On a somewhat regular basis, MoVas founder Sean Wai and I engage in conversations about the watch industry at large. Sean isn’t always sure what his role in the watch industry is and whether he is a brand, a hobbyist, or someone who simply engages in a particular type of art form that is celebrated by some, and misunderstood by others. Today, I am going to review a watch that I’ve had on and off my wrist for quite some time – and it is the MoVas Military Chronograph II.
My first foray into MoVas watches was in reviewing their GMT watch here, back in 2010. MoVas isn’t new to the game, nor are they indiscreet about what they do, which is produce watches with “movements of Asia.” To remind you, that is what “MoVas” actually stands for. When talking about reviewing the MoVas Military Chronograph II, Wai’s initial concern was that “people are going to blast me on the price.” At just over $1,000 for a watch richly inspired by popular sport watches such as Panerai with a Chinese-made clone of a Swiss movement, I can understand why people often approach MoVas with such critique. With that said, the brand is about artistically changing established designs and experimenting with novel executions more so than trying to offer something totally original. In fact, Wai isn’t convinced most watch consumers actually want something original – but rather want a new take on established and already successful themes.
MoVas is based in Singapore – a very healthy watch market with buying tastes that are on average a lot more “Western” than one might assume given that Singapore is a hub of Asian finance and trade. Large, avant-garde watches are popular in Singapore and Panerai has a particularly healthy fan base there. I have yet to experience the Singapore watch market myself, but I find some of the intense diversity in buying tastes there interesting. I think for MoVas, the biggest question is how much of a market there is for a unique niche product like this outside of Singapore, where the brand is seen as a much lower-priced “artistic” alternative to other vintage-style, large sport watches.
The MoVas Military Chronograph II is a rather large and heavy steel watch in a 45mm-wide square/cushion case that is also about 17mm thick. MoVas offers both sapphire crystal and Plexiglas crystal options, which is really about offering the unique warmth a Plexiglas crystal offers – but of course, not all buyers want to deal with the fact that it scratches a lot compared to sapphire. The case is also water resistant to 100 meters – without a screw-down crown or screw-down pushers – and feels reasonably well-made even if the European and Japanese brands in many ways have MoVas beat. With that said, this feels a lot more like a highly refined “project” watch as opposed to something that comes out of factory, which is more or less what MoVas watches are.
MoVas offers both a rubber and leather strap option with the MoVas Military Chronograph II. It is nice that there are added items like this, but the leather strap comes on some belt-buckle style clasp that frankly didn’t fit for my strap and case. The rubber strap is on the tougher side, meaning it’s not as flexible when bent, but works a lot better than the well-intentioned but not workable leather strap and clasp option. As of now, the MoVas site has five distinct strap options for the Military II, and given the rapid pace of development at a small brand such as this, I am pretty sure that in the year-plus since I’ve received the watch, my particular strap issue is moot.
Probably my favorite part of the MoVas Military Chronograph II watch is the dial design. MoVas goes with a Panerai-style “lume-sandwich” dial, but offers its own take on how such a dial should look. Hands are all the right length and legibility is very good. Lume is pretty good, but I think that this is something which could have been even better given the style of the dial. I would say that if there is anything I like most about MoVas, is it Sean’s dial designs. The interesting cases are familiar at first glance, but also original.
Inside the MoVas Military Chronograph II watch is a Chinese movement known as the Shanghai Watch Co. Ltd caliber 3LZF1. This is more or less a copy of a Swiss ETA Valjoux 7750 automatic chronograph – a popular movement to be “homaged” in Asia. The movement hasn’t broken on me yet and performs reasonably well, even though I wouldn’t claim it has Chronometric performance. Operating at 4Hz (28,800bph), it has about 45 hours of power reserve.
From a distance, this 3LZF1 movement looks like a 7750, but upon closer inspection, you an see how the metals and finishes aren’t nearly as good as those from Switzerland. Parts are not cleaned and finished properly, and bare brass parts like the automatic rotor show signs of oxidation and aging. There is no “clone” of a Swiss movement that can be produced for too much less than than those which come out of Switzerland. You can copy the parts, for sure, but at the end of the day, the combination of cleanliness, finishing, material quality, and testing in Switzerland (and the better Japanese stuff) easily trumps the Chinese stuff which only wins when it comes to price. With that said, for the right price, don’t worry about getting a Chinese movement so long as you understand their inherent limitations. Most customers wouldn’t know the difference, actually, as people who buy watches like this wear them in rotation with other timepieces and are resetting the time regularly as it is.
And then there is the matter of all the options. For an extra $50 here, you can get an upgraded sapphire crystal. For an extra $20 there, you get the chronograph hands painted a different color. Buying a MoVas is for the type of watch collector who understands what they want and also enjoys the process of selecting something specifically for them. Brands like MoVas know that the second you start offering difficult-to-choose options, most mainstream consumers walk away. That is OK because, despite what seem like higher-than-normal prices for Chinese watches and the relatively subtle nature of their business practices, MoVas is doing well with a core group of consumers that like the home-grown Singaporean designer watch brand that uses “local ingredients” for a wearing experience unlike most of what else is out there. The MoVas Military Chronograph II has a base price of $1,170 USD. movaswatches.com
>Model: Military Chronograph II
>Size: 45mm wide
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Sometimes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Open-minded large sport watch lover with a soft spot for independent designers and craft-style timepieces made in small batches.
>Best characteristic of watch: Original design mixed with familiar elements coming from popular watches such Panerai. Good looking dial which is rather legible.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Expensive despite boutique nature of brand and decent construction. A bit rough around the edges, but for some people that is part of the charm.