The term “start-up” has been widely used to refer to interesting new companies that seem to come out of absolutely nowhere, and yet excel at showing the big guns how things can be done differently. New York City is undoubtedly a cradle to these often fabulous new initiatives, and it should come as no surprise that we see one of the first start-up watch brands come from this mesmerizing place. Enter the Martenero Ace watch, a highly affordable and customizable offering from a newcomer to the watch industry.


Martenero is a young company established by two friends Matthew O’Dowd and John Tarantino in New York City. What makes the brand stand out most, beyond being one of the very few more interesting US-based watch companies of the moment, is that it maintains a sub-$500 price range and yet offers customizable and high quality mechanical watches. What this customization specifically means is that on their website one can either choose from finished designs, or can personally choose the color of the seconds hand and the dial, as well as a combination of black or brown leather and some colorful NATO straps.

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Therefore, my first virtual encounter with Martenero ended up in a 20-minute long session of deciding upon which model I liked more and what mix of dial color, hands, and straps I wanted for myself. What made my decision that difficult was that I liked nearly all of the options that I could come up with. Okay, so with that confession out of the way, let’s see in detail what the Martenero Ace offers exactly, and why I have grown so quickly fond of it.


The Martenero Ace In A Different Combination With A Black Dial To The Left, And The Founder With A White Dial And Brown Strap To The Right

The Martenero Ace is one of the two models with which the brand debuted – the other piece being the Founder, a slightly more elegant and dressy alternative. The reason I went for the Ace is because it had more of a tool/field/aviator’s watch look to it, with promising legibility and a nicely laid out dial. The Martenero Ace is available with a white, grey, or black dial, four color options for the seconds hand ranging from red, green, and orange, to black (or white, if a black dial was selected). The watch is always shipped with two straps, with one being a leather strap in either black or brown, and a NATO strap, of which 8 different variations are available.

I highly recommend checking out the Martenero website to see for yourself the incredible difference that a new set of hands and strap colors can make – chances are that with a bit of fiddling around, you will end up with some greatly different designs. It is here where we should note that there is no price difference between customized watches and those “pre-designed” by the brand. As you can see, I went for the white dial with a green seconds hand, the black leather strap and the tan-red-green NATO strap. High-contrast white dials are, for some reason, rather scarce to come by, and I felt it made for a perfect field-watch look that I personally have been looking for for some time.

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Regardless your design choices, the Martenero Ace watch comes in a 42 millimeters wide 316L stainless steel case, that measures just about 50mm from lug to lug and is a very wearable 12.5mm thick. Thanks to a screw-down crown, it offers 100 meters of water resistance, making it suitable for swimming and snorkeling, lending the watch a reassuring robustness. The quality of the case is surprisingly high, and once we consider the price point, it becomes all the more impressive.

With its twisting lugs, polished and brushed alternating finishing, and its slim bezel, it is not only beautiful to look at, but also has a more unique design compared to some of the other “off-the-shelf” steel cases we have been seeing on many watches in this price segment. Both at its front and back are sapphire crystals, and while the front element could use just a tiny bit more anti-reflective coating under some circumstances, in others the face of the watch looks so exceptionally clean, it feels as though I could reach through the glass and touch the crisp white dial.


Legibility is excellent, as the crystal’s slight tendency of showing reflections is balanced out by the high contrast between the white dial, its large and yet not chunky indexes, as well as the nicely made and properly sized hour and minute hands. Reading the time from the Martenero Ace is very and that is further enhanced by the exceptionally good lume on all hands, indices, hour markers, and even the – somewhat weird and tent-reminiscent – Martenero logo.


The automatic movement inside the Martenero Ace is the Miyota 821A, and unlike the case, dial, hands, and other details, it is one aspect where we can sense the toll of the competitive pricing. To begin with, it has a somewhat fiddly crown, which, while screwing firmly onto its secured position, remains a bit clumsy once it has been unscrewed and used to select between the different features of the movement. The problem is that once the crown has been fully unscrewed, it tends to fall between the winding and date-setting positions, necessitating a bit of play until it finds one of its designated settings.


We should note that the issue is not as severe as it may sound and is not something that makes us feel concerned about the reliability of the Miyota movement inside – but this issue is present on the model we received, so we should certainly mention it. As a side note, we will point out that, while the dial has no date indication, the movement still contains a date feature, and hence the crown locks into the date setting position between the hand-winding and time setting positions.

The movement compensates for these slight inconveniences with its finishing, as it actually looks rather impressive when viewed through the sapphire case back. Its uni-directionally winding Martenero branded rotor carries an industrial look that complements the striped finishing on the top plate of the movement, making for an overall aesthetic that, although certainly not fancy, with the price level in mind, remains more than acceptable. Despite its potent looks, the 821A unfortunately falls short on chronometric performance, and this shortcoming might render it – and hence the Martenero Ace itself – more of a secondary watch than an every day wearer for those obsessed with timekeeping accuracy.


Miyota, this Japanese movement manufacturer owned by Citizen, guarantees the 821A’s accuracy to fall between -20 to +40 seconds a day, with a power reserve of 42-45 hours. The watch reviewed here gained a solid 20 seconds a day, necessitating the time to be adjusted at least once a week. Now, that may sound like a considerable issue, but is that really the case?

It has been a bit over a month now that I have owned the Martenero Ace, and it early on turned out to be my “go-to” watch nearly every time when I had to quickly put something on and rush to the city – and not even its somewhat inferior accuracy could keep me away from wearing it. So why is that, exactly? Partly, it is due to the time I spent on selecting the design I wanted – it is an involving task that actually made me feel more connected to this particular watch. I feel it belongs to me personally – even if I know that, most certainly, others have also gone for the exact same configuration.


Furthermore, I found that its legible monochrome dial with that splash of green went well with just about all casual-to-smart-casual attire, albeit it certainly is not suitable for more formal occasions. Last but not least, the super soft leather strap is a joy to wear as it holds this medium-large sized watch firmly against my 6.75″ wrist. One gripe that I would have with the leather strap is its “suede-like” inside, which, while certainly feeling very comfortable, I sense might have a slightly compromised durability in the long run.


In conclusion, the Martenero Ace watch is an exceptionally nice and highly recommendable piece for those looking for a legible, more unique and customizable watch in the sub-$500 range. Having worn the Martenero Ace for a couple of weeks, I found that it is a perfect companion for everyday life and a great to watch to wear on every occasion when one might not want to expose something more valuable to the elements. It quickly grew on me, thanks to its cool and more unique case design, splendid legibility, and correct size. Price of the Martenero Ace watch is $485.

Necessary Data
>Brand: Martenero
>Model: Ace
>Price: $485
>Size: 42mm
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first:  The one with a more limited budget and a need for something more unique that he/she won’t frequently see on the wrist of others.
>Best characteristic of watch: Surprisingly high quality case, dial and hands.
>Worst characteristic of watch: The accuracy of the movement and the sometimes fiddly crown.

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