Italy’s leading independent, small-scale watch brand is at it again. When last we saw founder Giovanni Moro and UNIMATIC, the company was experimenting with Norwegian Rain, Bergen’s finest maker of waterproof outerwear, on an exotic pair of dive watches with uniquely aged copper dials. Earlier this week, UNIMATIC returned to center stage with another unconventional limited edition – the Modello Tre U3-AS, a series of 200 mecha-quartz chronographs that pay homage to 1975’s legendary Apollo-Soyuz space mission.
(For those keeping track, this isn’t UNIMATIC’s first space-themed watch. In 2019, the brand introduced the very cool and very limited U1-SP NASA Anniversary Edition.)
If you were alive in July 1975, Apollo-Soyuz should be familiar to you. If not, let this be your primer, because Apollo-Soyuz was a major cultural event with global significance. First and foremost, Apollo-Soyuz is regarded as the first crewed international space mission, featuring representatives from multiple countries. More importantly, however, is that those two nations were the United States and the Soviet Union.
Prior to Apollo-Soyuz, the two global superpowers were jointly engaged in what was known as the Space Race. This isn’t the time or place to go into all the details of what might just be the single most defining geopolitical competition of the 20th century, but Apollo-Soyuz is basically what ended the Space Race as we know it. A handshake between astronaut Tom Stafford and cosmonaut Alexei Leonov was broadcast around the world, calming nearly two decades of international tension.
Apollo-Soyuz also represented the end of an era for America’s space program. It was the final Apollo module to launch, and was the last crewed U.S. spaceflight in a space capsule until just last year, when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo-2 took flight.
So, all in all, Apollo-Soyuz was quite the memorable event. And the new Modello Tre U3-AS pays tribute to all that. But it does focus on one element of the spaceflight in particular that you might not expect: the logo.
Meet Galina Andreevna Balashova
Remember – UNIMATIC is just as much a design studio as it is a watchmaker, so it makes sense that Giovanni Moro would be inspired by the colorful Apollo-Soyuz seal. Created by a Russian architect and designer named Galina Andreevna Balashova, the Apollo-Soyuz emblem has become a lasting symbol of spaceflight and international cooperation.
Featuring energetic dashes of red and blue surrounding a depiction of the two spacecraft docking, the design is regarded as one of the most memorable of all those created for spaceflight. But that’s not all Balashova did in her career.
She is also known for her contributions in the field of zero-gravity design, contributing to the interior design of the Soyuz spacecraft and helping create various interior spaces, furniture, control panels, and murals for the Soviet space program.
Balashova’s Apollo-Soyuz logo is featured on the three o’clock sub-dial and caseback of the new UNIMATIC U3-AS. Each watch also comes with an individually numbered limited edition print of her famous design.
The UNIMATIC Modello Tre U3-AS Limited Edition
Ok, so what about the watch? If you’re familiar with UNIMATIC’s catalog, the U3-AS might look familiar. But it comes with some pretty unique attributes as well.
The most notable of which is the 120-click unidirectional bezel equipped with a tachymeter scale, an uncommon combination that adds a bit of unexpected flair to UNIMATIC’s typical minimalist design language. Otherwise, the watch is equipped with the two-register dial layout that is typical of the Modello Tre series, featuring a 24-hour register at three o’clock with the Apollo-Soyuz logo and an open 60-minute totalizer opposite it at nine o’clock. Large pump pushers (which measure 5.5mm each!) flank the oversize UNIMATIC crown and extend diagonally from the satin-finished 316L stainless steel 41.5mm case. It’s also water resistant to 300 meters, exactly what you’d expect out of a UNIMATIC.
Just like all previous Modello Tre watches (which have been fairly limited in number since their 2018 debut), the U3-AS features a Seiko VK64 mecha-quartz caliber inside. You may recognize this type of movement from its use in watches by Autodromo (and many other brands). What makes mecha-quartz interesting is right there in its name. It combines attributes of both mechanical and quartz-based watchmaking. That translates in the VK64 to a quartz oscillator (running at 32,768 Hz) blending with the traditional hammer and cam system you’d find in a mechanical chronograph. The result is a watch with the excellent accuracy of a quartz watch with the start, stop, and reset action of a traditional mechanical watch. The chronograph seconds hand even moves across the dial in one-fifth second increments to mirror the sweep of a mechanical watch’s seconds hand.
Priced at $ 825, the UNIMATIC Modello Tre U3-AS is a limited edition of 200 numbered pieces. It is delivered with two straps, a two-piece Cordura strap in “galaxy blue” and a two-piece laser-etched buccaneer leather strap in black, a UNIMATIC Tough Case, and a numbered Galina Andreevna Balashova print. The watch is available while supples last in the HODINKEE Shop; watches will ship by mid-April 2021.