What’s so wrong with Phaic Tăn? The MWC Diver 45 mm
Recently, I have become decidedly nihilistic about watches.
What were once truths I accepted as established, I have now begun to reject. For instance, the words Swiss Made don’t do anything for me anymore because I know a lot more about the modern watch manufacturing process than I did when I started. If it were up to me, I would recommend most watches come with a Mostly Swiss Made below the 6. So yes, I entirely get where H. Moser were coming from when they removed the words from their dials.
My sense of horological morality feels a bit askew as well. I am no longer offended by homage brands like I was taught to be, because - and whisper it quietly - there are only so many ways you can design and make a watch. Even the big boys are homaging each other, and always have. Rolex made the Mercedes hands iconic, and to this day they hold the emotional patent in the collector’s mind, but there are Omegas with that handset, and Tag Heuers. You could make an entire collection out of watches that owe a genetic debt to the creamy curvaceousness of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual. I know, because that is what I am trying to do right now.
So leave the AliExpress guys alone. As long as they’re using names that sound inspired by characters in a Fantasy RPG on the dial, let them be. Don’t forget that starting off with a homage makes a lot of people pine for the real thing. It’s the same tactic Omega used for the Moonswatch after all. There is also the more important point that the really good Ali brands, the San Martins of the world, keep manufacturers in the price tiers just above it, the Steinharts, honest. That is the market they are really going for.
And since no one is really mistaking a Heimdallr for Hamilton, I think there is enough room in shameless consumerism for us all - just like there’s room for three different versions of Hallelujah, as long as you know that Leonard Cohen was the OG.
To top it all off, my concept of meaning, horologically speaking, feels somewhat unmoored.
What does it mean to wear a tool watch? Provided you can swing by a power outlet for an hour every couple of days, isn’t a smartwatch a better tool watch for most people most of the time? Last year my mechanic was sporting a CA53W-1, a watch he has had since he was in Year 8. The week just gone, he was wearing a Galaxy Watch. I asked him why. He said it was so he could pick up when his family called. He has a six year old daughter now.
He could see the disappointment on my face as he went back to my 2000 Vitz, the car that lets me afford watches.
When you put it all together, you could say my watch-thoughts feel a bit like a Christopher Nolan film: mostly incoherent and inaudible, but I do think there’s a narrative in there somewhere.
The MWC Swiss Series Diver 45 landed on my desk when I was in the midst of these calculations. Pornographically large, it has a level of over-engineering that can only be described as, then auto-corrected to, a “Duck You”.
Hear me out here. This is a good watch. It isn’t brutally beautiful, like Tom Hardy, but possesses a Vin Diesel-like presence. There are aspects of it that are pretty useless, like a Helium Escape Valve and 1000 m of water resistance, but reality hasn’t deterred Sinn, Omega or Rolex, so why should it MWC? Poor folk can dream too, you know.
I had this on for a whole weekend, and did the ultimate “does it bother me?” test. I watched Premier League football with my wrist behind my head. It didn’t dig in, much like the Liverpool defence this whole season. Sure, on my 5’ 8” 72 kg frame it looked like it was wearing me rather than the other way round, but that’s the joy. Most of the time I had it on, I forgot about it, and that surely is a compliment for a watch of its dimensions and heft.
I only got into watches after the big watch craze, and so for me it was like a time capsule to an age I didn’t live through.
MWC knows that they are making a hybrid play here. What it lacks in refinement, it makes up for in genre-please box-ticking: a reliable Swiss SW-200 (the non-COSC, unlike the Formex we reviewed earlier in this series) packed inside an angular boxy case; clear, wide and large markers, hands that borrow partly from the Oris Aquis and partly from Omega. There’s a black-on-white date at the three. The bezel is solid and the supplied 22 mm rubber strap is thick and pliable enough.
The 15.8 mm thickness allows it to have a squat, flat-ish crown. The overall product fits into MWC’s entire catalogue: mil-spec looking pieces that are overengineered for civilians.
And so it is.
Through this series, we have tried to explore what “identity” means in the modern watch market. In Part 1, we looked at Ball Watches, and in Part 2, Formex. We asked the question, how much have these brands deviated from their origin story, and does it really matter?
As this is Part 3, I suppose it's time to deliver the verdict I am ultimately unqualified to deliver.
Would Webster Clay Ball recognise the Ball watches of today? He would like its niche, yet global recognition, sure, he was a businessman after all, but would he see his stamp on it?
I think he would. While Ball watches are no longer used for railroads, it’s only because the technology has moved on. I think Ball’s Ship of Theseus is truer because it remained a physical, mechanical watch company. Though in that same vein one might argue that if the true ship was the pursuit of railroad timing perfection, Ball should have converted itself to a company that made bespoke rail related iPad apps that Eurostar and Kiwirail engineers would use.
But they wouldn’t have tritium then, would they?
Formex, I would argue, has changed a few more planks. Where once it addressed a specific niche, racing-related timepieces, the output is now more mass market, usable and objectively, better. As far as reinventions go, what they have managed to do in the last few years is quite remarkable.
This culminated in the brand even changing their logo, moving from a divisive stylised wordmark that is on this piece to a more (dare I say) boring interwoven motif. The brand wants to be perceived as grown ups, and thus far, they’ve done a fine job.
Strangely, it seems that MWC’s is the ship least touched. It was started in 1974 by Wolfgang Obrigheimer, a German in Switzerland. He did the hard yards, building manual winds and fixing clocks to begin with. It gets a bit of flack for homaging famous brands from yesteryear, but really, it’s not like they did anything else back in the day. What Steinhart does to Rolex and Tudor designs, MWC does with old military specifications. MWC, in short, has always been MWC. It claims to supply private label timepieces to “police forces, anti-terrorist units, airlines, mining companies, shipping and salvage companies and a diverse variety of government agencies and departments”. Honestly, I do not know if there is a way to verify those claims.
And honestly, I don’t care if the watch is good. Like I said, nihilism.