As we have said many times before, one of the best aspects of running this blog is getting to spend time with and test drive pieces from new, up-and-coming brands. Then we also get to spend time with pieces from serious brands that may be off the beaten track, down the dirt track road of watch nerdery. This was one such time. Not only did I spend two weeks with the new Vertex M100 “Bronze 75”, but I also had the opportunity to sit down with the man behind the brand and get a very intimate understanding of where the brand has come from, the thinking behind the military-inspired design and what the brand was hoping to do in the future.
Firstly, some brief history on Vertex and their debonair yet passionate commander-in-chief. Vertex was founded in London in 1916 by Claude Lyons and, whilst producing a range of watches for around 25 years, are most well known in the watch community for producing one of the “Dirty Dozen Watches”. These were the 12 brands commissioned to make military watches for the Allied Forces in the Second World War. Vertex military watches were in fact commissioned specifically to be used at D-Day.
However, after supporting allied troops on the beaches and many years of post-war success in the UK, Vertex, like many other famous brands, succumbed to the rise of cheaper Japanese-produced Quartz movements and went into administration in 1972. It wasn’t until 100 years after Vertex was originally founded that Claude Lyon’s great-grandson, Don Cochane, re-launched the brand. He started a new era in watchmaking for the house, focusing on producing the best military-inspired pieces for the modern watch lover.
Don, having had a life as an executive for airline companies and F1 teams, was able to quickly identify their niche and exploit their rich heritage in military watchmaking to launch the M100. This was a piece dripping in vintage watch nerdery having its core design DNA spliced directly from the Cal9 model produce by Vertex in the 1940s. Even the little details such as the arrow marking on the dial that was used to identify a military-issued watch. This model was then given a 150 piece limited edition DLC coated run to mark its one-year anniversary alongside a monopusher chronograph, the MP45 which followed the year after, also coming in a very limited edition run of DLC coated examples.
This brings us to the topic of this article: The time I spent with the M100 Bronze 75. This very limited edition (150 pieces) was particularly special because the piece was released to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the second World War. It also came in a somewhat controversial case material that is beginning to grow in popularity across the industry: Bronze (Hard to guess from the name, I know).
The first point to note is that I haven’t spent any time with a bronze cased watch so I was excited to experience all the unique characteristics I had been told about. Mainly, the cool way in which Bronze reacts with the oxygen in the air. Overtime, the bronze oxidises, producing a green/white product. This essentially means, that over a brief time, the watches finish and texture will change noticeably giving the watch a very rugged, utilitarian feel. This can be rectified by washing the case with a bit of bicarbonate of soda mixed with lemon. However, I wanted to leave it to nature. Remarkably, after about a week there were notable areas of this oxidisation which really made me feel like the watch was living and aging and ticking away right on my wrist. As I paired this watch with a khaki nato, the whole utilitarian, tool vibe was authentic to me as the wearer. However, I can completely appreciate this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. For some, this would be seen as an unnecessary design that requires extra maintenance and hassle to prevent the watch basically looking like a rusty old boat.
Going into the specs of the watch itself, these continue to sing its praises. With a case width of 40mm and a thickness of 11mm, this watch wears wonderfully and is very vintage-esque. As the watch comes with a beautiful cream nato, which is an exact replica of the A.F.0210 nato straps that these and the other Dirty Dozen watches came on in the 1940s, this can feel like a relic military watch. However, with the leather strap the piece also comes with, it quickly becomes much more contemporary. To add even more to the package, this watch also comes with a tough green military style nato with the union jack on it which is again a fun little nod to the historical military importance of this brand.
The dial construction for me is the biggest winner. Consistent across all the M100 and MP45’s, the indices themselves are made of a luminous block of material. Therefore, the indices/ numerals sit raised up from the dial giving the dial this beautifully three dimensional look which is accentuated by the double domed sapphire crystal. This does, however, have a practical use as well as it makes this possibly the most legible watch at night I’ve ever seen. It really needs to be seen to be believed. The large luminescent numerals crystal clear in the pitch black fits perfectly with the utilitarian DNA of the watch and the brand.
Finally, one thing that was very apparent immediately upon meeting Don and seeing the watch in the metal is that absolutely no corners were cut in terms of cost of materials and movements and the time in getting the design exactly right. Although using modular movements, they have only used the very top spec ETA movements seen in the likes of IWC and Tag Heuer, and all materials have been very carefully selected to be the highest available. A great example of this came whilst speaking to Don when he made the very obvious point that if they wanted to save on cost, they could have used far cheaper Quartz movements and made more of a margin. However, they used top end manual wind ETA movements simply because all purists would strongly argue that a classic, respectful and thoughtful military style piece should house a manual wind movement
In conclusion, my time with the M100 Bronze 75 has demonstrated to me that there is very much an “If you are going to make a watch, you might as well try to make the best one you can” vibe with this piece, the brand, and with Don. The fact they have such low production numbers and have a record of who owns every Vertex they’ve made, one really gets a sense that they have complete creative control and control of the direction of the brand. This watch and all the watches they have made have shown that they have set out to differentiate themselves by specialising in making the best military-style watches for those who appreciate them.