Hands-On With The Arken Alterum — A Tough Titanium Dual-Time Watch
Part of the allure of microbrands is following the journey of the creators. Seeing how the people behind the brands evolve their design language and products over time provides a fascinating insight into their minds. Admittedly, some of these brands amount to very little and rehash the same concepts repeatedly. They pump out “limited edition” after limited edition” with not much more than a slight change in a watch’s color scheme. That’s not been the case with the British microbrand Arken. With the release of its new Alterum watch, I believe Arken is starting to transcend the “microbrand” label and venture into what I would call “independent brand” territory.
The separation between the two terms is a fine line and open to lots of individual interpretation. However, I believe independent brands take an extra step forward in creativity and horological advancements. To be a true independent rather than a regular microbrand, I believe a brand must strive to do things differently. That means more than just tinkering with minor aesthetic changes time and time again. With its new Alterum, Arken has done just that through the development of a proprietary dual-time module.
I was excited to see the Alterum in hand
I was fortunate to have the chance to go hands-on with the Arken Alterum ahead of the launch. Brand owner Kenneth Lam lives in Birmingham, England. That’s only a short distance away from me in not-so-sunny Manchester. So Ken kindly made the trip up to visit me and show me the watch. It’s not the first time I’ve met with our Ken, though. If you’re wondering why I refer to him as “our” Ken, that’s where the brand name comes from. In northern England, it’s a sign of familiarity and endearment to refer to someone as “our [name].” That’s certainly the case in both Manchester and Birmingham, so Ken stylized the name as “Arken.”
I originally met Ken around two years ago when he visited to show me the Instrumentum, his first watch. I wrote it up for Fratello back then, and I noted that “the man maketh the brand,” and I stick by that statement today. When meeting with Ken, it’s hard not to be drawn in by his enthusiasm, not only for his brand but also watches in general. It’s clear that Arken is a project that stems from a passion and love for our industry. This passion also manifests in his watch design, and it influenced his big step forward from microbrand to independent brand with the Alterum.
Moving on up
The big attraction to the Alterum is the proprietary movement module. This level of customization is rarely seen at this level and even less common at the Alterum’s retail price point (£599.99). Born from an idea and a vision, Ken realized that his concept — a 12-hour dual-time watch with two AM/PM indicators and a date — wasn’t possible with the Miyota movements he was accustomed to using. In fact, it still wasn’t possible even if he switched to a more expensive Swiss movement. Many brand owners might be put off at that point, but Ken saw it as a challenge.
Technically, the concept was feasible, but it just didn’t exist yet at this level. Ken’s approach was, “I’m going to make it exist.” This was a lofty ambition for a small British brand with only 300 units under its belt. Maybe it was the relative naivety of youth within the industry, but Arken undertook the challenge with aplomb. Here we are, two years later with a final working product. As mentioned, it uses a custom, proprietary movement module to achieve the result that Ken envisioned all along. It certainly looks nice, but how does it hold up in the hand and on the wrist?
The Arken Alterum case may seem familiar
I met with Ken on an overcast Tuesday afternoon in Manchester, and we headed off for lunch at the fantastic Rudy’s Pizza. You know, you need to get the essentials out of the way first. You can’t discuss watches on an empty stomach. Once the formalities were quickly consumed, and with a coffee in one of Manchester’s many coffee shops, the conversation turned to watches. I had seen the Arken Alterum in numerous photos ahead of this day. I was a fan of the design and concept from the start, so I was excited to finally get my hands on the watch.
For those familiar with Arken’s Instrumentum, the Alterum shares the same core case. It pays homage to ’90s design with influence from a few other notable watches thrown in for good measure. The influence of the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Everest is visible, but I detect notes of the Patek Phillipe Aquanaut Advanced Research too. Compared to its predecessor, the Alterum features a fixed bezel, and it’s slightly thicker than the Instrumentum at 13mm. This increase is to accommodate the new movement module. The 40mm titanium case measures just 46mm from lug to lug. Consequently, it feels nice and compact on the wrist. From the side, it looks slightly chunky, but on the wrist and in person, I had no issues with the dimensions.
From Instrumentum to Alterum
The dial layout also follows from the Instumentum with a sense of familiarity. The Alterum features a more matte (rather than satin) texture, and the minute track is slightly bolder. Additionally, Arken moves away from applied hour markers to solid 3D luminescent indices. The result is more appropriate for the Alterum’s tool-watch personality. It also helps that the luminescence receives a nice boost too. Arken also slightly slimmed down the handset, with the hour hand now shorter and squatter. This is so it does not obscure either of the two AM/PM indicators. After all, what is a tool watch if its function is somehow limited? While I prefer a watch’s hands to come closer to the relevant markers/track, I cannot fault Arken’s logic here.
It’s dual-time, baby!
OK, let’s talk about the most exciting part here. As mentioned, the Alterum uses a proprietary module made for the Miyota 9015 movement. The dual-time complication comes via a modification that Arken has designed, adding another hour hand and two AM/PM indicators while separating the date control from the crown. The screw-down crown at 3 o’clock controls both hour hands on a 12-hour basis, negating the need for a 24-hour scale on the dial or bezel. Two AM/PM apertures — local time on the left and home time on the right — allow the wearer to keep track of the time at a 24-hour level in both time zones. The date sub-dial at 6 o’clock is locked to the main hour hand. Using the screw-down pusher at 4 o’clock, you can quickly adjust the date.
It’s worth pointing out that Miyota now produces the 9075, which is, essentially, a 9015 with a 24-hour GMT hand. Indeed, that would have solved this whole issue and meant that Arken didn’t need to develop the module. Well, Arken’s Alterum development pre-dates the introduction of the 9075. Arken’s concept implementation is more interactive and engaging, and the Alterum offers increased functionality over the 9075 as a result.
Setting the watch is incredibly easy but slightly different from setting a regular GMT watch. Rather than adjusting a single time zone, you set the time between the two time zones you wish to track and then update the local display for your current time zone. Let’s say I was traveling from Manchester to New York; that’s a minus-five-hour time difference. I would start with the local and home time synced. I would then adjust the local display backward while the home “GMT” hand remains locked in place until I have a five-hour differential between the hands. I’d then rotate the crown counterclockwise to advance both hour hands until the local time for New York is displayed. Thanks to the differential I just set, this also sets the home time simultaneously at five hours ahead.
The perfect strap? I think so!
As the Alterum uses the same case design as the Instrumentum, we see the same VC-inspired strap integration. This means that Instrumentum owners can use their Arken bracelets on the Alterum. Similarly, the strap adaptor will also work, allowing the wearer to use any regular 18mm strap. Arken has developed a new strap with a custom quick-change fitting as standard. This strap is nylon on the outside with a rubber core and a synthetic nubuck lining. It’s incredibly comfortable and perfectly complements the Alterum’s aesthetic. I love this strap style and couldn’t think of a better option. The custom quick-release fitting is also a nice touch for on-the-fly adjustments. With other full-rubber straps on the horizon, owners will be spoiled for choice when it comes to strap options, even with the integrated attachment.
Arken Alterum price and availability
As of July 1st at 5:00 PM BST (6:00 PM CEST), the Alterum will be available for pre-order on the Arken website. While it is not a limited edition, the first production batch is limited to 200 pieces of each dial color (gray or black). For the first 24 hours, Arken will offer a special pre-order price of £559.99, after which the pre-order price will rise to £599.99.
I like the Alterum and think Arken has taken an enormous step forward in developing it. It’s exciting to think about the brand’s future if it continues on this trajectory, but we’ll take it one step at a time. And right now, it’s all about the clever little Alterum, a watch that took a spot on my 2023 wish list for a good reason. It’s awesome!