Yesterday, Italian watchmaker Unimatic and Massena LAB, run by eminent industry insider William Massena, launched the Massena LAB x Unimatic Modello Uno. Taking design queues from the 1950s, a golden age for the dive watch, this limited edition of 99 pieces combines relative affordability with genuine artisanal craft.
Those familiar with the watch industry will recognise both parties of this particular collaboration. William Massena has become a veritable fixture of the watch industry. His presence on TimeZone forum has been both knowledgeable and formidable. However, in recent years, he has worked on special collaborations with existing brands such as Habring².
The brand with which he has partnered on this endeavour is Unimatic. This very young Italian brand has primarily focused on Italian-made dive watches with a minimalist, mid-century feel. The model selected by Massena for this collaboration, the Modello Uno which is also the only model currently available from Unimatic, is the best evocation of this feel. Don’t let this vintage-theme deceive you, though, as Unimatic is a brand consummately capable of holding its own in the modern, social-media-driven world.
The Object of the Exercise
In the creation of this watch, Massena made this statement about what was to be achieved: “What would a Unimatic watch from the 1950s look like today?” . In this statement is more than one first notices. Bearing in mind that Unimatic already produce watches styled very similarly to those of the past, this was an exercise in ageing rather than one in vintage design.
From the coin-edge bezel to the simple, no-date dial, the Modello Uno is already very much designed after watches and equipment from this time. Even so, Massena LAB has worked with Unimatic to enhance the effect with a remarkable dial for a watch of this price.
The Unimatic x Massena LAB U1-ML6
To develop the appearance of this watch, the first element added is a bezel similar to that used by the now-iconic ‘James Bond’ Rolex Submariner ref. 6538 as worn by Sean Connery. Its red triangle at 12 o’clock immediately presents the feel of this bygone era. The more profound change, though, it witnessed on the dial.
As many sports watches age, their dial colour changes due to extended exposure to sunlight and humidity. Currently, vintage watch buying trends, at least in the auction world, pursue watches which have developed patina to create these so-called ‘tropical dials’. In this form, the black dials of Rolex Submariners or Omega Speedmasters are replaced by innumerable tones of chocolate or brown.
In order to recreate this aged effect, an interesting approach has been taken whereby a Milanese dial manufacturer has conducted a galvanic process on the dials and immersed them in a chemical bath. The result is the same warm, burnt tone as on a watch from this period. Due to the use of chemical processed rather than paint, each dial will also be different. To complete the effect, a watchmaking prints the gilt markings on the dial and then applies the aged SuperLuminova to the dial. The result is certainly eye-catching and, for a watch offered for $850, it’s impressive that such care can be taken.
With the exception of an appealing engraving of Poseidon on the caseback, an homage to veteran Alistair Robertson who served aboard HMS Poseidon whose emblem was Poseidon, the case remains unchanged. Entirely brushed, its with is 40mm with an overhanging 41.5mm bezel and a 13.6mm thickness in stainless steel. Internally, this watch is driven by the dependable Seiko NH35A whose specifications are listed below. Whilst this is a modest movement for the price, the expense no-doubt devoted to the dial and the fact that it retains respectable specifications make it very acceptable.
Tastefully Historic or Missing the Point?
As with any heavily vintage-inspired watch on the market, a few questions do arise. Inevitably, this watch fits within the presently strong market for ‘tropical’ dialled watches yet which many outside the upper echelons of the buyers cannot access. This watch also provides an answer to the fact that most watches with such a dial cannot be used without considerable concern either due to their value or their fragility.
In this context, it’s a no-brainer for Massena LAB x Unimatic to have created this watch. However, it is also important to note that, with a change of market interest, the market for aged vintage watches will return to a position of relative undesirability. With that being said, this watch avoids the considerable financial risk yielded by investing in a real watch from the ’50s with such a dial.
The other aspect which, whilst trying to not sound overly sentimental, comes to mind is that this watch somewhat trivialises the fact that much of the appeal of a vintage watch is the life which it has led. In order to achieve such a rich dial colour, a vintage watch would require a hard life of outside work or use in a humid, tropical environment. By contrast, this piece achieves the same effect from the start. What do you think of this?
In any case, none of these ramblings particularly matter given that all 99 pieces have been sold.
Availability: 99 pieces sold exclusively through Massena LAB for USD 850
- Dimensions: 40mm (41.5mm at the bezel) x 13.6mm x 49mm
- Material: Stainless Steel Case & Aluminium Bezel Insert
- Crystal: Double Domed Sapphire Crystal with Anti-Reflective Coating
- Display: Galvanised and chemically-aged dial / Gilt minute markers / Hand-applied SuperLuminova markers / Blackened hands with Superluminova coating / Unidirectional 120-click bezel with luminous pip and red marker at 12 o’clock
- Water Resistance: 300m / 1,000ft / 30 ATM
- Movement: Seiko cal. NH35A: Time (hours, minutes & seconds) / 3Hz, 21,600 vph, 6 ticks-per-second / 41-hour power reserve / Hacking seconds / Automatic & manual winding / 24 jewels