Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for newer watchmakers. Established brands are established brands for a reason. They have a proven track record and years of experience in the industry. But they also tend to get conservative in their old age, and release endless cycles of throwbacks and anniversary editions of classic watches.
I was looking for something entirely different, so I decided to try out the Atowak Cobra. Atowak is a brand new company, founded in 2020, and it’s a partnership between Chinese, American, and Brazilian designers.
The word “Atowak” itself is actually a letter transposition, based on the Caesar Cypher. First used by Julius Caesar, the Caesar Cypher is a simple form of transposition where each letter is moved a certain number of steps forward or backward in the alphabet. If you move each letter in “Atowak” six steps backwards, it becomes “Unique.”
“Unique” is certainly a good description of this brand. Their first watch, the Ettore, had a racecar-style design. Instead of a traditional dial, it looked like the speedometer dial on an automobile. The watch was a huge success on Kickstarter, and made serious waves with watch aficionados. So, what does a cobra-inspired watch look like? Here were my impressions.
Shaped Like a Cobra Head
At first glance, the Atowak Cobra doesn’t look like a watch. From a few feet away, it looks like a steampunk-style pendant. The case has the angular profile of a cobra head, with no traditional dial. Instead, there’s a squished octagon at the front that’s shaped like a cobra’s mouth. This opening reveals the unique timekeeping mechanism, which I’ll detail later on.
The opening and crystal are slanted upwards, and the crystal is made of durable scratch-resistant sapphire. The backs and sides of the case slope upwards to meet the dial. The side slopes are worked with a scale pattern that catches the light and lends the watch a truly cobra-like appearance. It’s as if it has its hood flared, ready to strike. There’s a crown at the back of the “head”, with an easy-to-grip knurled edge and a highlight ring around the center.
This peculiar design makes for a big, chunky case. It’s 50mm long and 43mm wide, which will dominate a smaller wrist. It’s also fairly fat, at 16.2mm thick, with wide, 22mm lugs. It’s fairly durable, constructed from 316L stainless steel. This material is exceptionally corrosion-resistant, so a little water won’t spoil your finish. Then again, the Cobra has no water-resistance rating. I wouldn’t risk taking it in the shower or swimming anywhere.
You can choose from three different color patterns. The carbon black is a true jet black, with orange-red highlights and dial markings. The desert brown is similar, but with brown highlights instead of orange-red. The steel silver is mostly black, but with silver textured side panels and highlights.
A Unique Timekeeping Mechanism
The most striking aspect of the Atowak Cobra is its unique timekeeping mechanism. I say “mechanism” and not “dial,” because it’s nothing like an ordinary watch dial. Instead of a 360-degree dial, the opening at the front of the watch reveals a 120-degree arc. This arc has an inner index with 60 hashes to mark individual minutes. An outer index has Arabic numerals to denote the five-minute positions.
Instead of a pair of hands, the Cobra uses a carousel with three pointers on it. These pointers are mounted 120 degrees apart. So as one pointer moves off of the 60-minute marker, the next is moving onto the 1-minute marker. Behind each pointer is a rectangular block with a number written on each side. The sides of each block have numbers printed on them, and the blocks rotate as the carousel moves. These numbers go from 1 through 12, and show you the current hour. The hour markings and Arabic numerals are coated with a Super LumiNova finish, for easy nighttime visibility.
It’s worth noting that there’s a second sapphire crystal behind the mouth, on the top of the housing. This crystal is square, and has a branded “AK” imprint in the center. It’s purely cosmetic, but it’s an attractive touch. If nothing else, you get a great view of the back of the moving carousel.
Movement, Strap, and Extras
The Cobra’s movement is a modified version of the Miyota 9039. This movement is accurate to between -10 and +30 seconds per day. So while it’s not anywhere close to chronometer-grade, it’s on par with any run-of-the-mill automatic movement. The power reserve of 38 hours is slightly less than you’d get from an un-modified Miyota 9039, but that’s because of the larger, heavier timekeeping mechanism.
The watch arrives with two straps. The first is an attractive stitched leather, and the second is a no-nonsense stainless steel tri-link bracelet. Everything is protected by a two-year manufacturer’s warranty.
For more information and to secure an Atowak Cobra for yourself visit their official website here.