Badger Islander

Review and photos by Mike Razak

I need to talk to you about tonneau cases. It’s the case shape of the Badger Watches Islander, reviewed herein. It’s that rectangular shape with bowed edges. And it’s also French for “barrel,” which is why it’s used interchangeably with that English word to describe the case shape. While tonneau cases have been around nearly as long as wristwatches have been popular, they were the domain of dress watches until gaining popularity in the 1960s and 1970’s in more robust, sportier pieces (think Seiko World Time, Oris Chronoris, Vostok Amphibia). Yet as the interest of the watch community—especially the affordable watch community—have shifted towards tool and dive watches, the tonneau has been all but phased out.

Badger Islander

Leroy Zhong, founder-and-everything-else at Badger Watches says the explanation for this phase-out is simple: manufacturers streamline their processes towards more traditional case shapes [read: round], and so typically only large or luxury brands have the numbers, money, and patience to go through the process to have a tonneau case made (and that’s certainly supported by the fact that brands like Franck Muller and Richard Mille trade almost exclusively in the style). But what happens when an industry veteran like Leroy, who knows who to talk to and what to say, comes along? The (affordable, microbrand) Tonneau Renaissance begins!

Badger Islander

The Badger Islander has arrived to start that renaissance and has done so with a bang. The 38mm case is multifaceted with a combination of brushed and polished services. The polished bezel echoes the overall watch shape, but in a condensed way that provides some contrast between the case layers. While only 10.9mm thick, at 48mm lug-to-lug—short, hooded, 22mm lugs, at that—the watch wore large on my 7in wrist, on the precipice of, but not quite overwhelming. I was able to wear it comfortably both under a shirt cuff to court (for work, don’t worry) and with a t-shirt at the park, and it looked great in both instances—so if you’re worried, don’t be. Dual-finished (polished and brushed) crown guards continue the faceted look and protect a crown signed “BDGR.” While it succeeds in not disrupting the lines of the case, the crown itself is a bit too small. I had occasional issues getting a solid grip, but nothing that made it nonfunctional, just inconvenient. It’s down to whether the aesthetic cleanliness of a smaller crown is more important than the ease of use of that crown. I’m leaning toward no, but it’s a choice you’ll have to make.

Badger Islander

Rolling the watch over, we find a sapphire display caseback that is secured by eight screws—neither the crown nor the caseback are screw-down, and the watch has 50M water resistance, perfectly suitable for a dress watch that comes on leather. The steel portion of the caseback is brushed and features all the SpecsText™ you’d want along with the brand and model names. This case is big and bold, not something you usually see with tonneaus, but a perfect way to usher in a resurgence of the form. 

Badger Islander

Leroy told me that the case that he’s proudest of, and I get it: all the effort for a case style that’s not too popular (yet!) and an outstanding result. But HAVE YOU SEEN THESE DIALS? I got the chance to handle both the sage green and the white “Origin Edition.” The latter will be in a numbered limited edition of 99, though for me the green stood out. The sunburst guilloché beautifully catches every ray of light that hits it, and the green dial simply comes alive. Hours are marked by batons, with a triangle at 12 and numerals at 3 and 9–Leroy advised that while they may look applied, they are in fact embossed from behind during production. All the indices are surrounded by an orange border (blue on the Origin Edition), which I think is a great accent. Smartly, the date window (white on all models) sits exactly where the 6 marker would be, not further in or out. It allows for limited disruption of the circular placement of hour markers, but also restricts that placement to farther from the dial’s periphery than I would prefer. The only way to resolve this, though, is to lose the date—which would allow you to push all the markers out to the edge for a more open feel. That said, there’s something I quite like about the circle inside the tonneau-shaped dial.

Badger Islander

Just at the edge of the sunburst sits a minute track, where you’ll also find the subtle “Badger” name at 12 o’clock. Truth be told I thought it was a sterile dial for the first few minutes, until I finally found that. Some may say it’s too hard to read or should be more prominent, but you’d ruin the magic of guilloché if you applied it there. Completing the dial is a color-matched green rehaut with hour pips. Super-LumiNova BGW9 is applied, somewhat unevenly, to the hands and hour markers. While the elegant teardrop hands* (which I adore) have what I’d call “adequate” brightness, the markers, especially the two numerals, barely shine at all. Brightness (and lume for that matter) is not extremely important on a dressier watch like this, but if you’ve got it, I feel it should at least be consistently applied. There are always nits to be picked, but the sheer awesomeness of the texture of the dial and the outlines markers make this dial a treat. 

Badger Islander

The Islander finds the source of its awe-inspiring power in the Swiss Sellita SW200-1. The movement has 26 jewels, 38-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph frequency, 4 escape pods, and a holodeck. While undecorated, the Badger name has been etched onto the rotor, and in the case of the Origin Edition, the rotor also carries the watch number of 99. You’ll get no issues from this movement, Sellita’s clone of the ETA 2824. While Sellita had its issues in the early days, they’ve resolved they’re QC issues and are producing movements at an almost equal level to ETA.

Badger Islander

Point blank: these straps are killer. They are block-ended, quick-release, perfectly sized in every dimension, flexible without feeling cheap, textured without feeling rough. Also, the watch passed the Barton Bands Elite Silicon Test™. The Kickstarter campaign lets you choose from black or brown leather or grey or blue suede. I say find a way to choose them all and put them on every 22mm watch you have. You won’t be sorry.

Badger Islander

I recently took a trip to Columbus for work and brought both Islanders along with me (a phrase, I admit, sounds like something out of Captain Cook’s journals). On the last day of my trip, I strapped the sage green variant to my wrist with one of my favorite custom straps. As I made my way through security, having raised my arms and been duly scanned, I was ushered over to the side for further pat down—just of my left arm, below the elbow. As the TSA agent completed his brief caress of my forearm, he paused: “Hey, nice watch.” TSA Guy is right: it is a nice watch. He probably noticed the killer dial. Or the unusual case shape. Or the case finishing. Or he sensed the greatness of the stock straps—so powerful that it can be felt without seeing them.

Badger Islander

You’ve probably already made your judgment of the Badger Watches Islander at this point—maybe as soon as you saw a picture—and if you share the sentiments of TSA Guy, I don’t blame you. The Kickstarter is live until Wednesday, with delivery in February 2020. A few Super Early Bird slots remain at right around $420, so go grab yourself one now and thank me later.

Badger Islander lume

Badger Islander

*The DiRenzo DRZ 02 features the same hands, and I don’t think either look like teardrops enough to be called that. Feel free to send us an email with what you think the hands look like.

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