At its core, the Arctic Explorer is a field watch, or perhaps an expedition watch. It’s the Everest watch. It’s the type of watch you put on your wrist when you want something you can bump against a slot-canyon wall and dunk in an ice fishing hole, but that will still look sharp enough for the National Geographic shoot in the morning. Or, you know… when you want to feel like the hero who needs that watch.
Tool Watch Co. says that the Arctic Explorer is a celebration of the “lesser-known explorer,” and more specifically about an absolute legend of a man named Peter Freuchen. “Who,” you might ask. Well, Peter Freuchen was a 6’ 7” Danish explorer and lecturer, who killed a polar bear with his bare hands, escaped from an ice cave with a tool made from his own excrement, cut off his own gangrenous toes, made his own peg leg after succumbing to frostbite, escaped from the Nazis, married an heiress, made tons of babies, won an Oscar®, and became only the fifth jackpot winner of the $64,000 Question. I don’t normally go in for these “inspired by” watch themes, and I’m not totally clear what this watch has to do with Peter Freuchen, but, as far as inspirational characters go, this is (at least) a fun one.
On the Wrist
The Arctic Explorer is exactly the right proportion and size for me. Some Neanderthals (literal or proverbial) might find the Arctic Explorer small, but it is what I would call classically sized. At just a hair over 38mm across, and just a hair over 46mm long, I find it wears perfectly on my just a hair over 7” wrist. Although it seems that we are (thankfully) past the days of 43mm-or-bust wrist platters, watch sizing continues to be subjective and personal. With that said, for this style of watch, I find the sizing of the Arctic Explorer to be objectively faultless. Even ignoring the most relevant historical source material, simple practicality suggests that a field watch should be svelte enough to stay out of the way, and to fit easily under whatever type of sleeves, layers, gloves, or Homelite XL that you might need in the… field. The Arctic Explorer is that watch.
For my part, I did not get much “field” time with the Arctic Explorer, but I did wear the watch in various situations. Whether driving my LS430, working at the office, cooking dinner, sitting in the formal living room (on both the couch and the oversized armchair), and even – briefly – while coaching a third-grade volleyball game: the Arctic Explorer was exactly what I needed it to be. Unless you are an absolute Goliath (ironically, a Peter Freuchen-sized human), or you just can’t manage to get past your high school glory days, I think you will find the Arctic Explorer wears a treat.
Even with the box-dome sapphire crystal, the Arctic Explorer comes in at a delightful 11.35mm thin, and the gently downward-sloping lugs ease the transition from bezel to strap. At 200m of water resistance, it is not surprising that the caseback protrudes slightly from the bottom of the case, but I did not find that protrusion to cause any unpleasant lifting. As with most watches, the caseback settled down perfectly in the hollow between my radius and ulna, leaving the watch to ride flush with the top of my wrist. Of course, your mileage may vary, but I have really enjoyed wearing the Arctic Explorer.
I think the dial of the Arctic Explorer will either make or break this watch for most people. Bottom line: this is a (gemologist-certified) meteorite dial; that is either your thing, or it is not. We got a copy of the standard blue dial, a gorgeous shade of dark navy blue, that has a bit of a matte shimmer. Being a natural material, the texture and coloration of the meteorite varies across the dial, and (I would suspect) from dial to dial.
The markers and minute track are lined in a silver metallic finish that exposes and runs with the natural texture of the dial. The hour markers are inoffensive, but, in my opinion, pushed a tiny bit too far to the outside of the dial. The result is a relatively clean and open dial, but a somewhat crowded outer track. The minute and hour hands are well-painted, in complimentary blues, and are just fine, if unremarkable. I suspect that some folks will lament the lack of contrast between the hour hand and the dial, although with the generous lume plot, I had zero issue finding and reading the time. The seconds hand is… hmmm. What is the seconds hand? Tool Watch Co. says that it’s an homage to polar survival tools, so… there you have it. I suspect this will also be a polarizing (ahem) feature, but I love it when a watch makes a bold move like that.
The review sample we received is a prototype, and Tool Watch Co. have alerted us to a few changes for the production run. One of those is the inclusion of “Grade A” BGW9 Super-LumiNova, which is welcome; the lume application on this copy was adequate, and nothing more. The other is (pleasantly) the removal of SELLITA SW200 from the (somewhat crowded) 6 o’clock text group. I think those changes should take this very good dial to a near-excellent dial.
In addition to the blue-dial version, there are two additional dial options, but both are upgrades. The limited edition and numbered (150-piece) black-dial variant is available for a few (hundred) extra dollars, and an extremely limited (10-piece) white-dial variant, with the option to customize the caseback, for many (many) extra dollars.
Case and Strap
The case of the Arctic Explorer is, in a word, clean. The top of the case is smooth with radial brushing and transitions directly, with no chamfers, into the case sides that curve ever-so-slightly around the bezel, but remain stout and straight with lengthwise brushing. The bezel itself is flat, sitting directly under the box sapphire crystal, and is radially brushed. The only visible polish on the case is on the upright vertical sides of the bezel (again, there is no anglage); you might miss that touch of gloss unless you catch the watch from an extreme angle or the light hits it just right. I really appreciate this conservative use of a single polished surface – it doesn’t detract from the tool aesthetic, and it provides a subtle and deliberate suggestion of quality and care of design. I don’t want to oversell this feature, but I really think it tied the room together. The crown is unsigned, neither oversized or undersized, and extremely grippy (which is a must for an SW200 with beefy crown gaskets); overall the operation was faultless, and the aesthetic is completely in accord with the rest of the watch.
Tool Watch Co. went with titanium for the Arctic Explorer, and I think that was an excellent material choice. When I think of a tool watch, titanium instantly comes to mind. The slightly darker color of titanium, combined with the unique patina that titanium develops, just exudes the rugged practicality that I associate with pitch on my hands and pine needles underfoot. Also, Tool Watch Co. says that the titanium has a scratch-resistant treatment, so it should be able to maintain its finish over time.
Somewhat sadly, the review sample of the Arctic Explorer, or at least the sample we received, came with only the leather strap. The leather is fine. Hell, it’s more than fine – it’s really pretty good. It’s “Genuine Italian Leather,” so, with any wear, it will probably look like a turd in 2 years, but that’s standard for a watch in this price range. In the meantime, it is attractive and comfortable, and the signed buckle is stout and well-finished.
All retail versions of the Arctic Explorer will also come with a titanium H-link bracelet, which is how I suspect I would prefer to wear this watch. Of course, I haven’t seen the bracelet, and so I can’t tell you what it’s like. From the available photos it appears to have a 4mm taper (20-16mm), which is good! The clasp is a butterfly clasp, which… I’ll just say that I have recently developed an aversion to butterfly clasps. With that said, plenty of people like them, and hopefully this one is good.
Doing what we do, we see a lot of new watch brands. Tool Watch Co., for instance, is a new watch brand, and the Arctic Explorer is their first watch. With that said, the Arctic Explorer hardly feels like a debut watch from a freshman company. Tool Watch Co. has implemented exceedingly simple but aesthetically pleasing fonts and motifs in their marketing that suggest more brand maturity than they have any right to suggest. And the Arctic Explorer is a refined watch with the sort of detail, finishing, and functionality that I would expect from a company that has been around the block a time or two.
The folks at Tool Watch Co wanted us to know that they are committed to sustainability and fighting waste. The packaging for the Arctic Explorer is “non-toxic, lightweight, impact resistant, and 100% recyclable.” Tool Watch Co has also implemented recycled materials, and, for instance, overstock leathers in order to lower their “footprint.”
The Arctic Explorer available for preorder now, via Kickstarter, and, per the listing, has been fully funded. Retail Price for the Arctic Explorer is $800, but the early bird discounts are significant, so get them while you can.
Check out more field watch reviews at The Watch Clicker
Check out the Tool Watch Co website
Tool Watch Co Arctic Explorer Specs