Oak & Oscar is one of those microbrands you love to cheer on. Founder and designer Chase Fancher has made a great name for his watch company using muted colors, clean design and interesting features since launching the brand with the seductive Burnham in 2015. Following that release with the much-coveted and limited Jackson Flyback Chronograph, Fancher and company upped expectations for the budding brand.
We’ll be taking a look at the first non-limited serial release, the Humboldt 12-hour, a sporty entry that builds on the simplicity and styling of the Burnham, while adding new useful features and cementing the brand’s design language.
One of the frustrating and exciting elements for collectors with an eye for microbrand or independent watch companies is the exclusivity and scarcity of releases. Oak & Oscar followed this limited release structure for its first releases and the hype created surely helped catapult the brand to cult status. (International watch press coverage helped as well).
The Jackson was a lesson in brand building. It used an interesting movement: A modified manual winding Eterna Caliber 39 with flyback chronograph functions., At about $3,000, it was an enticing value proposition and a break from the ubiquitous workhorse Swiss and Japanese movement offerings from other microbrands. Surely, at this price range, Oak & Oscar was operating on a razor thin profit margin. But that gamble paid off and produced a loyal following and broad interest.
That’s where the Humboldt came in: The brand’s efforts to create a fanbase paved the way for a broad serial release. While the Humboldt —powered by the higher-tier ETA 2892 A2 —presented a toned-down approach from the flyback chronograph release, the timepiece still carries on with the design language and charm of its predecessors.
Normally, I would skip giving a detailed account of the presentation materials. But Oak & Oscar’s approach in this area really deserves some space. This brand is all about experience and it starts from the moment you are literally greeted by the outer cardboard box. After meeting a couple friendly messages from the brand, you reach in and find a burlap sack emblazoned with the Oak and Oscar logo. Inside, you’ll find a canvas wallet containing the watch. The company has skipped more ostentatious packaging in favor of a useful carrying case with leather pouches. To really drive the collegial experience home, the brand includes a recipe for a special cocktail.
These touches make you pause and really savor the experience, rather than just wanting to quickly grab the watch itself. This is excellence in marketing reminiscent of the way Apple or other high end brands achieve a psychological pull. You really get the feeling you’ve invested in something special.
Once the buzz of the box-opening experience wears off, you’re able to really dig into the main event. You’ll pull the Humboldt from its suede pouch and immediately notice the heft and feel of the piece with bracelet attached. The case and bracelet are both finely brushed, which extends to the stainless 12-hour bezel insert. The lugs curl down cleanly for a nice fit to hug the wrist. The display back shows off the customized Oak & Oscar 4-star logo. While some might wonder about the need to exhibit the workhorse ETA movement, I don’t find it offensive in the least. I doubt you’ll buy a watch like this to spend much time staring at the back end, anyway – but to each their own. The bracelet is a very simple 3-piece link system with a solid and thick build and dramatic taper. Oak and Oscar adds plenty of links and a micro-adjusting locking clasp for a perfect fit.
This is where the brand really stands out from competitors. Fancher plays with muted color palettes and layered details to create a sophisticated viewing experience. The laser crisp sandwich cutouts are subtle in size and the open nine o-clock marker is really a fun wink at loftier Swiss brands. What really finishes this front display is the signature orange seconds hand. Long and thin, it is topped with the O logo and stretches to the very tip of the minute markers. It’s a beautiful bit of quirk that puts an exclamation point on all of the Oak & Oscar timepieces.
• 2892 A2 automatic 21 jewel mechanical Swiss movement
• 42-hour power reserve• 28,800 bph / 4 Hz
• 316L Stainless steel• 39.5mm case diameter with 40.0mm beze
l• 12-hour bi-directional bezel• 20 ATM water resistance (200 meters)
• 12.4mm case height• 20mm lug width• 46.8mm lug-to-lug
• Double-domed sapphire crystal with multi-layer anti-reflective coating
• Color-matched date wheel with custom typeface located at 6 o’clock
• Nylon strap with orange stitching and matching signed hardware
• Sandwich dial with Super-LumiNova BGW9• Waxed canvas watch wallet
• Two-year limited warranty
Price: $1,750 with stainless steel bracelet option www.oakandoscar.com
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from the Oak & Oscar Humboldt. I always thought the watches were attractive but wondered if I was falling victim to excessive hype. They are on the higher end in terms of pricing for a small independent American brand. But I believe the value is there in the details. And there’s a ton of substance behind the brand’s excellent marketing and presentation materials. The hype was well-earned.
I think we’ll be seeing the Oak & Oscar brand for a very long time.