Stewart Dawson was an Australian-born, later British watchmaker from the 19th century whose name has returned (like those of so many others) to form a modern watch brand that is inspired by an acquired forefather. Such brand formulae are common these days and represent both highly competent immature watch brands. Many of the most prestigious luxury group-owned watch brands fall into this category – and done right can be a recipe for success. Such brands have two wars to fight along the way to growth. One fight is to create compelling products, and the other fight is to present and develop a romantic brand. Both are skills and challenges unto themselves.
The Stewart Dawson of today is a newer brand with a focused branding on its Britishness. Even though Mr. Dawson himself died prior to the 20th century, the people behind Stewart Dawson today are pulling from stories related to the mid 20th century and Winston Churchill history — it does come with some romance. This watch is named for a famous 1940 speech given by Winston Churchill during the height of World War II. It is a grim occasion to celebrate in a luxury timepiece with no specific military provenance. Then again, if some Anglophilia helps sell an otherwise decent watch, who is being harmed? So the question now becomes, how is the Stewart Dawson Darkest Hour watch as a timepiece? Coming in at 900 Euros, it is not exactly high-luxury, but it isn’t entry-level-priced any longer.
The overall quality and wearing experience of the Darkest Hour is pretty good overall, which is a fair summary of the watch. Parts of it are made better than others, and various levels of good taste exist on the watch. No, I don’t think it is curated with the meticulous level of detail that Brit brands can be known for, but it does mention that the strap is made in Italy — three separate times in the strap description: “Genuine Italian Cuoio Leather Handcrafted in Italy by Italian Artisans.” I’m actually not sure where the owners of Stewart Dawson are, but I think the principals are in Italy. Oddly, they go to great lengths to make that difficult to determine, as the parent group has an office address in London, as well as in New York City. I’m simply remarking on this because the watch is so inspired by British history and has “London” on the dial, even though its relationship to London and British history is tangential, at best.
Speaking of the holy Italian trinity watch strap — it is pretty comfortable. Visconti Milano (not to be confused with Visconti Firenze) is part of the same group of brands that do some really nice leatherwork. That same soft, supple leather is used for the Stewart Dawson straps — and it helps the 42mm-wide brushed steel case wear with optimal comfort. Once you wear a soft, pliable strap like this, you learn how utterly oppressive stiff straps can be.
The watch cases and dial designs taken together are a particular type of retro pilot watch made most popular by Zenith and to a lesser degree, IWC. That said, this particular case design and dial (hands, too) combo has been done by a number of larger and smaller brands. The look isn’t really about originality, but rather execution. Who can get the proportions and finishes just right? Who can render the most attractive colors? who can give this antique military watch the most subtle yet noticeable luxury pizazz?
Stewart Dawson’s take on the look isn’t too shabby. The Darkest Hour comes in three dial colors, with this being the REF. 1940.A.SS.DH02 – BLUE (with the blue dial and matching strap). The luminant is applied thick enough to be raised up a bit, and the color is an attractive “aged” cream. It is actually quite nice and more attractive than a stark white color. The date window on the dial doesn’t really help much, but otherwise, the mixture of colors, textures, and fonts works well for the overall look. From a fashionabiltiy perspective, Stewart Dawson gets more than passing marks.
Over the dial is a flat AR-coated sapphire crystal, which I actually think would have been better off being slightly domed. Indeed, Stewart Dawson would have needed to spend more and deal with more headaches over proper AR-coating techniques (which is more challenging on curved surfaces to get right on a watch), but I think it would have helped make this look like an even more expensive timepiece.
The case is 42mm-wide, roughly 51mm lug-to-lug, and is 13mm-thick. The case is also water-resistant to 50 meters. An odd part about the case is the hunter-style caseback. This means there is a little snap-locking door that can be pulled open. Normally this might hide a window to the movement or something… well, interesting. In this instance, when you open the Darkest Hour’s case back you will see a “random” Winston Churchill quote. This actually could have been printed on the initial caseback given the available room. I appreciate a hidden view in a luxury watch but give me something cool to see when I open it up. Either Stewart Dawson needs to rethink the hunter caseback part of the Darkest Hour watch collection, or it should consider something a bit more tantalizing to find once you open it up.
Inside the watches is a COSC Chronometer-certified Swiss Made ETA 2824-2 or Sellita SW200 automatic movement. These movements operate at 4Hz with two days of power reserve. In addition to the movement, the Stewart Dawson Darkest Hour watch is a Swiss Made rated product save for the straps. The company does not want you to forget it is Italian! And then there are the funny little sorta British touches like the small etching of… the Queen(?) on the watch’s caseback. Is that Elizabeth II I see? There is also a small Puma or some big kitty face on the left side of the case. I will never say no to charming little faces — they are indeed like charms. Price for the Stewart Dawson Darkest Hour reference 1940.A.SS.DH02 – BLUE watch is €900. Learn more at the Stewart Dawson website here.