One of my favorite enthusiast-founded and operated watch brands is Australia’s OWC. Originally known as “Orange Watch Company,” the small brand needed to change the name to simply “OWC” because of a local trademark issue. Still, a name change doesn’t alter the fact that OWC is still the impressive product of founder Dan Fock’s vision. Dan sends out regular e-mails explaining and complaining about his relationships with the various suppliers he works with—mostly about how they don’t meet his elevated standards as a dedicated, perfectionist watch nerd. OWC’s headaches with its suppliers are a testament to the rare purist vision that has inspired at least a few people today to produce mechanical wristwatches. Up for review today is the OWC MilSub MS-6538 “James Bond Large Crown.” What exactly does that mean? It is part of OWC’s larger MilSub collection, with a dial and bezel design inspired by the Rolex watch best known for being worn by Sean Connery’s James Bond character.
OWC’s main value proposition is simple—extremely well-priced, quality sports watches that are homages of military diving watches from their golden ages in the 1960s and 1970s. OWC’s goal is to pump as much value and refinement as possible into each watch, which in my opinion, more than makes up for the fact that the designs are not what you might call “strictly original.” The OWC MS-6538 is not a direct replica or homage to Rolex, but rather takes inspiration in the overall look of the dial, hands, and bezel. A glance at most OWC watches illustrates that they are clearly inspired by Rolex and Tudor’s “MilSub” (Military Submariner) watches, but the OWC watches are not trying to be copies or homages in all regards.
It is challenging to explain the years of observations I’ve had about OWC watches or my interactions with the founder (my first review of an OWC MS-5517 watch can be found here) in just a few words. Dan is a watch lover who sometimes seems to enjoy fighting his suppliers. He is a very hands-on person who does a lot of the assembly work himself, but the challenge for him or any other small independent watch brand is getting the right parts. And not just getting the right parts, but getting parts which are high quality. The OWC MS-6538 is one of the products in a series of iterations that OWC has been developing over the years—trying to get the parts, refinement, and finishing just as Mr. Fock wants it. And this man doesn’t pull his punches.
Until recently, people buying the OWC MS-6538 had two movement options available to them. The less expensive model contained a Chinese Seagull reference ST-1812, which is essentially a copy of the ETA 2892-A2. OWC has informed me that as many as 30% of the Chinese movements sometimes need to be thrown out because of their low quality, but the ones that actually work well do perform nicely. With that said, OWC is now dropping Seagull from the collection because of consumer perception issues as well as quality issues. Dan remarks that the ST-1812 is an undervalued movement, but he doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to quality issues from the popular Chinese movement maker. With the Seagull movement inside of it the MS-6538 had a retail price of $999 USD, while the Swiss Soprod-equipped model is a few hundred more as a result of the added cost of the Swiss movement.
The slightly more expensive version of the MS-6538, which will continue to be available, contains a Swiss Soprod A-10 automatic movement, which is the same size as the Seagull movement. I believe that Soprod recently changed the name of the movement to the M100. The particular watch I am reviewing contains the Swiss Soprod movement, and OWC has better things to say about their overall quality. This is a 4Hz (28,800 bph) automatic movement with about two days of power reserve, and it offers the time with the date.