In a world of endless minimalist and Bauhaus designs, I find myself scrolling past a lot of offerings indistinguishable from their counterparts. In that landscape of phone-it-in designs, I found ROUE Watches (French for “wheel”), a brand that offers solid design, a sapphire crystal, and multiple strap options without compromising on affordability – all in a first product. The two models I picked up for review are the Roue CHR “One” and Roue SSD “Three” – an easy-to-remember naming convention for the models.
I’ve found that it’s easy to skimp when it comes to creating your first offering, particularly in the affordable category. There seems to be a business model of “quickly get in the door with a watch, then figure out the rest later.” It isn’t necessarily a bad business model as it allows for the funds to provide higher quality and better products in the future (in a lot of cases), but in the initial run, it has the potential to leave consumers feeling like the product is lacking – or worse, simply skipping over the model entirely. ROUE skipped that step and went straight to solid designs with quality parts.
I was first drawn to ROUE for their quirky-but-refined design and quickly became interested in their story. Alex Iervolino started ROUE Watches on the simple premise that the “best designs are a blend of form and function.” Alex doesn’t necessarily come from a watchmaking background, but a finance one, which means his passion was practiced in his free time. Creating everything from radios to furniture, Alex honed his design footprint before ever moving into watches and I feel that gave him an edge in creating a design that rises above the “generic” or “boring” categories that so many first-time offerings tend to place in. The quality of ROUE’s case and dials would be ample for watches well above the sub-$300 price category each of these models fall into.
There are currently 4 models available on the website. The CHR is a chronograph model, the SSD features a sub-seconds dial, the HDS is a “dual layer” dial (almost like a field watch), and the CAL is their simple time-only model. All have various influences taking cues from everything from Braun electronics to Levi jeans. All models feature a blasted black-PVD or steel cushion case, sapphire crystal, and two quick-release interchangeable bands – a significant value proposition for an inaugural offering.
Let’s start with the CHR One, arguably ROUE’s flagship timepiece. Heavily inspired by the racing circuits of the ’60s and ’70s, the obvious cues this piece takes from vintage cars is immediately apparent. The black PVD-coated case is higher quality than I’ve seen on watches three times the price and the blasted steel crown and pushers give an added touch of tone to the already slick case design. The case measures in at 41.5mm lug-to-lug, but because of the cushion shape, and the crown and pushers, it wears a bit bigger. The first thing I noticed is that it’s remarkably light – not to be confused with “cheap.” The slight ellipse contour fits my wrist perfectly, and the lack of heft on a larger watch makes it really comfortable.
The case is less than 11mm thin so you won’t be banging this on door frames and even if you do, the sapphire crystal helps with avoiding damage and scratches. As mentioned earlier, the case quality is fantastic. I personally find the black-PVD of much higher quality than more expensive watches in my collection. Sand-blasted for a matte finish, I would have expected it to scratch easy in this price range – it doesn’t. The uniform look gives an almost “bubble” appearance to the case, and save for a small flat outer “rim” breaking up the top and bottom of the design, the case and lugs flow together perfectly. It kind of reminds me of a 1960s Porsche – where the body isn’t broken up into panels, and instead feels like one piece of shaped metal.
Something unique about the case is the colored gasket fitting between the case and the sapphire crystal that draws your eye to ROUE’s focal point, the dial. Foregoing a traditional black or gray gasket ring for a yellow color ring enhances an already great looking dial. The CHR features a quirky and unconventional dial layout that is fitting for the brand. The first thing you’ll see is the lack of pronounced hour indices. Instead, yellow hashes along the chapter ring serve as indicators. I can see this being an annoyance for potential buyers, but I found that this “feature” along with the center second chronograph and 12 and 9 o’clock sub-dials effectively channels the dashboard of old racecars. The 3 o’clock date window also balances the offset of the registers being in an unconventional position.