So what do you know about the city of Copenhagen? Well, if you’re like me, the extent of your knowledge probably doesn’t extend much further than the fact that it’s the capital of Denmark and that it is often recognized as one of the most environmentally friendly and sustainable cities in the world. And in the age of unbridled climate-change, we need more cities around the world to begin looking at places like Copenhagen and emulating their commitment to extraordinarily high environmental standards. But what does all of this have to do with watches?
Well, it wasn’t my idea to tie the pride of a brand to its national and local identity. That idea came from two lifelong friends and founders of Nordgreen, a Scandinavian watch company founded in Copenhagen.
Alongside internationally renowned Danish designer Jakob Wagner, whose work has extended to many design-centric brands such as Bang & Olufsen, Nordgreen has based their entire line of watches on one idea. It draws inspiration from values that make Denmark and, more specifically, Copenhagen special. Fueled by an initial and wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, the brand came to life only a few years ago with its initial campaign goal funded within 2 hours of launch. Clearly, there must have been something to this brand’s watch designs that embody a clean and minimalist aesthetic.
When Nordgreen contacted me to let me know about their watches, I jumped at the opportunity to review one of their best-sellers, the Pioneer Chronograph. But it wasn’t the immediate visual appeal of this particular watch that grabbed my attention. The clear focus on tying a story to each of its watch lines was appealing yes, but what caught my eye was the company’s focus to not only espouse Danish values and ideals but also live them. With every watch that Nordgreen sells, they offer you the ability to participate in their Give Back Program, which at the time of checkout allows you to pick from one of three social programs that Nordgreen will donate to on your behalf. That’s the kind of values that made me much more open to the idea of featuring this brand.
With that introduction out of the way, let’s see what this excellent piece of luxury Scandinavian design has to offer through this beautifully minimalist Chronograph watch.
Design & Aesthetics
I’ll admit, I have a particularly soft and squishy part in my heart for Chronographs, especially those that come in a gun-metal finish case. Nordgreen’s particular take on such a device is a visual feast for the eyes in almost every respect. First, let’s talk about that dial. Available in three colours, white (as pictured here), black and navy, I honestly had a tough time choosing which colour version I wanted to review. A lot of other brands I’ve had the pleasure of coming across often ruin this part of the design process. They’ll create a stunning dial for their Chronograph and then fall in love with it just a little too much by offering too many, and frankly, just the wrong colour choices. That couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to this Pioneer watch. The choice of any dial colour here will result in you wearing an exquisitely beautiful looking dial. The slightly domed sapphire crystal glass above the dial perfectly complements the rest of the body. It serves to punctuate the point that this is a luxury item that you shouldn’t be afraid to wear in even the fanciest and formal settings.
But of-course as any aficionado of minimalist time-pieces knows, it’s the small details of design and balance that often make or break the look of a watch. So let’s take you on a quick tour of the features that the Pioneer gets just right and perhaps only one that I have a minor quibble with.
First, if you’ll notice, the third-hand stopwatch and Chronograph second hand, as indicated by the red tips are inspired by the red tips found on wind turbines in Denmark and were a particularly inspired design choice. Next is a feature that I have grown to admire more and more. The restraint of Jakob Wagner and the Nordgreen team to not design a watch whose logo and name are splashed across the dial in a font that is far too large. The Pioneer gets this entirely right. Not too big, and not too small. Even the sub-branding of the “Copenhagen” mark is perfectly legible while getting out of its way.
The 42mm case size is a lovely middle-ground for most men that want to wear this on their wrist and is on the lower end of my preferred range in terms of acceptable size. Both the Pioneer’s crown and two Chronograph control buttons are made of the same gun-metal case material and exude the same high-quality aesthetic. A particularly lovely touch is the brand’s logo engraved on the side of the crown with perfectly spaced notches that feel just right.
I wish more watch designers would pay as much attention to the back of the watch as Nordgreen did with the Pioneer. Turning the Pioneer to inspect the back, we find a highly polished and glossy metal finish with the brand’s logo and model name along with a variety of relevant details including its movement, design origin, water-resistance and serial number. You’ll be more than happy to leave this watch lying face down after a long day of work to admire its design details.
I’ll refrain from talking about the strap that the watch came with too much except to say that it’s a rather finely crafted Italian leather black strap. The watch can be interchanged and purchased with many different straps offered by Nordgreen, including a drool-worthy mesh strap. What I will say about it, however, is that, like with other details of this watch, no design consideration was spared. Specifically, the gun-metal coloured, but far more glossy finished buckle on this strap is a perfect companion to the more matte finish of the Pioneer’s 316L Stainless steel case.
And finally, we come to the one minor design quibble I mentioned at the start of this section. If there is only one thing I could wave a magic wand and change about the design of the Pioneer is that I feel the part on the dial where the date digits are set is set too deeply in the dial. A minor quibble to be sure, but I would have preferred the date indicator to be surfaced a bit more flush with the rest of the dial face.
Although Nordgreen is based in Denmark, it is very clearly an international company as their website is translated into five languages and offers pricing in over a dozen currencies. I bring this up because I believe that before any discussion about build quality can take place in any reasonable watch review, we first need to disclose the pricing of this watch. After all, we can’t possibly expect the build quality of a Patek Philippe watch at a Timex price point, can we? With that said, when it comes to overall build quality, what Nordgreen has accomplished here seems nearly impossible for the price point. Surely, you’d be excused into thinking that the impeccable build quality and materials of the Pioneer indicate this must be a watch in the $800-$1,000 USD range. Still, the truth is that Nordgreen has performed some form of wizardry here by selling the Pioneer for only $279 USD. How they accomplished this, perhaps I don’t want to know, but it is one of the features that has made Nordgreen a successful Copenhagen startup whose fortunes have allowed it to grow to now employ over 25 people amongst its team.
As I’m sure you’ve now surmised, I think the build quality on this minimalist men’s watch is of a very high order. It uses all the right materials, is just a perfectly balanced case thickness of 11.9mm, uses a well-matched strap at a finely tuned width, and practically every component oozes a much higher quality feel than the price point would suggest.
Size & Feel
As you can see in the photos below, the Pioneer watch is a mid-sized men’s watch. And while the trend in men’s watches for years was to grow bigger and bigger, we’ve seen in recent years that trend come back down to earth in favour of watches that are a bit more reasonable about their size. The same is true of the Pioneer, which not only will fit most wrists quite well; it won’t look obnoxiously large.
As is expected with a Chronograph, you’re certainly not getting the thinnest watch in the world here. Still, for those that do enjoy Chronographs with a minimalistic style, at a mere 11.9mm of case thickness, the Pioneer is more than reasonable. Having now worn the watch for about four days, I can say without hesitation that this is a watch that you’ll notice is on your wrist. Its relatively high weight is the result of the combination of domed glass and gun-metal Stainless steel. That said, whenever I’m wearing an exquisite watch, I like to be reminded that it’s there, sitting on my wrist. That subtle hint of extra weight is a good prompt for me to be extra careful and not to bump into things with my wrist to prevent any potential damage or scratches.
And finally, we come to the strap. Nordgreen was kind enough to include both the Black leather strap and the Black Rubber Watch Strap. I’ve worn each for two days and can attest to their comfort. No arm hair pulls, and no discomfort. While I usually love an Italian leather band, I found myself preferring the feel of the Gun Metal Rubber band, which has an extremely soft feel to it that is not found in most rubber bands. It’s difficult to describe, but its almost like you’re wearing a rubber band, covered in silk.
Presentation & Packaging
Watch aficionados tend to be picky about things like presentation and packaging, and I can count myself as that type of person. You see, I believe that the way a product is packaged and presented to a customer is a reflection of their brand and values. After all, luxury watches of this nature are meant to be objects of desire.
I’m glad to say that Nordgreen has taken this aspect of the watch-making business as seriously as I believe it should, especially considering the high-quality of their time pieces. The box the Pioneer arrives in is well-made, and its outer shell, while made of sustainable packaging (FSC certified), reminds me of the same silky feel as the aforementioned rubber band. The inside of the box is covered in a grey felt that is formed using up-cycled plastic bottles (another bonus!) and also provides space for an extra watch band.
Watchmaking is an art form. But it is increasingly being married with technical advances and the need to understand that there is plenty of room in the marketplace for luxury watches that won’t leave you in the poorhouse. That is the exact crossroads at which Nordgreen sits. Affordable handmade watches with a luxury Scandinavian design.
As for this Pioneer watch, it’s clear to understand why it became an instant bestseller for Nordgreen upon its introduction. Now, as a result of their work, Nordgreen and designer Jakob Wagner has been awarded the prestigious 2020 Red Dot Award in the Design category for the Pioneer Chronograph. And frankly, I’m not at all surprised.