Massena LAB Dato-Racer

Hands-On The Massena LAB Dato-Racer DR-001 – The 1970s Captured Without Kowtowing to Trends

The Skinny

  • 40mm
  • Stainless steel
  • Italin-made- leather rally strap
  • Movement – Sellita SW400-1 autowinder with date
  • Precision – +3.67 secs/day measured in 6 positions on our timegrapher (with remarkable positional consistency)
  • Limited edition of 99 pieces
  • Year of release- 2022
  • Price upon release – $1595

After Shock

There are watches that feel given and inevitable – perhaps because they’re conventional, or just well designed – and these watches don’t lend themselves to being broken into pieces and studied in detail. We just take them in whole.

And then there are watches that defy our expectations – hopefully because they’re full of fresh ideas – and these watches seem to beg us to pull them apart, study their details, and try to understand them better.

The Massena LAB Dato-Racer, oddly, seems to fall into both categories. It is an entirely fresh look at 1970s style, even jarringly fresh. Yet the Dato-Racer coheres so well as to feel like it’s been there all along, which in a way it has, as the dial is derived from a rather rare Certina DS Diver.

Rare 1970s Certina DS which lends the Dato-Racer its dial.

But that dial is such an oddball, so entirely unto itself, that the Dato-Racer broadcasts a rather specific vibe. This vibe puzzled me, until I took a closer look at the details.

Massena LAB Dato-Racer
Massena LAB Dato-Racer

A Daring Numerical Font

The first detail that most will react to is the numerical font on the Dato-Racer, derived from the Certina DS. The 2 looks like a Z, and the 8 is made of stacked rectangles, and the 5 is all right angles. All fonts are a matter of taste, but this font is full of such uncommon shapes that an early dismissal belies the beholder’s own conventionality more than anything about the font. 

Looking at this font is like hearing a Serialist composition for the first time. The angular and a-rhythmic works of Pierre Boulez from the 1970s come immediately to mind. The font successfully and immediately conveys numbers in a novel manner just as a Serialist composition conveys musical structure and harmony in totally unexpected ways. Both function perfectly, but are so unconventional that most of us will find our frame of reference needs to shift to open the possibility of seeing (or hearing) in a new way.

Massena LAB Dato-Racer

If one shifts their frame of reference and meets the Dato-Racer’s numbers with fresh eyes, I believe this can unlock the gateway into the aesthetic sense this watch makes. I say this, because that font – though perhaps dissonant to some on first viewing – is entirely harmonious with the rest of the Dato-Racer. Ultimately it’s that harmony, that wholeness, that I want to understand about any watch that has it.

Sorry If You Didn’t Live Through The 1970s

When I gaze upon this watch, I feel I’m looking at an object borne of a set of intellectual and scientific leanings that fueled a certain masculinity of the 1970s.  A little bzarre, I know, but bear with me.

Massena LAB Dato-Racer

After WWII, throughout Europe and North America, more men went to college than ever before. The idea behind these massive investments in education was that it would make people better citizens of democratic nations, because these citizens would be informed, rational, critical – that is to say intelligent – enough to maintain the common good for all and not give in to the lesser tendencies that can destroy the freedom democracy is meant to maintain. No, not everyone got that education, and its distribution was rife with discrimination along many -isms, but statistics and history show us that, yes indeed, excellent education became far more prevalent and that democracy was mostly moving toward an increasingly liberal legal system that generated more freedoms for all kinds of people. In the USA we call that moment The Civil Rights Movement. All this changed our culture seismically.

By the 1970s, those folks who reaped the benefits of all that education had become middle aged. And as middle aged folks often do, they demanded smart, somewhat cool, somewhat nerdy, high quality accouterments.

In the 1970s, bling was on the rise, but these middle-aged folks would never go to a disco and snort blow before heading to the trading floor to enrich themselves as their children would. These intellectual middle-agers of the 1970s read a lot of books, sipped wine, played chess, attended the theater, discussed philosophy and listened to classical music – maybe not always Serialism, but sometimes Serialism, and sometimes Piere Boulez. This was the decade during which Robert Pirsig’s philosophical treatise Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance reliably sold millions of copies every year and countless people tuned into Carl Sagan’s Cosmos to enlarge their view of reality.

Massena LAB Dato-Racer
Massena LAB Dato-Racer

If he hadn’t disgraced himself, I’d be pointing to Woody Allen as the best example of what I’m talking about, so instead conjure up a Woody Allen fan of the 1970s and you’ve kind of got it – just add in a copy of The New Yorker, a Saab or a BMW and a minimalist Swiss watch, and that’s your man.

Whatever that man was thinking and feeling, I’m convinced, is captured in the aesthetic of the Dato-Racer. This isn’t just a 70s-inspired watch, but one that captures a rather specific sporty sophistication. The Dato-Racer emits quite a bit of erudition and class.

Minimalist (But Not Bauhaus)

Bauhaus gets way overused in reference to watches, and it’s time we watch writers realized that form following function really almost never happened in the design of watches. Watches have always been made to look great, because we wear them on our bodies, and thus must treat them as fashion items – as accessories.

Massena LAB Dato-Racer

Minimalism more generally – not just Bauhaus – was popular as an anti-aesthetic as Moderns railed against Victorians and Edwardians and so on, and it’s fair to say that the Dato-Racer is minimalist in this regard. I submit that this kind of minimalism resonated with the well educated and intellectually minded middle-aged men of the 1970s. With the Certina DS timing bezel removed, the Dato-Racer takes on this very specific, smart-guy 1970s minimaliat aesthetic. You could imagine Carl Sagan wearing this watch.

Massena LAB Dato-Racer
Massena LAB Dato-Racer

Consider the handset of the Dato-Racer. It’s a stout, chunky, and highly legible – and straight off of a 1970s Universal Geneve Compax Chronograph. I’ve scoured, and I can’t find a single watch with this handset prior to the late 1960s. These hands are super Euro, super 70s, and super minimalist.

Take the Dato-Racer’s polished steel lume-filled markers at 6, 9 and 12, and you’ve got the 1970s incarnate (in fact, nearly identical to those on my father’s Accutron, as well as late Universal Geneve Pole Routers). And that these markers are blended with printed numerals adds a unique sense of depth to the dial, more pronounced here than on the busier Certina diver.

Take the red crosshair markings, and you’ve got a look that Omega was rocking on the Seamsters of the 1970s.

Take the wonderfully framed date window, and you’re feeling 1970s King/Grand Seiko vibes. Take the Rally strap, and you’re riding shotgun with Steve McQueen – or my bald, 50-something classical-music-loving neighbor in his blacked-out 1977 Porsche 911 Carrera Turbo SC.

Massena LAB Dato-Racer

And let’s not miss the Massena LAB logo, which so clearly pays tribute to that of Universal Geneve. That logo really cinches the whole vibe while also severing ties to Certina. Quite brilliant.

A Holistic Design

Now put it all together, and I think you’ll see that – while this watch can be arresting at first sight and invite a close examination of the details – the Dato-Racer actually holds together with as much grace as a more mundane classic watch, but without kowtowing to norms and certainly not to overworked retro trends. It’s entirely fresh within a moment during which freshness is, despite the prolificity of watches these days, quite rare.

Massena LAB Dato-Racer

And this brings us full circle to my original point, which is that some watches make you stop and consider the details – which is a good thing only if after further consideration you can find a wholeness and harmony there which radiates a vibe. Even if you (poor thing) didn’t live through the 1970s, if you open yourself to the Dato-Racer (or to Pierre Boulez), I believe you may come not only to grasp a different aesthetic, but you may even be more fully formed for having done so.