Timekeeping
By Jason Heaton
on 7.9.13
Photo by Gishani

In case you hadn’t noticed, there is a renaissance of British watchmaking happening. New brands from Old Blighty are springing up left and right, and we’re nothing but pleased. After all, England has a rich history of watchmaking, peppered with names like Mudge, Harrison, Arnold, Speake-Marin and Daniels. The island country’s former rule of the high seas and a vast empire drove the innovation needed for timepiees both precise (for navigation and celestial observation) and sturdy (for accompanying explorers to the far corners of the planet). This mix of precision and ruggedness has defined the history of British watches; that tradition is being carried forward by young companies like Bremont and Schofield, whose designs and sensibilities conjure up images of ships’ chronometers, RAF flying aces, lonely lighthouses and polar explorers. The latest British brand to jump into the fray, Meridian, hopes to espouse the same in their MP-01 ($6,000) timepiece.

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Meridian is a small company that was started by a British watchmaker, Simon, and his connoisseur friend, Richard (appropriately English names, natch). They wanted to produce a watch on British soil, using a modified Swiss movement, with as many British-sourced components and as much British craftsmanship as possible. The resulting watches make up the Prime collection, named wittily for the Prime Meridian, that line of longitude running through Greenwich that provides the zero point for navigators. The cases and brass dials of the Prime are made in Norwich, and the straps are sourced from leatherworks in the Home Counties. The movements, though Swiss ébauches, are reworked and hand finished in the Meridian workshops. So does the Prime MP-01 achieve its goal? We aimed to find out, strapping it onto our wrist for a few weeks.

The MP-01 is an exceedingly simple watch, almost brutally so, yet its beauty is in its subtle details. It may seem counterintuitive to call a watch this large “subtle”, and indeed, its 45mm diameter and long lug-to-lug dimension are not for timid wrists. Make no mistake, this watch wears large, and it is heavy to boot. But look more closely and you’ll see that Meridian does the small things well — which is expected from a watchmaker, but all too often overlooked.

For the Anglophile willing to pay a little more to support a small watch brand and own something he’ll likely never see on another wrist, the MP-01 may be worth it.

The domed sapphire crystal has an extra bevel to it before it meets the bezel. The dial finishing is exquisite, a deep polished black that, when viewed from an angle, shimmers with an almost oil-slick purple. Each dial is hand painted in Norwich and built with the sandwich construction made famous by Panerai, with the middle plate of luminescent material showing through the stenciled cutouts. Lume is bright and long-lasting, more than adequate for a long night in a dark place or just time checks during a long boring movie.

Even the strap buckle is a work of micro-engineering, made up of no less than 11 distinct parts and a rolling bar that makes threading the thick leather a breeze. Buckles are often an afterthought, farmed out and anonymous. But Meridian gives the part the attention it deserves, and the result is so satisfying, we found ourselves playing with it often.

TICK LIST

Meridian-Prime-MP-01-gear-patrol-sidebar

Movement
Calibre: Meridian Prime (ETA 6497 base)
Frequency: 18,000 vph (2.5 Hz)
Jewels: 17
Reserve Power: 40 hours

Functions
Hours, minutes, small seconds at 9 o’clock

Case
Material: Matte stainless steel
Diameter: 45mm
Case Back: Screw-in with Meridian engraving
Crystal: Domed sapphire, anti-reflective
Water resistance: 1,000 feet

Dial
Sandwich construction
Hand-painted in Norwich

Strap/Bracelet
Black leather
11-piece steel pin buckle

The beefy steel case is almost dreadnought-class in dimension. We’re used to big watches, but the combination of its heft and a long top-to-bottom diameter pushed our limits of wearability. The shape of the case isn’t groundbreaking or particularly lovely, rather more utilitarian in appearance, reminding us of the cases IWC uses for its Pilot’s watch range. The various bevels and lugs are expertly polished to a matte finish, and the prominent, well-cut crown with a subtle Meridian logo screws down easily without crown guards to get in the way. This is a good thing, since the MP-01 is a handwound watch and you’ll be using that crown more often than on an automatic timepiece.

The caseback is a little disappointing. Though the engraved lines of meridian are a cool design, given the attention Meridian pays to its movement finishing, we had hoped for the transparent caseback available on some other models in the Prime collection. The wording around the caseback, “Made in England… For the World” is a little grandiose and, dare we say, cheesy. A little more British understatement would have better fit this minimalist watch.

With a watch that starts with the most basic of Swiss movements, the handwound ETA 6497-1, the basis for evaluation must transcend mere timekeeping, though we did find the watch to keep excellent, almost chronometer-spec time. After all, countless watches, from $200 watchmaking student pocketwatches to $6,000 Panerais, drop this movement into a case. So then, the point of separation comes down to finishing and modification. Meridian takes great pride in fitting each base movement with a more complicated and precise screw balance, adjusting it to a high degree of accuracy, and then disassembling the calibre, decorating it, and putting it back together. Their finishing consists of engraved bridges (stylized meridian lines), heat-blued screws and frosted plates. All of this is done by hand.

While this is impressive, in reality it is invisible on the wrist, since the MP-01 lacks a display caseback. Is it enough for the owner to appreciate just knowing that this finished movement dwells within, never to be seen? Perhaps. But to us, it wound and set like the $200 pocketwatch we worked on in a watchmaking course a few months ago. If we were to buy a Meridian, we’d definitely opt for the display caseback.

Finally, there is the price. The Meridian Prime MP-01 costs $6,000. This is as much as a Panerai Luminor, a similar watch in specification, but from a more established brand with undoubtedly better resale potential. Despite its high quality and artisanal small-batch production (each Prime watch is limited to 100 pieces), this price seems a bit too pricey for a handwound, time-only watch with a modified Swiss movement. But for the Anglophile who is willing to pay a little more to support a small watch brand and own something he’ll probably never see on another wrist, it may be worth it.

Meridian has been experimenting with further movement modifications, and perhaps one day they’ll make an in-house motor. The Prime collection is merely the first flag the brand has planted in the growing field of British watches. In the end, it’s a suitably rugged, well-made timepiece with a subtle, utilitarian beauty that transcends categories — not a dive watch, not a pilot’s watch — and should be versatile enough to rise to the challenges of adventurous owners. In other words, it is a fine British watch.

ADVENTURE IS ONE CLICK AWAY

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timekeeping-promo-logo-gear-patrolThis article is part of GP's fresh new face to TIMEKEEPING, a weekly chronicle on the utility, design, tradition and innovation of watches.