Hands-On: Massena Lab Archetype 0.0

Keen details and compelling value.

Announced two months ago, the Massena Lab Archetype 0.0 is yet another vintage remake – and there are many of them – but it is executed well, better in fact, than most of its peers.

Produced as a “pre-series prototype”, which I take to mean it conceived as a larger-scale limited edition that didn’t proceed, the Archetype gets the basics right, being a “gilt” dial chronograph with a hand-wind movement. But crucially, it also gets the details right, ranging from the two-tone gilt print to the typography on the dial. Though it is a bit larger than ideal, the Archetype is a winner amongst vintage remakes and also a good value proposition.

Initial thoughts

I first met William Rohr some time in 1998, albeit briefly, when he came to Singapore to buy a Lange – I think it was a platinum Lange 1 – because back then it was worth flying halfway around the world to do so. I think he was still in his earlier career in real estate at the time.

William is a sharp-eyed collector whose taste I respect, and often agree with. But he is also now an industry veteran who has continued to remain relevant over the decades while wearing many hats, an accomplishment I respect even more.

His career has taken him from, amongst other things, general manager of watch forum Timezone.com to a stint at Antiquorum just after the Patrizzi era, and now his own brand. Consequently, William is still a player after some two decades, while many of his peers from that era of the watch internet have faded away.

So when William starting making watches under his own brand, I knew I had to buy one. William named his brand after the pseudonym he goes by online, William Massena, which was inspired by André Masséna, one of the marshals of Napoleon’s army.

I liked the Habring2 editions that were his inaugural products, particularly the second model, but since I am working on something of my own I decided to pass. The recent Uni-Racer looked like a good product, but the vintage Universal Geneva Uni-Compax was never really my thing.

Last year’s Massena Lab edition made by Habring2. Image – Massena Lab

When the Archetype 0.0 was revealed, I liked it, for the same reasons that Longines’ vintage remakes are appealing – solid vintage style that pulls together varied elements in a coherent manner. Neither imaginative nor novel design was expected, but I did expect William’s eye for detail to show, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The “gilt” dial of the watch is surprisingly glossy and outstanding, while the case and crystal are of excellent quality. The gilt print is actually subtly two tone, with the registers and logo in a matte finish, allowing the “sector” and scales to catch the light perfectly.

The only downside is the size; the watch is quite large and feels like an oversized vintage watch. Still, it is a job well done and also good value. The Archetype compares well to similarly priced vintage remakes, and does better than rivals in most aspects, especially the dial.

Gloss and gilt

The dial is a perfectly executed replica of a vintage dial, albeit on a larger scale. All the details are done correctly, right down to the serifs on the numerals and the open “6”.

The lengths of the hands are also just right

Even the “Massena” logo has tiny serifs in its font

Finished in a deep, glossy black that’s almost mirror-like, the dial has gilt print down in two colours. While the scales and tracks are in a bright, mirrored finish, the logo and registers are in a darker, matte finish, a distinction that’s unusually thoughtful. It’s not obvious, but instantly visible at the right angle.

Because the dial is so reflective – both the surface and the print – it catches the light well, with the gilt print lighting up when the light hits it just right.

In fact, the twin types of print are sometimes opposites in how they catch the light because of the contrasting matte and mirrored finish. In some instances, the mirrored print appears invisible, leaving only the registers and logo against a black dial.

Notably, despite having been enlarged to suit the movement and case, the proportions of the dial are pleasing. The registers overlap the minute track slightly, as on some vintage chronographs. The two sub-dials are larger than they would be on a vintage chronograph, but only slightly.

Because the crystal is domed, the tachymetre scale is slightly distorted at the edges, another detail that evokes a vintage watch

Like the dial, the case is vintage inspired and smartly detailed. The case is finished with a combination of brushed and polished surfaces that are arranged well – the flat, polished bezel against the brushed lugs, and the polished bevel on the lugs against the brushed case sides – giving the case texture and visual interest.

Amongst the notable details are the narrow-stemmed, “pump” pushers, instead of the disproportionately fat pushers found on many modern chronographs.

The case back is flat, with a circular brushed finish surrounded by a sloped, polished rim, which brings to mind the snap-on backs of some vintage watches. Here it’s a water-resistant back secured by screws, but I would have preferred a screw-down back with polygonal or notched edges, which is no improvement in functionality but is even more reminiscent of vintage sports chronographs.

The bezel has a tiny step at the top where it meets the crystal

The only weakness of the case is its size. It’s 42 mm in diameter, something that’s accentuated by the narrow, sloped bezel. And it is tall at 13.5 mm, in part due to the domed crystal. I wish it were thinner but it is what it is.

The movement inside is a Sellita SW510, basically the hand-wind version of the Valjoux 7750 clone made by Sellita. As a result, it is definitely robust and easy to service, while also being quite thick at 7 mm high, making it partly responsible for the size of the watch.

Unsurprisingly, the tactile feel is also similar to the 7750 and its derivatives, the winding click is relatively soft, while the pushers feel stiff; the start and stop button requiring more force than the reset, as is traditional for the 7750.

Notably, because Sellita has been progressively upgrading the ETA-clone movements it produces, the SW510 has a 58-hour power reserve, longer than the 42-44 hours of the stock 7750.

Though the movement is hidden under the back, it is Elaboré, or “Special”, grade, which means it has been decorated neatly but industrially, with Geneva stripes on the bridges and blued-steel screws. And it is also regulated to COSC chronometer standards according to Massena Lab, or in other words, as good as it gets for a chronograph in this price range.

Concluding thoughts

The Archetype 0.0 accomplishes exactly what it sets out to be, and does so in good style. The dial is a wonderful remake of a vintage “gilt” dial.

Admittedly, the case is a bit larger than I would wish for – a necessity of the movement and construction – but not so large that it feels clunky.

Importantly, the Archetype compares well against similar watches, most notably the various Longines Heritage chronographs. The Archetype has a fancier dial and more details in the case finishing, although many of the Longines offer higher-spec movements, simply because Longines’ sister company is movement giant ETA.

All things considered, the Archetype offers slightly better value than its peers, largely because of its excellent details and smaller production run. I look forward to seeing what William has planned for the next Massena Lab chronograph.


Key facts and price

Massena Lab Archetype 0.0

Diameter: 42 mm
Height: 13.5 mm
Material: Steel
Water resistance: 100 m
Crystal: Sapphire

Movement: Sellita SW510 BH M
Features: Hours, minutes, seconds, and chronograph
Winding: Hand-wind
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 58 hours

Strap: Leather with pin buckle

Limited edition: A small run of “pre-series prototypes”
Availability:
 Sold out
Price: US$4,250

For more, visit Massenalab.com.


 

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