Review – The Sō Labs Layer 1 – A Color Wheel On Your Wrist

As a student of Color Theory, the Sō Labs Layer 1 watch immediately caught my eye. When a watch tells time in a unique way, not only is it a conversation starter, but it’s a delight to wear, and that is appealing to me.

Sō Labs believes “telling time should be about fun(k), not just function.”  As they say, “Layers of color combinations, transparency, and funky names are all they promise.” If you’re new to the Love ‘N Watches podcast, you will soon learn that I have a passion for interesting and fun watches, so I jumped right in on this review.

The Sō Labs Layer 1 is the creation of founders/watch nerds Rick Cosgrove and Andrew Perez out of my birthplace, Chicago, IL. Rick’s background is in Architecture and Design. He works full-time as the Director of the Creative Department of a marketing agency in the Windy City. Andrew is the Founder of Astor+Banks Watch Company. Rick and Andrew have been friends for over 5 years after having met at a local Chicago Redbar chapter get-together.

In 2018, Rick’s agency reached their 20 year anniversary, and his Director pitched that he create his own watch design to commemorate this milestone. Rick’s goal was to express the idea of “transparency through layers”, a metaphor of how a great agency should operate. He paired up with Andrew through Astor+Banks, and the design was very well received – so much so that they decided to make it a stand alone brand. The Sō Labs brand name is derived from two words: “So” in Japanese meaning “Layer”, and “Labs” referring to innovation – that requires hypothesizing, tinkering and experimentation; all processes they have put in place to launch their LAYER 1 and LAYER 2 series.

Color wheel hand painted by PG in college circa 1988 (A+ no less!)

Rick and Andrew referred to Josef Albers (the “Father” of Color Theory) as well as modern theorists to build their color palette for the layers of the watch. The colors are bright pastels, and bring us back to the playful design years of the 1980s and 1990s. Having received my Bachelor’s degree in Art in 1989, this is a very sentimental time in art and design for me. The palette Sō Labs uses is “Pantone” colors, which were developed in 1963. Pantone revolutionized the printing industry with the colorful PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM®️, an innovative tool allowing for the faithful selection, articulation and reproduction of consistent, accurate color anywhere in the world. The tool organizes color standards through a proprietary numbering system and chip format, which have since become iconic to the Pantone brand, and iconic to artists and students everywhere.



Through the “Color Thesaurus”, each Pantone color correlates to a name, which is used to name each Sō Labs creation. For example, we reviewed the “Emerald Rhino” and the “Abalone Steel” colorways.

When they arrived, we opened the outer paper box to reveal the acrylic cases that hold the watches.  Again the minimalism fits the dial perfectly – the boxes are round moulded transparent acrylic that allow the watch to be the focus, and echo the shape of the watch case. The color names are clearly marked on the side of the round cases.

How do you tell the time?

Three disks tell the time – the hour disk contains a colored triangle, the minute disk a colored pointer hand, and the seconds disk is a small colored turning circle in the center of the dial. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do, it becomes second nature. The layering is a reminder of the Sō Labs mantra, “exclusivity is never one dimensional”, and that transparency through layering drives their aesthetic. 

My first impression really took me back to my Art studies at University, and I immediately felt at home seeing Pantone colors represented together to create a unique composition.  You immediately recognize the minimalist influence with this timepiece, and that is a result of Rick’s time living in Japan and embracing minimalist design. Even the dial on the Sō Labs watch does without any branding whatsoever in order to better showcase the design. The moulded acrylic watch case is symmetrical and clear, allowing full view of the dial and disks. It contains a Miyota 2105 quartz movement, and uses Japanese lume (another nod to Japanese influence.) As for the lume, the ENTIRE dial is lumed. We went to bed at 10 pm, and by 6:00 am the lume was still going strong, and I could still read the time. The mineral crystal has anti-reflective coating, and the case back is stainless steel containing the unique watch edition number. It is water resistant to 30 meters, but as a rule, here at Love ‘N Watches we NEVER submerge or get our review pieces wet.

Wearing these watches is a very different experience than wearing some of the other watches in our collection. They’ve been on and off our wrists for over a week now. The watch is incredibly lightweight, and very comfortable. Each watch uses several Pantone colors that are chosen to compliment each other, and this includes the color of the quick release suede leather band. I enjoyed gazing at the gradient from fully saturated color to white on the hour and minute disks, and at times wished they moved a little faster (for example, if used as the second hand) so that it could create more kinetic movement. Overall this is a fun, funky, and very casual watch that brings a smile to your face. The vintage 80s-90s vibes are a delight to those of us who lived through this era and enjoy seeing a resurgence of this style. If you are an Art nerd as well as a watch nerd like me, you won’t be disappointed with the Layer 1.

The size of the case being 38mm is perfect – both of us wore each watch, and they looked right at home on my 6 1/4″ wrist as well as Ranch Racer’s big 7 1/2″. This watch should appeal to any gender and any ago of collector. The color combinations are inexhaustible, so I truly feel like Sō Labs has the potential to create a watch for everyone, and each watch suiting its owner’s style. Another plus is the price point – MSRP is $175 USD, but it’s currently on sale for $149, thus making it a great choice for the budget-minded collector.

Would I buy the SoLabs? I’m very excited about this concept, and haven’t yet finished exploring all of the fantastic colorways. A second automatic design is in the works with kinetic color gradients with date complications (don’t we all love the date complication during the Pandemic?) so I am anxiously awaiting this second phase of their lineup, and would love to own this unique color theory inspired piece. I think Rick and Andrew have a solid future with the Sō Labs designs and color combinations. More info at

Vital Stats

  • CASE
    • Material: Moulded Acrylic
    • Size: 38 mm
    • Crystal: Mineral with anti-reflective coating
    • Case Back: Stainless steel with unique serial number
    • Water Resistance: 3 atm/30 meters
    • Inter-lug Width: 20 mm
    • Miyota 2105 Quartz
    • Leather strap

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.