Watches have had a long and historic relationship with sports — think the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso’s origin as a tool watch for polo players, or the Rolex Daytona’s close relationship with the auto race that it’s named after, or any of the recent watches devoted to soccer clubs. The Kansas-City-based brand Niall has now come out with a timepiece that springs from a special relationship with one of America’s favorite sports: the Niall Fieldhouse Blue GMT Limited Edition, a ticking tribute to the game of basketball.
Niall was founded in Kansas City, MO in 2012 by KC native and hoops fan Mike Wilson. Working with the aerospace industry and adopting the slogan “USA Made, Swiss Movement,” Wilson and his team manufacture all the watch components except the movement in the United States. At least one local celebrity has already taken notice: University of Kansas coach Bill Self, twice named as National Coach of the Year, has been, according to Wilson, “an unofficial brand ambassador for Niall,” as he’s been spotted wearing the young brand’s watches at games.
The Fieldhouse Blue watch — an extension of Niall’s GMT collection — is limited to just 126 pieces to represent the number of years since James Naismith — the first Kansas Jayhawks coach — originated the game of basketball. Serial numbers are from “1891” to “2017” and featured on the watch’s solid steel caseback, which is also adorned with the “waving wheat” motif — a reference to the Kansas sports tradition of fans slowly waving their arms back and forth over their heads to celebrate a crucial game moment — as well as an engraved illustration of the Jayhawks’ mascot. The editions representing the University of Kansas’s Championship years of 1952, 1988 and 2008 are extra special — with those serial numbers individually coated in 18k yellow gold.
The blue dial is clean and legible, with thin white hour indices, a date window at 3 o’clock, and two small, off-center subdials, one at 9 o’clock for the running seconds, the other at 6 o’clock for the GMT, or second time-zone display. The central, white hour and minute hands are leaf-shaped. Each of the subdials has bright red hands and dot indices. The crystal over the dial is made of Corning “Gorilla Glass,” an extra-tough, scratch-resistant glass used on smartphone and tablet touch-screens.
The watch’s GMT function is designed for ease of use: simply pull the crown to its first position to set the home time on a 24-hour scale, then pull it to its second, outermost position to change and set the local time, which is synched up with the date. Despite the very small GMT subdial, which may require a bit of squinting from older eyes, this understated dial layout is very helpful in reading two time zones at a glance.
That “simple and understated” dial, however, offers much more visual complexity under closer scrutiny. The Fieldhouse Blue editions are inscribed in micro-script with James Naismith’s original 13 rules of basketball, an additional touch that marks this watch as a limited edition and separate from Niall’s larger family of GMT timepieces. You’ll need a loupe if you actually want to read the text, but it adds another level of interest and speaks to Niall’s creativity and attention to detail.
The 40-mm round case is made of 316L stainless steel and has a large opening for the bright blue dial (the colors — blue for the dial and crimson for the highlights — reference the Kansas Jayhawks’ team colors) a polished finish on the thin bezel, curved lugs, a screwed caseback, and a brushed finish on the sides. The winding crown is engraved with Niall’s “N” logo. The movement, hidden under the engraved caseback, is the automatic Eterna 3914a (renamed Niall Caliber 913 after in-house modifications and rotor decoration), which boasts a 65-hour power reserve.
According to the company’s official press release, the watch is available on a blue or black leather strap; the model I wore was actually outfitted with a leather strap in sort of an elephant-hide gray that contrasted quite nicely with the blue dial. Befitting a watch of this understated character, it closes with a simple, polished steel pin buckle. And for those who do want to switch to one of the other straps, this one is equipped with an easy-to-use quick-change system, in which the user simply slides a small pin on the underside of the strap (pictured below) to attach and detach it from the lugs.
The Niall Fieldhouse Blue GMT Limited Edition — which is officially licensed by the University of Kansas — retails for $4,450.