Wolbrook Skindiver "Worldtimer"

Review and photos by Mike Razak

I want to start by discussing—briefly, now, and not again—the connection that the brand is pushing with Neil Armstrong. Neil Armstrong owned an original Wolbrook, just like the one you see here. That’s all we know for sure. Everything else is speculation.  And as such, the use of it as a prominent marketing tool—campaign copy, model subtypes, and caseback graphics and text—is at least somewhat misleading. A watch should be able to sell itself without relying on a tenuous link to a dead astronaut.

The Wolbrook Skindiver is a near-1-to-1 reproduction of an old watch. Wolbrook was a company born in the 1940s that, come the 1960s, was branding some of its watches with the Douglas name. This was incredibly common back in the day. Even among brands under different ownership, it's not uncommon to find nearly identical watches that only differ in the names on their dials. As a modern repro of the original Skindiver, the new Wolbrook is beyond reproach: they nailed it. But does it hold up on its own as a modern timepiece? Let’s find out together.

The case of the Wolbrook is classic for the skindiver watch type. With no beveled edges or fancy finishing, the watch lets you know it’s meant to be worn and used—if not fully abused. Brushed all around (circular up top, horizontal on the sides), the 40mm case features a straight edge between 20mm drilled (!) lugs that furthers the no-nonsense aesthetic. That edge also means that straight-end bracelets actually look good with the watch. At 13mm high and with a curved crystal, it slips under a cuff or rests comfortably in more casual occasions. The Hesalite crystal pushes the vintage vibe and features an underside cyclops; it has been custom-engineered by Wolbrook to allow for 10ATM of water resistance, quite impressive considering there is no screw-down crown. The crown at 3 o’clock winds and sets nicely, though the date position is not as defined as I’d like, and finding it can sometimes be a challenge.  

We must move on to the bezel, mustn’t we? The stainless steel, aluminum-insert bezel provides the watch with its “Worldtimer” nickname, though don’t be fooled into thinking that makes worldtiming a cinch. Simply line the hour hand up with the city representing your time zone, et voilà! You’ve got the time in the 11 other time zones! At least for that moment. Wolrdtimers are not true GMTs, so the Skindiver will only tell you the time at the moment you’ve set the bezel. And forget about timing much else. Due to quite the cluttering on the bezel, tracking a bezel timer at a glance can be a challenge. I think the stronger play here would have been to go for a bidirectional bezel for faster worldtiming. With all those qualms and nits picked, the unidirectional bezel does have great turning action and no back play, which is a pleasant surprise on a watch at this price point.

The Hesalite crystal protects a matte black dial that is identical to the original except for the “Automatic” text in the southern hemisphere. Minute hashes and long baton indices circle the periphery. At your cardinal hours are Arabic numerals that were computer-traced from the original dials and feature what Rolex nerds would call an open 6 and 9. The vintage numerals are charming and the extra effort to ensure their accuracy pays off. North of the hands is the “Douglas” brand text and south, along with “Automatic,” is “Shockresistant.” I love the fact that it features no hyphen and is presented as a single word, just like on the original. At 3 o’clock is a white-rimmed date window. Care was clearly taken hear to ensure that the ‘3’ was not interrupted, and as someone with a distaste for lopped-off digits, I commend it. The date window alone would be an exercise in Meh, but it features a roulette date wheel (alternating black and red; just red on my prototype) and is magnified by the cyclops on the crystal.

A high gloss dauphine seconds hand adds much needed pop under the crystal and contrasts with the restrained look of the hour (a gargantuan, stumpy arrow) and minute (straight, unwavering, like the path of Cupid’s arrow). The hands and hour markers all feature the same C7 Super-LumiNova. I base my assessment of lume quality on three things: charging, brightness, and evenness. The Skindiver is adequate in its brightness and charging but falls just shy of that on evenness. As you can see below, the hands shine quite a bit brighter than the indices, and the latter are somewhat mottled. I will concede that if charging and brightness are on point, evenness is of tertiary importance, and that’s true here with lume that allows for full legibility in the dark.

As we flip the watch over, we are greeted by a fabulous eagle touching down on the moon—just like in the moon landing fairy tales. Or perhaps it’s a literal representation of the “Eagle” lander that landed on the moon with Apollo 11. Probably the second one. It’s quite well finished, with “Apollo 11” text on the graphic itself and “The Eagle Has Landed,” “1969,” “2019,” and “50th Anniversary” in the ring around it. And around that is even more, smaller text, telling you everything you need to know, including that the watches are assembled in France, just like the original. Based on the Kickstarter, this caseback isn’t even an option, which is a damn shame, as it’s lovely. Instead, you’ll not have an avian moonscape, but a simple etched image of either a plane or a moon lander.  

When you’re done reading everything on the caseback, having finished your coffee, and taken a short nap, you’ll be happy to know that the gentleman at the reborn Wolbrook didn’t do everything just like the original. In place of the one-jewel, hand-winding movement, they’ve dropped in an automatic Japanese Miyota 8215. The 21-jewel movement is sadly non-hacking, but it’s regulated down to +/-15 seconds (down from +20/-40 when delivered) and can be hand-wound. Plus it’s got that trademark Miyota rotor noise—whirrrrrrrr—which I happen to enjoy. The automatic is quite the upgrade from the original movement, and for that, we can all be thankful.

The Skindiver as tested, comes with a superb single pass leather strap that is thin and flexible yet still seemingly durable. As you can see, I had some fun with the straps on this—as I am wont to do—including the Barton Elite Silicone, which fit perfectly. But the watch completely changed for me when I put on a cheap expansion bracelet. The vintage look of the bracelet coupled with the vintage style of the watch just worked. The watch went from something I felt rather ho-hum about to something I could totally see owning (if not necessarily buying). And this is what I like to call StrapNirvana™: when you pair a non-stock strap or bracelet with a watch and achieve perfection. I’ve achieved it with two other watches (my Nodus Avalon and my Mido Oceanstar) and strive for it with every watch I put on. You should, too.

So back to the top: is it a good modern watch when we peel away all that history? In my opinion, it's got minor lume issues, and the bezel could use a practicality upgrade, but aside from that, it's a pretty solid skindiver. Fans of the vintage look and the skindiver look will no doubt be happy with the Wolbrook. So I've got bad news and I've got good news. The bad news is this: the Kickstarter campaign is over already. That’s on me—I could’ve turned this out in a few days (I got the watch a bit over week ago) and sneaked it in right before the campaign ended, but it wouldn’t have been a good review. I need to have a watch in rotation, not just on my wrist for a day or two.

There were—brace yourself—23 different iterations of the Wolbrook Skindiver “Worldtimer” available through Kickstarter; you can see them at the link above as I refuse to enumerate all the options. But here's the good news! They've shifted preorders on to Indiegogo, so you can still get one now! Prices aren't as low as KS Early Bird, but you can still get the Mecaquartz for $166 and the watch as reviewed herein for $310. While the original watch cost $19.99 (and came shipped in water), the one owned by he-who-shall-not-be-named recently sold at auction for $6,875. So adjust for microbrand inflation and actual inflation, and all in all, you’re getting a pretty decent deal.

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