Inside & Out: Niall GMT Black Swan
How I got this watch: I spoke with Niall Luxury about reviewing a timepiece. I was sent the Black Swan and wore it for two weeks. This is not a paid review.
"This laboring of ours with all that remains undone, as if still bound to it, is like the lumbering gait of the swan"
The Niall GMT Black Swan is the latest watch from the Kansas City based brand. Released in 2016, the GMT collection was the second series of watches from Niall and the first with a complication other than a date. In October of last year, I spent two weeks with the Niall GMT Panda which is mechanically identical to the Black Swan. I don't like comparing watches against each other but seeing as the Panda and the Black Swan are the same watch with differing aesthetics, I've indulged in comparison more frequently for this review.
The Black Swan is part of a series of colored dials with decorative patterns engraved: the Moon Drop is bright purple, the Arctic is snow white and the Black Swan is night sky black. What starts life as a blank canvas of carbon fiber polymer goes through a series of gruelling transformations to become the engraved dial you see.
All Niall non-movement parts are manufactured in America and the dials are stamped, machined, chamfered and printed in Kansas City. Accomplishing this process in America is no small feat and Niall have no plans to stop.
The stock photos on Niall's website don't do justice to the repeating geometric pattern that criss-crosses over the dial. When looking at the dial head on, the pattern hides in dark shadow but even the slightest tilt will reveal the spirals. To my eye, the Black Swan has seen some improvements in printing fidelity over the Panda. The hour markers are more crisp, the numbers on the sub-dials are clearer and the colors pop more. The white dashes with hourly red dot accents is a nice combination that pairs well with the red hands of the registers.
The white alpha hands are longer and fatted (but only by a sliver) and they are a bold presence against the black dial. The sub-dial hands have also seen subtle change, though the change is so miniscule I'm sure only total pedants like me would notice it. The running seconds hand is thinner and longer by a hair's breadth and length and the GMT hand has lost its stubby tail. The subdials are now recessed which gives the dial that extra layer of depth and the plain white contrasts well against the patterned main dial.
These small changes show Niall's dedication to refining their dial manufacturing processes.
As much as I love the decoration of the dial, and I really do love it, the increased intricacy is a double edged sword. By showcasing their ability to create wonderful dials, Niall also exhibit how far they have to go when decorating movements.
Like the Panda GMT before it, the movement of the Black Swan is plain apart from a decorated rotor. I had no problem with this before, but looking at the geometric swirls on the dial makes me want more. More engraving on the movement, more decoration on the rotor, more of everything that I could get for two thousand dollars less from a Swiss brand. That may be unrealistic and greedy, but the reality is that the demands of a watch consumer who can spend $3950 on a watch are unrealistic and greedy.
The repeating pattern on the rotor is as cool as it was back in October and I'm determined to get the phrase Cotes de Kansas City to catch on (Michael, feel free to use that line in advertising). The watches serial number is now laser etched onto the rotor itself and the longer "Fortune favors the brave' has been removed. This is wise decision as the fidelity of laser etching wasn't quite up to scratch for longer words.
Something that remains unchanged is the setting of the GMT hand. The Niall Black Swan uses a small register at six o'clock with a small dagger like hand, rather than the industry standard larger pointer hand. Most GMT hands can only be set in hourly increments and their alignment between the hours is linked to the minute hand.
The Niall Black Swan's GMT hand is not linked to the minute hand and can be set at any point between hours. Like before, this irks me. The smaller space of a sub-dial restricts the precision that the hand can be set to. As before, I found it easiest to set the GMT at twelve when the margin for error is slightly less. This lack of a linked GMT hand is a small nitpick. Yet to people looking to spend a few thousand dollars on a watch, a small nitpick could undermine the good work that Niall is doing.
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Something that I'm glad to see fixed is the sound of the rotor. My review piece Panda GMT had rotor with a very distinct whirrr whirrr whenever it moved on its access. Niall told me then that it could be down to the type of glass they use on their watches. Rather than the industry standard of 2.5mm thick sapphire crystal, Niall chose instead to use 1mm thick Gorilla glass (Made in the USA of course). It must have been a quirk of that particular watch as I'm happy to say that I heard no discernable whirrr emanating on my wrist this time around.
The stainless steel case is the same shape and diameter (40mm) as the Panda although all case back engravings are gone. It's a solid feeling case that sits well on the wrist but the design is fairly vanilla. Chamfered lugs or a more interesting bezel would go a way in making it look more dynamic.
It is the perception of luxury where Niall is going to struggle the most. The dial, whilst striking, doesn't have the same je ne sais quoi that one might perceive in a Swiss watch. I'm sure that most Swiss dials spend more time with the Dial Engraver Bot 5000 than they would like to admit, but decades of conditioning tricks my brain into thinking that the Swiss are somehow better.
I admire Niall's efforts to become the next luxury American brand. It's still early days but I think they can get there. If you'll allow this writer the indulgence of a tortured metaphor then Niall are like a swan learning to fly. Right now they're learning how to flap their wings and how to move their legs forward. They're moments away from entering graceful and elegant flight, but they're not quite in the air yet.
Like my time with the Panda GMT, I really enjoyed my time with the Black Swan but it's still very expensive. $3950 will go further if you buy Swiss and even further if you buy vintage. But you should remember that the watch you're buying now is crucial to the development of future watches made in America. If you care about the revitalisation of the American watchmaking industry then you absolutely should be buying Niall. And the Black Swan? It's the best one yet.