One of the more intriguing new releases in a while landed at my doorstep just in time for the creators to achieve their Kickstarter funding goal. A prolific watch modder, Jack Hypoxia and the watch company Second Hour have collaborated to bring to life First Stage. First Stage takes its namesake from the first stage of a regulator used in scuba diving which decreases the pressure of the highly compressed air leaving the tank to a considerate intermediate pressure. The goal in mind was to create contemporary designs using popular watch mod bases, a middle ground between modding and a traditional watch startup. The first release of First Stage and what I have in hand is the Shoal Deep. The Shoal Deep builds off the classic Seiko SKX case, adding quality internal components never offered within an original SKX. The result is what feels like an SKX, if Seiko decided to make a hip microbrand with improved components and tighter manufacturing tolerances.
The model comes in three colors: Shallows Blue, Kelp Green (pictured), and DLC Black, with bracelets offered in both steel and DLC Black. You also have an option between a 60-minute dive bezel or a 12-hour bezel. The bezels are ceramic with Swiss-made Super-LumiNova® lume applied.
On The Wrist
I will not spend much time discussing how the Shoal Deep feels because it wears exactly like an SKX (aside from the bracelet), which has been discussed ad nauseam. The reason the SKX has been talked about so much is because it is an incredible watch, wears beautifully for the 42mm size, and the short lug-to-lug length makes the watch a strap monster. In terms of on-wrist feel, two components that First Stage has significantly improved upon (along with adding their aesthetic), are the bracelet and silicone strap. The rubber I found to be supple yet still stiff, reminiscent of an ISOfrane rubber strap.
The bracelet is well-constructed with individual articulating beads, a fully milled clasp, and solid female end links. The clasp on the BOR bracelet along with the buckle on the silicone strap are embossed with the First Stage logo as well. My preference between the two would be for the green rubber for the lighter overall watch, but I can appreciate the effort to supply a solid and comfortable bracelet. With the first watch a brand releases, it is all too common to overlook these areas due to being engrossed with the dial and case. The experience of a team shines through with the details. Similarly, the caseback has been thought of as well.
The dial of the Shoal Deep is full of shark engravings. The first thought when I looked at the dial and saw these sharks was, “Wow, hopefully one day our oceans will look like this again.” I am not sure if this was the intent when the team designed the dial, but that is what came to my mind. Ask me to write about a dive watch with sharks on the dial and there is a 0% chance that I will pass up the opportunity to tell you our oceans are becoming increasingly depleted of them. Whether you want to acknowledge the relationship we as dive watch enthusiasts have with the ocean or not, we have one. With a dead ocean, are there dive watches? Wouldn’t it be a devastatingly sad reality to see how near the end game is (the ocean being empty) and some billionaire is paying thousands for what may be the last bowl of shark fin soup, all while donning a Sea Dweller? Food for thought, not sharks or any marine life for food.
Back to the dial. The engravings are well-done, they do not reduce the legibility of the dial nor conflict with the applied lume-filled indices. The green variant that I have is especially legible with white accents. Legibility is increased by the AR coating that has been applied to the double-domed sapphire crystal. According to the specification sheet, 6 layers of this anti-reflective coating were applied. I have no clue how many layers are needed, or how much is added as opposed to 5 layers. However, the fact that they took the effort to point this out to me and it is very legible, implies this is all to our benefit as a wearer. The hands are an interesting rectangular shape that reminds me of the heavy minute hands made famous by Doxa, with some modifications to the lume application improving the overall look. Text on the dial has been kept to a minimum and placed appropriately along with a logo at 12.
The original lume of the SKX was thought to be glorious in the 80s, 90s, and 00s, but a long time has passed since the SKX has reigned supreme in the category of lume for this price range. The Shoal Deep gives you exactly what you want to see here. To be specific, there are 8 layers of Swiss BGW9 Super-LumiNova applied. Perhaps if it is of interest, we can do a deep dive into the world of lume; what does ALL that mean, and boil it down to a digestible format in the future. For now, hopefully an image or two along with the description of it being really glowy will suffice.
Case and Movement
Within the Shoal Deep is an automatic Miyota 9039 hi-beat movement. The 9039 is a legitimate no-date movement, so you will not feel a phantom date position when manipulating the crown to adjust the time. The caseback has polished sharks covering its entirety, as though the dial engravings have pushed all the way through the watch and into the metal on the opposite side of the watch. The more sharks, the better.
The Shoal Deep is a phenomenal first full-production watch and fills a gap within the market that I was not aware was there. Modding has always been on the edge of the hobby as something the true hard-o’s lurking deep within the forum threads did, all of it being a bit unapproachable. More so, purchasing modded watches was always a murky endeavor; who is supposed to take care of them? There were no warranties, service centers, or help desk numbers. First Stage supplies a much safer avenue for those interested in what a fully modded version of their classic Seiko diver looks like while supplying the benefits of a full watch company.
That said, is there anything I would like to see improved upon? Sure, all the same gripes that I have about the SKX case, I still have about the Shoal Deep. The crown guards are unchanged and are still just as sharp as on my SKX009. The bezel action on the prototype I have is extremely stiff; this IS a prototype though. Ideally, that is something that would be hashed out by the time full production models are sent out. These are unbelievably minor criticisms for a brand-new watch. I do not think there is a spot within my watch box for one of these but undoubtedly I will be watching for whatever case they use for their next model; maybe a turtle base? With a Sea Turtle theme? At the minimum, if I ever feel the itch for another SKX, why would I ever buy the discontinued Seiko for essentially the same price (check eBay for SKX prices; they are wild lately) when you could buy one of these?
PS – Thanks to First Stage for sending this for review; small companies are the lifeblood of the blog, and we know there are limited review models to send. We are stoked you chose The Watch Clicker.
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Check out the First Stage website
First Stage Shoal Deep Specs