To watch enthusiasts of a particular stripe, the name William Massena is a recognizable one. A prolific collector and industry veteran, and connoisseur in the truest sense of the word. A long-time fixture – and later Managing Director – of pioneering forum TimeZone, watch retailer, COO of Antiquorum, and GPHG Juror. Safe to say that Massena knows watches.
In 2018 Massena launched Massena LAB, a type of conceptual design studio that embodies a horological culture. The LAB stands for laboratory, label or collaboration. The first watch was a particularly lovely bronze-cased Habring2 Erwin. And while Massena says that there’s no particular design specifics or price point to the watches Massena LAB works on, the approach and output is broadly (and also very specifically) informed by Massena’s particular style: expect retro vintage vibes to appeal to a broad audience.
If that’s the brief then the second collaboration, the Unimatic X Massena LAB Modello Uno Ref. U1-ML6 has nailed it. Taking as its inspiration “what would a Unimatic from the 1950s look like today”, the U1-ML6 is a somewhat disconcerting combination of old and new. Rather than follow the now time-honored formula of recreating an historic watch, but using modern methods, this Unimatic is their familiar Modello Uno — a modern dive watch in form and silhouette, but with some decidedly vintage trimmings. The bezel and the dial of the U1-ML6 are inspired by the iconic Rolex 6538 Big Crown worn by James Bond — the red pip of the bezel, along with the tropical gilt dial evoke the look of a watch that’s lived a long, happy life, while in reality it’s fresh off the production line.
Having said that, production line isn’t entirely accurate. For starters, at 99 pieces, priced at $850 USD, the volume is quite low. And while the 300m rated 40mm case and Seiko NH35A movement are the products of modern industrial processes, the dial is something else entirely.
That distinctive tropical tone wasn’t a color Massena picked from a Pantone swatch to complete the vintage look. Instead, he went to a little more effort, sourcing a Milan-based dial manufacturer who makes each dial by hand. The black base dial is immersed into a hot chemical bath and galvanized to achieve a brown between rich chocolate and warm caramel.
Massena says they tried to narrow down the color, but that it’s difficult given the process, so there will be some tonal variation on the U1-ML6 models. On top of that, the gilt-like color is printed, and a watchmaker applies the grey-beige SuperLuminova in a thickly rounded structure just like the divers of yesteryear. Fauxtina, but taken to the next level.
There’s a tale to the caseback too. The neat engraving of Poseidon is fairly standard fare for a dive watch like this. But again, Massena has given it a little twist. The engraving is also a tribute to British Royal Navy officer Alastair Robertson, who served as navigator on the HMS Ocean, an aircraft carrier that bore the Greek god as its crest. It turns out this is the ship upon which the fictional Bond also served, which is a nice thematic tie-in to the front side. On top of that, the very real Robertson, who had an active WWII career, also happens to be Massena’s wife’s maternal grandfather.
The watch, available from the Massena LAB site, is an interesting and compelling accessible fusion of old and new and comes with Horween Cordovan strap and a nylon NATO.
Aitomatic Seiko NH35A; 21600 bph; 41 hours of power reserve
40mm stainless steel, 41.5mm with bezel; 2.5mm double domed sapphire crystal; solid caseback with ‘Poseidon’ engraving; numbered and rated to 300 meters.
22 mm Horween Shell Cordovan Color 8 strap, heavy-duty UNIMATIC nylon NATO.