In the Flesh: MONTA Oceanking

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It seems like everyday there are new watch brands popping up on Instagram and Kickstarter. Hell, Oak & Oscar’s debut feels like it was ages ago (in internet years, I guess it was). And truth be told, a lot of these upstart companies come off as money grabs, whether it’s because of a half-baked design, lack of originality, too much originality, or what have you. However, a few have truly caught our eye, which brings me to MONTA Watches, and their dive watch called the Oceanking.

Before we get down and dirty with the Oceanking, I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “What the hell is a MONTA?” MONTA is the brainchild of Mike DiMartini, the guy behind Everest Straps. Although the strap business is doing well, Mike has wanted to build his own watch for some time. Thanks to a solid network of manufacturers and designers from five or so years of strap making, the dream is now a reality.

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Let’s start with the case and bracelet. The 40mm width should be right in everyone’s wheelhouse, and the sub-14mm thickness is what you’d expect from a modern diver. Overall, you’ll probably get a “Black Bay on an Oyster bracelet” vibe, and from a distance, that’s pretty accurate. However, on the wrist, Black Bay goes away, replaced by a case that doesn’t feel clunky. It’s almost as if Tudor took the Black Bay and made it feel like a previous generation Submariner. There are also some nice details on the case, like the lugs chamfers on both the outside and inside; this gives the case an outline, adding definition and dimension. MONTA clearly took the time to create a case profile that is all about “wrist feel”. Few dive watches have been made in the last five years that actually feel wearable to me on an everyday basis, and you can add this one to that short list.

The bracelet is very comfortable, thanks to the nice taper and articulating links. That’s right, the “Oyster” style links aren’t solid; the centerlinks pivot independently from the outer links, allowing it to conform to your wrist. Note that the outside of the bracelet has a chamfer to match the lugs. The details of the bracelet were well thought out, down to the clasp, which feels rock solid. My only complaint here would be that there’s no diver’s extension, but maybe that’s because it makes more sense to dive with the included rubber strap anyway (or that 90% of those wearing this watch won’t be diving). As can be expected the rubber strap provided is near perfect. Similar to their offerings for Rolex, the rubber strap fits perfectly to the case. The one upgrade they added was a channel on the underside that allows water and air to filter out naturally. I’ve worn their straps on my watches and I’ve always considered them one of the best rubber straps on the market – no change there.

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Although there’s no diver’s extension on the bracelet, divers were not forgotten in the watch’s execution. Both the bezel and crown were specifically designed to function with a gloved hand. The bezel has plenty of height, and the ridges are “grippier” than you’d expect. Rotating the bezel, you’ll find that there’s practically zero play in the action. I’ve turned a lot of bezels in my day, and this is no doubt on par with high-end dive watches. What’s more, the ceramic insert is the only one on the market NOT glued or taped to the bezel ring. MONTA has a couple patents pending on the bezel construction, which allow it to stay together via compression and a single pin, as well as make it impossible to lineup anywhere but dead on. One interesting thing about the insert is that there’s no lume, not even a pip. Before I blasted the watch about this in the review, I asked Mike about it, and it turns out he wasn’t satisfied with the available technology in adding lume to a ceramic bezel. It seems he’s still working on solutions and you can expect a lume or pip version coming in the future, which would be made available to exchange out on existing Oceankings.

Moving on to the dial, you’ll find a number of great details. You’ll notice right away that the markers are a mix of printed and applied. This is an interesting choice, and I think what it does is add a higher-end look without getting too blingy. Having only printed markers can seem a bit cheap, and then all applied markers can be a bit too much for a dive watch. Less noticeable details are the carveouts in the rehaut that are positioned above the hour markers. They’re subtle, but add depth and show the attention to detail in the design. Note the date window has a polished-steel framing, which keeps the symmetry with the rest of the dial and is a great touch. The finish of the dial lands somewhere between matte and gloss, which I don’t think you’ll see too often, but looks good in various lighting and photographs well if you can fight off the crystal reflections.

Of course, we can’t talk about the dial without mentioning the hands. Does anyone not like sword hands on a diver? They go together like peanut butter and jelly, in my opinion. And here we have a fantastic set of sword hands. The high polished steel looks great, and they’re faceted down the middle just like dauphine hands. The combination of the high-end finishing with the utilitarian functionality is like James Bond wearing his tux underneath his wetsuit, à la Goldfinger.

Inside the Oceanking is the Eterna 3909A. You won’t see this movement used very often, especially by a brand new watch company. So far, the Eterna 39 base movement has been well received, and seems to be a solid contender for an ETA replacement as Swatch makes it harder and harder to procure their movements. With a 65-hour power reserve and regulation to within COSC standards, this should be a reliable and worry-free powerplant. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that using this caliber puts MONTA in an interesting position when it comes to the value proposition. What’s more, any concerns about reliability for a new-ish caliber can be put to rest by Monta’s 3-year warranty, which is extended to 5 years for early buyers, including a complementary full overhaul (movement and case). That’s honestly a pretty bold offering for a new entrant to the market.

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About that value proposition, what does the Oceanking cost? Retail is set at $3,550, which is likely going to provide sticker shock coming from a brand new watchmaker. I get that, and I agree that it’s a solid chunk of money for a new brand with no history. However, I think the money is right when all is considered. Their most direct competition will be the Black Bay, in both style and price, and frankly, I much prefer the Oceanking on the wrist. The wrist feel blows the Black Bay out of the water. I also compared it to the Omega Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial – a watch I used to own – and the dimensions are very similar. But again, I don’t know what else to say than the Oceanking sits better on the wrist. I expect to say that brands backed with millions of dollars can produce something that feels great for everyday wear, but they often don’t. It’s mind-boggling. And here we have a bootstrapped independent brand that goes out and does it on the first try.

I would imagine the Oceanking, and MONTA in general, will see its share of haters out of the gates – that’s expected. But I also expect that many of you who manage to get your hands on an example will quickly realize that the Oceanking is no joke. Where will MONTA go? Only time will tell, but I can safely say their initial offering will get them off on the right foot. Look for the Oceanking to be available sometime early 2017, and try to catch it as MONTA makes its rounds to the various Red Bar meetups around the country.

 

Thanks to Alan (@rolexdiver) for the incredible photos.

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Shane is one of the founding members of Wound For Life and a contributor to several other publications. A lover of all things mechanical, his true passions lie with watches and adventure. To keep up with the latest from Shane, you can follow him on Twitter (@shanegriffin1) or Instagram (@shanegriffin25). If you'd like to get in touch with Shane, email him at shane@woundforlife.com.

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