The American Sinn
How long have we known each other, friends? One year, two years maybe? If we do know each other, you will be aware of my obsession with the idea of the one-watch collection. I talk about it extensively here on Mainspring and on my Instagram account (LINK.) The idea of owning only one watch that can do it all—or as I like to say, that can do 95% of what I need 100% of the time—is both romantic and a true testimony to my owning-less-but-of-better-quality-stuff philosophy. While many have mocked me for this, some have supported me. And although I currently own more than one watch, I am on the perpetual quest for the perfect one-watch-collection. “The One.”
This quest has brought me to discover many interesting watches from rather unique brands. Interesting watches because they offer something special, for example a unique value or a different approach to design. Unique brands in that the founders have a unique story and a matching unique vision of horology. The watches that come out of this perfect mix are different from 90% of what micro and independent brands output on a daily basis. One such brand is Wolf Creek. And one such watch is the North Star. And you've guessed it: I am presenting you a new candidate for The One.
The perfect everyday watch must come with certain specifications that are wholeheartedly my own. First, the right dimensions: 38mm in diameter, 43mm lug-to-lug, 12mm in thickness and 20mm lug opening. These dimensions are the sweet spot for me, and although I do have a preference for watches with 36mm diameters, having a slightly larger case comes with a few added benefits. For example: 200 meters of water resistance thanks to a screw-down crown and case-back; superior shock resistance thanks to a NRB* gasket placed between the movement and the case; Rolex-like protection against magnetism thanks to a soft-iron cage enveloping the movement.
*NBR stands for Nitrile Butadiene Rubber and refers to a particular type of synthetic rubber used in the aeronautical, automotive, and nuclear industries for its stability at extreme temperatures from −40 to 108°C (−40 to 226°F). Thanks Wikipedia!
In other words, NBR gaskets won’t crack, expand, or contract under any humanly possible conditions, preserving their integrity. Rubber gaskets are also better than metal ones to protect movements from shocks as they absorb shock waves while metal simply transmits them to the movement. (Imagine the difference between punching a metal door and a squishy punch bag!) I’m saying all of this because it’s impressive to me that Wolf Creek could make such a robust watch whilst maintaining reasonable dimensions. Generally, making a solid watch comes with unfortunate swollen proportions.
Moreover, I would argue that a great everyday watch that can be used in any and all situations should have a good movement. The North Star is equipped with a Top Grade Sellita SW300-1 which beats at 28,800 BPH (4Hz) and comes with 56 hours of power reserve. Although it is not chronometer-certified, the SW300-1 I have been testing for the past month runs consistently at -1 second per day. Whether it is on my wrist or sitting in my watch box for three days. To be honest, I have rarely come across such a precise and healthy movement since I’ve made writing about horology a full-time career two years ago.
Furthermore, the North Star comes with a flat piece of sapphire crystal endowed with many layers of inner anti-reflective coating. This makes it possible to clearly see the dial at any angle and in any lighting condition, free of any distortions. (I find distortions super charming, however not always the most practical for everyday use.) And a clear crystal also aids in reading the time at night, a task made even more so easy thanks to the reasonable application of BGW9 lume. I know, you want to know about the bracelet but you will have to wait a little bit for that.
But what are good specifications without good and effective design? Nothing. And while I admit that what we find to be pretty and ugly is a highly subjective matter, I will nevertheless share my personal thoughts on the design of the Wolf Creek. So take it with a grain of salt. Or sugar. Whatever floats your boat. Honestly, I really like it. I do. And I wouldn’t be writing about the North Start with so much enthusiasm if I did not like the way it looks in addition to having fallen for its outstanding specifications. You know me, I’m generally enthusiastic about watches.
The first element of the design of the North Star that stands out is the case shape. It is what we refer to as a tonneau case (or “barrel” in English) which has a unique appearance: long and rounded sides, short lugs, a slab-sided profile, and cut-out lugs. Some compare tonneau cases to flying saucers and I can see why. To be frank, barrel-shaped cases are somewhat of an acquired taste. And I acquired it within a few minutes after removing the North Star from its leather pouch. (More on that later too.) It quickly grew on me as it confidently commands a strong wrist presence.
The case having such a powerful design, Wolf Creek did all of what it could do to bring it forward and make it shine. For example, there is a polished chamfer on either side of the case that runs from the bottom of the lugs all across the case to the other side. This detail adds a subtle light play and breaks the slightly blocky aspect of the tonneau case. In contrast, the rest of the case receives a satin-brushed finish. Furthermore, Wolf Creek opted for a small crown which is easy to grab and operate despite its timid size. It also has one of the shortest travel to unscrew/screw it which facilitates its operation.
And in addition to having a cool case that is well made, the North Star shines by how beautiful its dial is. The latter has a black lacquered finish that looks premium. The printing of the stylized wolf head logo and the words “North Star” and “Automatic” is as crisp as a perfectly-shaped Japanese snowflake. It truly is a sight to be seen. The dial is also highly legible thanks to having broad arrow hour and minute hands set against a black dial and juxtaposed with white Arabic and baton-style hour markers and a legible half-minute track.
A neat detail is the long and fully-lumed seconds hand that reaches the edge of the dial. Actually, all hands are adequately proportioned for their respective purposes.
The Heart of the Matter
At the heart of the matter is the fact that a brand you have never heard of made one of the best everyday watches on the independent watch market. Michael Johansen—who I will write about in a future Profile story—developed and designed his first two models from a quiet corner of the planet (Duluth, Minnesota.) He took his time to articulate his own vision for horology and to find the right partners to make his vision come true. Designing and manufacturing a watch in Switzerland with the best know-how and highest quality parts requires patience, determination, and perhaps a dose of insanity.
As you know, I have a thing for robust everyday watches and rarely did I come across such a well-made timepiece for what is a comparatively low price tag: $1,275. One would think that only a seasoned watchmaker/designer/industry professional could make such a neat watch. But no, one would be wrong. And while $1,275 can seem steep for a watch from a brand you don’t know anything about, I would say this: it rivals Sinn, Damasko, and many Swiss brands in terms of quality, fit, and finish. But you will have to take my word for it. Alas.
Another element that is at the heart of the matter here is the fact that the North Star is, first and foremost, a watch designed in the United States and one that is imbued with specific aspects of its culture that an outsider might not be familiar with. (I’m a French national who spent 13 years on the East Coast of the United States.) Here I am referring to the close relationship Americans have to nature which can be seen in two ways here. First, the name of the brand and logo—a stylized wolf head—and the model name and matching engraving on the case-back.
Wolf Creek refers to an area south of Duluth known for its small waterfall. Minnesota is also the only state in the country that managed to preserve its gray wolf population which is fitting for the brand’s name and logo—a design detail I’m particularly fond of. Furthermore, the Northern Lights can be observed where Michael lives, a breath-taking natural event encapsulated on the case-back, and the North Star is the most visible in the northernmost parts of the Northern Hemisphere—i.e. Minnesota.
To me, the North Star is a watch that was designed and created by someone who has an honest and close relationship to nature and its subsequent natural order. Something that absolutely resonates with me. When I wear the North Star I feel an intrinsic connection to the natural world which is a good feeling to have for someone who spends more time within the confines of an urban jungle than in the midst of a forest or lost in the desert. The final product is a robust watch that can be used in most situations I find myself in and that looks good on a variety of straps and on the provided bracelet.
Conclusion: It's a Complete Package
I know, it’s a bit surprising that I haven’t yet talked about the bracelet. Well, let’s do it now. The bracelet comes with fully-articulated solid links that are rounded on all sides and held together with hex screws. (The latter are easier to remove than screws with Philips heads.) The solid end links have the shape of a Nordic hammer and match the case perfectly. The double-pusher clasp comes with a safety latch and a diver’s extension. I particularly like the design of the bracelet that leans more toward the ladder-style than the Oyster-style of bracelets. This type of bracelet, by having wider gaps in-between the links, helps keep the skin cool and dry during the hot summer months.
So why mention the bracelet last? Well, because there was a lot to talk about already. And as the title of this part indicates, the North Star is a complete package. And packaging is something that Michael paid great attention to as the watch comes in a handmade leather pouch from a company called Leather Works, located in Minnesota. I for one do not like watch boxes and having a useful leather pouch is a big plus in my book. What’s more is that the North Star comes with a black NATO strap that is soft and supple. Again, it’s a complete package.
To conclude a record-breaking lengthy review I would say this: yes, I am head over heels for the North Star and Wolf Creek. I admit it. I love what Michael does and how the North Star looks and feels on the wrist. It is a well-made watch that comes with incredible specifications for a reasonable price tag. It truly can be a one-watch collection and that is what I wanted to highlight here. You can learn more about the North Start by visiting the brand’s website.
Thanks for reading.