Hands-On Review – Overlooking The Glory of Large Watches, a Case Study Featuring the Moser Pioneer Centre Seconds Limited Edition in Mad Red

The Skinny

42mm
Moser In-House Calibre HMC200
$12,900CHF

We, The Fey Elites

It’s high time that we retro-styled hipsters ease our Cinderella-sizing mandate that a large watch ought to be 38mm and small one 36mm, and we best start realizing that it is we, the fey and precious purveyors of underdog elitism, who are too small for most modern mechanical watches. We are wise to blame ourselves when confronted with something as alluring as the 42mm Moser Pioneer Centre Seconds with its massive dial in Swiss Mad Red, a color so full of fire and smoke that I’ve come to call it Satanic Red. Blaming ourselves for not being able to wear a watch that big – rather than blaming the brand, or the designer, or some watch-buying consumer base we don’t belong to, for failing to share our ironic retro-this-retro-that postmodern tastes – is to lay blame where it’s due: on us, the Fey Elites. We, the elfin practitioners of Non-Toxic Masculinity are the problem, not the larger watches we deem #TooBig.

We, The Fey Elites, can become so obsessed with whether a watch makes us – and only us – feel like we’re wearing a Sy Stallone costume that we’ve overlooked an essential aspect of watch size: some horological effects are best suited to specific sizes. Those Extra Large Cartier Tanks might help sell some units to those who prefer not to sample the Euro-dandy aesthetics of The Roaring 1920s, but those Extra Fat Tanks, in my quasi-humble opinion, bastardize the coherence – and even the creative intentions – of Louis Cartier’s original design. Conversely, when Moser does shrink its gloriously illuminated fumé dials, the dials end up a little less illuminated, a little less glorious, a little less fumé. Emphasis on “a little less” there, because even Moser’s smallest fumé dial will outshine any other fumé treatment from any other brand from any point in history. Yet, still, Moser’s smaller fumé dials – the Green Dragon at 40mm, the Endeavor models at 40mm, and the now discontinued 38.5mm Endeavor – all have one thing in common when compared to their larger cousins in the Prioneer line: less dial real estate. The larger dials offer space for the fumé effect to deliver us mere mortals to the transcendent horological realm Moser has created for us.

Fumé dials become magical given enough space for the fade to vanish.

There are other reasons to make a watch big. After I had unthinkingly ranted that the new Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin from the Collection Excellence in Platine, a masterstroke of horological art rendered in a 42.3mm case, would have been so much better at 36mm, my level-headed colleagues David Flett and James Ren pointed out that making a watch wider means you get to make it flatter, which means the movement components can be spread out more and stacked less.  Not only does the thinner watch make a glorious view of the movement’s components working side-by-side possible, it also wears more comfortably than the hypothetical 36mm cat food can I was describing. We, The Fey Elite, are accustomed to bitching about the case size of watches housing uninteresting off-the-shelf movements from ETA and Sellita. These work-horse movements use solid winding rotors that reduce mechanical appreciation to something like “This big thing here spins, look!” We, The Fey Elites, so often forget that High Horology, or Fine Watchmaking, or Horological Art, or whatever one calls The Horological Shiz these days, really is, as we like to say, “an actual thing.” Instead, we Fey Elites tend to assert our personal, odd-ball rejection of all watches exceeding the maximum hipster diameter limit of 40mm. When we discriminate so unthinkingly, we effectively – and in full view of Patek Philippe’s dwindling dedication to 37mm grand complications – lop off a majority of the most amazing timepieces created in the past few decades. The High Horological arts have moved on, people, and the sooner we get our Fey Elite heads around that and start considering watches larger than a US Quarter, the sooner we can shut our yappers and start ogling the very best of watchmaking today.

The Boy In The Plastic Liberal Bubble

We, The Fey Elites, are missing out on some rather glorious horological aspects of larger watches, mostly because somewhere in the back of our brains the idea that big watches turn you into a Sy Stallone wannabe grew into an inflexible bias against what is, so obviously, the mainstream’s preference for larger watches. This bias is so New York City, I have to say. As one who lived in the Big Apple from 2003 until 2013, and who lives in the now even more hip Hudson Valley everyone calls Brooklyn North, I feel confident saying that New York City is effervescent with insular liberal bubbles full of the Fey Elite. I proudly call myself a member of a few NYC liberal bubbles, while recognizing the insular nature of these delicate ideological enclosures. And I know these bubbles exist in other cities here in the USA. I’ve slipped into a few liberal bubbles over the years in Los Angeles, San Fran, Chicago, and even Nashville, Knoxville, Marfa Texas, Taos New Mexico, Tucson Arizona, Buffalo and Detroit and, of all places, Minneapolis where I once camped out amongst countercultural vegan raw foodies with ultra-high education levels and the prerequisite self-assuredness of all countercultural pioneers. We who inhabit these bubbles are out to Detox Everything. It started with our bodies, with fasting, with veganism, with raw foodism, dehydrated goji-berries from Tibet, yoga addictions, and other eating-disorder-ish trends. Then we started to detoxify our relationships, mostly through failed attempts to talk to people we had problems getting along with about those problems, with the result usually being the relationship’s end. We then justified these negative results as a Detoxing of our social lives, never realizing that we’d actually just grown less tolerant of different world views. Now, somewhat miraculously, all this alt-eating and alt-psychology has gone mainstream on the Left. We in the bubbles want to Detox the very culture that shapes the attitudes that shape our personhood, and for us Fey Elites that starts with detoxing what we breezily now call Toxic Masculinity. By extension we Horologically Oriented Fey Elites want to detox the machismo we perceive to be baked into watches exceeding our stringent 40mm size limit. For that, we toss a lot of amazing horological wonders to the side, and are thus missing out on the unbridled horological pleasure available to us in watches that we wrongly dismiss as expressions of Toxic Masculinity. Oh, how we Fey Elites love to step off the playing field onto the sidelines, pick up our megaphones and start barking complaints about how rough everyone is playing. “Your watches are too big!” we yell, never even piercing the frail soapy enclosure we too often mistake as The Real World.

Impeccable finishing throughout.

I had an in-person get-together of watch nerds recently, and we all spent time with the 42mm Moser Pioneer Centre Seconds in Mad Satanic Red. All of us, to a person, adored it, but we all dismissed the watch as either too luminous or too large, or both, for our comfort. Then my dear friend Stephen arrived, put on the Moser Pioneer Centre Seconds, and we all fell quiet admiring it on his wrist. With hushed tones, we all basically agreed that this watch was perfect on Stephen, then we got louder and talked about what an incredible pairing this was with Stephen himself, and then we all asked Stephen which of his cars he was going to sell to get it, and so on. But here’s the thing: Stephen is an African-American, about 6’5″ tall, and his hands are large enough to palm a basketball. Stephen is also incredibly handsome, and his skin a beautiful warm brown against which the Moser’s newly dubbed Satanic Red dial and impeccably polished stainless steel case beamed with unimpeachable horological awesomeness in the midday sunlight on my deck. I for one felt jealous that the Moser suited Stephen so wonderfully, because I really wish I could rock the Pioneer Centre Seconds with the same instant and effortless chic. Indeed, the watch was not the problem, not even close. We just didn’t have the right man for the Moser Pioneer until Stephen arrived and showed us how effing perfect this watch actually is.

On Stephen, the Moser reads as a “normal” sized watch.
Om Allen, the Moser reads as a large watch.

This is an important point, because we Fey Elites collectively suffer a bad case of Assumed Aesthetic Authority. But worse than that, we also assume – to some degree, I’m convinced – that people for whom larger watches work perfectly might somehow possess a measure of Toxic Masculinity. But when this Moser Pioneer landed on Stephen’s wrist, such notions were exposed as ridiculous for about twenty different reasons, the central one being that Stephen has achieved in his personhood whatever the opposite of Toxic Masculinity is.

Stephen and I have discussed all of this at some length, and what we acknowledged together is that, while there are a few exceptions, watch journalists are mostly white people, and, being journalists, we tend to be well educated urbanites, and, as such, we tend to slip into insular sub-bubbles with the false sense that we inhabit a diverse sphere. It’s shockingly common, this cultural segregation on the Left – even in the most cosmopolitan cities like New York. We don’t need to take this screed much further in what is meant to be a hands-on watch review, but I do find it beyond interesting that this undeniably gorgeous Swiss Moser could pry open an enormous can of American sociocultural worms. With that said, let’s pivot back to the watch itself.

The 30-Second Rule

Let’s talk about that fumé dial, shall we? First of all, at arm’s length, Moser’s fumé dials appear to be illuminated from within. However, under a loupe, we really don’t see anything especially magical, though we do see incredible execution of the faded paint job that creates the effect. fumé dials from Moser consist of radially brushed metal dials in rich jewel tones with the fumé treatment painted on thick around the outer edge and gradually fading to nothing toward the center. It’s not rocket science, but getting it as right as Moser does may be. Fades are tricky things: too quick, and we perceive distinct boundaries; too slow and we lose the effect. This comes down entirely to human perception, to that liminal brain-state that emerges when the eye perceives an inner luminance that’s not really there. We tend to call these phenomena illusions, a term with ‘luminance’ at it’s etymological root. The great Italian Renaissance artists using the chiaracusso wood-block layering method achieved these glowing effects through meticulous layering of dark fades around brighter jewel tones. Velvet robes appeared to shimmer, and skin appeared to glow. During the Renaissance light was thought to represent God, thus it should emanate from within a person or a sacred object, not merely bounce off surfaces with moral aimlessness. Though Moser makes no claims to having achieved The Sacred with their fumé dials, it is fair to assume that were we to time travel back to Florence in the late 1500s with a Moser in hand, we’d likely be summoned to the Vatican to reveal the radiance of God to Pope Whomever.

As if lit from within…

I can’t emphasize enough the need for dial real estate to accomplish a truly luminous fumé effect. In my own work as a record producer, I understood what we called the 30-second rule for fading out the end of a song. In fact, I was so obsessed with this that my clients called me Darth Fader. The thirty-second rule states that if a fade-out is shorter than 30-seconds, then the listener will notice the moment when silence takes over, thus ruining the desired vanishing effect. I’ve spent many $200 hours in mastering suites obsessively adjusting fade-outs, which may sound detrimental to those ever-shrinking recording budgets, but good fade-outs are an artform I was unwilling to compromise at any cost. By way of analogy, we can argue that fumé dials require enough real estate to achieve the equivalent of, at minimum, a 30-second fade out. I adore and will one day own a Moser with a smaller fumé dial (perhaps the 38.5mm Endeavor I almost bought for my 50th birthday), but there’s no denying that Moser’s larger fumé dials achieve an unmatched level of apparent illumination in comparison to the smaller ones. Take the quantum leap down to, say, a 28mm watch and the likelihood of a successful fumé effect, however meticulously executed, is slim. I have a couple smaller watches with fumé dials, and the effect is underwhelming because you can tell it’s just a paint job. Strap on the Moser Pioneer Central Seconds, and you will not only fail to perceive the paint job, you’ll be wondering where inside the watch Moser hid the battery and light emitting diode. Or, perhaps less scientifically, you’ll catch a glimpse of The Creator.

I’ve spent a good deal of time with Moser’s Concept watches, which lack a logo or any markers, to conclude that these models present the most luminous of Moser’s fumé dials. However, with the Pioneer models we have steel applied markers, as well as a logo and an indexed rehaut. The steel markers are elongated trapezoids with the wide end to the outside, creating a sense of geometrical expansion outward from the center of the dial that’s in perfect harmony with the radial brushing pattern. These markers are topped with luminescent circles on the black rehaut, which pulls the radiating effect of the dial even further to the very edge of the bezel. Shrink all that down to the hipster-approved sub-40mm size, and the real estate just isn’t there; dials feel crammed; the elongated trapezoids are not long enough; the rehaut crowds the dial; and we end up with a watch unworthy of Pope Whomever’s spiritual attention.

When we increase the diameter of a circle by, say, one millimeter, we get an exponentially larger increase in area. The formula is (A = π r²), with A being the area and ‘r’ being the radius. Cranking those numbers, we see that by upping a 40mm round dial by one millimeter we get 62 more square millimeters. Up that 40mm dial by 2mm, and we get 127 square millimeters, which is more than twice the added real estate of only adding 1mm. This exponential expansion of the area means that we’re taking even larger leaps than we realize when we only consider the dial’s diameter, as we Fey Elites tend to do. When considering a watchmaker like Moser that is capitalizing on the added area in order to produce what are arguably the most powerfully luminous fumé effects in horological history, it’s perhaps wise for those of us who so breezily take up the mantle of watch critic to shift our thinking from diameter to area and to realize that there’s far more gained by those added millimeters than how the things sits on your wrist.

Side-By-Side, People. Now Say Swiss Cheese!

We don’t take family photos of people standing in front of each other; we arrange our kin side by side so that we can see everyone. Increasing the diameter of a round watch allows the movement maker the required square millimeters to arrange the various components side-by-side, rather than on top of each other. The larger area also allows more of a winding rotor’s mass to be pushed to the outside edge, thus clearing the view of the movement. We call these “peripheral rotors,” and in high horology peripheral rotors are heralded as excellent solutions to offering auto-winding without obscuring the works. Micro-rotors are another solution, of course, but it hasn’t been Moser’s way anytime recently. In Moser’s award-winning Streamliner Chronograph which I reviewed for The Robb Report, the winding rotor is on the dial side of the movement, entirely concealed by the works. The Streamliner chronograph is also 42mm, and thank goodness because any stacking of those components would have been to the detriment of the incredible mechanical metropolis on view. The peripheral rotor on the Pioneer Centre Seconds is ideally situated to offer a relatively unobscured view of the incredible bridgework in the Caliber HMC200 in-house movement – and in Moser’s case that’s 100% in-house, including the hair spring.

Fleuve Moser

My personal favorite aspect of the HMC200 is the river-like seam between the main plates, an organic form that wends its way across the entire movement. That seam is all the more river-like due to its perfectly chamfered edges, which in my loup-equipped explorations of this topography are the river banks on which, were I able to wander in this metallic landscape, I’d readily toss down a picnic blanket, light up my favorite smoking materials, crack open a Swiss chocolate bar, some Swiss cheese, and contemplate the nature of Time Itself. I’d likely set up my picnic on the Western bank toward the North of Flueve Moser where the teeth of the larger cog in the gear train can be seen in action below the nonexistent water’s nonexistent surface.

The handlebar mustache balance cock with its gleaming central ruby suspends the escapement over a quarry-like chasm offering the only significant view of the inner works below. Here we see more of the gold cogs of the gear train peeking out from the trenches of duty to which they’ve been relegated. Moser is almost coquettish in its display of the hidden goods deep within the HMC200, offering a view of a beautiful ankle knowing full well that our imaginations will fill in the rest. What an ass I was to suggest that Vacheron Constantin should have crammed their incredible new split-second auto-winding movement into a 36mm case, and thank goodness my colleagues set me straight on why such an arrangement would have been a criminal offence to high horology, were it even possible. We’d have ended up with a super tall watch and obscured views of the works we so love to gaze upon from our picnic blankets. Indeed, any pretension I’ve had about artfully crafted high-end mechanical watches being too big can now be racked up as misguided hipster assertions from within the Fey Elite bubble I so often fail to realize I’m inhabiting.

In Any Case

Moser’s fumé dials are so alluring that it’s easy to miss how incredibly interesting and detailed their cases are, and the Pioneer models do not disappoint in this regard. Again, the larger case allows Moser to do more than they could with a smaller case, or perhaps the better way to put that is that with a smaller case some of the details could get lost. The lugs on the Moser Pioneer Centre Seconds begin all the way at the crown, tracing a graceful arc to the lug tips. The outside of the lugs are cut away, leaving a recessed area in which deeply engraved radial ridges replicate the dial’s radiance. The effect isn’t unlike the polished fins on, say, a Moto Guzzi’s V-Twin cylinder bodies; it is a technical and sporty bit of casework, and the last thing I’d want is less real estate for Moser to deliver these goods. That engraving is repeated on the outer edges of the pin buckle, a touch that pulls the design together in what will on most days be a subconscious level, though for those taking loup-equipped tours of the Pioneer this repeated engraving will loom large.

I’m Just Too Small (Minded)

In summary, I’ve basically argued that we Fey Elites are missing out on some incredible horological experiences when we succumb to the over-emphasis on diameter that emerged when high-end watch sales finally went on-line. Because we don’t know how most watches will fit, diameter is a legitimate concern, but some of us have overextended this concern for enough years that we have collectively formed a hardened bias against watches over 40mm. Because we Fey Elites come fully equipped with an overabundance of confidence in our personal aesthetics, we mistake that bias for something like an objectively-derived aesthetic, when, in fact, that aesthetic is, in my estimation, more about asserting our Detoxified Masculinity. I actually admire and share that tendency, but when we dismiss large watches on that basis alone, we are not only cutting ourselves off from some amazing horological achievements unobtainable in smaller watches, but we are also exercising what I can only describe as intolerance toward other expressions of Detoxed Masculinity, or, more frighteningly, perhaps toward larger people more generally. When we come up against aesthetic sensibilities that don’t match our own and conclude that these folks who enjoy large watches, or tiny watches, or carbon fiber watches, or dreadfully unhip Invictas, or whatever it is we don’t like, we are, alas, really just asserting unchecked snobbery. From now on, I’m no longer blaming the watch; I’m blaming myself for being too physically small and too intellectually myopic for the obvious horological wonders that make such amazing use of the added real estate that larger format watches afford.

A Good Deal

Lastly, this limited edition Pioneer Centre Seconds in Mad Red retails for $12,900 Swiss Francs. When I consider what’s on offer at that price from other Swiss brands that, unlike Moser, likely do not make everything themselves, typically operate as a dependent within a larger corporate group, and produce many times more than Moser’s 1500-unit annual output, the Pioneer Centre Seconds seems very well priced. Perhaps Stephen won’t need to sell his car after all.