Oversaturation is real in the world of microbrands. Just count how many vintage or retro-inspired $300 dive watches you see scrolling through the pages on Kickstarter, and you’ll know exactly what I mean. This is why true novelty with substance can rarely be found, as those claiming to offer it often lean the wrong side of the thin line between novelty and gimmick.
Boutique watchmaker NOVE has catered to all lifestyles since being founded in 2015, from youthful and exuberant to calm and centered. For all the brand’s boldness and for all of its unorthodox design philosophy – by now you will have noted the image below and probably raised your eyebrows – NOVE in fact reminds us to take a step back, and, for lack of a better word, just chill. So, how does this intellectual chatter translate into watches?
NOVE is attempting to help their customers live their best life with an impressively diverse collection; offering divers, chronographs, field, and dress watches. The often-drastic case designs are offset by minimalist dials mostly devoid of text, avoiding the trope of listing every possible spec below the pinion. The only text they carry apart from the NOVE logo is the proud “Swiss Made” label. The unisex designs all feature a mélange of Swiss quartz and automatic movements, mostly from Ronda.
The star of today’s show, the limited edition NOVE Gemini, gets its nomenclature from the zodiac, and offers two movements displaying two time zones on two reversible rotating dials. While reversible dials aren’t new, popularised by the likes of the JLC Reverso and Cartier Tank Basculante, the Gemini flips the script with its patented lever-operated reversing mechanism. A true novelty, it uses an exposed gearing system to lift and rotate the two-dial assembly before locking it back into place. Independently set dials offer dual time functionality, so those who travel and wish to always keep home time set, or simply like changing the look of the watch to suit a different occasion, would benefit most.
To fellow members of the itty-bitty wrist committee, a caution. The case sits at a large 49.2 mm in diameter and a lengthy 60.3 mm lug-to-lug, which is unsurprising considering the integration of the flipping mechanism. Impressive, however, is that the overall construction is only 13.3 mm in height. Opting for a flat sapphire crystal was a good choice, considering that a domed or box-style one would add to the vertical bulk considerably. The black dial side offers a highly polished bezel with exposed screws that are omitted at the 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock positions. Flipped over, the bezel features radial brushing and is absent of screws. While I can certainly appreciate this out-of-the-box approach to a tool watch, the size does not leave much maneuverability in a dressier scenario.
Short lugs with a high polished chamfer turn sharply downwards to help the wearability of the case. The integrated H-link bracelet suits the sporty aesthetic of the watch in its construction. Though one could argue the bracelet should’ve been brushed throughout, the high-polished facets play nicely with the mirror polished handset and bezel. The combination of brushed and polished surfaces on the 316L stainless steel construction is impressive, with some decoration on the inner case.
The dial-flipping mechanism deserves special mention here. The mechanism’s 180 separate components are all hand-assembled. NOVE has made use of similar lever-operated contraptions in previous models. The Atlantean used a lever to engage an inner rotating bezel, whereas the impressively thin Trident series exposed its ratcheted bezel mechanism. I like that NOVE is weaving their design identity throughout the model range, and they deserve plaudits for it. Standing out in a sea of start-ups is no mean feat, especially while trying to stay budget-friendly.
Guarded by the sapphire crystals are NOVE’s signature minimalist dials that forgo additional visual clutter with small indices and minimal text. The differences between the two are minimal and could have perhaps offered more contrast in terms of their aesthetics and visage. A nice fume finish has been achieved on the red dial, with small, polished dot indices featuring as the hour markers. A large Swiss-made label at 6 o’clock is finished identically to the markers. The small dots make a return on the black dial side, this time positioned against a glossy lacquered dial with a small seconds sub-dial just below the pinion. Sword hands are tasked with time indication. Paired with a small seconds at 6, what the combinations lack in a to-the-second summary of the time, they may make up for in dressiness.
Once again, the overall finishing and appearance of the watch is tool-like only in the sense that its exposed mechanism makes it appear like a tool in itself. This certainly has dressy intentions as much in mind.
Powering the Gemini are two Swiss Ronda quartz movements that help to reduce the overall thickness. Through a clever indent in the case, NOVE managed to hide the crown on the left side, allowing easier adjustment of the movements for a right-handed user. Quartz is a sensible option in this scenario, especially considering that NOVE wanted the watch to remain relatively budget-friendly, and they’re offering a three-year warranty with a quoted six-year battery life which is impressive for a quartz movement. The movements are evidently on the small side, given the position of the sub-dial on the black side of the watch. The pinion for the small seconds is very close to the central pinion, which creates a tight cluster in the dial centre.
Investing almost US$900 into a dual-movement watch with many moving parts from a relatively new brand is not exactly an easy sell. However, this is also not any microbrand tool watch. It’s obvious that NOVE spent time and resources developing the Gemini to be unique, backed by a solid warranty.
Though the Gemini takes some risks with its design, I do really like the idea that NOVE introduced here. The Gemini will appeal to customers looking for a large, you-can’t-miss-it watch, but want a major upgrade from a Diesel or Invicta as the quality of the finish and materials appears to be clearly on another level. I can also easily see someone impressed enough by the lever mechanism to purchase it for the engineering intrigue. A new physical interface with a watch is not something you see every day.
To make it more appealing to a wider audience, NOVE should look to consolidate the different design elements to a greater extent. That would make the Gemini a more compelling option as a handy, traveller’s tool watch, with a sleeker integration of the dial mechanism and improved legibility. A bump in water resistance would surely be appreciated as well to add to the already rugged appearance of the watch. If NOVE manage to keep it competitively priced with the next revision, while adding a little more substance to the novelty, it will be a worthy member of their lineup, and a contender for your next microbrand purchase if genuine novelty is something that appeals.
The NOVE Gemini J001-02 is available now from NOVE Watches as a limited edition. NOVE lets its customers select their own unique serial number as part of the purchase process.
A 12% discount is available for all Time+Tide readers who purchase a NOVE watch before 31 March, 2022, use the code Time+Tide12 (not appliable for the Streamliner collection).
Made in partnership with NOVE Watches. However, the opinions expressed in this article are our own in accordance with our Editorial Policy.