head over to Undone.com. You won’t be sorry. ⬩

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