Nordgreen Philosopher Review: Is Simplicity Overrated?

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William Barton Avatar by  William Barton | Last Updated:  Jul 20, 2020
model wearing nordgreen philosopher while reading book
Minimalism with a difference

Nordgreen Philosopher

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Bottom line: While the Philosopher might look like any other minimalist watch at first glance, a closer glance reveals subtle design elements that lift this Nordgreen staple above and beyond the competition.

Ratings:

The Adult Man Image/Icon  Design The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon
The Adult Man Image/Icon  Quality of Materials The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon
The Adult Man Image/Icon  Value for Money The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon
The Adult Man Image/Icon  Craftsmanship The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon
The Adult Man Image/Icon  Customer Service The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon

Pros:

  • Thoughtful design offers more to look at than most comparable minimalist watch brands
  • Comfortable wearing experience
  • Two sizes available: 36mm and 40mm
  • Many color options, both for the case and for interchangeable straps

Cons:

  • No information available on the crystal and very little on the movement
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Not too long ago, I was perfectly happy with my cheap Casio digital watch.

And then watch fever hit.

30+ watches later, I still struggle deciding which timepiece to go with next. In fact, it only gets harder and harder the more I learn.

Sometimes, it just feels right going with something simple and classic.

I’ve always been a big fan of Scandinavian minimalist design, and I love how versatile a good Bauhaus watch can be. Really, there’s hardly an outfit a minimalist watch doesn’t compliment.

After trying Nordgreen’s Pioneer and Native collections, I wanted to check out one of their original watches: the Philosopher.

I took the Philosopher for a spin over the course of a few weeks and my verdict is in. Keep reading for my full review.

Who is Nordgreen?

Nordgreen Native Nordgreen Pioneer lined up

Nordgreen is a Scandinavian minimalist watch brand from Copenhagen, Denmark.

Their watches are meticulously drawn out by famous designer, Jakob Wagner—the artistic force behind several products by Bang & Olufson and Alessi.

About six months ago, I reviewed the Nordgreen Pioneer and Native.

The Pioneer is a departure from Nordgreen’s three previous designs. And you know what? I was a big fan of the bulkier chronograph style.

As for the Native, well, I have over 30 watches in my collection, but I wear the Native multiple times a week. It’s a minimalist gem.

The Native held the top spot in our list of best minimalist watches for a long time, but after trying out the Philosopher, we had to make some changes. It wasn’t an easy choice, but it had to be done.

Why, exactly? I’ll break it down.

Philosopher Unboxing & Review

Packaging

Nordgreen packaging four boxes stacked

All Nordgreen watches come in a long, slim matte blue box. Compared to other brands in the $200 range, this is still one of the best unboxing experiences I’ve had.

Nordgreen Unboxing GIF

While the packaging often goes overlooked—most collectors keep their watches in an organized case—it’s an important consideration for anyone giving a timepiece as a gift. And if you’re a budding watch enthusiast just buying your first watch over $50, packaging can change your perceived value.

If you saw my recent Watch Gang review, you’ll notice my initial impression of the Thomas Earnshaw watch wasn’t exactly positive. That’s because the watch was haphazardly packed and just had random pieces of paper thrown in.

After taking a closer look, my verdict on the watch itself changed, but still—I’d given little thought to the packaging and unboxing experience until I’d experienced a bad one.

nordgreen philosopher minimliast watch against grey felt case

The Philosopher is my fifth Nordgreen watch and I’ve had nothing but great unboxing experiences here.

Case

macro photo nordgreen philosopher on model wrist

I picked up the 40mm, which is just about the perfect size for me. I’m a 6’1” guy weighing in at 190lbs, and my wrists are average for my size. I gravitate toward watches anywhere between 40mm-42mm.

I’ll dabble in a 44mm here and there. I have one 48mm watch, which I save for the days where I want to walk around feeling like a total boss.

While the Philosopher measures at 40mm (7.84mm height), it looks smaller while wearing because of the shape.

nordgreen philosopher crown

The case is slightly conical, meaning it’s wider at the bottom than it is at the top. To put it another way, there’s a taper from the case back to the crystal.

It’s the only watch in my collection that has a shorter lug-to-lug length than case diameter. This makes for an interesting case design that reduces the visual impact of the watch when you’re wearing it.

While many 40mm watches may have a 42mm or 44mm lug-to-lug measurement, the Philosopher has a lug-to-lug length just under 40mm.

This small detail makes a big impact on how the watch looks on your wrist. Even if you’re a guy with a more slender wrist, I’d recommend the 40mm because it wears more like a 38mm or 39mm watch.

Crown

closeup philosopher crown

The crown is tapered with bevels at the tip for easier grip. The simple 3-point articulation makes it easy to change the date and time. I’ve tried a few watches where changing the date presented big problems with the watch.

Sometimes the date box doesn’t line up right with the movement, sometimes the crown isn’t very effective—both those problems speak to a shoddy build.

Luckily, with the Philosopher, I didn’t see any of those problems.

Case Back

philosopher snap on case back

Nordgreen likes to have a little fun with the case back, creating a different design for each of their models.

The Philosopher features a laser-etched horizontal hour-glass. I spent some time thinking about the possible meanings of the etching-—it’s called the Philosopher for a reason. And knowing that legendary designer, Jakob Wagner is behind it, I assumed there had to be a lesson to uncover.

Here’s the secret meaning behind the design: our whole lives are ahead of us.

Did I get it right? I mean, I took at least two philosophy classes in college, so I’ve got the credentials.

Ok, enough philosophizing.

two philosopher watches side by side leather band and stainless steel band on white background

Since this case back is a snap-on, the water resistance is low at 3atm.

This means it’ll survive getting caught out in the rain, but it’s not the kind of thing you want to take with you kayaking or for a dip in the swimming pool.

Dial

nordgreen philosopher watch on side on white background

The dial isn’t as purely minimalist as the Native, but it’s still sparse.

While most of the dial is blank white, except for the date box and the Nordgreen logo under 12 o’clock, the bevelled chapter ring is texturized and has a nice subtle shine to it.

nordgreen philosopher comparison nordgreen native

Everything about this watch draws your eye to the center. On their website, the brand says it’s focusing you on the present moment.

That’s deep.

Another defining element of the watch (and this fits in with the overall theme of seizing each morsel of time) is the blade-like shape of the second-hand cutting through the minutes and hours of the day.

Crystal

nordgreen philosopher dial closeup against white background

The crystal presents my only gripe with this watch.

While the Pioneer and Native both had domed sapphire crystals (top-end for their price point) there’s no information about the crystal in the Philosopher.

When it comes to watches, I take this stance: if the manufacturer is leaving standard information out, there must be a reason they’re leaving it out.

I read in an old review that the crystal is mineral glass, which is a bit of a shock given that the crystal in their other models is sapphire.

I’d like to think the crystal here at least has a sapphire coating given the price, but my guess is that the Philosopher uses mineral glass.

side view nordgreen philosopher logo on white dial indices closeup

One thing I do like is how the crystal has a groove as it connects with the case. Again, the design is subtle and isn’t noticeable to the casual observer, but it’s something unique that I haven’t seen in another watch before. If only it were sapphire.

Movement

Nordgreen has always opted for Japanese quartz movements and the Philosopher is no different. While they don’t have information on the specific caliber available, we learned in our previous review that Nordgreen uses Miyota.

Of the 30+ watches in my collection, 20 must have Miyotas at their core. While it’s not exotic or rare, I haven’t had any problems with my watches breaking down or losing significant amounts of time.

Strap and Wearability

model wearing nordgreen philosopher while reading book

I had my reservations on this model given that the lugs jutt out from the bottom and are relatively close together. But this watch is very comfortable on the wrist.

two nordgreen philosopher watches leather band steel mesh band overlap on white background

Even though Nordgreen uses the genuine leather (lower grade than top-grain or full-grain), they seem to source it from an excellent tannery. It’s soft and easy to wear for long periods of time.

Just look at what my Native strap looks like after six months of consistent wear.

Nordgreen Native leather strap

It’s doing fine, and I expect the strap to last for years. Given that all Nordgreen straps are 20mm in width, it’s safe to assume my new batch of straps are just as durable. I can say for sure they’re just as comfortable.

My Overall Thoughts

What I Like

  • The design is well thought-out. Nordgreen didn’t make just any ordinary minimalist watch—they added a few unique twists that make the Philosopher one of a kind.
  • All Nordgreen straps are comfortable; leather, mesh, silicone—the works.
  • The two sizes, 36mm and 40mm, are refreshing and leave plenty of options for guys with more slender wrists.
  • I like how many case and strap colors there are available. Just because it’s minimalist doesn’t mean you don’t have choices.

What I Don’t Like

  • Lack of information on the crystal and movement seem like glaring omissions.

The Verdict

The Philosopher’s subtle design elements bring this watch out of the realm of any other ordinary minimalist watch.

 

It seems like every day a new brand is popping up, slinging the bare minimum quality for maximum profit.

 

There are certain tells that show which brands are in it for the money, and which are legitimately trying to make an excellent watch.

 

The biggest tell in my opinion (after testing tons of watches) is in how the crown controls the movement. Cheap watches just feel cheap. Quality watches feel sturdy and responsive.

 

Nordgreen nails it for quality.

 

But the conical shape of the case and beveled chapter index are truly what make this watch unique.

 

Buyers should note that it appears smaller on the wrist than any other 40mm—that’s because the lug-to-lug measurement is also 40mm (actually, slightly under that). This is especially important if you have a slender wrist and you’re in between the 36mm and 40mm model.

 

If you want a watch that’s absolutely minimalist, I recommend the Native over the Philosopher—the design is so sparse, but has additions like a domed sapphire crystal that speak to the quality.

 

But if you want a minimalist watch with subtle and unique design elements, the Philosopher will make an excellent wrist-mate.

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Nordgreen Philosopher
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While the Philosopher might look like any other minimalist watch at first glance, a closer glance reveals subtle design elements that lift this Nordgreen staple above and beyond the competition.

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FAQs

Where are Nordgreen Watches made?

Nordgreen watches are designed in Copenhagen, Denmark and manufactured in Hong Kong.

Are Nordgreen Watches good?

Yes, Nordgreen watches offer sophisticated minimalist design paired with reliable Miyota movements. Subtle quality markers like domed sapphire crystals and supple leather straps showcase how much dedication the brand has to making solid watches.