The Halios Universa has been a long time coming. We first covered it as part of the Windup San Francisco 2019 recap. Almost 2 years later, the Universa and the Fairwind it launched with are starting to make their way onto wrists. Halios certainly had a tough act to follow after the Seaforth which, without hyperbole, is considered one of the best microbrand watches made.
While the Fairwind is more of the spiritual successor to the Seaforth, the Universa looks to tackle the Explorer-style watch segment with a numeral dial, manual-wind movement, and a brand-new bracelet. There is no doubt that both watches will be sold-out successes, but there is a literal ton of hype behind them to live up to. Let’s see how the Universa stacks up.
On the Wrist
If there is one thing Halios knows how to do, it is create lugs that mold to your wrist. There are plenty of other things they do well, but the magical lugs that made the Seaforth so comfortable have been improved upon with the Universa. The dramatic turndown the lugs take make me wonder why more brands don’t take this approach to lug design. Not only does it create a more comfortable watch, but it gives you plenty of room to play with the lug-to-lug dimensions to create a watch design that is great for a variety of wrist sizes.
On paper the Universa’s dimensions are a little weird-looking: 38mm wide with a lug-to-lug of 48mm. That makes it seem like the Universa has a small face with a disproportionate lug-to-lug. As I mentioned above, the lug design makes this watch feel like a watch with a 46mm lug-to-lug, perhaps even less. The fact that the bracelet drops off and the links articulate beautifully make the Universa supremely comfortable.
I’ve had an itch to scratch when it comes to Explorer-style watches for some time. The Rolex Explorer is objectively a great watch but it just isn’t for me. I don’t like the handset or numerals used and I’m not about to play Rolex’s retail game to get one. There are other options available, including homages from Borealis and Tisell. The Universa is the first watch that truly scratches that itch for an Explorer-style watch with its own DNA. While there are those who argue the Universa can’t be a GADA (Go anywhere do anything) watch because of its push/pull crown, I say phooey! It has 100 meters of water resistance and I’d trust it as much as I would a watch with a screw-down crown. Water resistance comes from a lot more than a screw-down crown.
I was concerned about the legibility of the Universa after reading the spec sheet listing a glossy gray dial with a double-domed sapphire crystal. AR coating or not, that is a recipe for a watch that is completely unreadable in bright daylight. I was happy to discover that Halios worked some magic and it is always perfectly legible. A reflection may catch the wrong way sometimes but 95% of the time I had no issues reading the time. The hands also stand out from the dial easily; I’ll touch on that later.
Halios Universa Video Review
It seems more brands are answering my prayers of keeping dials clutter-free. While I don’t mind 2 or 3 lines of text on a dial, there is something to be said for keeping it simple. The Universa embodies this philosophy by placing the name and logo at 12 o’clock and stylized 10ATM printing at 6 o’clock. The word Mechanical is broken into 2 segments at the 6 o’clock marker and this is the only thing I don’t like about the dial. It looks as though it is meant to look like Swiss Made and it just looks awkward. I would love to see it removed.
The dial markers and layout are about as no-nonsense as you can get. Numerals (with a great font by the way) are at the cardinal positions with square markers in between. Hash marks flank the markers on the outside and the outer portion of the dial is separated from the inner by a ring, giving the Universa some sector dial vibes.
The markers and hands are packed with lume and the slightest touch of light will make them glow brightly. When not glowing, the lume has a slight yellow tone (SuperLumiNova C3) to it, which grew on me more than I thought it would. I wouldn’t mind seeing bright white lume, but the color used pairs well with the gray dial.
The handset is simple, straightforward, and executed well. The multifaceted hour and minute hands are brushed in the middle and polished and chamfered on the outside. This allows the hands to reflect light at all different angles, ensuring they don’t blend into the gray dial. It’s a simple touch but shows attention to detail. The seconds hand is tipped with a teal arrow and gives the Universa a slightly playful touch without being juvenile.
Case, Bezel and Bracelet
The case design is where the Universa really shines (literally). I’ve been saying that Christopher Ward has been creating the best cases in watches for over a year and the Universa’s case is the first one that has stood up to them so far. There are multiple lines, cut-ins, and finishing techniques used that give the Universa a dynamic look and allow the case to sink into the wrist. It looks and feels good from all angles.
Perhaps my favorite touch on the Universa’s case is how the lugs meet the bracelet. There is a small chamfer on the top of the lugs that meets the chamfer on the endlinks perfectly. It creates a seamless look and with the tight tolerances offered, it is about as good as you can get. One thing I did notice about the endlinks is how their tips extend up on to the side of the case. I can’t decide if I like this or not. On one hand, it is an interesting design choice that gives a little extra dimension to the endlinks. On the other hand, it almost looks unintentional and like a design mistake. I am confident it is the former and 99% of the time you can’t notice it.
The fixed bezel is another place in which Halios has worked some magic to give the Universa its own DNA in the Explorer-style space. Rather than just a brushed or polished bezel, they did both. The inner part of the bezel is polished and turns into the crystal ever so slightly. The outer part of the bezel is brushed and while I like the different finishes used, I wish they were reversed. I’ve had a few people ask if the polished part is black. Because of the way it reflects light, it can look black a lot of the time and I intentionally lit most of my photos to avoid this. If they were reversed, the look would still be dynamic, but it would avoid that black bezel look.
The crown is of ample size and is easy to operate. This is imperative given the hand-winding Sellita SW-210 beating away inside. A crown that is nice to turn is a must-have for watches with manual movements.
Perhaps one of the most anticipated parts of the Universa is the bracelet, specifically the clasp. I’ll jump to the clasp first and come back to the rest of the bracelet. The clasp features a quick-microadjust system that is cleverly operated by pushing the Halios logo on the outside of the clasp. The mechanism itself isn’t anything novel but the execution of it is.
I like the feature, but it creates two small problems for me. The first is that it is hard to tighten while it is on the wrist. Loosening the bracelet is easy because you can push the button and flex your wrist a little and it will slide out. Tightening it is a different story because of how the links articulate. There isn’t anything ridged to push against so it can be difficult. I realize this sounds like I’m complaining about a problem that doesn’t really exist because you can take the watch off to tighten it. However, given that the mechanism to tighten and loosen the bracelet is on the outside of the clasp, it should be easier to operate while on the wrist. The other problem isn’t a major one, but the clasp can look as if it isn’t closed because of how the sides of the clasp come down. I don’t stare at the bottom of my wrist all day so this isn’t a major concern.
The rest of the bracelet is beautiful, and the finishing matches the watch perfectly. The flat links are a joy to look at in the sun as they playfully bounce the light when you turn your wrist. I don’t have anything to complain about when it comes to the bracelet’s feel on the wrist. It is comfortable to wear all day thanks to the quick-microadjust. While this watch is amazing on the bracelet, it is equally as amazing on straps. I encourage you to try some of your favorite straps on the Universa; you’ll be happy you did.
So does the Universa live up to the hype? I’ll leave that to you to decide after reading this review. I won’t deny that it was hard waiting for this watch to come out after seeing it almost 2 years ago. There are a lot of things that can happen in that timeframe. The excitement can subside, materials can be harder to source (which probably happened due to COVID-19), and consumers may no longer see it as the hot new thing. If it were any other brand, I would say this waiting period may have hurt them but Halios is a different animal. Viewing the launch of the Universa and Fairwind shows how much this brand is adored by the watch community. I’m happy the Universa is here; Halios has given us another amazing watch in an affordable package.
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Halios Universa Specs
*Height of the watch from the wrist to the top of the crystal