What You Should Understand About Wilbur’s Boldly Technical Watches
An innovative microbrand out of Southern California.
An autonomous marine drone that detects microplastic pollution. A concept car made with Honda Racing. Jason Wilbur is the man behind these and other impressively technical projects that don’t make the word “innovative” sound corny.
So what happens when the American designer and engineer turns his talent to watchmaking? The Wilbur watch company, that’s what. When the brand speaks of “the world of automotive advanced design and future vehicle development” as its design inspiration, it rings genuine. In this way, Wilbur stands apart from other watch brands with the likes of racing themes and aggressively technical designs.
Based in Southern California, Wilbur also stands out among American companies. There’s some interesting watchmaking and fun microbrands coming from the US of A, but the type of creative horology and bold aesthetics WIlbur watches display are rare in mechanical watches this side of the Atlantic.
The Wilbur brand might yet be young but Jason Wilbur has been involved with watches before. Remember the highly unique, belt-driven Devon Tread 1 released back around 2010? Yeah, you do. It’s a memorable watch in which Jason Wilbur also had a hand. That watch gives you a sense of where he’s coming from with its industrial, futuristic concept, but his own brand sees his vision honed.
Debuting as a brand in 2020, Wilbur has since evolved quickly. It might be understood similarly to an automotive company with a two-tier approach between “daily drivers” like its EXP (an evolution of its debut product, the Launch) and “high-concept” products like its complicated LEO.
The EXP features a nine-part case, and you can see why it’s described as an “exo-chassis.” With the type of skeletonization used in automotive design to reduce weight, the result is a raw, architectural look balanced by thoughtful finishing and details. The same concept of depth and visual complexity continues through the dial where multiple layers make it feel like peering into a car engine.
Though functionally simple, offering the time and date via a Sellita automatic movement modified and regulated in-house, the Wilbur EXP’s effect is one of complexity. It offers the kind of presence and wearing experience more commonly associated with certain Swiss watches costing well into five and even six figures, while the EXP starts at $5,125.
The LEO, on the other hand, brings the watches’ technical and complicated theme to its engine and breaks the brand out of four-figure pricing territory. The result of seven years of development, the movement inside was entirely designed by Jason Wilbur and is produced in Switzerland. It’s conceptually clever and produces a dazzling effect courtesy of some intricate engineering.
The LEO’s jumping digital hour display is formed by two numerals via rotating discs. Each disc carrying one of the digits, however, would be too obvious a solution. Instead, they cleverly display segments from both numerals which, like a code, only become readable once combined in the dial’s center. The discs themselves are fully visible on the dial but the partial numerals only appear as cryptic markings (until combined), so they’re not distracting when reading the time. The coolest part is watching the hours change.
Jason Wilbur could still be making cars. It’s exciting for watch enthusiasts, however, that he’s brought his ingenuity and creativity to the world of watchmaking, and that we have the opportunity to engage with his concepts at different levels — be it the relatively approachable and “street-legal” EXP or the high-end kinetic art of the LEO. It seems Wilbur is just getting started, and it’ll surely be one of the most exciting American brands to continue to follow.