Paulin Watches Neo: Affordable Automatic Wristwatches With Serious Design Chops Made In Scotland
I hadn’t heard of Paulin Watches until a couple of months ago when my son Alexander joined the company as marketing director. So I thought that I’d better check them out. And I’m glad I did.
Who is Paulin?
Paulin is a small design brand based in Glasgow that was founded in 2013 by three sisters who simply liked watches and wanted to design some they would wear themselves. Eleanor, Charlotte, and Elizabeth Paulin released their first range of affordably priced timepieces using Miyota quartz and automatic movements.
Today creative director Eleanor Paulin, whose background is in design and style, is the driving force behind this seven-year-old brand. Some of her talent is surely rooted in her genes as her great-grandfather, George Henry Paulin (1888-1962), was a Scottish sculptor of great note.
Starting with design-led watches, the small company has expanded into other well-designed items like leather goods and even a wall clock. Where possible, Paulin chooses local and/or British components and suppliers. This is an important aspect of the company.
Paulin has a flagship location in Glasgow that houses its workshop, a multipurpose creative space, a leather workshop, and a retail location. There is another retail space in Edinburgh. Both shops offer the entire timepiece line and a selection of curated items by other local designers, artists, and makers.
If you live in Glasgow or the surrounding area, you might already be well acquainted with Paulin as the company’s Art on the Subway campaign has been running for about 18 months. Paulin’s Edinburgh location is also slated to become a showcase for local talent, providing a platform accessible to the public with thematic hands-on events when this becomes possible again.
And there is a healthy connection between Paulin and anOrdain, a Glasgow-based micro brand that has made quite a splash in affordable luxury over the last two years: Eleanor Paulin and anOrdain creative director Lewis Heath are in-laws (he is married to Charlotte). This is not unimportant as you will see below.
The Paulin Neo
The Neo is a collaborative timepiece between Paulin and anOrdain, whose design and manufacture was overseen by the two brands’ respective creative heads, Eleanor Paulin and Lewis Heath. You may remember anOrdain from my 2018 review of its Model 1. However, several other craftspeople were involved in the design and manufacture of this watch as well.
Let’s start with the element that most people will notice first: the dial. As a design-led brand the dial is of utmost importance, and so the post-modern look of it expresses much of what both brands stand for: newness, respect for the crafts, a fondness for color, instant likeability, and cool, modern design.
Scottish Jewelry designer Helen Swan was engaged to make the aluminum dial. Aluminum is rarely associated with watchmaking (except perhaps Bulgari’s Aluminium range, whose cases are crafted in a special aluminum alloy), but making a dial out of aluminum offers advantages: it is lightweight, so it won’t make the watch heavier, and for an artist like Swan it is a fabulous canvas with which to work. She specializes in aluminum jewelry.
The three Neo colorways in butterscotch yellow, sky blue, and white chosen by Eleanor Paulin are interesting and not all that easy to make so perfectly when you consider the low price of this watch. Swan crafts the base dial colors by anodization and then a hand-dyeing process in her Glasgow workshop. Then the aluminum plates are laser-cut to the precise diameter needed by another Scottish business before being pad-printed in anOrdain’s atelier.
Which brings me to the amazing font, which was designed in-house at anOrdain by Imogen Ayres, who also designed the anOrdain Model 1’s original font. The Neo’s font, christened Wim, was inspired by grid-based typeface styles invented by Dutch graphic designer Wim Crouwel. The odd orange and pink markers at 1, 5, 7, 9, and 11 o’clock remind me of 1960s wall clocks, in particular one that hung in my grandmother’s house when I was growing up. Perhaps that association has me appreciating it so much. Or perhaps it is just good design. Or a combination of the two. We can each be our own judges on that.
The sample that I received for review is the sky-blue colorway, which has pink numerals and markers, orange printed baton markings, black hour and minute hands, and a red second hand. By rights, these colors should clash – and if you’d described this to me, I would have puckered my face in distaste. But somehow, magically, it all fits together unexpectedly well in the metal (and in photos, I’ve noticed). The color combination is interesting and distinctly legible without being overbearing. Again, I think of the 1960s when I see all of this together, but that is in no way a bad thing.
And then there is the date window at 3 o’clock. If you read watch writing much, you’ll know that the date window is always up for discussion and often a point of contention. My personal view is that I can do without it more often than I need to have it (one big exception being the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1, whose dial is characterized by the extremely legible date display and would never be the same without it; you wouldn’t want this watch any other way).
I even own watches where I would have wished that the maker had just left the date out. If I bought, own, and regularly wear these watches I have obviously learned to live with that particular “flaw,” but in a perfect world (or a perfect watch) I would have done away with those displays.
Superfluous date displays usually arise because the sourced movement simply comes with them and whether they are utilized or not, there they are. Most manufacturers decide to display the function if it’s already included, but also decide not to further invest in them, so the date wheels are often mismatched and disturb the flow of the dial to a trained or detailed eye. So using the already-included date can hurt rather than enhance such watches.
Movement powering the Paulin Neo
Which brings me to the Neo’s date and the movement behind it. Paulin has chosen to use the automatic Seiko NH35A to power this watch, an excellent choice for its reliability and affordability. The NH35A is one of the most popular movements in use by micro brands at this time and for good reason.
The Seiko NH35A can be sourced off the rack with the quick-set date at either 3:00 or 6:00 and with a date wheel in two colorways: black on white or white on black. The white on black variation isn’t that common, but choosing it for use here was a stroke of design genius as you can see that it integrates into the dial flow nicely, particularly in conjunction with the thick black hour hand and the interestingly openworked black minute hand, which on my sample watch can look shiny grey in certain lighting.
While I am usually the first to tell any watch designer to just leave the date out, here I feel that it adds a useful element to the package – it not only doesn’t disturb the design, it absolutely adds to the whole and would be a lot less interesting without the date.
For you technical nerds, the Seiko NH35A has 24 jewels, Seiko Diashock shock protection, and bidirectional winding by Seiko’s patented Magic Lever system offering a 41-hour power reserve when fully wound.
And for those same tech-interested people, it might also be interesting to know that while the solid-back stainless steel case is manufactured in the Far East – how could it be otherwise at this price point? – it is not an off-the-rack component but has also been designed in-house at anOrdain. The case is also available with a choice of solid or open case back at no extra charge.
The crown is easy to grip and does not poke. It pulls out like a dream – in no way a fingernail breaker as I like to call certain watches – but without fingernails it might be more of a chore getting it in the right position.
What I love about the Paulin Neo
This watch is fully designed and assembled in Scotland. The dial – the most important part of this watch – was also handmade in Scotland.
The design is fresh, poppy, and just plain good. There is not one thing I would change about this design, and that is saying a lot. If I had my druthers, though, I might change out the box-style hesalite crystal (yet another nostalgic marker) in lieu of sapphire crystal – which would significantly raise the price. And one of the genuinely sexy things about this watch is its affordability considering the quality.
The mechanical movement comes from Seiko, which is another guarantee of quality. On my most recent trip to Seiko in late 2018, I had the pleasure of touring the facility where the mass-produced automatics are made, and I was duly impressed.
The sizing is unisex appropriate and fits my own wrist like a glove. I do think that Paulin might have brought the case height of 11.6 mm down a bit – the movement would have allowed it – but I am 100 percent certain that was a choice made to make the watch look a bit more present on the wrist. It doesn’t hurt it.
The price. That price. This price is not to be beat anywhere for this type of quality. Just not possible. At £395 we should all be flocking to it as an easy-to-wear daily wearer, assuming the design appeals. And it does to me.
For more information and to order, please visit www.paulinwatches.com.
Quick Facts Paulin Neo
Case: stainless steel, 38 x 11.6 mm
Dial: hand-dyed and anodized aluminum with pad-printed markings, available in blue, yellow, and white colorways
Movement: automatic Seiko Caliber NH35A, 41-hour power reserve, 24 jewels, 3 Hz/21,600 vph
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date