Hands-On: Paulin Watches x AnOrdain Neo
Colorful but classic
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There’s something that feels classic about the Paulin Watches Neo C, a collaboration between Scottish brand Paulin and neighbors AnOrdain, the latter known for their vitreous enamel dials. It’s a trick, really, considering Paulin was only founded back in 2013 by the Paulin sisters. They, and for that matter, their countrymates at AnOrdain (to whom I briefly spoke for my “Art of Dial Finishing” piece over on ACM), have managed to make it feel like Scottish watchmaking has always been a thing, with a rich history of craftsmen, artisans, and designers that have led us to now.
For Paulin, “now” is the Neo line, a collection of three watches released in late 2020. The watch is defined by its dial, an entirely UK-made proposition. Each dial is milled from a solid piece of aluminum so that the dial and feet are one piece, and then anodized. Then, each dial is individually hand-dyed by Glasgow artist Helen Swan, giving each its own slight variation and character.
Finally, AnOrdain finishes off the process by printing and assembling the dials. By the way, AnOrdain also happens to be founded by Lewis Heath, the husband of Paulin co-founder Charlotte Paulin.
As for the rest of the watch: It comes in a modest 38mm steel case, housing an automatic Seiko NH35A caliber. I preferred wearing the Neo C on Paulin’s mesh bracelet, a nice vintage-inspired touch.
So why does the Neo feel so perfectly retro? I mean, the dial colors are totally modern, as is the process for crafting the beautiful aluminum dials. The numerals are also contemporary, using a bespoke font called Wim created by Paulin.
Perhaps the classic feel has something to do with how easy wearing the watch is. At 38mm and about 11mm in thickness, with a box crystal that gives it a slightly more svelte profile (not to mention more angles from which to admire the dial, which catches the light differently at different angles), the watch wears perfectly, almost disappearing on your wrist until you look down and remember, oh wait, I’m wearing a bright blue (in my case) aluminum dial on my wrist. A worthwhile PTI, to be clear.
Perhaps it’s the case shape, this unassuming round case with modest lugs and an overall curved profile. The high, domed crystal adds to this sloping effect, perhaps the vintage-inspired flourish my senses most picked up on.
Right now, you can find the Neo A and B for $550 at the MoMA shop. I tried the Neo C, my favorite of the bunch, but that’s a matter of subjectivity and opinion; don’t concern yourself too much with the preferences of one writer.
I appreciate brands that try to do something different at whatever given price point they enter the market at. Paulin is unabashed in its focus on design. There’s the custom-made font, the quirky hands, and of course, the dial. Sure, the case is simple (if not a pleasure to wear), and the Seiko movement is “off-the-shelf” (who cares?), but for $500, you’ve got a true piece of thoughtful design you can strap on your wrist. How many other brands can truly say they offer the same?
If I really think about it, I think it’s this combination of unabashed self-assuredness manifested into physical form that makes the Neo feel so classic to me. Paulin is completely true to who they are, and just as clear about what they are not. Every part of the dial-making process feels transparent, Paulin laying it out on their website for all to see and understand. Dial and design are the focus of this object, full stop.
Mechanics aren’t forgotten, but they are secondary. Yea, we use a Seiko movement, so what? The sapphire caseback through which you can see the Seiko caliber seems to ask you.
At five hundred bucks, you feel like you know where every dollar is going, mostly spread across a few artisans in Glasgow. In an age when too few companies achieve this transparency, either through deliberately vague PR and product releases, or unwittingly as opaque communication gets confused in a web of corporate conglomeration and PR-speak, Paulin feels refreshing. It still feels like a project that might originally have been conceived in a Glasgow pub over a glass of whisky.
And perhaps that's why Paulin feels so classic.
Paulin Neo Specs:
Dial: Laser-cut, anodized, and hand-dyed aluminum dial
Movement: Seiko NH35A (automatic)
Crystal: Box hesalite
Water resistance: 5 ATM (50 meters)
Case: 316L stainless steel
Lug width: 18mm
MSRP: $550 (available now at MoMA; historically, direct from Paulin)
Paulin was kind enough to send the Neo C watch for review. But I love the brand so much, I copped a Paulin wall clock for myself. Don’t worry, it even uses a sweep seconds movement.
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