“I was designing skateboard graphics. I didn’t really know how a watch even worked,” shared Justin Walters speaking over our Google Meet conversation. “But it was never just about skateboards. I have some furniture designs, some architectural designs. For me, it’s not just about designing watches or skateboards. There’s a part of me that I think would take on designing anything and everything. I am just very fascinated by what design can achieve, and how it can inspire and empower.”
Growing up in Kansas City, Walters’ obsession with design started while he was knee-deep in all things pertaining to the world of skateboarding, although he admits candidly that he spent more times designing decks rather than riding them. It was a chance affair that landed him an opportunity to work in a small setup that was trying to design and produce watches in the US. “We were making the cases and crowns — the movements were from Eterna — basically we assembled everything. But it was all rushed. It’s not like I had any formal training putting watches together. I was just a drone, doing the work in front of me. I did this for two and a half years, working 17-hour days, sleeping in the workshop and then waking up to my tools. I loved it at first. But, man, it really took a toll.”
This ordeal ended up igniting a dream within Walters to go on to design his own watches. He shares, “When those two and half years came to a close, that falling out made me so upset that I wanted to prove to myself that my instinct was right every time it was telling me that this isn’t the right way to design and do watches. I felt that I needed to prove to myself that I could do this better and on my own.
“That’s when I first put pen to paper and came up with the design language for Alterum (Walters’ other watch entity and the one which led us to connect first). But it all stemmed from a frustration of being told ‘no,’ of being told that I can’t design what I think would work and what I think people would want.” He continues, “When I quit — hang on — can’t remember now if I quit or was fired. Nonetheless, I then went down to Clearwater, Florida to work on satellites with Honeywell. People ask, how’d I go from working on watches to working on satellites, and I explain that I have quite a lot of family working at Honeywell, and we’re all comfortable with working with our hands and mechanics.”
Now, the question that has to be asked: How did a kid with a point to prove from land-locked Kansas City go from designing the likes of Alterum’s, to working on satellites, to deciding that the first watch that he releases should be — of all things — a skin diver!?
Walters responds with a chuckle, “Yea, I live in a desert now; I work out from this closet that I’ve turned into my office, and I design dive watches where there are no bodies of water for miles. But I think dive watches are more than just for diving. They’re the absolute best for anyone and everyone considering a daily beater. Like I have this Seiko diver, I wear it every day. I love the utility of it and just how easy they are to read and use.”
Walters pulls out a Braun wristwatch, which then completely sets in place where his present design language takes inspiration from. He says, “I already have a few of those Braun table clocks, and then I saw a couple of ads online for the wristwatch and thought to myself, ‘now, that’s a designer’s watch.’ But I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone with a Braun wristwatch; they seem kinda rare out in the wild. Maybe people don’t want to be wearing a watch made by the same company that makes shavers? But, these people are clearly missing out.”
So now we understand that when he set out to release his first watch, he wanted it to be something that anyone could wear, any day. It would have to be an easy-to-use watch, with a clean minimalist design approach. All of which then explains Marin Instruments and Walters’ Standard and Polar skin divers. At 39mm, rendered in black and white, with large lume-plots for the hour markers, 200m water resistance and a 60-click unidirectional, fully lumed bezel, the Marin Instruments Skin Diver really presents a thoroughly loaded dive watch.
Walters explains that while he is a designer and has had some experience in assembling watches, for the purpose of industrializing the Marin Instruments Skin Diver, he turned to Switzerland’s premier white label producer of wristwatches, Roventa-Henex. In doing so, he wanted to ensure that from prototyping to production, vision to delivery, the Standard and Polar would be robust dive watches for everyday day reliability.
Finding the right production partner was important for Walters because when designing his Skin Diver, he wasn’t simply coming up with a design for said watch, but a complete design language for the brand that is Marin Instruments. In fact, Walters has already put pen to paper on several generations’ worth of watches that would help the brand focus on the realm of tool watches. To that end, he’s already offered a glimpse of the next offering that is to come from Marin Instruments. He’s called it the Fieldmaster, a dive watch with a chronograph and GMT function the will come in a monochrome option and an alternate with colors used for the hands to differentiate the individual complications.
It’s easy to brush it off as yet another watch start-up, one that’s a dime a dozen. All you need to do is trawl through Instagram or Kickstarter, and you’ll find enough of them popping up every so often. But when such effort starts off with a design language that is as unique as Walters’ — one that simply works — which has also allowed an initial vision to be transformed into several miles’ worth of a roadmap, then it’s hard not to sit up and take notice. That’s when you realize that what you’re witnessing with the Marin Instruments Skin Diver is the beginning of a brilliant new chapter soon to be added to horology itself.
Marin Instruments Skin Diver Standard & Polar
Movement: Self-winding Sellita SW200-1 mechanical movement; 5-year warranty on the movement; 38-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, running seconds; date
Case: 39mm x 11.5mm; stainless steel; 60click unidirectional, fully lumed bezel; water-resistant to 200m
Dial: Standard: black dial with white details; Polar: white dial with black details
Strap: Quick release Marin rubber strap
Price: USD 1,150
Availability: Standard Skin Diver limited to 300 pieces; Polar Skin Diver limited to 200 pieces
Until the end of May, 10% of sales will be donated to All Together New Mexico, with funds supporting people effected by wildfires. Donations will be matched by a private entity.
More information: marininstruments.com