For anyone even remotely associated with the community of watch enthusiasm, Baltic, headquartered in Paris since its inception in 2017, has been hard to miss. Today, still operating in many respects as a microbrand, I see Baltic as one of a few smaller independents poised to make the leap into the mainstream watch industry, riding the wave of a number of charming and affordable releases. Take, for example, the much-heralded Aquascaphe collection of vintage-inspired divers, as well as the refined HMS and Bicompax chronograph. I’ve even said in previous coverage of Baltic — including the impressive Aquascaphe Dual-Crown I reviewed back in May — that the brand has yet to make a misstep. And even with my considerable confidence in Baltic’s design department, the announcement of the MR01, a considerably smaller, dressier addition to the Baltic collection with a movement I had never heard of, caused the slightest tinge of apprehension and surprise, as this model represents a shadowy Parisian side street the brand has yet to explore. With the MR01 finally on the wrist, I am able to take up a discussion of what makes this watch so special and what it might mean for Baltic, as a whole.
Digging into the wearing experience, thus far, Baltic has held fast to a set of dimensions defined by a 39mm diameter and around 47mm lug-to-lug measurement that combines a vintage influence with the aesthetic demands of the modern wrist. The cases are so similar in their architecture, in fact, that the same (excellent) beads-of-rice bracelet fits every watch Baltic produced thus far, a pleasing level of universality for a smaller brand. The new MR01 does away with this established set of metrics, leaning more heavily into a unisex, more mid-century set of measurements highlighted by a 36mm-wide by 44mm-long case that wears, well, small at first, even on my 6.25” wrist, and likely the majority of wrists out there. Thickness is also restrained at under 10mm including the domed crystal, and a slender 8mm without. I am also happy to report the 20mm lug-width and general lug architecture was carried over from the rest of Baltic’s collection, meaning we have the option of using Baltic’s aforementioned bracelet — a combination that looks fantastic and gives the smaller case a bit more presence — though the included dark-green leather strap is also beautiful and a bit of a swerve compared to what you might expect from a dress watch with a silver dial.
Case finishing is a small step above other Baltic watches, as well, with a polished bezel and top surfaces across the case and brushing along the vertical case sides. The unsigned push-pull crown is polished, as is the outer portion of the screw-down exhibition caseback, with the overall effect being refined and probably a bit much for truly casual settings, but not gaudy or ostentatious in the least.
So to make it clear right upfront, this is a watch for either a smaller to medium-sized wrist, or someone with a great deal of comfort with old school dimensions like these. Baltic also uses the term “unisex” repeatedly in press material for the MR01, so a broader reach in terms of traditional gender roles was also clearly at issue with this design. Despite my love of hulking dive watches, which account for 99% of my personal collection, I don’t wear this watch and wish it were larger. I think the smaller case size adds an entirely new experience and pairs well with the level of refinement on offer here. And despite the smaller case, the narrow bezel means the dial gets plenty of real estate in which to shine, and shine it does, with Baltic’s most beautiful and refined design to date, in my eyes.
Breguet Indices, a Range of Textures, and Haute Vibes
While Baltic deserves — and has received — accolades for its dials in the past, they were, for the most part, relatively simple and understated in their execution, with most featuring neatly printed markings over straightforward dial finishes. The MR01 breaks new ground again in bringing together some of Baltic’s first applied indices, in this case with highly polished Breguet Arabic numerals, a central surface with a finely granular texture, and an off-center small seconds register all set within a circular brushed railway minute track. In terms of color, this watch is available with either salmon, dark navy, or this silver dial, each limited to 200 pieces and individually numbered. Polished leaf-style hands manage actual time-telling, and this combination of dial elements is clean and retains a reasonable level of legibility while also allowing a higher degree of finishing to come to the forefront. Overall, the MR01 looks multiples more expensive than this watch actually is and presents what I would argue is the most attractive modern option for a true dress watch in this price range. There, I said it.
Getting ahead of the comments section, the overall dial layout is reminiscent of many a Calatrava and could even be called a traditionally oriented version of the Vacheron Constantin 1921, in some respects. And while we could get ugly and throw around terms like “homage,” I don’t see that as totally fair here. As Baltic has done with other designs, such as the Aquascaphe, which borrows heavily from designs like the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms of old, this MR01 simply offers a taste of those haute horology design elements in an infinitely more accessible package. Of course, there’s no lume here, this being a dress watch and all, but given the price point juxtaposed against how striking and well-executed this design is, I don’t think you’ll be left wanting for anything (and your phone lights up in a pinch).
And turning the watch over, we are treated to this watch’s namesake, a seldom-seen micro-rotor caliber that found me bravely wielding a proverbial machete through the Internet underbrush to find out more information about its maker, Hangzhou.
Challenging Caliber Convention
When it comes to Chinese watchmaking, the majority of enthusiasts are familiar with the ST19 column-wheel chronograph caliber powering the anomaly of affordability represented by the Seagull 1963. Baltic is also actually one of the only brands using this caliber in a third-party sense in the also-excellent Bicompax chronograph. But for most, the Seagull is where the buck stops in terms of awareness. I see that as a miss, considering the incredible volume of quality watchmaking coming from China, including this non-hacking, micro-rotor Hangzhou caliber 5000A. Founded in 1973, information on Hangzhou is scarce, but even a cursory glance through some of its calibers reveals a level of finishing that is all but unheard of in this price category, as well as some novel executions including the micro-rotor utilized here, which leaves plenty of room for said finishing to shine.
With blued screws, plenty of visible jewels, perlage on its base plate, visible beneath the balance and Baltic-signed gold-tone micro-rotor, and concentric circular Geneva-style waves on the bridges, the caliber is beautiful, whatever country it calls home. Gold-filled and likely machine-engraving also advertises the 30 jewels on offer, with a further testament to the 4 Hz rate and adjustment in five positions just below. And more than simply just an engraving, this MR01 came with a tiny slip certifying its daily rate of around one second per day, which is impressive no matter the maker. Admittedly, in some of the tighter shots in certain lighting conditions, there are some very slight imperfections visible on the rotor, in the form of what I believe to be excess lubrication. But even so, if there is a better decorated, more tightly regulated movement anywhere else at this price, paired with a watch this attractive, from a brand as interesting as Baltic, I would be surprised — and it’s clear why Baltic looked toward China for this caliber with the MR01. Baltic is pushing things forward in terms of the overall industry with a move like this, bending the will of enthusiasts who would normally turn up their noses at the majority of Chinese watchmaking, much as the hardcore Swiss fans do at the idea of buying an SKX. Maybe it’s time for change, especially with an argument this powerful from our friends at Baltic.
But What Does it All Mean, Man?
To start something resembling my final thoughts, this watch represents a bold move from Baltic on several fronts, a brand that could just as easily march out a slew of variants based on its already impressive catalog of designs, all of which tend to sell out. But this is something different. Going after a classically styled dress watch in 2021 — when the majority of work still takes place via Zoom calls in flannel jam-jams — is the kind of thing that raises an eyebrow. Levitating my brows further still is the idea of tracking down an obscure Chinese movement maker’s stunning yet inexpensive micro-rotor movement and then calling it what it is, rather than renaming the thing to hide its origins as many a major brand has been known to do. And finally, putting the whole thing together, striking dial finishing, a versatile dimension set, a quality leather band, and the Hangzhou caliber, all for just over $635 depending on the exchange rate, we have a value proposition that lets a lot more nerds who can’t afford a Vacheron get in on some of the feelings that make high horology so compelling at a price many can afford. Chapeau, Baltic, for another job well done, but now I have no idea what to expect next. While the initial run of MR01’s sold out with reckless abandon in the days following its release, another batch is scheduled for early next year. Learn more at baltic-watches.com.
>Model: MR01 Silver
>Price: Approximately $627 at the time of writing.
>Size: Diameter: 36mm; Lug-to-Lug: 44mm; Thickness: 9.9mm; Lug-width: 20mm.
>When the reviewer would personally wear it: I don’t dress up a lot, but when I do, this will indeed be the move. Maybe I should start crashing weddings?
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: The fan of haute horology brands and designs with more of a used Honda Accord budget.
>Best characteristic of this watch: While the dial is, indeed beautiful, I’m taken aback by what Hangzhou and Baltic have done with this caliber at this price. It’s beautiful.
>Worst characteristic of this watch: It would have been nice to see a bit tighter quality control in terms of whatever is on the rotor, but honestly I’m splitting hairs with what is an excellent watch for the price from essentially any angle.