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Sunday, May 31, 2020

REVIEW: Monta OceanKing


I have been fascinated with Monta, as a brand, from the very beginning. In fact, I remember when I first saw the OceanKing on ablogtowatch.com, I was quite smitten! That is until I reached the end of the article and I saw the price. 3500$ for a start-up dive watch? Really? Sure, it had a ton of great details and even housed an Eterna movement, instead of your standard ETA or Sellita, but it was swimming in some pretty deep waters at that price range.

Still, I kept track of Monta over the years and the prices did drop a bit to further encourage sales and those that bought them seemed to very pleased.Then came the updated version. The OceanKing now had a sub-2000$ price tag and it appeared that Monta listened to their critics, as well as their fans, and made many improvements / refinements.

Despite all of this, I was still quite critical / skeptical of the brand and its offerings. The clasp seemed too long, the hands too short and the "too good to be true" feeling I was having overcame my desire to own one. Fast-forward to a few months ago and something clicked. Could have been a picture I saw on Instagram or a story Monta posted, I just had to find out first hand what the OceanKing was all about. 

Now, I know, a ton of reviews have been written and videos made about this watch, but I needed to see, wear and fondle one for myself. After going back and forth with the folks at  Monta on IG DM and by email, though I have never met or seen Justin, I firmly believe this is what he must look like. I mean, with all of the goodies they managed to pack into this watch. He can only be a John Hammond clone!

I have now had the pleasure of wearing the Monta OceanKing for about a month. Not only am I impressed with it, I think I may even purchase the OceanKing GMT once I am though writing / publishing this article. In the meantime, sit back, pull up a chair, and I hope you enjoy  my full review.

CASE

The OceanKing's 40.7mm stainless steel case is very sleek at just a hair under 12mm thick. It is also just under that magic 50mm lug to lug length, coming in at 49mm. What does this mean? It means it can slide under any shirt cuff with ease. In my humble opinion, Monta has hit the nail right on the head with in the size department. It is pure perfection on the wrist. Not too big and not too small, it is the Goldilocks of watch sizes.  

The shape is unlike any other I have seen. Oh sure, it draws inspiration from many dive watches from yesteryear and it is round, but it has been re-imagined in a modern, contemporary Monta way. The lugs seem to turn upwards from the back. Every edge has been finished to the nth degree. There are no sharp or hot spots whatsoever. This is the level of finish usually reserved for watches costing much, much more.

The screw-down crown is a little on the small side, but its conical shape provides plenty of purchase for manipulation. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to grip, despite being so deeply nestled between its shapely crown guards. I thoroughly love it when the guards are shaped to curve around the crown and not just a pair of steel bars on either side, or simply flat up against the crown. This is a quintessential example of the little touches Monta gets so right.

The screwed-down case back is nice an flat, and is smooth feeling on the wrist. The engravings are deep, with the Monta logo and all the standard text, which includes the serial number. It does not open with the "normal" case wrench, but similar to Breitling, it seems to require some kind of 12 sided (dodecagon) key tool. I just double checked and Breitling use a 15 side (pentadecogon) shape. At any rate, it is not your standard case back. All of which keeps the OceanKing seaworthy to a depth of 304m. Funny enough, it says the latter figure on the dial, but 300m on the case back.

DIAL & BEZEL

The dial is where the Monta really shines, figuratively and literally. Every little detail that make WIS smile appear on this dial. From faceted applied markers, to cutouts for said markers in the chapter right (rehaut), to the matching applied surround on the date display. You can stare at this dial for 20 minutes and then someone will ask you the time and you will have absolutely no idea. It is that captivating. The flat sapphire crystal, which has 7 layers of anti-reflective coating to help make it disappear at certain angles. Unfortunately, at other angles it reflects like a mirror. I am completely OK with this, as I prefer not to have any coating on the surface, as it always gets marred and thus completely negates any advantage. 

Not to mention the blue colour itself, which seems to change with every angle and every lighting condition. From not quite Smurf to nearly purple. It is that dynamic! My earlier critique of the hands, which do appear a little short, seem to work in the real world. It is one thing to look at watches at 10x the size on 24" monitors and another when it is sitting on your furry wrist (in my case). The hour hand is perfect, but the minute could be a smidgen longer. That said, again, in the real world, it is just long enough to reach the minute track and does not completely cover up the gorgeous markers. So in the end, it works very well indeed. 

The bezel is a thing of real beauty and just like the hands, must be appreciated in person. The font type, which seemed a little odd to me, works in real life, as the bezel is nice and thin. The latter comment helps create an effect that the watch is larger than its stated measurements. In fact, if you would visit my IG page, you will see the Monta OceanKing directly compared to my Seiko MarimeMaster. The Seiko is a BEAST of a watch at a whopping 44mm in diameter and nearly 16mm thick, but next to the Monta, it is does not look so big, or rather, the OceanKing Does not look so small. 

I also have to say, the Monta's bezel action is superb! The only watch I have found to be better is the Tudor Pelagos, which feels like it is in a world of its own. That said, the 60 click action is extremely crisp and satisfying to turn. The teeth on the edge are so refined and perfectly executed, you would think Rolex made them. As is the ceramic insert. Oh, and HOW ABOUT THE LUME?

I have been a LUME fanatic ever since I started this hobby (disease) and I have owned all of the heavy hitters. From Seiko divers to Ball Watch. Now this is no Seiko diver, but it is still remarkably impressive and I so adore a fully lumed bezel. Don't you?

MOVEMENT

Now this is where there is a little controversy when it comes to Monta. First launched with an Eterna movement, attempt to use it to justify the high price, then rethink the model and come back with a lower price tag and some would say, a lesser caliber. Do I agree with all of this? That is a good question! 

First we must ask ourselves is the Eterna caliber a superior movement? Is it more exclusive? Likely. Does it have any benefits over an ETA 2892? Other than the power reserve (65 hrs), not really. Now here is the biggie. Is it easier to get serviced? Absolutely not! And BINGO! This will be a HUGE factor for most buyers. 

Let's face the facts here. The buyer that is purchasing a Monta OceanKing is a person that is going to be wearing his(or her) watch through thick and thin. He(or she) is not buying it to store it like some 5 figure Audemars Piguet or Patek Philippe. It is not going to sit in a safe and wait for its value to increase. It will be worn, enjoyed and perhaps even abused. As a result, it will eventually need servicing. The ETA 2892 movement is the perfect caliber for this watch. Extremely easy to service, robust enough for everyday use and thin enough to give the OceanKing its slim profile. I wholly endorse the decision to use this movement over the Eterna.

Clearly my test model needs some of that servicing love, as it likely had gone from one reviewer to another. Travelling in packages all over the world. As you can see by my testing data, it is losing on average 6.6 sec / day. This is certainly NOT typical of others I have read about. I even checked in with @a_girl_and_her_watches on IG from the famed @tennandtwomedia podcast (a must listen) and hers performed a heck of a lot better than mine.

BRACELET

I know I said that the dial is where the Monta shines, but the bracelet is where the OceanKing REALLY, REALLY shines! I am a die-hard bracelet  guy. I do not like straps, I never wear my watches on strap (except Panerai) and I rarely if ever buy accessory straps. Even if they are fantastic, like most Everest straps are. I just prefer bracelets and THIS is why I was hesitant with the OceanKing. It was not the movement. It was not the hands. It was the clasp, that made me most nervous.

It looked too long. It looked too flat. It looked too strange, but it did remind me of another clasp like it. One that used a hole to click closed. I just could not put my finger on it. Until, I found it! It was similar in function to a 2000's Rolex Daytona clasp! (picture shamelessly lifted from Google images) Hey, if it was good enough for Rolex's flagship chronograph, I had to give it a shot! Boy, am I ever happy I got to fondle, I mean play with it. It is my humble opinion, that there is no clasp on the market more satisfying to snap shut, than this Monta clasp. (PERIOD) 

I was also able to examine in up close and personal, which really impressed me further. The glide-lock system, which not quite as smooth as the Rolex, is far superior to the one Chirstopher Ward uses, which is very good and better than any of the ones I had on my Omegas (Seamaster 300m Ceramic dial and Seamaster 300). It is really that good and just look at that machining. All milled, no stamping here whatsoever. Everything snaps shut reassuringly and the fit and finish is outstanding. I would like to invite you to visit my IG page again, as I have a couple of videos where I operate the clasp.

The links are all brushed, except for the edges, which are bevelled and polished. You will also note that where the end-links meet the case, the bevel transfers from the edge of the link to the inside edge of the lugs. This one little detail, which could have been left out, is what makes Monta so special. Nothing that could be done was left undone. They spared no expense! They know their audience and packed in as much as they possibly could into this watch, without going overboard. A very delicate balance indeed.

Another factor about this bracelet that makes it stand out, is not only the screws that allow for easy sizing, nor is it the added pair of half links, it is the fully articulated construction. I dare anyone to try on any Monta and claim they cannot get the perfect fit or that it is uncomfortable. Just like my aunt used to say "it's like butter". Oh, I have had fully articulated bracelets before, but none with the combination I just mentioned... Perhaps the Formex Essence comes as close to this. None other. 

My gripe about the clasp being too long earlier is quite founded. It is a little longer than it should be, I cannot hide that fact. That said, when worn, it does not protrude from the back side of my wrist as I feared it would. It is just about as long as the watch itself and I am afraid because of this length, there is a whole lot of real-estate for scratches and scuffs to take residence. I noticed that the SkyQuest, their GMT model, uses a smaller clasp "shell", but this would likely give it somewhat less adjustable positions on the glide-lock. Not sure if the trade off is worth it. I guess if you are a diver, perhaps you may need all of that extra length to fit over a wet suit.

CONCLUSION

I went into this review with a skeptical mindset, but I was really hoping I would like the OceanKing. I was not disappointed. All of the terrific praises I read about and watched on YouTube were well founded. Kudos to Monta for such a young company to produce such a complete product. Like a young Shaolin monk that is wise beyond his years, Monta is making watches that it logically should not be able to, but they are!

You can tell that the person and people behind Monta are real watch nerds. Just like us. They care about the little details. They care about the feedback from their customers. They care about supporting, contributing and communicating with the watch community. They go the extra mile and it shows in their products. I am very happy and honoured to have had the opportunity to review this OceanKing and I look very much forward to seeing where Monta will be in the next 10, 20 and 50 years! 

If you are looking for an everyday diver, or GMT or field style watch, I wholeheartedly recommend you give Monta a careful look. I bet you will be as impressed as I am when you strap your Monta on for the first time.

Thank you for reading!

Monta Watch

Saturday, February 22, 2020

REVIEW: Eza Watches 1972 reissue


INTRODUCTION


Occasionally, I get the opportunity to review something special and other times I am entirely surprised by the review subject. In this case, it is both! I had been in contact with Eza Watches for some time, several months in fact, and when they were finally ready, I was asked a question. Blue or black?

Almost by instinct, I chose blue, but I was not entirely sure which model they would be sending me. I knew it was something new, not yet released, but was it going to be the 1972 re-issue or something else? If it was the 1972, would it be the modern 39.5mm version or the faithful 35.8mm Limited Edition version?

Couple of weeks went by and just after the holidays I received it! The new modern version of 1972 re-issue with blue dial! I was immediately struck by the case proportions! It was a long, long time since I have worn a watch that is so thin. I am no stranger to vintage re-issue watches and have owned many. From the Doxa re-issue in 2001 (which I was a part of) to the massive Aquadive Bathyscaphe 300 I reviewed here.

I was immediately smitten. Just like today’s trend of watches finally coming down in size, I was ready. Three years ago, I would not have even considered a watch under 42mm. Now? It is perfect! Last summer I went from a massive 44mm Breitling Chronomat to a 40mm Omega Railmaster. When I first received the Railmaster, I thought I was out of my mind. You know what? I freakin’ loved it!

The size was perfect. It was incredibly comfortable and boy, did it keep good time. Unfortunately, I was the victim of an Icelandic scammer and despite retrieving my beloved Omega, I could not help be feel deceived every time I looked at it. At any rate, I have moved on and right now, this Eza 1972 modern re-issue is hitting the sweet spot!

The inspiration for this watch comes from the original Eza skin diver from 1972. The one I will be reviewing shares all of the design cues, but with all of today’s manufacturing capabilities. I cannot wait to share all the details with you, so let’s dive on in! (pun wholeheartedly intended)

CASE

 

 

 

The stainless-steel case is, as previously mentioned, is 39.5mm in diameter and an incredibly slim at just a fraction under 12mm. This includes a gorgeous sapphire box crystal, which stands above the bezel. So, the actual steel profile is roughly 10mm. Outstanding and once strapped to the wrist, it can slide under any cuff with ease. The lug to lug measurement is just about 50mm lug to lug, which means even the smallest writs can pull it off, but it is not too small for the big dudes out there.

The entire case is polished, as were most watches back in the day and the screw-down case back has a sweet skin diver engraving. Not something very deep or ornate like the hippocampus on my Railmaster, but exactly how case backs were engraved in 1972. One of the details I like most is the straight lines between the lugs. This means any strap can fit flush against the case, leaving no gaps, similar to what Breitling does with many of their models.    

Hard to believe a skin-diver this size can be water-resistant to 200m, but that is indeed the rating! I am thoroughly impressed. Just like the case back, the crown screws down and is engraved with the Eza “E”. The crown is easy to use, plenty grippy and winds, sets, as well as screws back down without a hitch. All in all a very well made case.

BEZEL & DIAL

  

 

The unidirectional bezel offers just the right amount of resistance to turn and has barely any play. It is easy to grip, thanks to the coin edge and if all of this is not enough, the insert is ceramic, as well as partially lumed! Talk about using the latest material and technology? Nice!

The aforementioned sapphire box crystal is coated for anti-reflections and offers just enough vintage flair to be appropriate for the design. The dial itself is a complete throw back to the 70s. With rounded and polished applied markers, with red accents. The writing is kept to a bare minimum and is incredibly small. In fact, I can barely read the text at 6 o’clock. Mind you, I am no longer the young whippersnapper I used to be!

Speaking of small writing. There is something I do have to pick a nit at. The font on the date wheel is amazingly tiny.  Now, I do not mind the text on the dial being small, but the date is a feature I use daily and I am having a difficult time with this one. I have a hunch that they made the date wheels in a large batch to accommodate both 1972 re-issue sizes and perhaps a standard date size would have looked out of place on the 35mm model? That is my guess.

Unlike the date font, the hands are perfectly sized and work flawlessly with the design. Just like the bezel, they are generously lumed and last all through the night until morning. The entire look and design screams 1970s and as a one that lived through that, I cannot help but have a feelings of nostalgia when looking down at my wrist.

MOVEMENT


After all of these years, what has not been said about the ETA2824? I cannot even count how many watches I have owned with this workhorse movement inside. From my Breitling SuperOceans and  Seawolfs to countless Ball watches and so many others. It is a fantastic, rugged, accurate and now, extremely coveted movement.

In a world of abundant microbrands it is great to see Eza going the extra mile and putting a tried and true Swiss movement into their reissue 1972. Not that there is anything wrong with many of the Japanese alternatives. Personally, I like the Miyota 9015, BUT, if this is to be a reissue, it should have a Swiss movement, just like the original.

Kudos to Eza for not cutting corners!

I am not going to go into multiple details about this movement as I have so many times before and frankly, others have done so with even more detail. I recommend googling ETA2824 if you need to read up on it. Meanwhile, what I can do is tell you mine was a consistent +6 seconds / day, when worn 24/7 and that is for a period of several weeks. Excellent performance.

BRACELET / STRAP

 

 

The 1972 came on a silicone style tropic strap, which picked up lint, hairs (we have cats) and dust like a powerful magnet. I quickly changed it to a grey leather strap I happened to have lying around. I found it incredible comfortable to the leather and the color went so well with the dial.
Shortly after, I found a cheap 30$ stainless-steel mesh strap on Amazon and true to form, the next day I had a new bracelet for the 1972. Boy did it ever work well! It was thin, supple and fit the vintage part so well. I think I may have had a Timex on a similar strap back in 1979! LOL…

I believe the package will now come with a beautiful leather strap, with white stitching and the silicone option. I think this is a great combination and should be good for those that a strap for every day and another for when water sports are around the corner. That said, the straight space between the lugs makes it such a fun watch to try different options.

CONCLUSION


I have always loved vintage designs, especially as a child of the 70s and 80s, BUT, I do not have the fortitude to actually acquire vintage watches. I like watches that keep good time. I like knowing that my watch is solid and water / dust resistant. I like having a warrantee and best of all, I like knowing that if something does go wrong, parts are readily available.

This Eza reissue is the best of both worlds! All the incredible charm of a 1970s skin-diver, but with a sapphire crystal, a ceramic bezel and a modern ETA 2824 movement. It does not get much better than this. Not to mention, the size and how unbelievably wearable it is.

Now, there is one detail I have not mentioned yet. How expensive is the Eza 1972 reissue? Well, would you believe that it is under 800$? And right now, it can even be pre-ordered for under 700$! In fact, it is being offered for only 659$!!! That price seems almost too good to be true. It is also my understanding that shipping should start as early as March, which is coming right up!

If like me, you love the vintage look, but do not want to give up contemporary benefits, than the Eza 1972 reissue just may be the watch for you!

Thank you for reading,

Saturday, December 14, 2019

REVIEW: Formex Essence Dégradé

INTRODUCTION


I have been collecting, buying, selling and trading watches online for over 20 years. In that time, I have owned many, many obscure, unknown brands. In fact, I think I was one of the first to review a UTS watch and who here remembers Japy? All exceptional creations, but while UTS is still going strong, brands like Japy and many others have fallen to the test of time.

That said, we are now witnessing a new surge in micro-brands and they are filling the void many of the traditional houses are leaving behind. Brands like Halios, Farer, Monta and Oak & Oskar are redefining the cost of entry into our horological world. Another one of these brands is Formex.

Unlike some, Formex is an older name, with which I have a past affiliation. Prior to severing ties with InSync Magazine in the mid-aughts, I was getting set to review a crazy new brand with a case suspension system no one had ever seen before. The watch was very large, and it sat at a weird angle on the wrist. It was supposed to absorb shocks like none other. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to see one in person.

Almost 15 years later, Formex is reborn, under new ownership, but maintaining its suspension system. Just like Ball Watch and their tritium tubes, the case suspension system is in Formex’ DNA. When they decided to enter the stainless steel, daily wear, sports watch segment, the case suspension system was incorporated, and the Essence was born.

I have now lived with this watch for close to two months and I have concluded that, in today’s market, you would be hard pressed to find a greater value proposition than the Formex Essence.  In the following review, I will attempt to explain why I feel this way and hopefully, you will come to a similar conclusion.

CASE

 

The 43mm wide by 50mm lug to lug stainless steel case is somewhat cushion shaped, with multiple exquisite angles that show off its brushed vs. polished facets. The finishing on the case is unlike anything else at this price point. No sharp edges, not hot spots, you can easily tell that it is hand finished. It really is that good! The bezel is polished on its edges and vertically brushed on its top. Also hand finished.

 

The case back is fully brushed and held down by 8 screws that surround the sapphire glass that displays the fully decorated movement. The 4 screws on the front of the watch support the suspension system that needs to be seen in person to fully appreciate. When you press on the case from the bottom, the bezel literally lifts off the case! In other words, there is an inner case that is sitting on a suspension, which will help absorb any shocks your wrist will encounter.

 

It really is impressive how this is all integrated into the watch and done so seamlessly, you would never know its there. In fact, Formex has gone to great lengths to keep this watch extra slim. With all of this and a water resistance of 100m, it is only 10mm think! Can you believe that?  Finishing off the case is the large polished crown, which does not screw down, but is engraved with the allen key logo that is now synonymous with the brand.

CRYSTAL, DIAL AND HANDS

 

The flat sapphire crystal is 34mm wide, has anti-reflective coating underneath and sits flush with the bezel. The large opening displays an astonishing brown/copper fumée style dial, which Formex calls Dégradé. Combined with the horizontally engraved stripes and polished applied markers to create an exquisite dial I would have never expected from a watch at this price.

 

The hands are multi faceted, with a mix of polished and brushed surfaces, that catch the light at all angles. The dial uses BGW9 Super-LumiNova, which looks great when charged, but unfortunately do not last all night long. Luckily the facets on the hands capture any light in the room and I can still read it in the early morning.

 

Symmetry is design element I find extremely appealing. Having the date display at 6 o’clock, is one of those design choices that lends itself to a symmetrical dial and I applaud it. Speaking of the date window, have a look at the bevelled edges of the display! I have never seen anything like it before. Little details like this make this dial truly special.

 

One other thing I have noticed, and I believe it was deliberate in order to keep the slim profile, is the use of such a short stem for the hands. I do not remember ever seeing another watch with hands so close to one another. Kudos to Formex for going the extra mile and trying to keep it as slim as possible.

MOVEMENT


The Dégradé model comes with a highly finished (down to the base plate) chronometer grade, COSC certified, Selitta SW200-1. It also sports a custom Formex rotor, which has real thermally blued screws! So much has been written about this movement and its clone origin, the ETA2824, that I need not get into too many details. That is except to say that mine has been performing at a consistent + 2 sec/day, whether sitting on my winder or worn 24/7.

 

Should you want an Essence but feel the COSC a tad too expensive. Formex offers a non COSC certified version with a genuine ETA 2824 beating inside for a substantially lower price. This is quite impressive, as I am sure that this one is just as reliable and should perform well within satisfying parameters.

BRACELET

 

If you have yet to be impressed with the Formex Essence after reading all of the above, the bracelet just may be the feature that will push you over the edge. Measuring 22mm between the lugs, the bracelet is fully articulated. I know Monta likes to post amazing pictures of their wonderful articulated bracelet on Instagram, saying “can your bracelet do this?” Well, this one can and because the links themselves are so short and thin, it is like wearing silk rather than steel.


 


Each link is finished to the nth degree. Fully brushed, except for the edges, which are polished, it grabs the light and sparkles, as if it was a multi faceted diamond. In fact, my boss has 2 Audemars Piguet Royal Oaks and in a meeting, he noticed my Formex and said, hey your watches kind of looks like mine. Now I am not saying the Formex is in the same league as AP, BUT the bracelet catches light and does glint like a Royal Oak. Now THAT is impressive!

 

I would also like to point out the end links that attach to the case. You can tell a lot of thought have gone into them, just by how sharp and precise they are. They are also attached to the base by a very impressive system that allows you to remove the bracelet without tools. I have seen a similar system on Christopher Ward watches (speaking of value), but this one is much more refined and secure.

 

All of the links are secured by screws and at the clasp, there is a quick adjustment link that flips open, reminiscent of Rolex bracelets. The CLASP! The clasp is just as impressive as everything else on this watch. It is very similar to the Omega Railmaster, with one side snapping into place using ceramic ball bearings and the other using twin push-buttons. In fact, I would even go as far as to say, it is superior to the Omega. It is thinner, slimmer and more comfortable, as the Omega’s is too long and thick.

CONCLUSION

 

It is rare, extremely rare to see a watch that sells for 1265$ USD (shipped from Switzerland, with duties and taxes included) to have so many custom features and hand finishing. Usually you see some corners being cut and it would be understandable. In order to be at a certain price point, something usually must give. Not with the Formex Essence! I see no corners being cut, everything they could think of and do for the sake of improvement, they have done.


 

You know the expression “more than the sum of its parts”? In the case of the Essence; you mate an incredible bracelet, with a fantastic clasp, to a totally original, suspension case, that houses an unmatched dial and what do you get? A superb everyday sports watch that is equally as beautiful as it is functional, and I did not even mention the superlative movement beating inside!


I honestly feel that if you are looking for a GREAT sports watch, that will not break the bank, but will still impress even the most exigent connoisseur, the Formex Essence could be just the ticket. To find out more about Formex and see all of their other models, including many variations of the Essence, follow the link below.

Thank you for reading!

Formex