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When our chum Pietro Tomajer of The Limited Edition popped up to visit SW earlier this year (you know, in the Before Times, when we could still do things) he brought a whole load of cool toys with him. Of them all, few were as polarizing as those from SevenFriday, which he talked about at length on one of our recent YouTube videos. I was immediately intrigued; quite aside from the fact that Pietro is the kind of guy who possibly knows a thing or two about what’s worth paying attention to, there’s nothing that catches my attention more firmly than a divisive design. When I hear an immediate chorus of “yuck”s from half of the crowd, I’m desperate to lift the lid and find out more; sure, you may end up with an Invicta-tier travesty on your hands, but you could just as easily end up with a Ulysse Nardin Freak. Call me a contrarian, but there’s only so many “vintage-inspired” dive watches I can look at before I’m in dire need of something different. And if it’s “something different” you’re wanting, SevenFriday have a whole bunch of that.
SevenFriday have been around for a while, since at least 2012, although their growth outside of mainland Europe seems to have been very gradual. Aesthetically, they occupy a similar realm to the likes of Gorilla and Rebellion, offering timepieces that shoot for the same futuristic and automotive-inspired cool of Richard Mille et al, but in the far lower price range of £1-3K. SevenFriday differentiate themselves from their peers by leaning heavily into streetwear and an overall projection of stylish hedonism, rather than a more straight-faced emphasis on high-tech precision. It’s an interesting decision from a marketing standpoint and, to their credit, the brand go all the way in, shamelessly throwing parties and producing some audaciously-coloured collaboration pieces with graffiti artist Rocketbyz (who, incidentally, has also produced a similarly wild-looking piece with Rebellion). The M1B/01, otherwise known as the “Urban Explorer”, is arguably their signature piece, being the most distilled iteration of their distinctive M-Series watches. The brand’s P-Series, meanwhile, whilst still slick and well-conceived, plays more conservatively in the “futuristic openworked” model also occupied by Gorilla- the M-Series offers something a little more unique.
Spending a couple of weeks with the Urban Explorer was an interesting and oddly thought-provoking experience. As is so often the case with watches, there is a considerable experiential gulf between its visual appearance and its actual tactile properties. Reviewing the press materials in anticipation of my review piece arriving, I came to the conclusion that such a gigantic watch would be literally unwearable on my skinny-ass 16cm wrists, and that the review would ultimately have to be a bit more “theoretical”. As it transpired, however, it’s extremely wearable, with far more unisex viability than its rugged chunkiness may imply. Though the square case is a whopping 47.6x47mm, the vertical strap tapering facilitated by its lack of protruding lugs makes for a far smaller wear. I had no overhang whatsoever and, whilst the watch is still undeniably big as hell, it was a surprisingly light, comfortable and ultimately practical wearing experience overall.
So far, so good, right? Well, things get a bit more contentious when discussing the watch’s horological properties. The Urban Explorer, much like all other SevenFriday releases (to the best of my knowledge), is powered by a Miyota- specifically a modified Cal.8215, with the date wheel removed and hour, minute and second discs overlayed. Like many of you, I have a…rocky relationship with Miyotas, and this one is no exception, with its clattering rotor and +/-20 second daily accuracy. We don’t need to rehash the “Miyotas: yay or nay” argument that rears its head every single time a microbrand decides to run them; given SevenFriday’s apparent willingness to invest heavily in other aspects of the watch’s construction (more on that later), the decision has presumably not been taken lightly. It’s entirely possible that using Sellitas or other such calibers would push the Urban Explorer out of its price pocket and into less safe territory when the costs of customisation are factored in. That is to say, if noisy Miyotas that keep relatively poor time are a dealbreaker for you, you’re going to have a lot of issues with this watch, but I’m prepared to give its designers the benefit of the doubt. Furthermore, it is far from exempt from the logistical challenges of any “turntable” format dial- that is to say, the momentary “wait, is it 10:30 or 11:30” confusion that can occur when glancing at your wrist. The designers have attempted to mitigate this, with a subtle upwards-pointing arrow to the left of the time display- a great little piece of design psychology, but it doesn’t quite overcome the issue. That said, after a couple of weeks of daily use, I’d very much adapted to the Urban Explorer’s internal logic. Also of note is the central seconds window, which uses what I assume is a disc with a spiraling line to create the illusion of a meter “filling up” horizontally from 0 to 60. The effect is ultimately more subtle than it perhaps could have been, although it’s nonetheless a nice trick that signals the sweep of an automatic movement in lieu of an actual seconds hand.
You may at this point be wondering how the Urban Explorer justifies its relatively premium pricing- don’t worry, we’re getting to it. The case and dial of the watch are where the money really is, and it’s honestly pretty great. The 3-piece case is sturdy and extremely well-considered. The proportional alchemy of its beveled edges, dashes of black binding, and sandblasted blue PVD-coated outer ring come together to create a design that is effortless on the eyes, nailing a pitch-perfect sweet spot between sturdy high-tech and indulgent decorativeness. The perfectly paired blue denim strap is an extension of this. Gigantic and sturdy at 28mm, you really *strap* this thing onto you, like a piece of outdoor gear; the quality of the denim and leather, however, make it feel truly luxurious at the same time. Clever stuff. The anti-reflective mineral crystal, whilst surely a feature that will enrage those who would expect sapphire at this price point, nonetheless succeeds at offering a completely unintrusive and crisp view of the dial.
And, oh boy, what a dial it is. The stacked architecture of the Urban Explorer’s dial is legitimately intriguing and looks truly excellent up close. There’s just so much depth. From the bottom support layer upwards: a gunmetal plate holds the “flooring” of the dial, its textured pattern apparently simulating that of a car floor mat, framed with vertically brushed rhodium; on top of that, we have two interplaying layers of matt black and vertically brushed rhodium that frame the hour and minute display; then, we have the brushed central plate (where the logo is printed); and on top of that is stacked a final, horizontally-brushed rectangular plate at the centre, that frames the seconds meter. I can’t stress this enough: it looks the business. The savvy mixture of brushing styles and coatings is a product design masterstroke. It just works. The automotive and/or industrial theme is perfectly realised by this interface. In this context, the time display feels more like a mechanical odometer. Watch enthusiasts are known for coveting what’s under the hood- the Urban Explorer, on the other hand, is arguably more concerned with what’s under the hood of the hood, which is a pretty audacious counterproposition for the detail-oriented buyer. The watch’s relative horological crudeness is offset by an approach to case and dial design that confounds that of its immediate price point competitors in its uniqueness and complexity. It begs the question: if you, the prospective buyer, truly place value on the design and manufacturing processes, can you justify dismissing this?
Indeed, the very reason I’m so interested in “fashion watches” is that they make watch enthusiasts uncomfortable, and we need that. Fashion watches sow seeds of doubt in the back of even the snobbiest of snobs, and start to lead you closer and closer to the darkest of intrusive thoughts: what if all mechanical watches are, to some extent, “fashion watches”? After all, from a truly functional standpoint, they can only ever hope to be as minimally inferior to digital timekeeping as possible, but their utilitarian legitimacy has long since faded, no matter how much we scream “BUT THE MOONWATCH” into the bathroom mirror. Our “legitimate” reasons for being sucked into this niche can only, therefore, be logicized so far, before we inevitably have to admit that, to paraphrase Marge Simpson, we just think they’re neat. We think they’re cool, and interesting, and maybe a bit decadent, too. When we make the conscious decision to wear something impractical but cool (and/or preposterously expensive) on our bodies, we make an outward expression, whether we intend to or not. Aesthetic expression through wearable items? There’s a word for that, isn’t there?
How does the SevenFriday Urban Explorer fit into that? Well, perfectly. This watch is executed with the commitment, attention to detail and self-seriousness that watch enthusiasts go mad for, but directs those efforts towards the aesthetic, rather than the horological and “functional”. Indeed, the very fact that such a small percentage of dial space is actually devoted to telling time seems to be an acknowledgment of this. In that respect, it actually reminds me of an MB&F HM5, which similarly prioritizes the automotive-themed quirkiness of its case over its more minimal time display.
This doesn’t mean that you’re somehow obliged to love the Urban Explorer’s unconventional design, or ignore its more glaring flaws; but in order to dismiss it entirely, you’ll have to go through a brutally honest conversation with yourself about what you truly value in the design and manufacturing of a mechanical watch. The Urban Explorer is resolutely not for everyone, but it knows exactly what it is, and that’s something we need more of.
The SevenFriday M1B/01 Urban Explorer retails at around £1,250. Its 47.x47mm 316L stainless steel case is powered by a customised Miyota 8215, with an accuracy of +/-20 seconds per day and a 40-hour power reserve. Water-resistance is rated at 3ATM. It comes with a blue denim strap, but is also available with a metal bracelet (M1B/01M)- the bracelet is rugged, with solid end links and a lot of heft to it, but I’d recommend the denim strap, which pairs perfectly with the watch’s blue outer binding and tones down the “metallic” look. More info here.
Edwin McLachlan is a musician and audio engineer based in Edinburgh’s bustling city centre, with a particular fondness for Soviet, Chinese and Japanese watchmakers. You can Instagram him at @edwin_mclachlan, and work with him at www.edwinmclachlan.com.