May 3, 2023
by Jake Witkin
When St. Louis, Missouri-based Monta (a sister brand of Everest Bands) burst into the watch scene in 2016, it challenged the industry’s perception of microbrands and what they can offer. Monta quickly became somewhat of a gold standard of quality in the microbrand space, with yearly releases that defined the brand’s design language and reaffirmed its presence each time. Seven years later, it continues to raise the bar, leading me to question where we draw the line between “micro” and “independent” brands. As design language develops and catalogs expand, when do we change how we define brands? If Monta wasn’t already considered an independent brand then the direction it is heading will certainly take it there.
The Monta Skyquest has received its most significant update after five years in production and is a step outside of the brand’s established comfort zone. The new generation of Monta Skyquest is decidedly aggressive, in contrast to the brand’s other offerings that take a more elegant and refined approach. Those who follow the brand on forums and social media may have seen the backlash upon the second-generation model’s release, and I will agree that initially, I found the design change to be a misstep. While I reserved total judgment until I saw the watch in person, I began to assess the watch through images, and what I gleaned was that each of the design changes was strategic and cohesive with the overall design. Initial impressions are everything in the watch market, and the new generation of Skyquest is a watch that makes more sense in the metal and on the wrist than on paper. All the little details come together to yield a robust, comfortable, and refined everyday timepiece that is a refreshing new take on the well-loved previous model.
Starting with the obvious, the new Skyquest is no longer a dressy GMT. This factor alone may make it a write-off for some because the “dressy GMT” style is popular but uncommon, even with the proliferation of 24-hour capable movements. The polished ceramic bezel insert has been swapped for a matte aluminum model with a wider and more pronounced 24-hour scale. This wider bezel encroaches upon the dial space somewhat, expanding inward rather than outward in order to maintain the versatile 40.7mm case size. This slightly smaller dial features a rearrangement of text and dial furniture to maintain a balanced and highly legible layout beneath the flat sapphire crystal.
Around the periphery of the dial is a simple hashed minute track surrounding large polished and applied indices. Monta also opts for a date window that aligns with the indices, unlike the previous generation that had a date window sitting above the 6 o’clock index. Additionally, all the dial text has been scaled down to maintain a pleasing amount of negative space. A brushed steel rehaut allows the dial to feel uncluttered, especially when compared with the 24-hour chapter ring of its predecessor. Many will be sad to hear that the quirky stepped GMT hand is gone, however. Here, this element is replaced with a fully painted flat hand that extends to the edge of the dial. Design tweaks such as the thinner applied indices, a non-existent chapter ring, and a flat GMT hand allow the watch to be 0.1mm thinner than its predecessor, clocking in at 11.8mm. While the thinner dimensions are negligible, the legibility is drastically improved. There are no facets or layers to the dial to distract. The subtle matte black backdrop of the dial provides excellent contrast to the polished sword and baton hands. Blue glowing BGW9 Super-LumiNova glows throughout the night.
The combination of a more inwardly-focused dial and an ever-so-slightly thinner case may have made the Skyquest wear smaller, if not for a subtle redesign to the lugs and crown guard that complement the sport-oriented direction the new generation is taking. The top surfaces of the lugs are wider, and feature a fine satin finish with a crisp transition to the tapering polished chamfer. This results in a more robust appearance than the previous generation. Additionally, the crown guards have been rounded off to provide easier access to the crown. The crown and bezel both feature a squared gear-tooth knurling that makes utilizing them effortless. Monta’s patent-pending bidirectional bezel is still one of the most satisfying to use, with a smooth transition and firm solid click across all 48 positions and no wiggle room between them.
Monta fits this case with its fully articulating oyster-style bracelet, which is easily one of the most comfortable bracelets on the market. The complete articulation of each link allows the bracelet to drape around nearly any wrist, no matter the shape. To make things more comfortable, Monta’s quick-adjust clasp with three micro-adjustments makes on-the-fly adjustments a breeze. While there are no visible differences between the new clasp and the one found on the original Skyquest, I found both the flip lock function and the quick adjustment easier to use on the earlier generation. The new flip lock was very stiff, and those without long enough fingernails to get under the tab may have trouble opening it. The quick adjust mechanism (while incredibly convenient) felt looser and flimsier than I would like compared to the rest of the package. However, both of these complaints could just be tolerance issues that may not represent every clasp in production.
Powering the Skyquest is the Monta Caliber M-23, which is simply a branded rotor variant of the Sellita SW330. This automatic GMT movement features bidirectional winding and 56 hours of power reserve. It is finished nicely – as well as can be expected at this price point. You can view the movement through a sapphire caseback. While I didn’t measure accuracy on my wrist, the movement is one of the more reliable and accurate GMT movements on the market. As with all SW330-style GMT movements, the Monta Skyquest is a “caller” GMT, which means the GMT hand is independently adjustable instead of the hour hand. I’ll leave the argument of “true” versus “caller” GMTs for the comment section, but in most cases, I prefer this style. While I do travel and enjoy it, I find that I am more likely to adjust my GMT hand (and bezel) to track the time zone of friends, family, coworkers, and clients.
I owe special thanks to aBlogtoWatch Contributing Editor Mike Razak, who loaned his generation 1 Skyquest to me for a thorough hands-on comparison. The reality is, the Skyquest wears exactly the same. It is a 40.7mm-wide and 47.4mm lug-to-lug watch that wears true to size. The biggest changes are visual, and after five years without a significant update, a new direction for the line is exciting. We say goodbye to the formal-leaning design cues and embrace a watch that is ready for adventure and a few scratches.
Monta has been in a unique position since its inception. It is, by all modern definitions, a microbrand. However, it is producing Swiss-made watches at a middle-to-low luxury price point that can make you question the value of other large Swiss brands that operate in the same segment. Monta, and many other brands we have considered to be microbrands, are certainly cementing themselves into the watch industry. They provide significant value, exciting designs, and refreshing products that are undoubtedly making an impact on the revenue stream of the traditional watch industry. Evolutions in design like the Skyquest prove that Monta is capable of more than its initial style, and despite backlash on launch, the watches hold up to the high standards Monta is known for. This more tool-watch-oriented direction may not be for everyone. That’s okay, there are plenty of first-generation Skyquests out there if that’s what you fancy, but I for one am excited to see this side of the brand and can’t wait for this design language to show up in other models(I’m looking at you, Ocean King.) The Monta Skyquest is priced at $2,435 USD and is available in three different standard production variants. These variants include a black dial with a black bezel, a black dial with a black and red bezel as seen in this review, and a “Pepsi” with a gilt dial and bezel. As of early February 2023, Monta unveiled a 150-piece limited edition opaline gilt dial Skyquest. Learn more at Monta’s website.
>Model: Skyquest GMT
>Price: $2,435 USD
>Size: 40.7mm-wide, 11.8mm-thick, 47.4mm lug-to-lug
>When reviewer would personally wear it: Daily to track time zones of coworkers and family. On vacation or while traveling.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Friends looking for a high-quality and reliable GMT.
>Best characteristic of watch: Bezel action, versatility, case finishing.
>Worst characteristic of watch: The first center link of the bracelet can rotate into the endlink when not worn and develop wear over time. Stiff flip-lock function of clasp.