If the Ming 18.01 Abyss Concept watch is the first thing you’ve seen from this intriguing little brand, then I encourage you to check out previous models, because this one sits on a bit of an island. But before we get to that, a bit of brand background is necessary to give context to the analysis of this watch as a model with the potential to inspire a series run.
The Ming brand is one that every watch-lover should be aware of, simply for its unusual formation and a respectable level of transparency. The brand is named after its founder, Ming Thein, a photographer, designer, business strategist, and fervent watch aficionado.
Despite having 12 releases under its belt already, the company is still incredibly lean. Six watch enthusiasts power the mission to provide pieces that will appeal to those in the know. I use that vague demographic classification deliberately because, as consistently impressed as I have been with the brand’s output thus far, there is nothing whatsoever consistent about the price points. Consequently, the target audience is hard to pin down — other than the fact that these timepieces appeal to lovers of quality, that is.
When the brand first launched in 2017, it debuted with the very affordable Ming 17.01 ($900), and one might have imagined that the positive reception to that project would have encouraged Ming Thein and his team to keep working that price point. An experienced team like this (boasting over 80 years in watchmaking among them) has a huge advantage over new, greener microbrands attempting to work the soft underbelly of the luxury market. It would have been understandable for Ming to remain static, and simply milk the desire for excellent quality at an affordable price.
However, for the release of the Ming 19.01 and the Ming 19.02, the brand employed Schwarz Etienne movements. This, from the perspective of horological interest, was a great move. It elevated those two models to a new echelon of quality and individuality. The movements themselves were excellently customized, with cool, skeletonized ratchet wheels and barrels. But using such high-end calibers in relatively small-run sizes pushed the prices of those models up to CHF 7,500 and CHF 10,900, respectively. That’s a whole different ball game from the earlier 17 series.
The Ming 18.01 Abyss Concept watch takes a step away from the dressier angle that the brand has explored so far. The familiar flared lugs are retained on the brushed case middle, working in tandem with the recognizable dial design to give a very consistent feel to this piece. It’s smart how comfortably this new sport watch sits alongside the other models in the collection. The visual continuity is facilitated by Ming’s decision not to groove or serrate the edge of the rotating bezel in any way, which gives this concept watch a very unusual look for what is a serious dive tool (and an unexpected practical benefit we’ll discuss later).
One hallmark of Ming has always been the surprisingly good level of manufacturing quality at whichever one of the brand’s several price points the watches are placed. As the price goes up, quality goes up accordingly, and with a CHF 6,500 price tag (not cheap for a time-only tool watch with a sourced movement) it means a lot to say the quality of execution here is top notch.
As for that movement, however, one possible drawback for this incredibly handsome diver is the fact it is driven by a top grade ETA 2824-2. Now, however suitable this caliber may be for a dive watch (and it is), there will be unavoidable comparisons with major brands (like Omega, Tudor, or Rolex, for example) producing respected dive watches at around the same price all with in-house movements and a truckload of provenance Ming can’t hope to match.
But the design is sublime. The watch truly looks like an alien on the wrist, with its one glowing eye at 12 o’clock staring up at you (at all hours of the day and night, thanks to some top-level luminous material on both the dial and crisp ceramic bezel insert). There’s a nice bit of texture and depth to the dial, with the grooved blue chapter ring that encircles the wordless design. The hands, too, are stunningly beautiful in their simplicity and commitment to functionality. And although this is a concept watch, it certainly has put function ahead of form. As a result, it fulfills its remit perfectly.
A Challenge Accepted
Over a year ago, Ming acquired a pressure-testing machine with a limit of 1,250m (4,100ft). Following that acquisition, the obvious internal challenge emerged to design a watch that was not only congruous with the current Ming offering but also able to exceed the maximum pressure test their new machine was capable of. (Boys and their toys, eh?)
This small run of just 10 timepieces is incredibly unusual at this nearly accessible price point. They are truly market-ready prototypes. Such products don’t usually make their way into the hands of the customer, but these watches — answers to a question born of opportunity — present that rare occasion. Importantly, there is no guarantee Ming will ever produce another dive watch.
The Abyss Concept watch is just 40mm-wide and 14mm-thick. Its paired back dial perhaps makes it look a little bigger than it actually is, but in comparison to many divers on the market today, it is incredibly wearable. The option of a bracelet instead of a blue leather strap (made by Jean Rousseau in Paris) also increases the versatility of this stainless steel watch (a different material from a brand that has previously favored titanium) and makes it suitable for the home or the office.
The polished bezel mentioned earlier keeps things classy, but not without an underlying functional justification that surprised me. Apparently, after many tests, a polished surface was shown to be the easiest to grip with wet hands (while not interrupting the design too much). A blockish design on the bezel makes reading the elapsed time intuitive and a real joy, thanks to the liberally applied Super-LumiNova X1 glowing bright blue against the ceramic base. A solid caseback and screw-down crown (with red safety indicator to remind you not to leave it sticking out), along with the absence of spacer rings within the case to make it as solid as possible, means the Abyss Concept watch is able to reach depths in excess of 1,250m (or 4,100ft/125 ATM, if you prefer). These 10 pieces, priced at CHF 6,500, will be available from Ming directly and can be purchased anytime. Delivery is included in the price. Learn more at ming.watch.