January 20, 2023
by Matt Reudink
There are plenty of reasons to start a watch brand — some grandiose, others prosaic — but pure, unalloyed passion will always yield the most interesting results. Case in point: the Bohen Mille-Mer. A cursory glance at the Mille-Mer makes it clear that this was not a watch sketched up in a board room and refined by focus groups to appeal to the broadest possible audience. Indeed, it’s quite likely that the Mille-Mer, with its large case, aggressive lines, and semi-integrated bracelet, is going to appeal to a rather limited subset of buyers. But that’s exactly the point. The Mille-Mer was conceived and brought to life by Blaise-Dominique Giuliani for the sole purpose of creating the best possible version of the watch that he wanted to wear. One thing is certain, this is a watch that is fully and completely its own.
The Mille-Mer was inspired by ridiculously overbuilt and over-engineered watches like the Rolex Sea-Dweller. Often, when we hear the word “inspired” in reference to a watch, the result is a homage undistinguishable from its inspiration without a close inspection of the name on the dial. That’s definitely not the case with the Mille-Mer. Instead, imagine the Mille-Mer as being inspired by the same design brief as a watch like the Sea-Dweller: Design a luxury watch with finely executed details and finishing, but make sure it can withstand anything short of Armageddon. For Rolex, with its Swiss character and highly constrained design language, the result was the Sea-Dweller (not to mention Deapsea and Ultra Deep). For Bohen, the Mille-Mer is an unabashedly aggressive and distinctly French take on the same design brief.
In handling the Mille-Mer, the first thing you notice is the size. It’s a big watch, no getting around it, but that’s almost entirely down to the case height of 17.5mm. The 43mm diameter (50mm lug-to-lug) is reasonable given the watch’s intentions and, with the bullhead crown at 12 o’clock, the watch wears quite well on the wrist (mine is 6.75”). Still, there’s no getting around the case height. Sure, some of that height is due to the domed sapphire crystal, but mostly it’s down to how overbuilt the entire watch is to attain the 1000m water resistance. In wearing the watch, it seems that 1000m is likely an underestimate — the watch feels bombproof. No surprise that, with these dimensions, you also get some heft on the wrist (195g on bracelet). And that’s with a Grade 5 titanium caseback. If you’re the type that equates weight with quality and likes the feeling of heft on the wrist, you’re all set.
Given the weight and dimensions, it may sound like the Mille-Mer is ungainly to wear, but in reality, that’s far from the case. In large part, the surprisingly comfortable fit comes down to the stellar bracelet. The bracelet starts at 24mm at the lugs, but keep in mind that you can’t easily swap on an aftermarket 24mm strap due to the bullhead design that necessitates a proprietary endlink. However, for those who prefer a rubber strap, Bohen added tool-free quick release to the end-links to allow you to quickly swap in its silicone strap.
Back to the bracelet, as it deserves some attention. Bohen’s opted for a design that’s a bit of a hybrid between a ladder bracelet and a traditional three-link design that allows plenty of airflow. Add in the deep taper down to 16mm (20mm clasp), and the result is a bracelet that feels and looks excellent, doing a great job of balancing the heft of the watch head. The construction and finishing of the links on the bracelet are superb. The center links are black polished, while the outer links are brushed, all constructed with flat surfaces that bevel at the inner edges. All told, the bracelet is quite refined and one of the most comfortable, attractive, and well-finished bracelets I’ve come across in a while. Given how well-executed the rest of the bracelet is, it’s no surprise that the clasp is just as well thought-out. The Mille-Mer uses a milled push-button clasp that includes a tool-free micro-adjust. It’s not the easiest micro-adjust to use, but it’s functional and works well once you become familiar with how to squeeze the pins to adjust the clasp.
A quick look from above and the Mille-Mer may appear to utilize a standard case shape, with squared-off lugs reminiscent of a skindiver. Tilt the watch to the side and the Mille-Mer’s unique case design becomes apparent, the lugs abruptly transitioning from hard lines and brushed surfaces to softer, full-polished surfaces that come to a point at 3 and 6 o’clock. It’s as if the case began its life at 46mm but was then cut and polished, like a gemstone, to reveal the jewel beneath the surface. It’s a nice effect that helps reduce the visual weight of the watch and adds an interesting design element. Note that the case also features a helium-escape valve near 1:30. Necessary? Definitely not, but then again, neither is 1000m of water resistance. If we go back to the design brief, however, it makes sense that Bohen would include a helium escape valve. Luckily, if you don’t care for an escape valve, it’s tucked away in an unobtrusive spot. On the back of the watch is a titanium screw-down caseback with deep engravings. Titanium was a nice touch to reduce the weight — albeit only slightly. A full titanium version of the Mille-Mer would be welcome for those that prefer lighter, easier-wearing watches.
Like the case, the dial of the Mille-Mer hides plenty of surprises. Below the sapphire crystal is a deeply recessed dial with applied indices that begin on the dial and angle steeply up onto the angled chapter ring. It’s a cool effect that provides a lot of depth and dimension. The indices and hands are all filled with X1 Super-LumiNova gel, with a unique twist to the formula that adds more rare earth elements for even stronger luminosity that glows green in the dark; however, the minute and seconds hands use blue lume. This is a nice touch in the dark, or while diving. Also, because the minute hand is pure white in natural light, as compared to the greenish tint on the hour hand and indices, it’s easy to quickly tell the time. This was a good choice by Bohen, as the semi-skeletonized hour and minute hands (a nice fit to the Bohen H logo) share the same shape, just differing in size.
The first batch of Mille-Mer watches, which are now all sold out, was released with a deep black dial, but Bohen has now released two limited versions (80 pieces each) with blue and gray dials. The gray dial, reviewed here, is a matte slate, but with the slight green tint of the hands and indices, the gray can take on an olive complexion, giving it a bit of a military vibe. Overall, it’s a hue that works quite well with the aggressive look of the watch and contrasts nicely with the black rehaut and bezel.
The dial features Arabic numerals at 6 and 9 o’clock, which should be unbalanced without the 3 but works due to the date magnifier at 3 o’clock. That said, losing the 6 and 9 would open up the dial, especially in a no-date version. The design of the date magnifier is proprietary and patented by Bohen. Essentially, the brand has added a double bridge that’s situated between the crystal and hands rather than gluing a date magnifier to crystal. If you’re going to include a love-hate element like a date magnifier, might as well go all-in and turn it into an integral part of the watch’s design. Bohen went with a 60-click unidirectional bezel with a ceramic insert for the bezel. There’s no lume pip on the insert, but the modified Bohen H logo at 12 o’clock is luminous. The bezel has a nice, positive action, with minimal play, and the edges are easy to grip.
To power the Mille-Mer, Bohen opted for a Soprod M100 automatic movement, modified with rhodium plating, an anti-magnetic cage, pearl bridges, and a rotor finished with Côte de Genève. More importantly, the movement passes Chronofiable A8 testing from Laboratoire Dubois with +/- 4 seconds/day accuracy in five positions. The Soprod M100 is a nice alternative to ETA and Sellita offerings, but you’re still limited to 42 hours of power reserve. Setting the time and date with the oversized crown at 12 o’clock is a little more challenging than using a typical crown, due to working around the modified end-link, but it’s plenty easy once you get used to it. The crown itself is smooth and secure and a pleasure to screw and unscrew.
The Mille-Mer’s size, weight, and aesthetics aren’t going to be for everyone — nor should they be. This is the watch that Blaise-Dominique Giuliani envisioned as his ideal luxury dive watch. The aesthetic is aggressive, it’s French, and it’s something all its own. If this vision resonates with your tastes, then you won’t be disappointed with the execution. From the case to the dial to the bracelet, the watch is nicely finished throughout, with little details that add up to create an impressive overall package. The Mille-Mer gray dial is limited to 80 pieces and priced at €3,000 (excluding tax). For more information on the Mille-Mer, please visit the brand’s website.
>Price: €3,000 excluding tax
>Size: 43mm diameter, 17.5mm height (15.9mm without crystal), 50mm lug-to-lug, 24mm strap width.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: When I’m in the mood for an apocalypse-ready watch that can handle much more than I can and look good doing it.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Someone who likes big, burly dive watches but is looking for a watch with a unique modern design and excellent finishing.
>Best characteristic of watch: Fantastic bracelet and unique design language.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Case height and weight. I’d love to see this same watch in a slimmer package (e.g., maybe 13mm case height, 40mm diameter), for those who prefer smaller, lighter watches.