Inside & Out: The Cherwell by Marloe Watch Co.
Disclaimer: In October 2015, Oliver Goffe and I exchanged emails regarding different Chinese movements for a watch that would eventually become the Cherwell. He reached out to me after having seen my review of the Kent Wang. I am not a backer for the Marloe Watch Co. Kickstarter Campaign.
The Cherwell is the first watch by Marloe Watch Company, whose first Kickstarter campaign exceeded their original goal of $42,000 by $200,000 with 932 people backing the project. Named after the River Cherwell that runs through the majestic English city of Oxford, the watch is a manual wind dress piece inspired by classic watches from the late fifties that aims to introduce mechanical watches to a whole new audience.
Previews on the watch have been available for several months now and when it was first reviewed by Worn & Wound before the launch of the Kickstarter there were some eyebrows raised about the size. A hyperbolic comment compared the 43mm watch to a dinner plate and yes, compared to similarly styled dress watches, the Cherwell is large. The decision to make the Cherwell a 43mm came from necessity due to the larger ligne manual wind movement inside, the Seagull ST36. In my Q&A last week with the co-founders of the brand, they said that they could have comprised and chosen the smaller ST17 but it was not as good looking as the 36.
I didn't find the size distracting or obtuse during my time with the watch though collectors of vintage watches might the size too daunting compared to their period 36/37/38mm dress watches. The watch was designed to introduce mechanical watches to a new wrist and turning it over to look at the movement shows this. The gear train is large and upfront, not hidden away inside and winding the crown allows you to see first hand the life being brought into the watch. To someone already steeped in watchmaking knowledge this might seem inconsequential but to someone who has only ever seen the lifeless circuitry of a quartz watch it will be an amazing experience.
The design of the movement is not the usual cotes de Geneve either. Instead a large star engraving bursts from the center leading to a soft curving brush finish. For traditionalists the alternative decorative engraving might seem funky but it is far superior to another plain and empty movement. There is a large amount of visible depth on display with the escapement being easily visible beneath the the balance wheel. The extra large regulator is perhaps my main criticism of the movement, stretching across from the balance bridge to the bold font reading slow/fast.
For those wondering what a regulator does, it change the length of available spring in the balance wheel that alters the length of oscillation (the coiling and uncoiling of the spring) which in turn affects the accuracy of the watch. Moving it to slow position lengthens the spring causing the oscillation to take longer which makes the watch run slower. Moving it to the fast position shortens the spring causing the watch to run faster. It doesn't ruin the movement for me but it is distracting and I would have prefered the slow/fast text to be less prominent. The ST36 runs at 21,600bph and has a power reserve of around fifty hours. It ran without any problems during my time with it and is easily comprobable to any Swiss ETA movement in a similar price range.
The case back is another strength for the Cherwell as it utilizes what is typically a lot of wasted space with a unique raised engraving. Even my Zenith Captain Dualtime has nearly a centimeter of blank steel running around the sapphire window to the movement. The wonderful engraving on the case back reads perfectly and is a really inventive use of the space that is usually solely for serial and references numbers. A quote from C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters reads "The Future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour" and seems perfect for the back of a watch (The original context of a bureaucratic demon teaching a subordinate how to correctly tempt a Christian into sin is perhaps less fitting) with additional text simply reading "Marloe Watch Co.". In addition to the steel engraving is a line of text that is placed upon the mineral glass crystal case back itself. It's smaller and in some lights impossible to read but as a secret hidden in plain sight it is perfectly charming and something I haven't seen on a watch in a long time, especially in this price range. It reads "Designed in Great Britain. Hand-Wound Movement ST 3621. OG | GF. Cherwell First Edition". OG and GF are the initial of the founders, Oliver Goffe and Gordon Fraser.
For a watch that is now retailing at $350, there is a lot of attention to detail on the dial. The first thing you notice is the interesting use of relief with the raised center dial and minute markers. Like the watches it takes inspiration from, with differently colored inner and outer dial rings, the same effect is created on the Cherwell by raising the center dial up with the hour markers seemingly acting as raises. Surrounding the dial past the tips of the hour markers are small square hour markers that frame the watch wonderfully. There has been criticism because they don't go all the way around, instead stopping at 5 till 7 and 11 till 1 but I had no issue with that. It's cool and infinitely nicer than nothing or printed markers.
The sub-dial is another great section of the watch with textured snailing added and the dial itself is lowered on the raised center dial creating even more depth. As this is a dress watch there is no markers or numbers denoting seconds on the sub-dial and I think that is perfectly acceptable for a watch of this style. Designer Gordon Fraser spoke to me a few days ago about Marloe's plans for a chronograph piece and it will be interesting to see how their minimalist design pairs with the need for a functional, practical chronograph layout. At 6 o'clock it reads HAND-WOUND along the edge of the dial which again reinforces the notion that this is an introductory mechanical watch to someone alien to the concept.
Whilst I found myself leaning towards the white dial whilst wearing the watch, the black dial did find it's way onto my wrist more times than I would have thought. The lack of lume doesn't hinder its legibility in dim conditions as the silver hour markers and hands stand out nicely against the dial but don't count on any midnight glances to show you anything. One thing that the black dial disappointed me in was that in certain lighting the relief, both the raised center dial and the square minute markers, could get easily lost in the black. Where I sit whilst writing is reasonable well lit, about twenty feet from a huge window, but it takes me leaning over to more natural light to see the details. Outside this was never an issue at all with each pip being as legible as on the silver dial. In the same seat, the white dial's relief could be easily seen without having to move.
As you might have guessed, the black dial was extremely hard to photograph without getting glare or a reflection of yours truly on it. It's a deep black and the photos seen on the Marloe Watch Co. website are representative of what it looks like in real life. Both of the watches I spent time with had polished stainless steel case and there is a bead-blasted case with a grey dial available to pre-order now as well. All pre-orders are expected to ship in June regardless of whether you backed the Kickstarter or not.
The crown winds absolutely beautifully and has been designed so that the daily ritual of winding feels very pleasing. The engined turned spiral gives good grip, looks cool and moving it from position 1 to 2, I never felt even a wobble. The monogrammed M on the crown's face is a really nice touch and I hope that with whatever future watches Marloe Watch Co. come out with, they will continue to use the same design if appropriate. The Lug width is 20mm and the Cherwell comes with a genuine leather strap as standard in a color appropriate to the dial and the color can be chosen at the point of sale. Both were comfortable though my personal preference is to have a more tapered strap but complaining about something as easily changeable as a strap isn't worth worrying about.
There is a lot of flak leveled at Kickstarter watches from the watch community, some of it deserved with some campaigns feeling rushed and short sighted, content on satisfying an initial urge to create but lacking the necessary commitment to follow through. They can be forgettable and use their promise of something new and exciting as a crutch for their lack of experience and brand history. This is not the case with Marloe Watch Co. as following an almost instantaneous funding, the brand rolled out planned, sensible and realistic stretch goals that augmented the release of the Cherwell. They have plans to release a small case size sometime in 2017 and plans for a chronograph model sometime in the future as well. Only the time will tell whether these projects are as successful as the Cherwell and it's a future we're all going to reach at a rate of sixty minutes per hour and it's a future I look forward to seeing.