Like many small watch brands, Aera was founded by enthusiasts who thought it would be fun to try their hand at designing watches that reflected their own personal style and tastes. The goal was simple enough, to create a well-made sports watch that respected the past while offering a specific consideration of contemporary design within a space that has most recently been obsessed with vintage-inspired aesthetics.
Aera was founded in early 2018 by co-founders Jas Minhas and Olof Larsson, following a meeting in Geneva. Both Larsson and Minhas had established backgrounds in the watch industry and they can even trace their friendship back to an event for Ikepod watches at the Ice Hotel in Sweden in 2002 (Minhas is a friend of Marc Newson). Minhas’s father, who had started a distribution business that supported several brands (Movado, Tissot, Citizen, etc.), and the company had helped to set up distribution for Ikepod into the US, Mexico, India, and UK markets. In a special turn of fate, Larsson had been a retailer for Ikepod in Sweden and when they met the seed for a future watch brand was created.
Unsurprisingly, given their interest in Ikepod, both Larsson and Minhas are huge fans of contemporary design. They saw the opportunity to create a contemporary sports watch that spoke to the same ideals as the mid-century icons (think: robustness, legibility, and a certain toolish charm) but that did more than simply emulate those old-school aesthetics.
After some four years of development, this modern consideration would eventually become Aera and the two watches featured here: The P-1 Pilot and the D-1 Diver, both of which have just officially launched.
In many ways, especially with the D-1 Diver, these first two offerings from Aera reminded me of my earliest experiences with brands like Kobold and Sinn (and it’s not hard to see some Ikepod inspiration in there, too). The watches are a bit on the larger side, but both feature cases with curved lugs, nicely made straps, and flat caseback profiles that ensure they wear well and don’t feel top-heavy or off-balance on your wrist.
Both introductory models are made from 904L stainless steel, have closed steel casebacks, quick-change straps (several options available), domed antireflective flush-fit sapphire crystals, single-piece curved dials, and large easy-to-use crowns.
The D-1 Diver has a curved case shape that tucks beneath the edge of the bezel for optimal grip and a wrist presence that nicely balances the 42mm case width and the 44mm bezel width. Thickness is 16mm and the lug to lug is 49.8mm, so don’t expect the D-1 to wear like a vintage skin diver. That being said, almost like a Seiko SPR777, I found the D-1 to be perfectly comfortable on my 7-inch wrist.
With 300 meters of water resistance and a screw-down crown, the D-1 has all of the elements you’d expect for a modern dive watch, including a matte-black ceramic bezel insert with luminous markings (and 120-click action), tons of lume, an exceedingly legible handset, and no-date display. The 120-click bezel is nicely aligned, not too heavy in use, and very easy to operate (even while wearing gloves).
While I’d suggest that it would be great to see both the P-1 and the D-1 in sizes closer to 40mm (I’m a broken record, I know – but this is especially true for the P-1), both of these watches handle their dimensions well and if you like a slightly larger sports watch, both fit the bill nicely. Of the two, I found I much preferred the look and feel of the D-1. While I certainly have a preference for dive watches, some of this comes down to the remarkably high-quality rubber strap that came fitted to the loaner. It’s soft, very flexible, and nicely shaped to keep the D-1 evenly on my wrist.
As mentioned, the cases, casebacks, bezels, crowns (even the strap buckles) are all made from 904L steel, which is more difficult to machine and much more expensive than 316L (for example) and offers a different (whiter/brighter) color and better corrosion resistance.
After some time with both the P-1 and D-1, I came to really appreciate the uncommon dial execution, as both models use single-piece dished dials so that there is no seam between the dial and the rehaut (or at least, where most watches would have a rehaut). The effect, especially when combined with the domed crystal, is really special in person and gives both watches a unique touch that isn’t at all common at this price point.
Interestingly, that dual curvature proved troublesome for the machines that are commonly used to print the lume onto a watch dial and Aera was forced to find another solution that wouldn’t leave them with sub-par lume. The result is that the dials are etched to form a well for the luminous application and the brand uses a firm in Switzerland that hand paints the lume for each and every dial. Thankfully, this remarkable overkill bears some very impressive results, with both the D-1 and P-1 glowing brightly and with strong longevity, even for the blue emission lume (likely BGW9) that is used on the D-1’s dial, hands, bezel, and crown cap).
Both the P-1 and the D-1 use Swiss-made Sellita SW200-1 automatic movements. If you’ve been around the microbrand space for a while, this movement will not be a surprise, it’s a 4 Hz automatic that is reliable, easy to service, and has 38 hours of power reserve. Unfortunately, Aera has opted to keep the date function of the movement despite both the P-1 and D-1 being no-date executions, so there remains a “ghost” date position in the crown.
Aside from the minor date issue, I came away impressed by these first offerings from Aera, which manage to feel fresh, nicely made, and largely well-considered. Both models are currently being offered in their “Launch Edition”with ONLY 300 of each being made.
With this initial offering now available to the market, Aera joins a growing flock of small UK-based brands that operate in the $1,000–$3,000+ range. So, while they aren’t without impressive competition from all sides of the market, the D-1 and P-1, I think both models manage to feel distinctive, stylish, and more mature than I’d expect from such a young brand. Certainly the definition of “one to watch,” it will be exciting to see how the brand evolves and expands its lineup in the coming years.