REVIEW: Hands-On With The Studio Underd0g Mint Ch0c Chip

by Mario C

In the early 2020s, everything was shut down, and the watch industry was beginning to stagnate. However, one man decided to make the most of it and designed a watch – inadvertently helping facilitate the ‘Rise of the Microbrand.’ But do we believe the hype? Let’s find out!

What We Like:

  • A non-serious yet refined design
  • Remarkable build quality for the price point
  • Comfortable and well-made strap with plenty of adjustment

What We Don’t:

  • Insufficient lume
  • Crown and pushers are extremely fiddly to use
  • Low power reserve

Overall Rating: 8.5/10

  • Value for Money: 9/10
  • Wearability: 8/10
  • Design: 10/10
  • Build Quality: 7/10

The 2020s post-pandemic watch industry has been coined by some to be the ‘Rise of the Microbrand.’ for those unfamiliar with the term, a microbrand is a watch brand, usually independently owned and run by a small team – Essentially a small business or a start-up, in normal terms. What the ‘Rise of the Microbrand’ indicates is the massive resurgence of interest in said start-ups, which in turn has been a contributing factor to saving modern horology as we know it.

That might sound like hyperbole to you, but I don’t say it lightly – Microbrands like Christopher Ward, Baltic, Formex and Farer have grown to the point where they now challenge household names. Every day, promising young microbrands such as HZ Watches also come out of the woodwork, transforming the industry in small but significant ways. We even got the chance to look at a HZ watch ourselves, which you can check out here.

One brand that is a part of this revolution is Studio Underd0g. Founder and product designer Richard Benc discovered that, like most of us in 2020, he had plenty of time on his hands. However, while the rest of us were baking bread or recording ourselves singing Imagine’ in our mansions, Richard was bringing an idea to life on the Microbrand Watches Facebook community page With an overwhelmingly positive community backing and a healthy dose of optimism, Studio Underd0g launched in 2021. The 01SERIES was its debutante lineup, releasing in four renditions: The Watermel0n, the Desert Sky, the Go0fy Panda and my personal favourite, the Mint Ch0c Chip.

Studio Underd0g 01Series – Chronograph Collection

First Impressions

When I first encountered Studio Underd0g, I was immediately enamoured by their story. The COVID era sucked for a lot of us, and although we’re now fairly out of the woods it felt nice to know that some good came out of those years. I was equally fascinated by the efforts of Richard Benc to get the brand to where it is now.

The minty goodness that is the Studio Underd0g Mint Ch0c Chip

Today, Studio Underd0g’s crew has quadrupled to a mighty four people, but back when it started Richard was largely going it alone. Entering the industry practically blind is no walk in the park. The watch world, at the time, was a closed-off, self-serious and gatekept mess, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that it would’ve been career suicide.

Not only did he survive, however, but he thrived. Richard’s gamble worked the exact opposite of how it was supposed to on paper – the zero-seriousness, high-value proposition Studio Underd0g raised in the watch community was a breath of fresh air. The brand’s playful demeanour gained popularity among entry-level watch enthusiasts whilst simultaneously melting the industry’s heart of ice – and capturing mine.

A breath of fresh air and joy in the watch world!

Going back to what I said about the ‘Rise of the Microbrand’ – I don’t believe Studio Underd0g is this messianic figure that uplifted the entire industry. What I do believe, though, is that they were a huge proponent of it. Microbrands are getting more attention than ever, even to the point where they’ve started winning major watch awards against the big names. Last year, Studio Underd0g was this close to adding its name to that list, with the Watermel0n watch being nominated for last year’s GPHG awards However, they were ultimately outclassed by the Raymond Weil Millesime, which I documented my love (and bitter resentment) for in my previous review.

But I’m not looking to compare apples and oranges, and Studio Underd0g  and Raymond Weil are two completely different brands. I won’t be able to get through another lamentation about the 2023 GPHG without short-circuiting my laptop with my tears, so instead of hastily crafting a fantasy rematch, I’ve kept each piece separate from my personal biases.

On a personal note – this photoshoot had me consume more mint chocolate goods than I ever thought was possible for the average human being. I love mint chocolate, but I don’t think I’ll touch it for the next three months.

This was not the first take of this pic, so you can imagine how many icecreams I had to take a bite out of to get this!

The Design

Let’s get this out of the way now so I don’t have to address it later: Mint Chocolate is the greatest ice cream flavour of all time.

Why are you booing me? I’m right! (See image above again for reference!)

Okay, maybe not ‘of all time.’ Pistachio is amazing, and so is Cookies and Cream. (Don’t get me started on sorbets, because they don’t count!) But you have to admit, despite perceptions as a cultural pariah, mint chocolate and its associated goods have a significant and loyal Mint Nation. Invented in 1973 by an English collegiate, it’s an unconventional concoction that only the Brits could come up with. They’re not exactly known for their culinary finesse, but this was the best thing to happen to their cuisine since Chicken Tikka Masala. So, a British watch brand assembling a watch in Britain paying tribute to a British invention seems almost inevitable.

Inevitable or not, you can tell that a great amount of care was taken in the design of this watch. It’s clear what the theme is – the green textured degradé dial imitates the texture of mint ice cream, with the trapezoidal hour markers representing the chocolate chips. The 9 o’clock small seconds sub-dial has been snailed and printed upon to distinguish itself from the rest of the watch, allowing for to-the-second time telling.

If this dial doesn’t say “Mint Choc Chip” I’m not sure what does?!

A printed tachymeter scale runs along the dial’s periphery with a cream backdrop, the colours of which are also apparent on the enlarged 30-minute chronograph register at 3 o’clock. The ‘big eye’ chronograph register adds further intrigue, broken into thirds using three different cream tones. It’s a detail you don’t initially see, but once you do it’ll become a detail you’ll point out to interested onlookers. A fun dollop of orange has also been added to the tips of each chronograph hand, adding to the colour palette in a way that isn’t obtrusive. While I’m not a big fan of all the dial text, the placement has been well thought-out, with the brand name and movement name positioned off-centre. I would’ve gone without knowing the movement’s name, though.

The case, on the other hand, won’t be competing with the Daytonas or the Speedmasters of the world any time soon. But it doesn’t need to – at the price point, even at price points significantly higher, it blows a lot of brands out of the water. It’s a simple polishing and brushing mix, with a polished bezel, chamfers, and a brushed case and lugs. The signed ‘0’ crown and pushers are also polished, and the dial is topped off with a piece of box sapphire crystal.

You can see the glass box crystal curve around the edges of the tachymeter scale

I’ve always loved a box sapphire crystal, but ever since TAG Heuer renewed my interest in the ‘glass box’ design it’s almost become a must-have for every watch I’ve reviewed. One detail I don’t see talked about often is the raw steel case back, which starkly contrasts the rest of the brushed and polished finishing. It’s jarring when you turn over the watch, but it’s far from a bad thing. The movement stands out a lot more, which is gorgeous to look at – but more on that in a bit.

It’s a fairly bog standard case design, but the dial is the true star of the show here and conveys the theme perfectly. I do have my reservations though, such as the lack of a minute track and the pitifully lumed hands. However, a watch created to resemble mint ice cream doesn’t exactly lend itself to the uptight ideals of the watch community echo chamber. In Studio Underd0g’s own words, “Why can’t horology be a little more playful from time to time?” So, instead of lamenting what the watch could’ve been, lean into the best parts of what the watch is: A fun, non-serious timepiece that was made to make your mouth water.

Not a serious watch, but I do take my job seriously, so more Choc Mint it is!

How it Wears

On my 16cm/6.3in wrist, every single 38mm watch – save for maybe a NOMOS – wears exactly how you would expect it to. The Studio Underd0g Mint Ch0c Chip is no exception, measuring up at 38.5mm case diameter on a 44.5mm lug-to-lug with a 13.6mm thickness. On the wrist, I found that the watch sticks out a bit, but not overly so to make it obtrusive for everyday life. The 38.5mm diameter allows for a larger appearance, but not at the cost of looking like a desk clock on my feeble forearms. With a box sapphire crystal such as this, I’m always nervous when I go through a doorway or sit at a table, but I never encountered any of those issues on my days out with this piece.

Front on, it sits nicely and the lugs aren’t really protruding too much at all

Another factor contributing to the wearability of the watch is the provided leather strap. Studio Underd0g works with London-based company The Strap Tailor to create all of the leather straps for their entire lineup. The deep brown leather strap not only matches up with the chocolate chip indexes, but it’s also extremely wearable for wrists even smaller than mine! Almost every single pin-buckle strap watch I’ve ever worn has been tested to the limit by my diminutive wrist size, but I find this piece to wear comfortably on the third last hole. With nine total holes for sizing, it makes the Mint Ch0c Chip a universally wearable watch for both men and women.

One of the rare times I don’t have to wear a strap on the last hole. Thank you Studio Underd0g and The Strap Tailor!

I also had a look at the other straps provided by The Strap Tailor, and even if you’re not prospecting for a new watch I highly suggest you check them out! I’ll be grabbing one for myself soon, I think.

Of course, the key to my heart is the ability to change the straps for a watch. Thankfully, Studio Underd0g and The Strap Tailor aren’t out to disappoint – the stock leather strap comes with a quick-change system! Combined with 20mm lugs, if you’re a strap fiend like me you’re about to have a really good time. I adore the default brown calfskin on this one, but I would love to see how it would look on the other straps on offer from The Strap Tailor, such as this embossed crocodile strap in dark brown. If you know me, though, I’m always a proponent of mesh and NATO straps, so I would love to see how they look on this one!

Quick-change straps are perfect for a piece like this, which is to be honest, a veritable strap monster

The Movement

The movement powering the Mint Ch0c Chip is the Seagull ST-1901, a Chinese-made, Britain-assembled, manual wind watch movement that beats at 3Hz (21,600bph) backed by a reported 42-hour power reserve. For a goofy and fun watch, the ST-1901 has a surprising amount of heritage behind it, as it’s based on an old Swiss chronograph movement from Venus. Founded in 1902, Venus is still around today, but unfortunately remains a shadow of its former self.

So how did a Swiss chronograph movement find itself in the East? Well, in 1963, the Chinese Military created a watch equipped with the original ST-1901 – the Venus Cal. 175. The Seagull 1963, as it was later called, became an iconic staple of the Chinese watchmaking industry, maintaining that position to this day. In between then and now, though, the tale of the Seagull 1963 gets extremely messy, so I’ll leave it for another time.

Turning the watch over, you have to admit that the ST-1901 is an impressive sight, whether you’re a watch expert or a complete newbie to the party. Blue screws – painted, I suspect, instead of heated – adorn almost every facet of the movement, as well as what looks like Côtes de Genève (Geneva Striping) along the balance cock and other parts of the watch. It even comes with a swan-neck regulator, which fine-tunes the timekeeping and keeps the balance safe from shocks.

The ST-1901 looks impressive no matter which way you look at it.

There are some major reservations I have with the movement itself. It seems that a swan-neck regulator hardly matters when you can’t set the time accurately. I’m the type of guy who’s a stickler for syncing up times accurately, so a movement with no hacking (stop) seconds is a big red flag. The crown and pushers are also really fiddly and stiff to use, and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten 42 hours out of the watch before it’s stopped completely on me.  

Of course, that raises the question: Why don’t they get a better movement? The answer is simple: Money. Studio Underd0g presents itself as one of the greatest value-for-money propositions in the microbrand market, and upgrading the movement runs the risk of compromising that value. A quick Google search shows me that Seagull ST-1901 movements can be bought from AliExpress at AUD$160 a pop, but the nearest modern Swiss equivalent, the Sellita SW510M, is about eight times the price.

The Côtes de Genève on the plate and balance cock with swan neck regulator

Studio Underd0g is no stranger to using Swiss movements, though, as the 02SERIES collection uses the Sellita SW210. However, I don’t think they’d be looking to lose a market share they’ve been cultivating for three years any time soon. But, as fiddly and tough to maintain as they are, the Seagull ST-1901 has a certain charm to it, allowing you to wow anyone in the watch industry if you’re a little light in the purse. If it’s good enough to be GPHG nominated, it should be good enough for you, too!

Final Thoughts

Despite any perceived drawbacks, I still believe that Studio Underd0g is one of the best things to have come out of the challenging pandemic era. Through the Mint Ch0c Chip, you can see Richard Benc, “Rich” and “Ricky’s” unwavering commitment to creating a seriously cool timepiece, without the serious attitude or price tag. It’s a refreshing take on the watch industry that was ahead of its time, as only now can you see that same playful attitude making its way into household names.

Studio Underd0g is changing the game of watch collecting for sure.

For newcomers and enthusiasts alike, Studio Underd0g provides an accessible entry point, not only into watchmaking but also into the world of manual-wind chronographs. A manual-wind chronograph under the AUD$3,000 mark is practically unheard of, so in a sub-AUD$1,500 market, the 01SERIES was and still is a bonafide game-changer.

While competitors do exist in the market – namely the Seagull 1963, it lacks the clarity and charm that precedes the purchases of a Studio Underd0g watch. The aforementioned Baltic also proves a strong competitor in this market with their selection of Bicompax and Tricompax chronographs, but the vibrance and delightful asymmetry present in the Studio Underd0g Mint Ch0c Chip only maintains its status as one-of-a-kind.

For $1,050 you’re getting a great bang for your buck, fun & playful watch

Ultimately, for AUD$1,050 you’re getting one of the most entertaining watches of the 21st century, a piece that has already established itself as an icon of the industry in the short time that it’s existed. While there are still some technical hiccups, they don’t detract from the overall wearing experience – of which mine was filled with nothing but enjoyment. Sure, if you take a microscope to it, you’ll find a problem here and there, but nothing in life is ever perfect, and Studio Underd0g isn’t trying to be perfect. They’re not even trying at all, in the best possible way. So if you are a major-league watch snob, and you want to realise that “horology can be playful from time to time,” there’s no better place to start than right here.

Reference: Studio Underd0g 01SERIES Mint Ch0c Chip


  • Size: 38.5mm diameter, 13..5mm thickness, 44.5mm lug-to-lug
  • Case Material: Stainless Steel
  • Dial: White to green degradé dial with lumed hands
  • Movement: Manual wind Seagull ST1901 (Venus Cal. 175) chronograph
  • Beat Rate: 3Hz/21,600bph
  • Power Reserve: 42h
  • Water Resistance: 50m(5bar)
  • Crystal: Box sapphire
  • Strap: Brown calf leather with signed stainless steel pin buckle

Australian RRP: AUD$ 1,050

Availability: Available in periodic releases at and authorised Studio Underd0g retailers

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