We’ve discussed the surge of microbrands on many occasions, appreciating their innovative styling at accessible price points. Dive watches, however, can be a tough nut to crack with well-established players like Seiko, Hamilton and Tissot offering affordable, competitive options at retailers worldwide. In fact, the market seems flooded with divers from just about every major brand, so how can a newcomer compete? Well, meet the MARNAUT Dark Surge 300m divers sporting a serious depth rating and unique style that doesn’t scream Rolex or Seiko wannabe.
We first looked at MARNAUT’s Dark Surge series back in August 2018 when it launched on Kickstarter, but after having one on my wrist for a few weeks, it’s time for a proper review. The watch shares company with a lot of compelling recent additions, such as the BOLDR Globetrotter GMT, UNDONE Aqua and Farer Aqua Compressor Endeavour, but it’s able to stand out with a sophisticated dial and overall vibe unlike anything else. Let’s take a closer look at this impressive first watch series from MARNAUT.
Although MARNAUT is a new company established in 2018, its first watch series has been three years in the making. The name itself has meaning – MARNAUT = Mare(sea) + Nautica. Founder Mario Jutronic, a career creative and lifelong horology enthusiast, designed the watches in Croatia after spending his youth exploring the Adriatic Sea off the Island of Brac. Snorkelling and searching for sea urchins, the shell pattern of the spiny, spherical echinoderms left an indelible impression. The dial features dozens of metal indices that replicate this pattern as Jutronic’s goal was to “create a unique diver that fuses the golden age of ocean timepieces with modern-day high performance.” As the dial is the focal point, it became a central goal to create something inspired and different as the project developed. Being a small independent brand, MARNAUT focused on quality over quantity, so production is limited to less than 1,000 pieces over the entire collection per year. This helps the burgeoning company tightly manage supply chains and quality control and creates a bit of exclusivity for customers as well. Each piece can be authenticated via the CertiEye app (for both Android and iOS) using a QR code that corresponds to your specific watch’s serial number.
CASE AND DESIGN
The 316L stainless steel case has a satin-brushed finish and comes in at 42mm in diameter and 13mm in height. Certainly not a small watch, but fairly standard for a contemporary diver. My piece has a matching silver aluminium bezel with black stick markers every five minutes, but an anodized black bezel with markers filled with Super-LumiNova C3 comes standard on the other two models. The understated silver bezel has grown on me and I prefer it over the more traditional black/silver combination (there’s also an IP-plated black on black model).
All bezels are unidirectional with 120 clicks for a full rotation and turning it was both smooth and precise. A domed sapphire crystal covers the dial while a solid screw-down caseback has MARNAUT’s logo within a raised, bead-blasted circle. The double O-ring screw-down crown helps ensure its 300m depth rating and the company logo is stamped on the end. Seen from the side, the integrated lugs slope downward in a continuous arch, while the centre portion between the lugs curves outward. It’s a well-considered, weighty case with enough subtle design cues to avoid a generic aesthetic.
DIAL AND HANDS
The dial is the standout feature with a total of 46 metal indices, 34 of which spread out in a “sea urchin” pattern to each five-minute index. The innermost of these indices form a circle in the centre of the dial, surrounding the central post of the hands. While it sounds complex and even cluttered, the finished design is clean, sophisticated and eye-catching. Large 12, 3, 6 and 9 Arabic numerals are joined by applied stick indices every five minutes, and all 46 indices are coated with Super-LumiNova C3. The arrow-shaped hour hand, minute and lollipop seconds hands are also filled with lume.
Look closely and you’ll find small latitude and longitude coordinates printed at the bottom edge of the dial, on either side of the 6 index. They pinpoint Mario Jutronic’s diving spot in the Adriatic Sea. This is an impressive first dial for a new company and having all 46 indices radiate a bright green at night is a joy to see.
The heart of the Dark Surge is a Japanese Miyota 9015 automatic, featuring 24 jewels, 28,800vph (4Hz) and a 42-hour power reserve. Introduced in 2009, this is a proven workhorse that’s reliable, easily serviced and attainable by small brands. It features a Parashock shock protection system with central hours, minutes, hacking seconds and date (although the date feature is hidden by the dial in this series).
Its rated accuracy is within 10 to 30 seconds per day, which is comparable to a Standard grade ETA automatic (also accurate to within 30 seconds per day). My watch averaged only 12 seconds fast per day over two weeks of testing and that’s more than adequate for most wearers.
The 20mm strap on my piece is standard smooth black silicone that’s perfect for diving, although a second Italian distressed-leather strap is also included with all purchases. The latter depends on which model you get – the silver bezel gets a cream leather strap, the black bezel gets a grey leather strap and the IP-plated black case gets a black leather strap. Any of these straps can also be purchased separately. The silicone strap is comfortable and fits the aesthetic well, and for a proper dive watch, it’s probably the best choice. Although I appreciate the option from MARNAUT to change things up if desired.
I’ve reviewed a lot of dive watches, many from small independent brands, and most try to stand out with something unique. Maybe it’s a depth rating beyond 300m, a GMT hand or customization options. The “sea urchin” dial on the MARNAUT Dark Surge 300m is a worthy standout feature and really separates this piece from others. The 300m depth rating and proven Miyota 9015 keep it competitive, but this one’s all about style. I’ve gotten more comments by curious onlookers than from any watch I’ve worn in the last several months, divers or otherwise. That’s really saying something and I applaud MARNAUT for such a passionate first effort. The bezel doesn’t meet the ISO 6425 standard for a dive watch without printed numbers, but it’s still functional for most water enthusiasts. If you’re looking for a unique piece that can handle a serious plunge with a subtler aesthetic than your average dive watch, MARNAUT offers an excellent value proposition.
All three models are available to purchase now at MARNAUT’s online store. The silver and black bezel models retail for USD 549, and the IP-plated black on black model retails for USD 599. Each model is limited to 300 pieces per year and all come with a two-year warranty and 30-day return window. More information at www.marnaut.com.