One of Britain’s smallest watch brands has a new entry-level watch: how does the Atom stack up?
By Chris Hall
Having just returned from Baselworld, all the focus is inevitably on the latest (admittedly impressive) watches from Rolex, and Tudor, and Patek Philippe. It’s the same every year, so while those watches are going to get plenty of attention in due course, right now it’s time to put the focus on a watch I’ve been wearing a lot in the past months.
Pinion is a tiny British company; effectively just one man, in fact. Designer Piers Berry founded the brand in 2013 with the aim of making good, honest tool watches that appealed to his own personal sense of style. There’s a lot of love for micro-brands out there at the moment and Piers has built up enough of a collector base to grow his range gradually over time.
The latest addition is the Atom. To look at, it’s very similar to Pinion’s other watches – so much so, in fact, that you might ask why it exists at all. But it’s not the same: in fact, it might even be better.
Pinion’s existing three-hand models, the Pure and the Axis II, use new-old stock Unitas 6498 and ETA 2824-2 movements respectively. They come in a range of case finishes, including bronze and black DLC, and cost between £1,950 and £2,350. The Atom costs just £790.
Let’s cover the crucial ground first: for that money you do not get a Swiss movement. The Atom uses a Miyota 9015, made in Japan. This is an automatic calibre with 42 hours of power when fully wound, central seconds and a date, which the Atom shows discreetly at six o’clock. The Atom has a closed caseback, which is fair enough as you aren’t very likely to want to gaze lovingly at a Miyota 9015, any more than you would cast a loving eye over a 2 litre Ford Ecoboost engine.
Besides losing you bragging rights among your watch snob friends, the Miyota has another drawback in its tendency to constantly remind you of its presence. The automatic winding rotor swings very noisily – rattly, almost – in the case, and has that habit common to several cheaper movements (I’ve noticed this in early Christopher Ward watches as well) of occasionally whizzing round like a dervish for no clear reason – the overall effect being of carrying an excitable Yorkshire Terrier on your wrist.
But look. Don’t go away just yet. As downsides to the Pinion Atom go, that’s pretty much it. From the moment you take delivery of one, the Atom comports itself like a much more expensive watch. Pinion supplies it with a leather and canvass watch roll rather than a box – less formal, true, but on the plus side it’s good for more than just taking up space in the wardrobe.
It’s a good size – 41mm wide and 11mm tall – and in my experience wears a little smaller. My typical daily is a Nomos Orion 38 and the step up to this didn’t feel too substantial. It’s comfortable, thanks to unobtrusive lugs. The oversized crown doesn’t dig into the wrist and the suede-finish leather strap is supple from the word go.
One of my favourite features of the Atom is its 316L stainless steel bead-blasted case finish. It’s different, it’s casual, it’s low-key and it gives the whole watch a lightness, colour-wise, that’s just not possible with polished metal. And for me, at this price, I’d rather have bead-blasting than below-average, slightly-too-shiny machine-polishing any day.
Dial design is Pinion’s strongest suit, as you would expect, and this is where I think the Atom offers real value. If you buy into the brand, chances are you’re doing it because you share Piers Berry’s idea of a good-looking watch, a modern take on a classic tool watch, and with the Atom you’re getting 80-90 per cent of that design at less than half the price.
The cardinal numerals are coated in a thick layer of Super-Luminova and ever so slightly raised as a result. The remaining numerals do feel a bit flat but the contrast is effective, and the central ‘tapisserie’-style graining provides good textural contrast. The date, as I mentioned, is discreet – naturally many will wish it wasn’t there at all but unless a date window is truly heinous it’s not one of my bugbears.
There’s a sizeable rehaut to the watch, the slope of the inner bezel giving a real sense of depth to the dial. It could probably be less, but it feels like a proper tool watch and hasn’t made the whole thing too tall. The sword-shaped hands are the right length, just shy of the markers they relate to, and look pretty decent up close, for the money.
The last thing to mention – and it’s the same when you’re considering buying from any low-volume brand – is reliability. I’ve put quite a few miles on the Atom over the last couple of months, and haven’t noticed a drop in timekeeping or had any functional issues. The Miyota is a pretty robust little calibre; there’s not much to go wrong and it’s easily fixed if it does. Fit and finish across the rest of the watch is also very decent. Get it under a magnifying glass and you might spot imperfections (so far, I haven’t) but by and large, the Pinion Atom punches well above its weight.