Sunday Morning Showdown: Straum Jan Mayen Vs. Formex Essence ThirtyNine
Welcome to another edition of Sunday Morning Showdown. With a very special Speedy Tuesday in Tokyo behind us, the team that went to Japan is returning to the offices. Two of the Fratello members who held down the fort while the others were traveling were Thomas and Jorg. This gave them the perfect chance to talk about potential options for this week’s Sunday Morning Showdown and pick two personal favorites. In the end, both men agreed on a battle of affordable daily wearers that are among the best in class under €2K. Thomas picked the Formex Essence ThirtyNine, while Jorg picked the Straum Jan Mayen. Who will win this battle of the affordable spec monsters? Time to find out!
Today’s contestants are perfect examples of young brands that have made a name for themselves by offering great value for money. While Formex has been around since 1999, in the last couple of years, the brand has become more popular for pushing the technological boundaries in watchmaking and creating standout designs while not going overboard with pricing. The young Norwegian brand Straum impressed many with the release of the limited-edition Rastarkalv, which was followed by the popular Opphav. Straum showed it was possible to be original in design and deliver watches with hard-to-beat build quality for well under €2K. But now it’s time to hear your opinions, Fratelli! Who will come out on top? Will it be Jorg’s Straum Jan Mayen or Thomas’s Formex Essence ThirtyNine?
Last week: MoonSwatch versus Scuba Fifty Fathoms
Before we get into today’s battle, let’s quickly recap last week’s Sunday Morning Showdown. We pitted the Omega × Swatch Speedmaster MoonSwatch against the Blancpain × Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms. It seems that one characteristic of the “SwatchPain” led to its demise. The Fratelli really do not seem to appreciate its disposable nature. Consequently, the MoonSwatch clenched victory with a whopping 73% of votes.
Let’s see how today’s contestants fare against each other. We suspect this battle may be a little bit closer…
Jorg: Straum Jan Mayen
When images of the Straum Rastarkalv appeared on my social media a couple of years ago, I was immediately intrigued by the watch and the story behind it. But the Straum brand itself also piqued my interest. A watch brand from Norway? And a new one with a design language that looked fresh and unlike any other watches out there? I needed to know more. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t the only one from the Fratello team who had spotted Straum’s watches. We soon covered the story on Fratello, and we have since followed Straum’s developments with great interest. On top of that, we were proud to collaborate with the brand on the Fratello × Straum Jan Mayen Limited Edition.
How Straum went from “like” to “love” with the Jan Mayen
When I first laid eyes on the Jan Mayen model, I knew that Straum had created a better version of the Opphav, a watch that I liked but did not love. The first improvement was the longer hour markers. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the short indices on the Opphav. Sure, as Rob explained in his review, the execution of the “floating” dial in combination with a concave chapter ring was brilliant. The dial also had a mesmerizing texture, but I just couldn’t get behind the stubby hour markers.
So the longer hour markers of the Jan Mayen were a welcome change that looked so much better to me. The next improvement was a new set of hands that were more in proportion with the indices. Slightly shorter and more refined than those of the Opphav, these hands contribute to a nice overall balance with the dial’s diameter and the hour markers’ size.
But that’s not where the improvements over the Opphav end. The case also shrank from 40.8mm to 39mm in diameter. The new Jan Mayen also measures 45.82mm from lug to lug and 11.3mm thick (including the crystal). This makes the watch a perfect fit for a variety of wrist sizes. With the bigger visual impact of an integrated bracelet, the size adjustment is a welcome step. And, as it turns out, it is exactly the right size for my wrist.
It’s the little things that make a big difference
The guys from Straum, industrial designers by trade, also increased the bezel width from 3mm to 3.75mm. It’s a seemingly small adjustment, but it creates a better visual harmony between the look of the stainless steel and the dial. Finally, a domed sapphire crystal replaced the box-shaped crystal of the Opphav for a better overall flow and no distortion at the edges of the dial. The result is a design that I genuinely love. It still has the distinct character of the first Straum releases, but it feels so much more balanced.
But all of those improvements were just to the watch head itself. I’d be remiss to not mention the incredible bracelet. Dave shared his experiences with us and told us that the new bracelet, still similar in its design to the previous version, would blow our minds. The Straum team put a lot of effort into getting the bracelet exactly right in terms of design and quality, and the result is nothing short of impressive. The integration with the case is spot on, the quality is unmatched at the sub-€2K price point, and the comfort is simply brilliant.
A modern movement that beats the typical choices
Inside the Jan Mayen, you will find the La Joux-Perret G101. This automatic movement is a superior replacement option for the ETA 2824-2 or Sellita SW200-1. It features a 70-hour power reserve compared to 38–42 hours of the ETA/Sellita. On top of that, it uses a tungsten rotor held on a ball race with three screws securing it in place. This is a detail that we usually see in more premium offerings like the Sellita SW300-1. It is more proof of the incredible persistence that the guys at Straum have to make the best product possible.
You might ask, Thomas, why did I not buy our Fratello limited edition if I love this watch so much? That’s a legitimate question that brings us to the last element that makes this Jan Mayen so special — the dials. From the get-go, fans of the brand have applauded the incredible dials of the different Straum models. Their colors are inspired by Norwegian nature and combined with incredible textures, making it hard not to love them. But the bold “lava red” fumé dial was simply not the right pick for me. I much prefer the green fumé dial or the snowy textures of the white dial, so one of these two will be my pick.
My future has a Jan Mayen in it
If there is one thing that’s for sure, it’s that I want a Straum Jan Mayen. It’s not often that I fall this hard for a watch. To my surprise, though, it has happened twice recently. As you may know, I have my heart set on a Christopher Ward C65 Dune GMT, but the Straum Jan Mayen is the second watch that I adore and want to add to my collection. It is a best-in-class choice for its retail price of €1,600 before taxes. The modern design, incredible level of detail, brilliant overall quality, and great wearability make the Jan Mayen hard to beat. So tell me, Thomas, why do you think the Formex Essence ThirtyNine has the chops to do that?
Thomas: Formex Essence ThirtyNine
Thanks, Jorg! Let me start by saying that I truly appreciate the Straum Jan Mayen as well. The design is original, and the finishing is a level above what you can typically expect at the price. But if it is value that you are after, there is just no beating the Formex Essence ThirtyNine.
I know what goes into developing and producing a watch. The prices at which Formex does this are, honestly, unreal. The thing is, the brand is cheating in the game a little bit. How? By having several companies producing watch parts in the family. So to call Formex a microbrand is pushing it. Within the family that owns Formex, there is more manufacturing capacity than many mainstream brands have.
And it shows. Formex watches typically tick every single spec box one can desire. With the Essence ThirtyNine, you get a Swiss-made chronometer, a 100m water resistance rating, sapphire front and back, a toolless micro-adjust clasp, a quick-release bracelet, and an innovative suspended case. And all of that at €60 less than the Straum.
The Formex Essence ThirtyNine compared to the Straum Jan Mayen
Now, I know that I am contradicting myself. I have gone on record multiple times stating that specs don’t make a watch. And I stand by that. To me, a watch is about aesthetics, style, and function, in that order. It has to work well and be solidly made, but I only care about that stuff if I like the design.
Granted, the Straum is very pretty. But I feel the Formex might age better. The Straum is very gem-like and outspoken. I wonder how you will feel about it after a few years. I also fear that I would baby it because so much of its handsomeness is in the finishing.
There is also some “integrated-bracelet fatigue” going on in my mind, I have noticed. It is such a tough genre of watches to nail since the associations with certain classics are so strong. Granted, Straum has succeeded in finding an original design language with the Jan Mayen. But still, I prefer a great bracelet that integrates nicely with the design without actually being integrated. The Formex Essence ThirtyNine offers me that.
Comfort makes all the difference
There is one factor that really separates the Straum Jan Mayen and the Formex Essence ThirtyNine, and it is wearing comfort. The Straum, due to its integrated bracelet, has a rather stiff, bangle-like lack of drape. That can be quite uncomfortable when moving your hand.
The Formex Essence ThirtyNine, by contrast, is incredibly comfortable. This is largely thanks to the excellent bracelet. It has short links, making for a smooth drape. The toolless micro-adjust allows the wearer to adjust the fit perfectly. And then there is the case’s suspension system. I thought it was a gimmick, but it really does work. When you angle your hand upwards — for instance, when leaning on a flat surface — the watch gives you a little bit of slack. The Straum Jan Mayen, under the same pressure, digs into the wrist. Ultimately, what good is a pretty watch if it’s not comfortable to wear? For me, the Formex Essence ThirtyNine is the clear winner here.
Time to vote!
There you have it, folks — another Sunday battle with two off-the-beaten-track timepieces going toe to toe for the win! Will the Straum Jan Mayen get your vote, or are you a Formex fan? Make sure to vote for your choice below, and also let us know why you picked it in the comments. See you next week for another installment of Sunday Morning Showdown!