The Lightweight Star of the Micro-Brand World

Many times today, when we think about microbrands or boutique watches, the main question people tend to have floating around their heads is centered on quality.  Is it going to hold up?  What about if something breaks?  Is this piece seriously going to be worth the hundreds to thousands I’m shelling out?  While it’s easy to see where many brands cut corners simply to save money and turn out as many products as they can, some put in the attention and time that’s necessary to create something worthwhile.  Delma could be described as the original “microbrand,” if we’re taking that craft culture and applying to watches (and we are…we know many discussions take place about who was first, who was best, and who’s flying so far under the radar, the hard deck is literally the ground).


Upon opening the box to the Shell Star Titanium, I was immediately drawn to the “orange peel” dial.  The texture of it has a similar appearance and it’s a brilliant color to choose given that you can get these in orange, blue, or black. Aside from the dial color, a fun little detail I noticed was how the date window was black with white numerals.  Most watch companies seem to add the date wheel as an afterthought while hardly thinking about how the aesthetics of it can play an important role in both the look and setup of the dial itself.  If you’ve read any of my other articles or you know me, you’ll know that date functions are a must-have on watches for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the balance of a watch dial that has no date window breaking up the hour marker patterns, but I simply must look down at my watch to see the date.  


But, let’s talk about this titanium for a moment. This is a material that people seem to either love or hate and, with it, you get the light feel and the brushed and almost subdued hues from the metal.  I’ve heard many enthusiasts tell me they dislike titanium because the lighter weight of the metal makes a watch feel “cheap.”  I can see why someone might think that, but something being heavy for the sake of being heavy doesn’t necessarily equal quality.  See Beats headphones for a quick lesson that shows when something “feels heavy,” it isn’t analogous to it being well built.  With titanium, though, you get a metal that’s strong, lightweight, and develops its own kind of patina over time.  It does tend to show some minor scratches in more angles of light than stainless steel, but these can be buffed out at home with a little elbow grease and a 3M scouring pad.  What’s more, at home scratch removal doesn’t result in your watch looking like it’s been mirror polished like the rims of so many Escalades in the 2000s.  But, if bling is your thing, well I’ve heard there are some 2010’s Breitlings which might interest you.  This watch ensures you get a strong, durable piece which keeps the dial and the hands at the forefront of the conversation.  And, if you’re diving with it, that’s exactly what you’d want as a backup to your dive computer – no frills or distractions when you need to focus.  


Mine came with a milled and signed clasp, deployant buttons, and that nice, three-piece inner clasp formula so often seen in other divers watches such as the Seamaster 300M Diver.  Delma made sure their clasp didn’t disappoint and it’s as solid as anything I’ve seen on watches with much higher price tags.  Many brands took that page right out of OMEGA’s book when the 90s Seamaster came along and even forced Rolex to re-think how it did clasps.  Delma got the memo and made sure they weren’t left behind.  On a diver where you need to be sure about the security of your clasp working before you take the plunge, this will put your mind at ease before jumping in.  


But what about the movement? What’s under the hood?  Well, you shouldn’t be disappointed to discover that this Shell Star is powered by a Sellita SW200 with a Delma-customized rotor.  You get standard specs with this, including 28,800 bph and a 38 hour power reserve.  If you’re firmly inside the “in-house” camp and don’t know why anyone would pick something with an ETA or Sellita movement, let me tell you a little something about servicing:  movements such as what you find here make quick repairs or servicing a breeze.  


Remember when you jumped on a watch group or forum and asked which watch you should take on your upcoming vacation?  Did you stop to consider what you’d do if you had an issue with the movement during that time?  Could you pop into the local watchmaker’s shop and get a new hairspring or crown stem?  Do you think the local guy who’s been forced to give up parts accounts for Rolex and some other brands will happen to have what you need to fix your proprietary, in-house movement on the spot or will you just relegate to wearing no watch at all?  I know you understand what I’m saying by now and there’s no need to go further, but this aspect of what makes a good watch a “travel watch” is often overlooked.  It’s easy to think about which dress or diver you should take without giving a thought to service or a quick repair.  That’s simply why the Shell Star has so much going for it – ease of wear and repair.  We should probably make some sort of rating for that in future reviews when this is a question that’s being asked more and more across our magazine and online platforms. 


What’s it like to wear in a daily setting?  As I’ve worn this watch over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself staring at the textured dial in the daylight and smiling at the generous amounts of lume in the darkness.  Its presence is enough to remind you that you’re wearing a very solid piece of metal meant to plumb the depths and yet, it doesn’t weigh your wrist down.  Given that Delma stuck to a very modern 41mm, the watch fits most settings perfectly.  Divers are a mainstay of the boardroom now and this will easily feel at home in meetings or out on the road while you’re visiting each region and ensuring your sales teams hit their numbers.  You get a sense that this watch is perfectly happy coming along for the ride in any capacity and makes itself known only when you need it to.  That being said, given how lovely this orange dial is, you might find yourself getting lost in the way it looks in any light.  You won’t fret over knocked door handle dings or bumps against the counter, and you’ll enjoy putting it on in the morning on your way out the door.  The titanium makes for such a subdued look overall…and then you glance down to check how much longer until lunch and you see that face looking back at you.  You might not even have noticed what time it is.  


If you want something that flies under the radar, has quality components, and isn’t going to cost you years on a waiting list and a few months salary, then Delma needs to be on your list and the Shell Star is worth your consideration.  I’ve enjoyed my time with the Shell Star and I think it’s a great way for anyone to have a solid diver in their collection that can take anything you throw at it and still be there for you when you need it.  Take a look at what Delma has on offer on their website: 


You just might find yourself surprised at what you enjoy from one of the OG micro-brands in Switzerland.

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