When you think about microbrands, there are a few things to consider. You should look at what type of materials are being used, how original the design is, and how the price compares to similar offerings. One of the most important aspects, and the one that is most often forgotten, is a look at the owners. Do they care about watches or are they just in it to make a buck? Do they have any sort of background in the watch or design industries?
While this sort of quiz isn’t the be-all and end-all to figuring out a microbrand’s actual worth, it can help eliminate the type of watch brands that proliferate on the side of your Facebook page or pop up as you scroll through Instagram.
One recently established brand that has already made a name for itself across the horological blogosphere and might have ended up on your Instagram feed, not through intrusive ads but instead on a fellow enthusiast’s wrist, is Monta.
Monta is the brainchild of Michael DiMartini and Justin Kraudel. Based out of St. Louis, Missouri, the twosome offers some bona fide, Midwestern, horological credentials. DiMartini is the founder of Everest Horology, an online after-market supplier of rubber and leather straps as well as other watch accessories. Kraudel was the founder of the RedBar St. Louis chapter which is where he met DiMartini and they hatched the plan to launch Monta.
A few beers — and years — later, I had the opportunity to meet with the brand for the first time at Baselworld 2018 and view the new product lines. One watch, the second generation Oceanking with a gilt dial caught my eye, and Monta recently sent one to me for some wrist time and a closer look.
The Oceanking has been slimmed down approximately 2 mm thanks to a new movement. By exchanging the Eterna Caliber 39 from the first-gen for the workhorse Sellita SW300 movement, the brand was also able to drop the price from over $3,000 to a much more accessible $1,700 on rubber (currently $1,530 during pre-order sales).
Another reason the price drop was so substantial is the fact that Monta is going all in on selling its watches through its webshop. Previously, the brand had debated an approach using retailers, something that Everest had experience in, but after close consideration, they decided to fully commit to online only which enabled them to cut out the retailer margin and lower the overall price.
Anyone that has worn a timepiece with an SW300 understands that it’s a trustworthy movement. The specific model here is of the Spécial (élabore) grade which guarantees a rate of +/- five seconds per day. When I timed mine, it stayed at a consistent +/- two seconds so no complaints there. There’s a date window at 6 o’clock that feels fairly unobtrusive and the watch has a 42-hour power reserve. It’s also water resistant to 1,000 feet/304 meters and features a bright blue Super-LumiNova application.
The gilt dial is executed well. The touch of gold around the indices and the sword-style hour and minute hands adds a bit of color to the overall look. The contrasting color elements, from the black dial and bezel to the gold accents and red “Oceanking” script, add some extra depth to the dial that feels completely natural and not at all forced. There’s no price difference between the normal black dial compared to the gilt version so, for my money’s worth, I’m going with the gilt. Plus, there’s a fair amount of risk that goes into developing an update that deviates as much stylistically as it does mechanically. It ended up working out which can be a tentpole victory for a brand on the rise.
One of the real highlights for me during my time with the Oceanking was the bezel action. Monta uses a patent-pending, 12-part bezel construction that was developed by DiMartini and his team. There’s no slip or play whatsoever on the 60-click rotation. Once the ceramic bezel begins its movement into that next slide, it can’t slip back whatsoever. This ends up providing the dive watch with a resolutely accurate and trustworthy feeling. Monta has also filed for a patent on the divers’ extension clasp on the bracelet.
This is where Monta has found its niche. DiMartini and Kraudel firmly believe this investment in the brand’s technical development will be crucial for long-term growth.
“Getting the patents is important for us to say what we’re trying to do is not just a flash in the pan,” Kraudel says. “We fully intend to be around for a long time and we need to have some of those protections in place to protect our good ideas.”
Currently, Monta expects to make around 1,000 watches in 2018. The new Oceanking is a positive step forward for the brand and offers a strong value proposition for the enthusiast looking for a Swiss made watch with an American background.
Available in August, the second generation Monta Oceanking is currently in its pre-order stage with a price of $1,530 on black or blue rubber and $1,730 for the bracelet. Final pricing will be $1,700 and $1,925, respectively.