Review: Isotope Watches - Old Radium Bronze Pilot - Ash Grey

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Review: Isotope Watches - Old Radium Bronze Pilot - Ash Grey

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Post by TheJohnP » Thu Nov 03, 2022 9:43 pm

Look for this to be reposted on our review blog, Wristwatch Talk.
http://wristwatchtalk.com/


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BACKGROUND:

Last year, I was checking out the Isotope Watches website and noticed an upcoming model called "Old Radium" that really caught my eye. I kept checking back to see when that might be released and then one day I saw it had disappeared completely from the site. On a whim, I reached out to ask about it and the brand owner, José quickly responded that there were issues with the prototypes and once they were ready he'd open up orders for it. Cut to August of this year and preorders finally did open for the Old Radium, but now in a bronze case. I reached out to José and asked if possible to borrow one for a review and he kindly obliged.

For this review, I was sent the Ash Grey version and spent a solid week wearing it. Since it came on a strap with quick release springbars, I went ahead and tried it out on a variety of my own straps. This was also a production version of the watch and not a prototype.

INTRODUCTION:

Isotope Watches is a microbrand founded in 2016 by José Miranda and based in England. They've been on my radar for some time and I've featured posts on a variety of their Kickstarter and self-released preorder campaigns. The thing I've always admired about Isotope is that they quickly came out with a consistent design aesthetic. Though they release a myriad of watch styles, you can see the common thread that weaves throughout all their collections. Much of that has to do with the lacrima, the teardrop shape, that is a key element of the Isotope design language.

Another aspect that I've grown to enjoy is they don't take themselves too seriously. This is after all the brand that released a watch based on the ubiquitous "we will return" sign. And that tongue in cheek attitude is well evident in the product description for the Old Radium:

In 1942 the Minister of Defence of the United Kingdom asked Isotope to produce watches for the armed forces, a request they happily obliged. The result of their efforts was a watch that was as handsome as it was sturdy. It quickly got the nickname 'Old Radium,' as the soldiers affectionately called it because of its charismatic luminous hands and hour markers. Now, 80 years after it was first made, Isotope is releasing the 'Old Radium' once again as a limited edition.

This is what could have happened if it wasn't for the fact that Isotope was founded in 2016. However, this does give the brand the advantage
of being able to invent its history in retrospect.


Love that.

To learn more about the Old Radium or any of their other models, visit - https://isotopewatches.com/

PRODUCT OVERVIEW:

Isotope describes the Old Radium as "an ode to the brave pilots that fought the odds of WWII, which were often not in their favour. They fought for what was right with their magnificent aeroplanes, and the 'Old Radium' could have been a welcome companion on their missions. Its design is a subtle mix of straightforward functionality and vintage elegance. Form and function don't get in the way of each other but rather become a
unit that is stronger than its separate parts. It results in something that can best be described as a gentleman's pilot watch, a contemporary
ode to times long gone.


The Old Radium Bronze Pilot is available in three colorways, Ox Blood Red, Olive Green, or Ash Grey.

SPECIFICS:

Isotope Old Radium Bronze Pilot - Ash Grey

https://isotopewatches.com/collections/ ... onze-pilot

- Cost: £800 or about $911 based on current currency conversion.
- Movement: Landeron24 automatic movement
- Case: Brushed CuSn8 bronze case
- Case Diameter: 40mm
- Lug to Lug : 47mm
- Thickness: 11mm (including crystals)
- Crown: Screw down bronze crown
- Crystal: Sapphire crystal with AR coating
- Hands: Brushed bronze sword hands applied with Old Radium Super LumiNova
- Dial: Textured dial with Old Radium Super LumiNova applied on numbers and markers
- Caseback: Sandblasted titanium with sapphire exhibition caseback
- Strap: Quick-release Italian calfskin strap
- Strap Width: 20mm
- Buckle: Bronze brushed
- Waterproof: 100M
- Weight: 78g
- Warranty: 2 Years


FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

Not having experienced a watch from Isotope before, I expect that what I received was their standard packaging. However, the inner box reminded me of an old leather steamer trunk and played into the fact that this watch could've been from a bygone era.

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The first thing that caught my eye was the large lacrima cutout in the center of the dial. It's this signature shape of the brand that helps set this apart from the otherwise cookie cutter style of most pilot/field watches. It's enough of a break from the norm to add visual interest and also provide depth to the dial.

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FURTHER IMPRESSIONS:

Because the Old Radium had spent time with other reviewers before making it to me, the bronze has already started to patina. This further reinforced the vintage aspects to this release. Having only experienced one bronze watch previously, I was a tad surprised by the heft of the watch head. Guessing that may be a reason the caseback is made of titanium to lessen the overall weight.

The case finishing is brushed throughout and one would expect as much for this style of watch. The mid case appears rather compact with the bezel and caseback expanded to add to the overall height.

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The crystal is flat sapphire and meets along the edge of the inner bezel. With the AR coating, never encountered any difficulties reading the time at any angle or light condition.

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The bronze crown is onion-esque with the Isotope "i" logo engraved. The action to screw/unscrew was smooth.

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The lugs gently slope downwards providing a comfortable drape on the wrist. Though the edges of the lugs are well pronounced, they aren't sharp or potentially pokey. However, the lugs aren't drilled, which seems a bit of a miss.

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The hands are brushed bronze, but they seem to easily catch the light and shine, providing a strong contrast to the dial. For me, they're also well sized with a neat attention to detail that the hour hand meets the top and bottom of the edge of the lacrima at 12 and 6, respectfully. Isotope also added lume to the tips of all three hands, which is fairly unusual. However, the most unusual aspect to the handset is that the second hand doesn't have a counterbalance. Took me some time to figure that out as I sensed something was off and once it dawned on me, I couldn't stop unseeing it.

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Now interestingly, the model is Ash Grey and in many of the photos it certainly represents that way. But depending on the lighting, angle, or strap, the dial color also appears slightly green. The colorshift was a hot topic on the MoT Discord as a few folks could only see a green dial opposed to the actual grey. And not going to lie, when I first got it, I wasn't sure if I had gotten the grey or olive green model myself.

The dial has a fair amount going on. As I mentioned before, the lacrima cutout adds depth. The darker black also sets it apart from the rest of the dial, though it shares the same sand-like texture throughout. The numerals, markers, logo, and copy on the dial appear to be embossed and give further dimension to the dial. Less so than applied markers, but more so than if simply painted on as is often the case. Very restrained with copy, as only the Isotope logo, wordmark, "automatic," "radium," and "Great Britain" to be found on the dial. The date wheel is black, so it tends to disappear. Since I'm not a fan of dates on my watches, I did appreciate that.

The 60 marker chapter ring runs along the top of the rehaut just under the crystal. One could think it was painted under the glass, but it is certainly part of the dial. Speaking of the rehaut, the main minute markers run along it. And for the pilot watch purists, that's where you'll find the traditional triangle at 12. So the elements are there if needed, but otherwise the eye is drawn to the numerals for better legibility of timekeeping. And because the numerals are so prominent, I consider this more of a field watch than a pilot watch.

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The caseback is sandblasted titanium. As mentioned previously, guessing that is to help offset the weight of the bronze case. And likely also to alleviate any concerns some might have with allergies from prolonged skin contact with the bronze. The sandblasting fits with the overall look and feel of the watch. And if you look closely, the slots around the caseback to unscrew it are lacrima shaped.

There's an exhibition sapphire crystal to show off the movement, the Landeron24. The Landeron24 is another ETA-2824 clone, so you know what you're getting. And it also provides a "Swiss" movement for those who find that matters. Over the week I had it, it gained about a solid minute or over +8 seconds a day. Considering the stated accuracy is -12/+12, that's a good result in my book. And to no one's surprise, the rotor features, you guessed it...a lacrima.

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The Italian calfskin leather strap is well made and very pliable. Not entirely sure what the pattern of the leather is supposed to be, but what came to mind was well worn and cracked leather from age. Again, another nod to the vintage aesthetic. Honestly, I wish the strap was slightly thicker. I think a beefier strap would help with the heavier watch head. The tang and buckle are bronze with Isotope engraved on the top edge. It is rather large, but not Panerai oversized and annoying. Another reason a thicker strap would've been a better choice.

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Since this is a pilot/field/military inspired watch, you expect the lume to be good and in that regard, the Old Radium doesn't disappoint. And no surprise to anyone, they employed Old Radum Super LumiNova. As brought up before, lume was not only added to the hands, but also the tips of the hands so you could tell the time easier in low light conditions. And the ease of legibility is why Isotope was specific with their use of lume. Other brands would've lumed the rehaut and/or chapter ring to "Christmas light" the heck out of the dial. But you'll only find the numerals, markers, and handset lumed. Boiling down to the essence of what you need to see in the dark to know the time at a quick glance.

Lume also passed my 20-25 evening dog walk test and remained bright and visible upon my return.

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VERSATILITY TEST

I knew I wasn't going to have issues with the grey/black/green-ish? dial when pairing with straps. But the almost rose gold bronze did give me pause. I did lean into the field aspect with this watch looking great on a couple of of my Mushi waxed canvas straps and some more neutral colors. I was pleasantly surprised how well this paired with more vibrant straps like green, burgundy, and blue. And let's be honest, everything looks good on Harris Tweed herringbone.

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SUMMARY:

Taking a look through my personal collection, I found I had a significant amount of other field-style watches. So obviously a style that I find appealing and I found the Old Radium to be very appealing. Of these watches that I own and are most comparable, the Old Radium looks and feels more refined. A solid step up from anything I own, even from the Smiths Everest Expedition. It certainly has the specs to be a true field watch, but it all comes together as more polished and genteel. Perhaps an officer's field watch or as they described it, a gentleman's pilots watch. Very British indeed.

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Now at £800 isn't an insignificant sum, but I think what Isotope gives you for that amount is fair. Taking a look at the closest competitor, the Hamilton Khaki Field Bronze at $825, and I feel the Isotope blows it out of the water...or bunker if we're taking the WWII metaphor to a logical conclusion. Either way, for anyone who is into military inspired watches or pilot/field watches, take a serious look at Isotope. I think you'll be pleased.

PRO:
- Unique take on the standard field/pilot style. With enough to appease the field watch fan with just enough to set it apart and also provide a vintage feel.
- Wore well and felt comfortable on the wrist.
- The more you pay attention, the more you notice the attention to detail throughout the design. Very well thought out and executed.
- Hard to complain when something comes with a Swiss automatic movement.
- The lume is solid and should appease any lume junkies out there.
- Paired well with more straps that I would've anticipated.
- Let's be frank, with the way the £ is doing right now, good time to buy if you're in the US.

CON:
- Bronze is great, but I think I would've enjoyed this a lot more with a stainless case.
- I still find the lack of drilled lugs to be the biggest knock on this one.
- Does tend to feel slightly top heavy.
- Not sure if it was the movement or the crown, but when unscrewed, it doesn't "pop" out. Not an issue per se, just something I noticed.
- Would've preferred a thicker strap. But strap complaints are always alleviated by other straps in the collection.

WOULD I BUY THIS?

Yes

I think I would.
Maybe not the Ash Grey, I'd probably go for either the Ox Blood Red or Olive Green.

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