Within the watch world, there’s no shortage of watches designed for “professionals.” Elite military units, search and rescue personnel, astronauts, saturation divers — the list goes on. It’s all rather bizarre once you take a step back and consider the ratio of watches created for professionals to the number of those individuals who exist in the world. So, why aren’t more watches created specifically for the vast majority of users — customers who want a watch that can stand up to bumps and bruises but is much more likely to see action in the swimming pool than 300m under an oil rig or strapped to our wrist while hiking on our local trails rather than staging rescue missions in an active war zone? With the Fortis Marinemaster M-40 and M-44, we get just that: an outdoor adventure watch created for the other 99% of us.
If the name Marinemaster sounds familiar, that’s because it’s popped in and out of Fortis’s lineup for over half a century, with some seriously funky models launched in the 1970s. Plus, it happens to share a name with Seiko’s classic diver, but since the brands never quite figured out who came up with the name first, they decided to share (kudos to both brands). That said, the Marinemaster name doesn’t denote a particular model but was a designation given to all Fortis watches bearing high water resistance. Given the 200m of water resistance for the M-40 and 500m for the M-44, the Marinemaster designation seems apt.
In developing the newest incarnation of the Marinemaster, Fortis started fresh, working from the ground up on a new design. The result is a watch that is incredibly cohesive. From the strap to the case to the dial, each element of this watch works together seamlessly. Unlike so many brands that look to back catalogs for inspiration, trying to recreate a vintage aesthetic or retain elements from past models, Fortis seemed to allow the design team free reign to create an adventure watch for the rest of us.
The Marinemaster comes in two case sizes: 40mm for the appropriately named M-40 and 44mm for the M-44. However, there are several differences beyond the case size that differentiate these two models. First, and perhaps foremost, is the difference in movement. The M-40 is powered by the UW-30 automatic movement (presumably a modified ETA 2824 or Sellita SW200) with 38 hours of power reserve and an antimagnetic Glucydur balance wheel. If you’re looking for a no-nonsense movement that’s easily serviced, it’s hard to go wrong here. The M-44 offers something a bit more bespoke with its WERK-11 automatic movement. This manufacture caliber is produced by Kenissi, the same manufacturer that produces movements for Tudor and a few select other brands. The primary advantages to the WERK-11 caliber are its 70-hour power reserve and COSC certification, ensuring accurate timekeeping. The extended power reserve may or may not be important to you, depending on how you wear your watches, but it’s certainly nice to come back to a watch after two or three days and still find it running.
Another major difference between the M-40 and M44 can be seen at 10 o’clock on the case. No, that’s not a helium escape valve; rather, it’s a simple mechanism that you push and turn to lock the bezel into place. It’s simple, clever, and useful (exactly in the way a helium escape valve isn’t). In addition, the bezel on the M-44 is bi-directional. Given that these are designed to be practical, everyday, outdoor watches rather than dive watches, the bi-directional bezel makes sense. Plus, since the bezel itself locks, there’s no concern about inadvertently moving the it. Both watches feature Fortis’s Gear Bezel that’s made from black stainless steel. The edges on the bezels are incredibly grippy, almost sticking to your fingers as you turn the bezel. That said, the action on the unidirectional M-40 bezel is a bit more positive and crisp than the M-44.
One final differentiator between the two models is that the M-44 is only available in the Amber Orange colorway, while the M-40 is available in Rockstone Gray, Woodpecker Green, Serenity Blue, and Snow White.
In another nod to practicality, Fortis opted for a case with hooded lugs and screw bars. The look may not be for everyone, but it keeps the lug-to-lug distance extremely wearable at a short 43mm for the M-40 and 48mm for the M-44. So, even if your wrist is on the smaller side (like mine at 6.75”), the M-44 will still fit comfortably. That said, I found myself wearing the M-40 more frequently, as the dimensions just felt and looked spot-on for my wrist. Regardless of the model, the case is brushed throughout and as the case slopes towards the lugs, it reveals subtle curves, demonstrating Fortis’s attention to detail on every element.
Both the M-40 and M-44 share a general dial and handset layout that might seem simple at first glance, but the closer you look, the more surprises you’ll find. First, there’s the texture on the dial, which consists of a repeating series of deep, open rectangles. The motif is visually interesting, but not overbearing and the degree to which it stands out depends on the dial color; the black dial on the M-44 is relatively subtle, but the texture truly shines lighter colorways like the Snow White, shifting with light and shadow.
The simple baton hands and indices are all filled with X-1 Super-LumiNova and are bright and long-lasting. But (and here’s where a nice little surprise comes in), just inside the chapter ring is a ring of lume, complemented by a luminous Fortis logo. These elements are hidden during the day, but when the lights go out, the dial pops with a Tron-like effect. Executed poorly, extra luminous elements can be rather gimmicky, but here it fits the character of the watch and adds another thoughtful touch.
The element that truly ties the entire piece together is the strap. The rubber Horizon Strap echoes the rectangular dial pattern, integrating the design elements and making the watch feel like a unified whole. It’s similar to how the rubber strap on the Patek Philippe Aquanaut is such an integral element of the watch’s design. Unfortunately, the strap width on both models is 21mm, which is bound to annoy wearers keen on frequent strap changes. That said, the 21mm strap seems ideally proportioned to the M-40 and, surprisingly, works just as well on the M-44. If you’re a bigger fan of bracelets, Fortis also offers both watches on their Block Bracelet with a beautifully machined and easy-to-use push-button slide clasp that offers 8mm of tool-free adjustment. Though each watch works well on the bracelet, the Rockstone Gray looked particularly striking. The only real issue with the bracelet is the minimal taper (21mm to 20mm at the clasp). A more aggressive taper would reduce both the visual and physical heft. Though the watch works equally well on both bracelet and rubber, the rubber strap is a spot-on match to the watch’s aesthetic, and Fortis hit the right balance between pliability, thickness, and support. The M-44’s rubber strap also comes with a push-button deployant clasp, but the clasp can also be purchased through Fortis for customers looking to add a deployant clasp to their M-40 strap.
While multiple, bright color options seem to be the trend of the day, the palette that Fortis chose is unique and playful and the range of colors will be appealing to a wide range of customers, men and women alike. The gray is a nice, neutral option, but it’s a lighter, warmer shade than you’ll typically find. The Woodpecker Green M-40 is a warm, spring green that ends up being surprisingly versatile and is particularly fitting for an outdoor watch. The M-44’s colorway is striking with the orange chapter ring contrasting against the black dial, but hopefully in the future, Fortis will offer the option of a black rubber strap for a subtler look.
All told, the new Fortis Marinemaster is a refreshing change from the endless stream of vintage re-issues and professional watches taking themselves a bit too seriously. Watches are meant to be fun and the M-40 and M-44 are just that: fun watches designed for the way that most of us actually live our lives. Coming in at $2,850 USD on rubber ($3,200 on bracelet) for the M-40 and $4,150 on rubber ($4,500 on bracelet) for the M-44, the Fortis Marinemaster watches are smack in the middle of an extremely competitive segment of the market. Though perhaps not as well-known as some of the larger Swiss brands, Fortis has been crafting watches in Grenchen, Switzerland for over a century and have plenty of horological credentials, including bringing the first automatic watches into mass production, winning chronometer awards, and sending watches on space missions. If you’re looking for a daily watch from a historic brand that has a carefully considered, harmonious design, striking colors, and a character all its own, the Fortis Marinemaster is certainly worth a look. To learn more about the Fortis Marinemaster M-40 and M-44, be sure to visit the brand’s website.
>Model: Marinemaster M-40 and M-44
>Price: $2,850 USD on rubber ($3,200 on bracelet) for the M-40 and $4,150 on rubber ($4,500 on bracelet) for the M-44
>Size: M-40: 40mm diameter, 43mm lug-to-lug, 12.5mm height; M-44: 44mm diameter, 48mm lug-to-lug, 14.5mm height
>When reviewer would personally wear it: Anytime, but especially when I’m headed outdoors.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Someone looking for a do-everything watch with a colorful personality.
>Best characteristic of watch: The cohesive design and luminous inner chapter ring.
>Worst characteristic of watch: 21mm lug width will be annoying to fans of strap changes; a tapering bracelet would be welcome