Timepiece Chronicle

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Inside & Out: Monta Oceanking

Inside & Out: Monta Oceanking

Editor's Note: Since this review was published, the price of the Monta Oceanking has changed. It was originally $3500 but now is either $2350 on a steel bracelet or $1995 on a rubber strap. The watch no longer ships with a variety of straps, does not have a 4 year warranty and an additional service. The article has remained unchanged to reflect the reviewer's original opinion regarding the old price.

The Monta Oceanking is a fantastic tribute to dive watches from the 1950s and 60s

The general theme of the watch industry at the moment is what is old is new again. Every brand is cracking open the safe and blowing dust off old archives in search for the newest old watch to re-release. So what do you do when your brand is only two years old and doesn't have a legacy to look back upon? Monta's answer was to release one of the best tribute watches currently on the market.

Monta Oceanking prop 1.JPG

Founded by Mike DiMartini and David Barnes in 2015, Monta Watches was born out of disappointment. During their first trip to Baselworld in 2015, Mike and David felt that the heritage of traditional dive watches was being ignored (With the endless flood of vintage inspired designs that is a bold claim to make) and rather than complain and move on, Mike and David decided to start Monta Watches. The name Monta comes from the French word for mountain, Montagne, which was Mike and David's way of paying homage to their first company, Everest bands. Everest Bands are one of the biggest sellers of aftermarket luxury rubber straps which provide a flush finish onto nearly all Rolex models. (Avid viewers of Casey Neistat might remember Mike's cameo in the vlog to fix an improperly fitted Everest band). A watch's name has no effect on it's quality but I do love the name Oceanking. It feels like it was plucked out of a 1960s dive catalogue.

If you saw the Oceanking from across the room, you'd be forgiven in thinking that it is a Rolex, yet it would be foolish to say that Monta made a carbon copy of the classic Submariner. Both watches have similar designs, namely the black divers bezel, Oyster bracelet and monochromatic dial, but that's because that design has transcended from one brand into being the definition of dive watch design. A modern computer keyboard isn't copying an Underwood typewriter because all the keys are in the same place, it's the standard.

The polished 40mm 316L stainless steel case is a classic size.

It might have been huge in 1960 but it feels wonderful to wear in 2017. 40mm is the perfect size for a modern dive watch and the proportions on the Oceanking make it a joy to wear. Some may feel that 40mm is too small a watch to be a functional diver or that it's too dainty on the wrist. I beg those people to reconsider. Many years ago I was like you and thought that a dive watch needed to be at least 44mm wide and at least two meters tall off the wrist. Thankfully I've been enlightened and now realize that it's not the size that counts, it's what you do with it.

A well proportioned 40mm watch can feel larger than it is when you have the right bezel width, the correct lug length or the proper dial design, and Monta nailed every single one of these. There are two soft facets that run down on the interior and exterior sides of the lugs which allows light to play off the case . They aren't razor sharp as I'd like, like the ones on the Alpina Alpiner A4, which is disappointing but they are still nice additions to the watch.

The coin edge bezel is a classic staple of dive watches and Monta are especially proud of the one on the Oceanking, and rightly so. Usually a unidirectional bezel will have a small amount of give when turned clockwise. Not the Oceanking. The bezel is immovable when trying to turn clockwise and has a very satisfying and sturdy click click click when turned anti-clockwise to mark time. The glossy black ceramic bezel looks great as do the bright white diving graduations engraved on it, though for a brand that wants to pay tribute to the great dive watches of years past, it's a big misstep to not have any lume on the bezel.

Mike has said in interviews that the decision was made because the available implementation for lume markers or a lume pip wasn't up to his standards. It's commendable to not include, what Mike believes, is an inferior part or process on his watch but that doesn't make the exclusion any less irritating. I never had an occasion during my two weeks with the watch where I needed to use a lumed bezel, but if I wanted to use the Oceanking as a dive tool, I would find it lacking.

The screw-down crown has a slight taper to it which allows for easy winding in any condition, dry or wet, gloves or not. It is quite pronounced from the case, especially without any crown guards, but I never found it sticking into my wrist (although as a lefty, I wear my watches on the right hand wrist).

The Oceanking's dial is a classic dive watch design

Everything, except one thing I'll get to shortly, about the dial is designed to be visible and functional. The large applied hour markers at 12, 3 and 9 have a healthy amount of lume between the polished sides that shine bright in low light, and are accompanied by the painted lume markers for the five minute and 1 minute intervals. The thick sword hands jump right off the black dial and also have a generous dose of lume between the polished edges. Every time I went to check the time there was never a second of doubt about what I'd read.

The one thing on the dial that isn't as visible is the Monta name, which is ironic given how large the type is. Sitting beneath the Monta quatrefoil-esque logo at 12 o'clock, the Monta name is in block capitals and should be a prominent presence on the dial...except for the fact it's always hidden by the hands in the morning and early afternoon. You'll notice that all my photographs in this article have the hands set to the wider 10 past 9 rather than the usual 10 past 10. This was the only way that I could get the Monta name in without it being partially obstructed (As I write these words it is 1:50 and all I can read is MONT).

Looking at the upcoming watches from Monta, the Triumph and the Skyquest, it's clear this is the style that Monta have chosen for future watches. Of course, the name on the dial doesn't change the quality of the watch nor does it change how well one can read the time, but it would be nice to see the full name between in the hours between 9 and 3. The execution of the date window at 6 o'clock is unobtrusive despite the thick polished steel border around the window. I would have preferred a tapered window that could have matched the hour marker at 12 o'clock but as date windows go, this one is pretty good.

One aspect of the watch where I can given unabashed praise is the design and implementation of the rubber strap and steel bracelet.

It's no surprise that Mike and David used their experience at Everest to design an amazing rubber strap for the Monta. Whilst it doesn't have the soft smell of vanilla that some straps do, it was comfortable, durable and a breeze to fit. There is a channel on the underside that supposedly allows air to flow in and water to flow out whilst underwater. I don't dive so I can't attest to that but I can say this rubber strap was one of the best I've worn.

On the underside of the strap are two cutaway sections that reveal more of the springbar than most straps do. These cutaways allow you to locate the springy part of the spring bar with ease when attaching/detaching the strap. During the two weeks with the Oceanking, I must have swapped over the strap half a dozen times and each time I was always surprised with how easy it was. The same goes for the steel bracelet.

I'll say right now that there deserves to be a special circle of hell for watchmakers who use pin and barrels in the links of a watch. These watchmakers should spend an eternity searching on their hands and knees for that one missing barrel that rolled under the table. Fortunate enough for Mike and David, they chose to use screws which, whilst smaller than pin and barrel, are superior in everyway. Changing the length of a bracelet was quick, efficient and can be done with minimal expletives. The design of the Oceanking bracelet is an Oyster H link style where the inner links are able to articulate separately to the outer links which allows the bracelet to flow over the wrist very comfortably.

The clasp is especially sturdy and features an engraved Monta logo on the securing fold. Four micro-adjustments on the clasp allow for more precise changes but there is no divers extension. Last year, Mike said in an interview with Bezel and Barrel that a sliding micro-adjustment was in development but patents haven't been finalized yet. Hopefully we'll see this new system in a future iteration of the Oceanking.

On the inside of the watch is the Eterna Caliber 3939A.

This is the third watch I've reviewing which has an Eterna movement, the other two being the Niall GMT Panda and the Niall GMT Black Swan, and I'm very impressed so far. With Swatch/ETA restricting access to ETA movements, it's likely that we'll see more and more movements sourced from brands like Eterna. Whilst the 3939A isn't rated as a chronometer, it is adjusted to within chronometer specifications, namely +4/-6 seconds a day. It beats at 28,800bph and has a long power reserve of 65 hours. 65 hours is much longer than anyone needs but it's good to see a brand push past the far too short industry standard of around 40 hours.

The movement isn't visible as Monta chose to use a steel caseback on the watch. Whilst it's always nice to see the movement through a display back, the use of steel is in keeping with the tribute to watches from the 1950s and 60s. It also keeps the costs down on a watch that is already expensive for a debut release from a new brand.

The Eterna Caliber 3939A used on Oceanking. Photo courtesy of Monta Watches.

The Eterna Caliber 3939A used on Oceanking. Photo courtesy of Monta Watches.

Editor's Note: As stated above, the price of the Monta Oceanking has now changed from $3500 to either $2350 or $1995, depending on the strap or bracelet selected. The below section of the review has remained unchanged as it reflect the opinion regarding the original price.

The Monta Oceanking is currently $3550

$3550 is a lot of money for a watch, especially one from a yet unproven brand that is barely two years old. It's a very competitive price point as it straddles higher end entry level watches and lower end luxury watches. There will be some who say that the price is too high but I'm not one of them as I was incredibly impressed with the Oceanking, despite it's slight flaws. There may be dozens of dress watches available for under this price but the choice of chronometer grade dive watches for under $4000 is slim.

The lack of bezel lume is disappointing, as is the size of the Monta name, but neither could stop me from having a smile on my face when I wore the watch. On the rubber strap it felt like a perfect weekend warrior watch, able to be worn by the pool or beach without a care in the world. On the bracelet, it felt like a perfect first step into the world of luxury dive watches.

If you are looking for the feel of a vintage tool watch but want the reliability and resilience of modern technology, then the Oceanking will serve you well.

For more information on the Oceanking, please visit www.montawatch.com

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