If you're looking for a tough watch that can withstand a bomb blast, but don't want to go down the obvious G-Shock route, then I think I have the answer – the Elliot Brown Holton Professional.
Elliot Brown first developed the Holton Professional in response to a request from a specialist (and classified) branch of the military who demanded a fit-for-purpose professional watch capable of shrugging off life in the field.
It was launched in 2018 and was the first military issued watch from a British company in over ten years. Prior to the watch being approved it was the subject of intense testing, surviving some of the most hostile conditions imaginable – so you know it's the real deal.
It's actually a watch I could see James Bond wearing, if he were a real spy and not tied into a lucrative marketing deal with Omega.
Since its launch, several variations have been released, including a collaboration with Land Rover and the New Defender, an automatic version, a bronze model, and the model we're reviewing today, the NIVO.
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Most models can be yours for under £500, and I think that's amazing value.
I've been wearing one over the summer, putting it through its paces hiking, stand up paddleboarding, and coasteering – here's how I got on.
Elliot Brown Holton NIVO review: Specs
- Case size: 43mm
- Thickness: 12mm
- Lug width: 22mm
- Lug-to-lug: 52mm
- Water resistance: 200m
- Movement: Swiss Ronda Calibre 715
- Crystal: 2mm sapphire with anti-reflective coating
Elliot Brown Holton NIVO review: Hardware and design
Elliot Brown, for those of you who haven't heard of the brand before, is a Dorset-based company run by friends Ian Elliot and Alex Brown. Since 2013 their goal has been to build the most wearable, affordable, toughest watches on the planet.
Holton is a dive watch designed to be used by military dive professionals. Its name was inspired by the Royal Navy’s Cordite Factory at Holton Heath in Dorset, and it features all of the dive watch trademarks you'd expect, including a unidirectional rotating bezel, 200 metres of water resistance, and plenty of lume.
It's the colourway of the NIVO edition where things get really interesting, though. NIVO is an acronym for Night Invisible Varnish, Orfordness. Elliot Brown uncovered it whilst researching the use of specific military colours beyond the usual olive, khaki, black, and desert shades.
NIVO was originally developed at Orfordness experimental station as a paint for British bombers to match both the colour and gloss level of open water at night.
So rest, safe in the knowledge that if you needed to fly over an ocean at night it won't be your watch that gets you caught.
Elliot Bown then set out recreating the 98-year-old military paint colour, and the result is stunning. It's less harsh than a black watch, and will go with more outfits than a khaki watch.
To bring the dial colour up, the NIVO features a lighter grey case, pink/sand lume in the hands, pale green/sand lume on the dial, and a yellow tip on the seconds hand.
The Holton NIVO is offered on either a gunmetal rubber strap or 'desert brown' webbing strap.
I reviewed this model on the NATO-style webbing strap – it's soft, low profile, lightweight, breathable, anti-bacterial and so comfortable. It's seriously the softest and most comfortable webbing strap I've ever worn.
I've also worn the EPDM rubber strap on a Bloxworth chronograph. That's really impressive too – much softer than some rubber straps and hypoallergenic. It's also resistant to seawater, UV and extremely cold temperatures.
If you can't decide which strap is for you – they're easily changed via solid steel screw-in bars and the provided tool.
In terms of size, I think the Holton doesn't feel as large as the images suggest. You won't forget it's on your wrist, but it's not as comically oversized as some rugged watches are.
It's worth noting, however, that both the case and dial are obviously quite straight forward and don't feature many advanced manufacturing techniques or embelishments. The dial in particular is quite 'flat'. This is due to the tool watch nature of the piece and means its extremely legible, but it's something to keep in mind if you prefer more intricate timepieces.
Elliot Brown Holton NIVO review: Durability, Movement and Use
Okay, so exactly how durable is the Holton Professional?
Prior to being approved for use in the military, the Elliot Brown Holton Professional was the subject of intense testing, surviving some of the most hostile conditions imaginable. The watch needs to be capable of prolonged exposure to water and dust, as well as being durable and shock-resistant.
Now, I've hardly tested it to military standards, but I can say it easily withstood a summer of sports and exploring on the Isle of Wight without any issues at all.
The watch's durability is backed up by the brand's five-year warranty, which is really impressive and is long enough to give you peace of mind.
The 120-click bezel houses a stainless steel insert which is hardened to 1200HV (Vickers hardness scale). That's around 10 times harder than 316L stainless steel. It's flooded with high-grade C3 SuperLuminova which makes it really easy to read in low light.
The 'hobnail knurling' along the edge of the bezel is slightly higher than the insert which means it's easy to grip the surface, even when using the palm of a wet gloved hand.
Both components are bead blasted and a 0.8 micron PVD coating is then applied.
The recessed crown sits neatly out of harm's way at 4 o'clock. A screw-down mechanism locks the crown into the case and water is kept out thanks to the brand's proprietary triple seals.
I found the crown can be quite fiddly, especially if you have stubby fingers, but as the watch features a quartz movement you won't need to use it too often.
The movement in question is a Swiss Ronda calibre 715 it's housed inside a proprietary shock protection system consisting of a steel housing suspended by elastomer shock absorbers. The projected battery life is approximately three years and the watch features a low-battery indicator that prevents the watch from being issued with a low battery.
If you opt for the automatic model then it comes with Seiko's reliable NH35 movement housed in the anti-shock suspension system. It features a 40-hour power reserve.
The 2mm thick sapphire crystal is mounted fractionally below the hardened bezel to minimise the chance of the edge becoming chipped, and features anti-reflective coating applied to the inner surface to minimise glare.
To pass quality control, every crystal must be capable of withstanding an impact applied three times by a 17mm steel ball dropped from 0.5m.
On the reverse, the caseback is bolted down using hex bolts to create a perfect compression seal and correct tension for the shock absorption system.
Each watch is also individually pressure tested to 200m at several points during production.
Elliot Brown Holton NIVO review: Verdict
The Elliot Brown Holton NIVO is the real deal – it is built, in every sense of the word, for business. If you're looking for a watch that can not only withstand the rigours of combat and extreme sports, but also has genuine links to the British military and an interesting story, then this is the watch for you.