The Massena Lab Uni-Racer
It seems that Lockdown/COVID is not affecting the steady release of new watches, which surely can't be a bad thing right?? This week was no exception with the release of the first watch branded by the industry legend William Massena.
William Massena for those of you who do not know is nothing short of an industry legend. Not the dizzying levels of JCB, but an industry heavyweight none the less. Massena’s journey in the industry started as one of the early voices of the Timezone watch forum. Not only was he an early voice, but he also served a long and successful tenure as the forums managing editor. So as far as horological pedigree goes, Mr. Massena has some pretty good credentials. So far his contribution to physical watches has been limited to some superb collaborations with the micro brand UNIMATIC, which you can see below.
The Massena Lab x Unimatic Modello Uno and the man himself... Mr William Massena
However, this is his first foray into a watch brandishing his name. And suffice to say it has been met with a fair amount of controversy since its release just FOUR days ago. I must admit, and this was assessing the watch purely on an aesthetic basis, I was initially very impressed. It gave me the feel of a Dan Henry but at an increased price point, and as a result increased quality. However, taking some time to assess the watch on its merits outside of it looking pretty, it is not as good a picture as you might think.
The white and black dial variation of the Uni-Racer from Massena Lab (Photo Credit: Hodinkee)
As you can see above, what we have here is a simple, two-register chronograph, branded ‘Massena-Lab’, the design house that Massena founded a few years ago. The ethos was that it allowed William to design and produce watches that he wanted to not only own himself but watches that he wanted the collecting community to own, without the lofty prices that some of the pieces now command on the second-hand market. Before we go into the minutia of the watch itself, the heat that it has been attracting is that it is not even a tasteful ‘homage’, but that it is in fact a blatant knock-off that some unnamed members of the community have been comparing to a Shenzhen special. Whilst I am not entirely convinced it warrants quite this level of hate, let me take you through the watch, and you can make up your own mind as to how bad it actually is.
As I mentioned above, the watch is a simple two-register Chrono, inspired by the Universal Geneve Uni-Compax ‘Big Eye’. And on the surface, the only feature that separates the two pieces is, unfortunately, the name that adorns the dial below the 12 o’clock indices.
The legendary Universal Geneve 'Big Eye' chronograph...
To give a bit of context, Universal Geneve, who are sadly no more, are a legendary name when talking about watches from the 60’s and 70‘s. In the chronograph space, they are known for making sports chronographs. Between the years of 1963 and 1965, UG made a relatively small in modern terms, 36.5mm chronograph in two forms. The first in a white dial and the other in a contrasting black dial. One of the distinctive features being an oversized and contrasting minute counter that sat opposite a traditional for a chronograph small seconds counter. And this is where the nickname of ‘Big-Eye‘ originated from. The reason; as far as I can see, for the choice of re-inventing this watch is this. If you want to go to the likes of Analog Shift and pick up an original example you are looking at north of £30,000. This instantly makes them prohibitive for most collectors. And funnily enough, as I mentioned earlier, this is what sparked the release of the below from a similar figure in the industry, Dan Henry.
The Dan Henry 1964, similar but different? definitely on my radar none the less... Photo Credit: Watch Patrol...
This, like the Massena Lab offering, is a similarly blatant ’homage’. However, that has not caught anywhere near the same flack. And to put it simply, that is down solely to price. Whilst the Dan Henry 1964 fetches just under £200, the Uni-Racer is priced at £2,700. I believe that the issue that people are having is that this watch is perceived to be a money-grab. Re-invent a watch from a dead brand, offer a modern reinterpretation for £27,000 less than a vintage example, and sit back and watch the money roll in.
Whilst, in short, I do see where the haters are coming from, surely there is something to be said for taking a truly iconic and sort after design, and making it accessible?? And I must admit I do think a lot of the hate is because of maybe the branding on the dial? Considering the love everyone has for the Gevril Tribeca without denouncing it as a clear knock-off of a 6264 Daytona, it seems a bit rich.
Photos of the watch to sink your teeth into (Photo Credit: Hodinkee)
In summation, I do like the watch. Despite its clear design queues taken from the aforementioned Universal Geneve, it is a good looking watch. Whilst it has been up-sized to 39mm, it still sits below 40mm, which for a watch inspired by small vintage chronographs is just right. Furthermore making it manual wind, whether you like Sellita calibers or not, is a crucial design decision for this watch. Making this automatic to please the modern watch buyer would have been criminal and the watch would have lost the vintage charm that makes it so appealing.
I am sure as more reviews, videos and commentary comes out about this watch my opinion may change, slightly or drastically. Despite people jumping to extremes when this watch was initially released, I am prepared to give it a chance. This is not some kickstarter Submariner knock-off released as a money grab. This is a thoughtful homage to a legendary chronograph that is reasonably priced and tastefully proportioned. As the old addage goes "try before you buy" or in this case "maybe wait and see the watch in the flesh before throwing it to the dogs".
Editor & Co-Founder