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Golby Aquareef 2

As much as I love to hear a brand’s elaborate backstory, with smatterings of hyperbole thrown in for good measure, it can sometimes come across as a little disingenuous to readers when it’s for a new brand. It’s refreshing therefore to review a watch from a newcomer that leaves any pretence at the door, choosing instead to just offer a well-specced watch at an incredible price. And this is exactly what the Aquareef Dual Time from Golby Watches promises buyers. Whilst inevitably this gives me less to write about, it also means that I can get straight to the point and give you an ‘in a nutshell’ review as to whether it’s a good buy, based on nothing but the objective value. So, let’s get straight into it…

Golby Watches is owned by Craig Golby, a midlands-based UK watch enthusiast and ETSY watch strap retailer who has taken the brave step of launching the Aquareef, a 41mm dive watch aimed firmly at the budget end of the microbrand spectrum. Craig is very open and transparent about the influences. He is a Christopher Ward fanatic and a regular of the Christopher Ward Enthusiasts Facebook Group, so it’s understandable that the Aquareef’s wave pattern dial is influenced by the earlier Christopher Ward dive watches that he loves. But whilst Christopher Ward has continued to move upmarket, the Aquareef rolls back the clock to where CW began and aims to offer the same affordability and value for money of these early watches.

Six Colourways to Place Your Hands On!

There are six colour variants of the Aquareef Dual Timer to choose from, said to be inspired by the UK coastline. Three feature white outer rotating dive bezels with colour-matched inner 12-hour bezels/chapter rings and hands (orange, teal or navy), and three feature black outer rotating bezels with colour-matched inner bezels and hands (orange, teal or yellow).  My review watch is the black dial with orange chapter ring.  Incidentally, the origins of the name Aquareef isn’t as obvious as you first think (well, only one half is!). It comes from Craig’s love of all things water (the aqua part), but get this, the ‘reef’ part comes from his love of the 90s English rock band, Reef, most famous for their hit ‘Place Your Hands’. ! Bet you didn’t see that one coming!

The Case and Wearing Experience

The Aquareef’s 316L stainless steel case is entirely brushed and measures 41mm in diameter (42mm including the bezel) and has a lug-to-lug of 50.5mm. Overall thickness is 13.1mm, not slim but perfectly reasonable for a dive style watch. The true lug-to-lug measurement on my prototype review watch is slightly longer at 54mm, due to the non-articulating male end links. The male end links also cause the outer sections of the second row of bracelet links to protrude from the lines. However, don’t let this put you off as Golby watches have already taken this feedback onboard and production watches will all come with female end links. This will not only look better but will add to the comfort factor and ensure that more wrist sizes can be accommodated. In all honesty though, I’d still say this watch is still most likely to appeal to those with medium to large wrists.

The case shape is simple, with no bevelling or polished elements, but the mid-case is vertically brushed, which is a nice touch. The case is curved between the lugs and the lugs are brushed longitudinally and have a slight downturn. Unlike most watches there are two crowns. The main screw-down crown used for adjusting and setting the time sits at 3 o’clock and is signed with the Golby ‘G’, whilst the 2 o’clock crown adjusts the colourful internal bezel.

The uni-directional outer diving bezel overhangs the case slightly allowing for easy grip when setting the countdown. On my prototype watch the bezel has 90 clicks, which is a bit puzzling. However, production watches will have a more conventional and useful 120 clicks, for precise operation and alignment. The bezel features a uniform coin edge and a tough ceramic insert with gloss finish, another great addition at this price point and something that will help the watch look good for longer. A conventional mix of numbers and hash marks are engraved into the ceramic insert. Bezel action is good but should be improved further with the addition of the new, more refined, 120-click bezel. 

Being a compressor-style dive watch, the Aquareef is a sort of hybrid between a dive watch and a GMT. One of the most noticeable differences of the Aquareef when compared to a true compressor dive watch is that the typical countdown scale found on the coloured rotating chapter ring is replaced with a 12-hour scale. The second crown, positioned at the 2 o’clock position is used for turning this ‘clickless’ inner bezel, which is used to help track a second time zone. This second crown doesn’t screw down, but the watch does still provide a reasonable 100m of water resistance, so it’ll be fine for swimming and skin diving, which let’s face it is all that most dive watch owners will ever do.

The three-link oyster style bracelet has fitted end links to perfectly match the contour of the case between the lugs. Links are secured by push pins and the strap can be quickly removed and changed thanks to the quick-release spring bars. A nice surprise, and something that’s not expected at this price is the inclusion of a rapid-adjust clasp. The clasp has several micro-adjustments slots, allowing ample range for making on-the-fly adjustments to ensure the perfect fit for your wrist. No tools required! Whilst on-the-fly adjustment is not uncommon now, at this price this is a wonderful addition. The clasp is also impressive in its design, being low profile, especially at the safety-lock clasp end. The adjustment mechanism works very well indeed. And run your finger over the safety clasp and you’ll quickly realise that it sits completely flush with the main body of the clasp, so much so that it’s virtually imperceivable, lovely! The only slight negative here is that the edges on the top part of the clasp would benefit from being smoothed off a bit more. However, again, Craig at Golby Watches has confirmed that this is being improved for the production models.

Case and bracelet finishing is generally excellent though, with consistent fine brushing and good tolerances. Dive watch purists might make an argument to forgo the exhibition caseback for a solid stainless steel one (which may also help reduce the case’s overall thickness), but then others will appreciate seeing the movement, so this is purely down to personal preference.

The Dial

The dial is an interesting mix of styles, some successful and some less so. As mentioned in my introduction, the main dial features an oil pressed wave pattern. This is paired with a wide and deep, slanted chapter ring which rotates and is printed in black with a 12-hour scale, comprising Arabic numerals for the hours and simple hash marks for the increments between. This inner rotating bezel is used to help track a second time zone. It has a metallic sheen and is operated by the crown at the 2 o’clock position. I think legibility here could be improved by using a larger font (Golby Watches has since confirmed that the Arabic numbers will be made ever so slightly larger on production models). However, in addition to this I’d also consider printing in white for more contrast and doing away with the incremental hash markers altogether.

The only applied dial furniture is the main hour indices, which are simple gun metal grey batons with strips of RT9 luminescent compound to help aid legibility in low light. Minute markers and micro-markers on the main dial are printed white on black or black on white, depending on which colourway you choose. Dial text comprises the Golby logo at 12, ‘limited edition’ either side of the 12 o’clock marker. Aquareef is printed in same colour as the chapter ring, and ‘Automatic’, ‘10ATM Water Resistant’ is printed above the 6. The framed date window, positioned at 3 o’clock, is colour-matched to the dial, another lovely touch and something that is often overlooked when designing budget-friendly watches.

I don’t think the Golby logo will be to everyone’s taste, me included. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I don’t think ‘boxed-in’ logos work particularly well on watches. However, with this being Golby’s inaugural watch, I don’t think it’d be too late to change this ahead of any further releases. Purists might not like the decision to go with a 12-hour inner GMT bezel or may prefer a 24-hour internal bezel, but for others it will be a useful addition that provides more functionality, after all you’ve still got the dive bezel as well!

I’m a big fan of a large handset on a dive watch, so the Aquareef’s oversized sword-style hands, which are also the perfect length, are welcome here. They feature colourful painted frames, colour matched to the chapter ring and have wide strips of RT9 luminescent compound. I’d not heard of this compound before and had to ask Craig about it. It turns out that it’s a Japanese compound which glows blue at night. I’d describe the lume as ‘reasonable’ at night, especially where you need it most, i.e. the hands.  However, to my eyes, in daylight it has a slightly murky greyish appearance rather than a bright, clean, high contrast white. For this reason, I’d probably like to see a different compound used.

The dial is protected by a flat sapphire crystal. My protoype watch didn’t have any anti-reflective coating applied and suffered from quite a lot of glare, but again Craig from Golby is already on the case and all production models will thankfully have five layers of internal anti-reflective coating. Obviously, I can’t pass comment on how effective this will be, but it should certainly help. I can’t help thinking that if improved lume was used and the hour indices were made bigger, it would lift the dial considerably and improve legibility even more.

The Movement

The Aquareef is fitted with a Seiko NH35a automatic movement, a popular choice at this price point due to its reliability and robustness. It has 24 jewels, beats at 21,600 and has a power reserve of 41 hours. Accuracy isn’t this movement’s strong point at -20s/+40s per day, but it’s perfectly adequate and the NH35a is a good solid movement for this watch at this price point and the right choice here, I think.

Final Thoughts

At the Kickstarter price of just £299, or £280 if you’re one of the first 100 backers, the Aquareef is a very solid alternative to mass market watches such as Seiko 5 sports watches or lower-end Orient, whilst offering better specifications and the feel-good factor that comes with supporting a small business. Everything is of a decent quality, and whilst it may not have a fully resolved design language…yet, this is understandable with a first watch and I’m hoping that any future Golby Watches will improve on this.

Of course, no watch at such a competitive price is going to perfect, but by the time customers receive their watches, the most significant negatives will have already been addressed (lack of AR coating to sapphire, bracelet end-links, and number of bezel clicks). Other improvements I’d like to see would be bigger applied hour markers and improved lume. Aside from these, my gripes mostly relate to styling, and of course this is subjective. I’d like to see the main crown moved to the four o’clock position, to bring more symmetry to the case and I’d revise the logo, or at least lose the square ‘containing box’, as I think it cheapens the look of the watch. Other than that, there’s very little to complain about given the very competitive launch price.

Golby Watches owner, Craig is a very straight-forward, honest guy and this is perfectly reflected in his first watch release. There is no pretence here. What the Aquareef lacks in originality and design flair, it gains in being an honest, capable, tough and well-specced watch that should prove to be reliable and all for an incredible price (around the same price as many quartz fashion watches!). And when you put it like that, it’s a no brainer! Who knows, Craig at Golby watches might even consider making further refinements ahead of the delivery of production watches, based on my feedback. If this does happen, the Aquareef 1.1 should be a very interesting proposition indeed, putting it high on the list of top affordable dive-style watches!


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View comments 2


  1. Pierre Strömbäck

    What a fantastic review Guy!
    I am a fan and supporter of Craigs works on this watch. We share the common interest of designing watches. I just wanted to give you a big thumbs up for a fantastic blog-post. The pictures are top-notch! Well done. Wish you a merry christmas!

    Pierre from Sweden (I know it could be France.. but its not 🙂 )

  2. William S.

    Great write up! I actually quite like the box logo personally! It is something a little different and somehow it works for me. Logos are one of those things that will never please everyone. Example: Christopher Ward

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