Inside & Out: Niall Panda GMT
How I Got This Watch: I contacted Niall and asked to review this piece. I wore it for two weeks before returning it to them. This is not a paid review.
The Niall Panda GMT is one of the most American watches you can buy right now.
Much like the Mido All-Dial before this, I had no idea of what to expect as I had never heard of Niall before, but I was intrigued to wear an American watch for a week or two. As a recent immigrant to these United States, I'm forever intrigued by the American fascination with ancestry; nearly everyone I meet proudly declaring their Americanness only to say "Oh I'm English/Irish/Scottish as well!" when they hear me speak. This duality of American identity continues with Kansas City, MO based Niall; the name is taken from the fourth century Irish High King Niall Noigiallach who the CEO of Niall, Michael Wilson (along with an estimated 2-3 million other men) is descended from.
Not only does the name of the company hold dual citizenship but so do their watches with Niall having Swiss movements modified in Kansas. I'll be going deeper into the weeds about the FTC laws and which companies do 'Made in America' right in a future article but for now, I'll just say that Niall are among the best when it comes to transparency.
70.9% of the components used in Niall watches are sourced in the United States with the remaining 29.1%, namely all the movement components, sourced from Switzerland.
That 70.9% figure includes 100% of non-movement parts with Niall using American made cases, dials, hands, crowns, glass, gaskets, screws, straps and buckles. This was made possible by the four years Wilson spent meeting with and convincing non-watch related companies based in the US to manufacture watch parts for Niall.
The One series was launched in 2012 and has since expanded to include six different watches with the GMT line releasing earlier this year. The Panda GMT is limited to fifty two pieces a year with two dial colors and it uses an Eterna Caliber 3914A GMT movement that was assembled and altered in Niall's Kansas City location. I've never encountered an Eterna movement before and I was impressed by the claimed 65 hour power reserve on Niall's website which held true for me during my time with the watch.
Eterna's selling point for their movements is the claim that their use of ceramic ball bearings allows for a smoother rotor rotation during automatic winding and this use of ball bearings have become so closely linked with Eterna that they now make up the company's logo. I can't say I noticed much of a difference in efficiency of winding but I didn't notice any problems either.
Niall's modification encompass the date wheel and the rotor which has been laser engraved with a geometric repeating pattern and the phrase 'Fortune Favors the Bold' around the circumference on the rotor. Rather than attempting a traditional 'Swiss style' engraving, the Niall's geometric pattern is instantly striking and is somewhat reminiscent of an MC. Escher painting with angles turned in against each other. I really like it and I hope that Niall continues to use this style. It's design elements like this that could begin to define what a the new generation of American movements will look like. Cotes de Kansas City perhaps?
Yes, do not adjust your computer screen, this is indeed a baby blue dial on a watch.
I didn't quite believe it at first and spent a good ten minutes trying to find better light until I was finally convinced that yes, the dial is baby blue. I won't lie and say that baby blue would have been my first choice for a watch dial but over the two weeks I spent with the Niall, it really grew on me and for a casual-come-dress watch, it's a surprisingly good pick. It's a faint color so most of the time it will appear white but when it hits the light at just the right angle, suddenly the color jumps into life.
The GMT complication is placed in the subdial at six o'clock with the running seconds at nine o'clock. This sub-dial layout is a little unusual though I grew to accept it whilst wearing it and the off-black/browny finish went nicely against the baby blue of the dial. During the final days of wearing the Niall, I received the Bremont Boeing 100 to wear and when including my own Zenith Captain Dual Time, I had three GMT watches in my house. Whilst I won't directly compare the watches against each other, I will say that it became apparent why displaying a GMT on a long pointer hand is the most common way.
The small GMT subdial on the Panda is small and you really have to look at it to know the GMT time, unlike either the Bremont or Zenith whose large hands instantly shout the time to you at arm's length. The Niall's GMT hand is free to be set at any point in-between the hour and whilst this might be fine if you're wanting to know the time in an odd location that uses fifteen or thirty minute offsets from the standard timezone, I just found this 'free' setting an annoyance. The GMT hand is still linked to the main hour hand of the watch so I found it easiest to only set the GMT at the start of the hour rather than risk having it be slightly off.
The 40mm case is milled out of a single block of steel and feels very sturdy on the wrist and whilst the height might be too great for it to be classed as a true dress watch, I had no problems fitting it under a cuff. The soft curve of the lugs and rounded bezel imbue the watch with a playful casual quality which is only heightened by the blue dial. The watch is available on either an alligator or genuine leather strap with either a deployant or pin buckle choice. The buckle, like the rotor, is laser engraved with the company's name on it whereas the crown has been stamped out with an N initial on it.
Unfortunately there are instances where the limitations of American manufacture become apparent. The printing of the thinner stick hour markers sometimes 'bleed' into the thicker base and aren't always perfectly aligned, at least to my eyes. I've said before that you don't need to have applied hour markers on your watch, both the Nomos 38 Datum and the Bremont MBII-WH had printed hour markers and I loved both watches, but I hope that in the future that Niall is able to improve the precision and detail of their dial printing.
The ceramic ball bearings of Eterna might be more efficient over the long run but I mostly was concerned with their effect on the volume of the rotor as it rotated. I'm a lover of mechanical watches and I appreciate the occasion tick and whir but the the whirring sound of the rotor was far louder than any watch I've encountered before. By no means was it deafening and it might have been heightened by the quiet working environment I write in but it was certainly noticeable.
I spoke with Niall about this and they believe that because the Niall's Gorilla glass crystal is only 1mm thick, one of the thinnest in the industry, the sound dampening is not as prevalent compared to the 2mm thick glass on the Niall One or the 2.5mm glass in most other watches. If you're working in a normal office then I doubt you'd hear anything but for those working in almost silent environments, save for the click-clacking of keys, consider this a friendly reminder.
Whilst I did like the pattern laser etched on the rotor, it does lack the fidelity of machine or hand-engraving and if not viewed from the correct angle the 'Fortune Favors the Brave' script blurs slightly as the lack of depth makes the letters harder to read. I do understand that there when attempting to make the most American watch possible that sacrifices have to be made so I'm glad that they attempted this in the States rather than outsource engraving to China or back in Switzerland.
I enjoyed my time with the Niall but when the Panda GMT starts at $4800, with the price increasing depending on the strap material and buckle type, I think it's too expensive, especially when compared against other watches in a similar style. However, for those looking to support the resurgence of American watchmaking then that price should be one your willing to pay. It might come at a premium but the Niall is paving the way for a return to form for American watchmaking.