Glimmer, sparkle, and shine — Island Watches’ ISL-88 Islander automatic dive watch looks like a crown jewel, but its cost is a relative bargain. We dug deep to review this timepiece and find out what value it really has.
How much are you willing to pay for luxury? In the field of wristwatches, the answer can get silly in a hurry. This can be perplexing, as many timepieces seem to look the same. But sometimes, between the longitude of style and the latitude of price, you run across an island of great value.
Such was the case with the Island Watches ISL-88 Islander, featuring sapphire crystal and quality components at half the price of an equivalent Seiko. So, when the makers agreed to send one sailing my way, I was ecstatic.
Here are my impressions after 2 weeks with the intriguing ISL-88 Automatic.
Island Watches: ISL-88 Review
For a while, the main complaint about the Islander line has been the styling. I get it — on some level, all dive watches look the same. And with a 42mm diameter, a thickness of 14 mm, and 46 mm lug-to-lug, it’s definitely in a crowded class.
But between the rectangular hour markers, the quick-tapering hands, and the waffle dial, I feel like this is as close to an original look as a new maker can get. Add in the tasteful placement and coloring of the logo and text, and Island Watch finally has a legit stunner in its lineup.
But sometimes, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. In this case, it’s the Seiko-derived NH35, 24-jewel movement. This mechanism features both automatic and hand winding with a 41-hour power reserve, along with that most vital ability, hacking.
For those who don’t know, this means that when you pull out the crown to set the time, the second hand actually stops. This is something that even some of the most iconic watches (cough, SKX, cough) don’t provide.
The crown itself is of the screw-down variety, helping propel the Islander to 200 m worth of water resistance. This, along with the 120-click ceramic bezel, are mainstays of the dive watch segment.
Getting the Band Back Together
It includes something rare for a budget watch — screw-down links. These are exactly what they sound like: metal links, held in place by tiny flathead screws. This allows users to adjust the bracelet on their own, without specialized tools or a trip to the dealer.
Plus, they’ve fitted the chassis with drilled lugs, making it easy to swap to a leather strap or NATO.
I’m also a fan of the case. While the sides are nicely polished, the brushed finish on the upward-facing surfaces do a wonderful job of muting direct glare. This, combined with the metallic hands and antireflective sapphire crystal, make this watch incredibly viewable at all angles.
An excellent coat of lume adds to the watch’s overall legibility. Per the manufacturer’s specs, “SuperLuminova is applied to the goldtone hands, red seconds hand, goldtone hour makers and the ceramic bezel insert.”
Check out what it looks like:
The first negative I noticed with the Islander comes with the date window. On my review model, the first number of any double-digit date comes within a fraction of a millimeter of the dial boundary. Nothing is actually obscured, but the text feels just a hair’s breadth misaligned.
As mentioned above, I’m a big fan of the screw-down links. The company even ships a screwdriver with every Islander, making it a breeze to add and remove links.
What they don’t include, however, is a half-link. While I was able to find a comfortable fit with a combination of full links and the clasp’s trio of springbar holes, a half-link would allow wearers to customize the experience without breaking out a specialized tool. It’s a minor issue, but one that deserves to be noted.
My biggest (and perhaps most controversial) complaint lies in the accuracy. I found this ISL-88 to be running between +5 seconds per day on the wrist and +15 seconds per day when left on the bedside table.
So, we’re looking at a consistently fast tune on the NH35 movement. Here’s where the controversy comes in: I don’t mind that much. At this price point, I don’t expect quartz-level accuracy from my automatic watches. And if it’s going to be slightly off, I’d rather have it running a few steps ahead instead of falling behind.
This way, all I need to do is pop out the crown, count to 10 or so, and screw the thing back into place. Sure, it’s not as efficient as a simple solar or battery-powered movement. But with the boatload of style and otherwise excellent build quality, I’m willing to overlook this annoyance.
Islander ISL-88 Automatic Dive Watch: Is It Good?
The bottom line is this: The ISL-88 is an incredibly well-designed watch. From the textured pop of its dial to the quality of its build and materials, it’s a powerhouse of affordable luxury.
Add to this its 200m water rating and sapphire crystal, and you’re looking at a great companion for outdoor and aquatic adventures. As for the price, it comes in at $299, which means it’s not a bargain rack buy, but it certainly beats out all premium competition on price.
I wholeheartedly recommend the Islander Automatic, especially in this configuration. Check out this model or dozens of others over at Island Watch.