We get a barrage of press releases at Fratello Watches, and they can be very similar in execution. It’s no secret that a common factor is “retro”, “nouveau vintage”, “homage”, or whichever term you like best. Microbrands are usually split into two camps — the safe haven of vintage skin divers and the bold, modern ones. The Héron Gladiateur MMLXV is a strong card for the latter category. It brings its own design language with a unique Roman twist.

Small brands are dependent on strong backing and either Kickstarter or long-term pre-orders to survive their online debut. Sameness is an all-too-tempting prospect. Yes, I do enjoy the feeling of a ’60s tool watch and the delights of 38mm ’50s comfort. But the vintage-inspired wave is subsiding. Even so, it takes guts to go down the path of modernity. And how better to do so than with a Gladiateur?

The Héron Gladiateur MMLXV

The Héron Gladiateur MMLXV

Héron is a new brand from the bilingual region of Montreal, Québec, which has solved the first challenge of a debut brand — the name. I will not quote any press releases, but there is a mind-boggling range of ill-fitting brand names out there. And while it might seem trifling, branding makes a difference no matter how strong the watch design is. There is a challenge in finding the delicate balance between simplicity, eloquence, and maturity in a brand name.

Even the most accomplished watch design can fail on Kickstarter, but the Héron Gladiateur MMLXV got the balance just right. The Héron font is strong, with the “H” made to stand out on its own. The heron above the logo at 12 o’clock is crisp. The dials are silky-matte with sharp print and solid lume on the indices. But what kind of watch is the Gladiateur? Well, its indefinability is exactly where it excels.

The Héron Gladiateur MMLXV

The Gladiateur is a modern wristwatch

Open to interpretation, this term might be boring, or simply sound confident. Can a watch be a success without the evocative add-ons of Racing Chronograph, Diver, or Pilot? In 2022, it is very easy to find a familiar design or term as a peg to hang your debut watch on. But Héron is a brand attempting to carve out its own niche, much like the other Canadian star, Halios. What defines the Gladiateur first is the bezel. This is a sports watch, and the tool sensation is strong, but Roman numerals? Sure, anyone can get Insta-likes on a sub-40mm diver with a ceramic diving bezel, but here, we have that Canadian boldness again. I’m not usually a fan of Roman numerals, but here, I really enjoy them. The steel relief bezel takes on its own vibe, as if it were carved out of the metal with a more profound meaning than displaying mere hours.

The Héron Gladiateur MMLXV

A dual-time sports watch

Well, this is no diver’s watch, but the unusually charming bezel does offer a great travel function — a second timezone display in a 12-hour format. It is a robust-looking watch, and while the Roman numerals up the elegance, the fitted rubber straps make it a great everyday sports buddy. The Miyota 9039 automatic is a good everyday movement, and the 41mm case will wear great thanks to a 48mm lug-to-lug. Any watch with a broad bezel will wear slightly smaller due to visual trickery. Backed up with a sweeping case design, this should wear rather comfortably. While it is a dressy take on a sports watch, its 100m depth rating will make it great for every day. My only quibble here would be the all-polished case being scratch-prone, but you know what? It’s worth it for the nice contrast to the matte bezel.

Arctic Cool, Stealth, or Bling on black rubber

The details are right, and Héron is also confident enough to release a full set of four colors in the Gladiateur. There’s a stealthy PVD black, rose-tone PVD on black rubber, a rich blue-dialed version, and my favorite, a white dial. On a grayish blue strap, the white has a cool Nordic vibe to it, with a crisp snow-white dial that just works. The project is already fully funded — congrats, guys — and you can pledge to get yours on Héron’s Kickstarter page here.

The best surprise is that while microbrand prices have increased lately, the early-bird prices are a very affordable $310 for any of the four models. That is proper entry-level cool right there; I was actually expecting a higher price. Kudos to this new brand, especially for not falling into the usual sub-39mm diver’s box. The Héron Gladiateur MMLXV is a well-thought-out start to what might just be the best new thing to come out of Montreal this year.

What about you? Did the Roman numerals confuse you, or did the rubber strap make you long for a pure diver’s watch? I’m left with a strong and independent message from Canada. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Find me and follow me at @thorsvaboe