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Review: Atowak Ettore

In our popular real versus fake videos, the question is often asked, “If these guys can make fake watches so accurately, why don’t they make their own watches?” Well, today we’re going to answer that question, because instead of this Chinese watch here being a fake, it’s more based on inspiration instead. This is the Urwerk-esque Atowak Ettore—and unlike the $150,000 you’d pay for an Urwerk, it’s just $550.

When this watch first came to my attention, I was immediately ready to dismiss it. There are a number of companies out there sending out renderings of watches that inevitably turn out to be nothing like what was promised, and this Atowak Ettore seemed to be no different. Even the name: it sounds awkward, it hardly rolls off the tongue and it very much has the vibe of mistranslation. And what’s promised here is especially ambitious, a wandering hour complication that very much takes its cues from the $150,000 Urwerk UR-220. Colour me sceptical.

Now, Urwerk, that’s a watchmaker. Brainchild of Felix Baumgartner—not the one who jumped off the edge of space, the other one—and Martin Frei, Urwerk took one look at the stale funk mid-90s watchmaking was in and told it to do one. Although, by modern standards, the launch UR-101 is surprisingly modest, in 1997 it was like aliens had arrived in Switzerland and been put to work making watches. By the UR-103, Urwerk had really found its groove producing complex, unusual timekeeping solutions that most often revolve—pun absolutely intended—around satellite complications.

And that’s how we get to the $150,000 UR-220. It’s less a watch and more a micro-engineering concept, a carbon and titanium spaceship of a watch that wouldn’t look out of place in the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. And what I was being told by Atowak was that a good chunk of that UR-220 experience could be had out of China for just $550. You can see why this particular email almost made the junk box.

But the people at Atowak said they’d send one over and, if I thought it was a load of rubbish, I could just send it back again. Great, I thought. Extra logistics for a watch I wasn’t interested in featuring. But then I thought about the $500 Chinese tourbillon we had in recently and decided to give the watch the benefit of the doubt.

And would you know, it may well have been worth it. Like when a birthday present from your grandma turns out to not be complete rubbish, the Atowak Ettore Drift was a pleasant surprise. In 316L steel, it’s smartly made and finished, the strap doesn’t feel like a yoghurt pot lid and nothing seems like it’s going to fall off. Given, then, that we’re very fond of diversity in watchmaking, it only seems fair to proceed with what has unwittingly evolved into a bit of an experiment, a journey into the unknown. Onward!

So, the $150,000 question … is it any good? Look, no one’s expecting Felix and Martin over at Urwerk to get a sweat on, but if this can demonstrate even a percent of the quality and ingenuity of the UR-220, perhaps, just perhaps, we’re on to a winner.

Looks-wise, it’s really hard to find fault. This isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of loose-leaf China tea for sure, especially at 46.5mm wide by 40.8mm tall and 13.5mm thick, but set aside personal taste and it’s reasonably well proportioned, has a nice mix of finishes and colours and is considered even in the details. There are very few people in the world who’ve actually handled a real-life Urwerk and as much as it pains me to say, if you gave the average guy on the street this and a UR-220, I’d say they’d be guessing prices way closer to the Atowak than the Urwerk.

That’s no slight on Urwerk—more really that the expectations of luxury and complexity don’t really align with this future-industrial styling. I’d say the only thing that lets the Atowak down on that front is the awkward name plastered right across the middle. It really feels like it belongs more on a brand of commercial-grade UPVC pipe than a watch, but let’s not belabour the point.

By the way, this is all on the assumption that the Ettore is not going to explode five minutes after strapping it onto your wrist. Whether it will or won’t, it’s always going to be the worry. $550 may not be a lot for an Urwerk, but it’s very much a lot for a stainless-steel conker. Whilst Atowak may be an unknown, at the very least the movement in the back, a Miyota 9015, is not. Made in Japan, part of the Citizen group—it’s proper. It’ll last longer than you will. As for the rest of the Ettore’s mechanism, only time will tell.

Speaking of, how is it that a $550 watch can imitate the genius complexity of an Urwerk movement that has more jewels alone than most movements have parts? Well, no prizes for guessing that it’s less complicated, but nevertheless it is still pretty cool. There are four arms on which each has a three-pronged satellite, which orbit in a planetary arrangement that gives the effect of the correct hour always arriving from the top.

Now, I’m no expert in watches—I barely know anything about them at all—but I’m pretty certain that modern CAD software and CNC milling is what’s making this watch possible. There’s no fancy hand-finishing applied with the wet back of an orchid’s petal by a man older than the sun—you’re getting the results of good, new-fashioned technology. Is that a bad thing? If the watch were $150,000, I’d have a few things to say about it, but for $550? My expectations are lowered appropriately and then, to be honest, surpassed.

You will have to be quick for that $550 price mind, as that’s a limited time thing. After that it’s $1,200, and for that you’d need to ask yourself just how badly you wish you had a 1% share in an Urwerk. If that sounds like too much then there’s the simpler—and cheaper—Ettore Light, which starts at $300 and goes up to $600 once the promo is over. Now, just so it’s clear, we get diddly squat of that and that’s the way it should be. I’m just pleased to show you something unexpected that surprised me when I saw it—and I hope it surprises you too.

There’s the old saying, “You don’t get something for nothing”, and it’s important to bear that in mind when it comes to watches like the Atowak that are seemingly too good to be true. The chances of ending up with a watch you could enjoy for a long while that does something otherwise prohibitively expensive seem pretty good, but nevertheless this is still an unproven entity, and that’s worth bearing in mind. I’m pleased to have taken a chance to see the watch for myself, however. I’m sure you’ll all agree, it shines a small, but positive light on the future of affordable watchmaking.