- Tantalum & steel case
- 50m water resistance
- Fume enamel dial
- Moser Caliber HMC 800 – perpetual calendar mechanical movement, manually wound
- Date of release – 2023
- Price upon release – CHF 75,000
A Good Watch for a Bad Mood
It’s a gray cold Monday morning after springing ahead with the nonsense known as daylight-savings here in the USA, big snow on the way in March, and The Oscars were last night, so my in-box is full of emails with Breaking News! from ad agencies about which movie star wore which expensive watch (loaner) to an event that even movie stars admit is a pointless exercise in self-congratulation now embroiled in identity politics and grown men punching each other in front of gazillions of somnambulant TV viewers who ad agencies seem to believe aspire so greatly to be like movie stars they’ll buy a watch because so-and-so wore one for six hours last night. None of this—the weather, the time change, the Hollywood BS—is doing much to elevate my mood, which isn’t supposed to matter when I sit down to write a review, but I’ve decided to just run with it anyways.
Given my foul mood, it’s a good thing this watch is a bit of horological brilliance from the independent brand Moser and not some regurgitated iteration of a tired design from Big Switzerland dangling from some movie star’s wrist last night on TV. Now, I wont claim that Moser has no interest in having Brad Pitt sport a Moser at The Oscars, nor that Moser’s agents of publicity wouldn’t immediately email me if he had, and perhaps Moser and it’s agents have simply failed to achieve this low level of high achievement to date. But my hunch—and this is based on an hour-long conversation with Moser’s helmsman Edouard Meylen—is that Moser is, to the extent that we can say this of a watch brand, too intelligent for such superfluity.
My hunch is also informed by Moser’s track record of releasing watches with a sense of irony about being a Swiss Watch Brand in the first place. I give you Moser’s Swiss Cheese watch, which poked fun at the idea of Swiss Made being remotely possible in a globalized world; I give you the rectangular mechanical Moser that was at first glance indistinguishable from an Apple Watch; I give you the version of this minimalist perpetual calendar which marks up the dial like instructions for assembling the globalized landfill Ikea sells. As my friends in England would say: Fucking brilliant, mate…really taking the piss.
I can’t think of another serious watch brand—Swiss, nonetheless—of which one can genuinely say: Fucking brilliant, mate…really taking the piss. And it is certainly elevating my foul mood to be awash in thoughts of Moser on this shitty Monday morning. This elevation of mind is what I turn to watches for, exactly. I aspire to be as unlike the inhabitants of Hollywood as possible. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool East Coast Aesthete, high-minded and always a little angry at the world for not being as smart as I think I am. So when I see something like this Moser Perpetual Calendar awaiting judgment on my desk, I smile knowing that this watch is not going to insult my intelligence, and that it may even challenge it.
What kinds of challenges to our intelligence can a watch present? The challengers that perennially crop up for me are aesthetic, mechanical, philosophical and cultural in nature. Before moving on to those topics, I’d like to pause and talk about Edouard Meylan’s mind, because that is, I am convinced, the wellspring of all Moser creations.
Specifically of interest in regards to Meylan’s mind is that he grew up as the Gen-X son of none other than the man who helped Audemars Piguet turn the Royal Oak into such a massive one-watch-hit that to this day Audemars Piguet can’t get out from under its octagonal shadow. Audemars Piguet’s inability to significantly enchant anyone with their Code 11.59, the brand’s only meaningful attempt to move beyond the Royal Oak, seems only to have firmed the Royal Oak’s hegemonic grip on the lack of imagination among aspirational watch consumers. The Royal Oak has become an horological albatross around the AP’s neck, weighing the brand down like some old tired man of the sea forever telling us of his burden, an allegory of what it means to be pigeon-holed not by one’s accomplishments (it’s just a watch) but by the public’s inability to think beyond the numbing effects of The Oscars and other trance-inducing charades of late capitalism. All of this explains why my inbox is full of the worst PR drivel this morning, and it also shows us how incredibly smart Edouard Meylan must be. Meylan told me he grew up around a dinner table at which the success of the Royal Oak was a typical conversation. This is not, for example, what the Farmelo’s talked about at dinner in the 1980s.
I go on about Meylan’s deep intellectual relationship to The Royal Oak here to demonstrate that Moser watches, born of the younger Meylan’s mind, can be read as a reaction to the Swiss Watch Industry. Not a rejection, but a reaction, which is the precise source of the Horological Irony that Moser has mastered under Meylan’s steerage. Only a man who spent his boyhood awash in talk of The Royal Oak etc. could achieve this level of sophisticated irony about the industry he was born into. Nice to see a Gen-Xer like me taking our generation’s well-honed irony into the 21st century where it belongs. To do so via fantastically excellent Swiss watches is really something special.
I’m convinced that one has to understand irony in order to understand much of what Moser is up to, so bear with me for another paragraph on the topic.
Too many people think of irony as the firehouse burning down, but the better explanation is one eye crying while the other eye watches. That’s really what irony is: a self-awareness of what is going on in the subjective tangle of consciousness. That’s the human condition, really, and it’s painful to a degree, but made easier by understanding one’s ironic mindset and executing one’s creations with that irony baked in. That may be a fair explanation of this self-indulgent review, in fact, but I don’t think Moser’s Perpetual Calendar is self-indulgent. In fact, it’s very much the opposite. And that’s like being ironic about one’s irony, like two negatives adding up to a positive.
At last, I believe I have arrived at positivity and can finally speak about the watch I have in hand here, to which I have only had positive reactions.
The Endeavor is a very traditional watch at first glance. A round case with traditionally shaped lugs, handsome fume dial with baked texture (reminiscent, my colleagues like to point out, of anOrdain’s creations, as if anOrdain invented fume enamel dials; they didn’t). The dial is stripped of the braggadocio we find on most perpetual calendar watches—needless enlargement of the leap-year indicator, for example—which are about on level with Casio G-Shock aesthetics: complexity for the sake of showing off complexity. Moser ran in the other direction toward minimalism, which is a fine reaction that draws on what most would call Bauhaus ideologies, but minimalism is really born of a generation bloodied by WWI reacting against the Victorian’s gaudy decoration that only served to assert their colonial superiority complex which slaughtered 17-million people for no good reason. If you think I’m reading too much into this dial, then I can ask you to open another browser window and read some other reviews, which I’m willing to bet aren’t making this specific point.
Perhaps it is that I have so little to say about the aesthetic choices here that speaks most loudly of how excellent these aesthetic choices are. This is a deliberate downplaying of complexity above what is one of the more cleverly complex watch movements currently being made. In this way, the Moser perpetual calendar can be read as an extension of modernism as it was brought to extremes by Steve Jobs during Apple’s hey-day. While I’m no longer a member of The Apple Cult, I do think Jobs was onto something rather intelligent for a couple of decades when I did worship at the altar of Silicon Valley. Am I implying that Meylan is as brilliant as Steve Jobs? Maybe I am, and maybe it’s just that a small watch company’s products will never be as ubiquitous as Apple’s which conceals such a reasonable comparison. How we love to measure success by the number of units sold, ignoring the thing itself in favor of popularity—and now I’m starting to go foul again thinking of The Royal Oak problem and The Oscars. Enough of that.
I was lunching with the renowned watch collector William Rohr (a.k.a. Messina) one day when we pulled up our cuffs to reveal, as watch nerds do, what we had chosen (and I think this is always true when watch nerds assemble) to present to each other. I was wearing a predictably diminutive Vacheron Constantin time-only dress watch in platinum, my best example of stealth wealth, as the kids say, and William was wearing none other than the very first generation of the Moser Perpetual Calendar, which coincidentally was the first Moser to sport a blue fume dial. William’s watch was perfect, not just for our micro-occasion, but just perfect in and of itself. It was also a perfect example of stealth wealth, which I’d prefer to just plainly call understatement.
The Moser QC effortlessly elevated our conversation toward a discussion of the movement. The watch had delivered our minds from the drivel of aesthetics straight into what is truly fascinating about high-end horology: not which hard-to-get reference of the Royal Oak one managed to squeeze out of an AD, but what, literally, makes the thing tick.
What is most striking about this movement is not only its understated beauty as my images should make obvious, but the simplicity of operating the thing. Moser has solved long-standing problems with perpetual calendars, removing the possibility of breaking the thing while setting it, or, as Meylan put it to me: childproofing the movement. This is such an overlooked horological achievement among my writerly colleagues that I find myself under the illusion of my own brilliance just mentioning it. Perhaps it is the curse of simplifying something that it results in critics overlooking the achievement, but it shouldn’t be the case. Alas, G-Shocks still dazzle the kids. Whatever.
As my lunch of William Messina should make clear, the cultural capital of the Moser Perpetual Calendar’s Caliber HMC 800 is really only tradable in a small economy of watch aficionados. It is exactly the specialized nature of this watch—its minimalist aesthetic coupled to its unparalleled mechanical complexity—that makes it culturally unique. Those who know know, and those who don’t don’t know anything.
That’s a kind of stealth elitism perhaps, but I’m good with stealth elitism, as most self-congratulatory high-minded East Coast Aesthetes are. The point, really, is that there is a way to preserve and enjoy the high-intellectualism that a good Swiss watch embodies mechanically without succumbing to the Victorian nonsense of, say, Patek Philippe, my beloved Vacheron Constnatin, Cartier’s new breed of complex watches, mimicked now by Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Hermes and even F.P. Journe. That’s how the world has gone—alas, toward glitz—and I don’t expect every brand to form an ironic horological revolution along the lines of what Moser has done, but I’m very glad Moser has done so—if only because their watches are able to unfoul my mood. (I willingly don’t explore Moser’s recent foray into the rainbow bejeweled watch category; my mood couldn’t take it.)
It’s hard for me to come up with other brands that are as philosophically-minded as Moser. Maybe Gruebel Forsey, a brand driven by architectural ideals, but with a result more like that of supercars than Ironic Horology. Maybe F.P. Journe, which has asserted a high-mindedness that looks like philosophy sometimes, but which I personally fail to be able to take past physics into metaphysics. Perhaps we can include Redhep Rexhepi, Kari Voutilainen, and MB&F. This isn’t bad company for Moser to keep, of course, and the comparisons, I hope, speak to the esteem I have for Moser. But even among this small cadre of philosophically-minded watch brands I put Moser far above the others. It’s the one eye watching the other eye—the irony—that does it.
In short, the Moser Perpetual Calendar, here presented with gorgeous materials and a gorgeous dial, but understated nonetheless, is a thinking-person’s watch. It’s a watch that, if we let it, can challenge us aesthetically, mechanically, culturally and, yes, philosophically. On a gray March morning with blizzards of snow on the way as the entire watch industry suffers an Oscars hangover, I am most soothed by Moser’s horological tonic.