Design guru restyles Apple Watch with aerospace aluminum case

Some have complained about the design of the Apple Watch. Others have worried about its durability. A new case called the Banded Classic tries to fix both issues.

Jason Hiner VP of Content, CNET Labs; Editor in Chief, ZDNET
Jason is Vice President of Content for CNET Labs and the Editor in Chief of ZDNET. From CNET's world-class testing facilities, the CNET Labs team designs tests to quantify the best products worth buying.
Expertise Over 20 years of experience covering Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, computers, smartphones, wearables, and the latest technology products. Credentials
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Jason Hiner
3 min read

The Banded Classic gives the Apple Watch a more industrious look. The bumper is made of aerospace aluminum and comes in six different colors-chrome, gun metal, black, silver, gold, and rose gold. It also comes with three leather bands in black, light brown, and dark brown. Designed by Many

From the moment in September 2014 when Apple first showed off its timepiece-turned-wrist-computer, the debate has raged over the fashionability of the device.

Some see it as a fresh new take on the watch for the Internet age. Others think it looks like a small version of the original iPhone strapped to a wrist. Some say it's far-and-away the best-looking smartwatch to hit the market. Others complain that it's not as slick as a typical Apple product.

The Banded Classic in rose gold Designed by Many

The Apple Watch -- and smartwatches in general -- inspire derision from naysayers who scoff at how few things they can do beyond what you already do with your smartphone. But they've also fired up tech lovers as life's latest sphere where the digital revolution is breathing new life into old things.

For those inspired by the idea of Apple's smartwatch but lukewarm on its design -- and concerned about wear-and-tear on such an expensive accessory -- design guru Lester Mapp and the team at Designed by Many has built a new case and a set of interchangeable leather bands to stylize the Apple Watch in a different way.

Called the Banded Classic, the case is essentially a 1.3mm bumper made out of aerospace-grade aluminum. It's manufactured in a US factory that builds objects for NASA and with the medical and automotive industries.

The Banded Classic comes in six colors: black, chrome, silver, gunmetal, rose gold and 24K gold-plated. It also comes standard with three Italian leather bands in black, light brown, and dark brown, along with an adapter to fit them to the Apple Watch. The idea is to make the smartwatch more stylish with a number of different looks.

"I love watches and I have an Apple Watch, so the idea is to dress it up a little bit and protect it," said Mapp.

With the combination of the case and the leather straps, the Banded Classic gives the Apple Watch a completely different feel -- almost like a mashup between a steampunk timepiece and Dick Tracy's iconic watch. My biggest concern is that the Apple Watch itself is already pretty thick and this product adds thickness to it -- albeit only 1.3mm.

Still, it changes the appearance so that it no longer resembles a first generation iPhone. The Banded Classic smoothes out some of the squareness of the Apple Watch with sweeping metal curves between the watchface and the band that give it an elongated look. It's a look that could certainly turn a few heads, especially with the lighter metals, and it gives users some extra insurance on a device that cost them somewhere between $349 for the basic Sport version to $17,000 for the top-of-the-line gold edition.

Nevertheless, the Banded Classic itself is a high-end product that is expected to retail for $179. You can get one for a $89 pledge through the company's Kickstarter campaign up until August 1. So far, the campaign has raised more than $11,000 towards its $30,000 goal. Depending on the model, it's slated to deliver in September or October.

Designed by Many has a history of successful hardware campaigns on Kickstarter -- most notably the AL13 aluminum iPhone bumper, which I wrote about in 2013.

Along with the Banded Classic, the current Kickstarter campaign also includes an aerospace aluminum dock called the Simple Station that's made to cradle an iPhone and an Apple Watch at the same time. The dock comes in three colors--black, silver, and gold. The Banded Classic and the Simple Station together are expected to retail for $299, but you can get the pair for a $199 pledge through the Kickstarter campaign.

The Simple Station is made for the bedside, but could be used in the office too. Designed by Many

"We made the Simple Station because I'm unimpressed with the level of docks that are out there," said Mapp. "We made it to stay by your bedside and dock your phone and your watch together."

Designer Lester Mapp Designed by Many

Mapp and his team have been successful in the past at creating accessories that look like they could have been designed by Apple. From a design standpoint, the Apple Watch could use a bigger assist than most recent Apple products, so this is the accessory startup's most ambitious project yet.

I don't expect that it will convince many new users to buy an Apple Watch, but the Banded Classic might help some of the people who've already bought one to get excited about it again or to feel more confident about protecting it from everyday wear-and-tear.