The Mercer Lexington Chronograph Reviewed
Vintage-inspired, powered by a cool column-wheel, hand-wound movement but inexpensive.
It’s not hard to find a chronograph in any price range since just about every watch brand offers one (or many). I’m somewhat picky when it comes to chronographs and tend to like more unique pieces like the Longines Avigation BigEye or Junghans Meister Chronoscope Terrassenbau Limited Edition, and pass on the garden variety. It’s no secret that there’s an exploding population of microbrands throughout Europe and North America that are undercutting established brands’ prices with Kickstarter campaigns and online-only storefronts. Watches like the Aqua Compressor Endeavour from Farer Universal and Ticonite from ORLO Watches prove that modern technology, a talent for design and mass-produced, high-quality movements have levelled the playing field to a large extent, especially in the sub-USD 2,000 market. Mercer Watch Co. is an excellent example of this and has a well-designed chronograph with a column-wheel movement, and an impressive price to match. Let’s take a closer look at their Lexington Chronograph.
I always like supporting small entrepreneurs and Mercer Watch Company is just that. Based in Princeton, New Jersey, home to Princeton University, Mercer was named after Hugh Mercer, one of George Washington’s key generals who died in battle just a few miles from their headquarters. Founded only a few years ago by Scott Vuocolo, Mercer Watch Company has grown from its original Brigadier piece in 2014 (driven by a Miyota 9015 automatic) to a current portfolio of eight models with many variations among them. Movements range from Miyota to Sellita to Seagull calibres, which are common for microbrands to keep costs in check. Mercer will likely never produce in-house movements and many parts will continue to be outsourced, but as Vuocolo clearly admits, the company isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. Their focus is on design and affordable manufacturing, and watches are assembled, tested and regulated in-house.
CASE AND DESIGN
The case on the Lexington has a 1960s retro vibe, being all polished stainless steel with a reserved 39mm diameter. While I appreciate this old-school charm, the 13.5mm height is positively contemporary. I prefer this bit of heft and it helps the watch wear bigger than the 39mm diameter suggests. Subtle chamfers round off both sides of the top and extend to the tips of the lugs, which is a nice detail, but hard to see through the polished finish. Keeping with the retro theme, the crystal is high domed and made from a scratch-resistant K1 glass, surrounded by a polished bezel. Better than acrylic, but unfortunately not sapphire.
The case back has a K1 glass exhibition window displaying the decorated, manual-wind Seagull movement. The crown is stamped with an “M” and doesn’t screw down, leaving the case water-resistant to only 50m. It’s not a diving watch, so don’t treat it as such. Although the watch could be mistaken for a Hamilton or a TAG Heuer at first glance, it has a unique character of its own and isn’t trying to ride in the wake of a specific brand. If anything, it looks similar to the Long Beach Racing Chronograph from the Aramar Watch Company, a microbrand based in the Netherlands that also uses Seagull movements.
DIAL AND HANDS
The Lexington has a classic black and white “panda” dial that reminded me of a classic 1970s Wakmann chronograph. A black tachymeter surrounds the white dial with two polished, black snailed sub-dials at 3 and 6 o’clock. A seconds hand occupies the sub-dial at nine with 20, 40 and 60 printed numerals, while a thirty-minute counter is at three with 10, 20 and 30 printed numerals. Silver faceted indices on the main dial are polished with inward facing points, and have a nice shimmer as the light changes. The hour and minute hands are also polished silver and generously filled with an off-white lume.
The hands inside the sub-dials are bright red and add a nice contrast, while the central chronograph hand is black with a spot of lume in its upper triangle. Dial text is kept to a minimum with the company’s name and logo at the top and LEXINGTON BI-COMPAX just below the sub-dials. LEXINGTON is printed in red to match the sub-dial hands. Fortunately, Mercer wasn’t tempted to add a date window, which would’ve thrown off the balance of the dial – the movement that powers the watch is “no-date” anyway. There’s already a lot of attention to detail, but the end result is pleasingly uncluttered.
The beating heart of the Lexington Chronograph is a Seagull ST1901 movement. It is China-made, which sounds a little scary, but don’t let that throw you. Seagull movements are among the best out of China and have very Swiss origins. Swiss movement manufacturer Venus was acquired by Tianjin Watch Factory in China in the 1960s, along with their machinery and designs. Today, Seagull movements are still manufactured on Venus equipment and are comparable to these vintage movements in both design and reliability. Mercer also assembles, regulates and tests each movement.
The Seagull ST1901 is a column-wheel movement, which is a premium offering for a chronograph and allows for a smoother pusher action and more immediate response of the chronograph hands. The chronograph functions also can’t accidentally be reset when operating. Seen from the exhibition caseback, the movement has that pleasant vintage feel, with most of the parts visible – and that look fits the overall design of the watch. It has 23 jewels, beats at 21,600vph (3Hz) and has a 40-hour power reserve.
The Lexington comes with a rally-style black Italian leather strap with sporty white stitching on both sides. The large perforations help prevent sweat from building up on hot days and it was very comfortable out of the box. The strap tapers from 20mm down to 16mm, which is a little more than I would like but is inoffensive overall. It’s a padded strap, but not overly thick, and Mercer’s sword logo is engraved on the stainless steel buckle. A brown strap is also available on another model and can be ordered separately if desired.
As founder Scott Vuocolo says, Mercer isn’t reinventing the wheel with the Lexington Chronograph. It does, however, provide a well-designed, column-wheel chronograph at a fraction of the cost of many comparable watches from established brands. It’s also easy to wear at 39mm and doesn’t come across as generic or uninspired. The fit and finish are pleasant, the Seagull ST1901 makes a good impression through the exhibition caseback and the overall aesthetic is a cool throwback to the 1960s. There are chronographs out there for thousands of dollars that simply fall short of that. And that gets my attention.
You can purchase the Lexington Chronograph at Mercer’s website for USD 529 and three models are available – white and ash (black), white and silver, and indigo and silver, the latter of which comes with the brown leather strap. All watches come with a two-year warranty and 15-day return window.
Why do so many people make the mistake of calling this a Bi-Compax? The Compax nomenclature was entirely invented by Universal Geneve. Compax, Uni-Compax, Tri-Compax, Dato-Compax. You get the picture. From 1936 this format of watch has been called a Uni-Compax. Bi-Compax was never a phrase used by UG, because there is no need to invent it.
Nice looking piece with a good design (I like the integrated white on black tachymeter scale) at the right price point. I wonder if the silver hands, albeit lumed, are all that legible on the silver dial under direct sunshine. Interesting how the standard traditional manual chronograph movement is now Chinese. Sign o’ times and certainly nothing to sniff at.
Price tag is a bit too steep for what is basically a revamped seagull 1963 watch