The Laventure Marine II Unveils A Solid Gold Dial And A New Direction For The Brand
The wait is over. The Marine is back. After last year’s Laventure Transatlantique spent a couple of hours of availability melting hearts before breaking those of the would-be buyers that arrived too late to the party, we have a new (old) model to dissect. The Marine II melds the original concept of the brand with a few of its more recently acquired traits and tops things off with a stunning solid gold dial. But is it the best yet or an interesting experiment that asks as many questions as it answers?
Clément Gaud is developing an almost amusing habit of releasing new Laventure watches while I’m (trying to be) on holiday. But, given my closeness to the brand since its foundation, I’m quite happy to put the attempted relaxation on hold to tackle a short release article that I know the Fratelli will be keen to pore over.
So here we have it. An update to the first model with a different movement, dial, crystal, handset, bracelet, and case back. It is certainly stunning (I doubt anyone that has followed and loved this brand as I have will disagree), but its price and limitation number may well raise eyebrows (as they have in the past). Let’s analyze the new physical features first and then tackle the bigger issues beyond the watch itself.
The 316L Stainless Steel case (water-resistant to 200m) has the same alternating polished and satin finish we saw on the original Marine. As with all Laventure watches thus far, it measures 40.5mm across. The watch is a very compact 48.8mm lug-to-lug and the total thickness of this one including the crystal is 13.5mm. That crystal will be a talking point for sure. On this model, the sapphire of the original Marine and the Sous-Marine has been usurped by the Plexiglas Superdome seen on the Transatlantique for the first time.
A fully custom Swiss-made Plexi is not cheap.
I love a bit of Plexiglas. I thought it was a wizard choice for the Transatlantique due to the way it meshed with the “faux-bakelite” bezel of that model. Here, however, it is fair to ask if it was the best choice. There will be comments about the price (because the general assumption is that sapphire is always more expensive than Plexiglas) but I’m not sure we should lose too much sleep on the cost difference between the two components. A fully custom Swiss-made Plexi is not cheap. The question for me is whether it was the right choice stylistically?
Warm and welcome
On the one hand, it clearly was. The dial tone and the presence of gold, in general, gives off a really retro vibe. I haven’t held this model in my hands yet, but I do think the “warmth” of Plexiglas matches the dial color better than the more clinical sapphire crystal would have done. However, this is the brand’s most expensive watch ever, and by using gold the product instantly has a more luxurious feel to it. The luxury vibe would surely nod to sapphire. For me, though, the decision is a bit of a push: I see the benefit of both. As someone that would wear this watch as an occasional piece, the Plexiglas feels just fine. If this were my only Laventure, though, I might have preferred the sapphire.
The bracelet and strap options
The Sous-Marine model saw the debut of the FKM rubber straps for Laventure. These are hands down the best rubber straps I’ve ever worn. The Transatlantique brought more colors to the table along with the gorgeous bracelet I bought separately and fitted to my original Marine. In the pack shots provided, we can see this model fitted to both the cream and the sage green FKM straps when not worn on the bracelet. I like both, but actually think I would pick up the dark blue FKM here (CHF 120) and rock that rich combo.
I’ve enjoyed my bracelet since it arrived with me late last year. However, it would definitely benefit from one or two half links near the buckle so it could be sized really spot-on. The problem is, of course, that the glorious design of the butterfly clasp that Clément has obviously poured his heart into might be disrupted by such an element.
If you’re a stickler for the perfect bracelet fit and thus find yourself on the fence about buying one of these sight unseen, my suggestion would be to decide if you want it on the rubber or leather regardless and plump for your favorite option there so you don’t find yourself disappointed. I’m kind of pleased to see the bracelets being issued as standard now, but, in my opinion, it wouldn’t hurt to have all the watches shipped on rubber or leather with the bracelet an optional upgrade in the shop.
The case back…
Both the Sous-Marine and the Transatlantique had exceptional case backs. The illustrations that originally only graced the box of the first Marine became central to the character of the brand. They are, in my opinion, some of the finest case backs around, with the only brand on this level with Laventure the British independent Schofield Watch Company. I’m saying this in terms of the design and the execution.
The execution here is typically top drawer, but I must say this is my least favorite illustration of the three so far. I think the Transatlantique was the best yet for its elegance and complexity, and I really enjoyed the “goofy cool” of the Sous-Marine and the “yellow” submarine beneath the waves.
…and what’s behind it
To the movement: given the price of this watch, this will be raised countless times. Powering this watch is a modified Sellita SW200-1 caliber. The modification in question is the removal of the “ghost” position that blighted the Sous-Marine (that watch’s only flaw, in my opinion). There is no date on this model and, thankfully, there is a setting lever to match. This is great news, but the supply-motivated shift from ETA to Sellita will bother some people.
…a regulated timekeeping performance of +/- 4 seconds per day.
I too have an odd preference for ETA despite there not being much to choose between the movements, but I must say that from a watchmaker’s perspective, there is very, very little to gripe about when it comes to a caliber as simple as a time-only SW200-1. This model has an operating frequency of 28,800vph, a 41-hour power reserve, and a regulated timekeeping performance of +/- 4 seconds per day.
Well. This is pretty darn nice. Clément teased me for months about the “very special” dial material on the way for the Marine II. By the time the press release wound up in my inbox, I’d convinced myself that solid gold would be on its way to the collection. Here we have a sandwich dial with Laventure’s typical layout, with the top layer made entirely from 18-karat yellow gold that has been vertically grained, pad printed with 2-color markings, and laser engraved with three special hallmarks.
From right to left: the scales show the material (Au750), the Saint Bernard dog represents the area (Switzerland), and the funky little octopus you might recognize from the case backs of previous models is the new maker’s mark for Laventure. The handset on this model is now silver-toned as opposed to the gold tones of the original Marine, while the Super-LumiNova remains the same “heritage” shade.
This has been the hardest release of Laventure’s for me to review. I really hope I get to see it in hand soon because I think it could be possible that this model, above all others, enjoys the natural light even the very best images can’t synthesize. But beyond that, why was this model so hard to review? Well, it went in a direction I hadn’t expected. It has made some choices that while I understand (the movement, for example), I would have rejected out of hand had anyone asked my opinion on it before the fact.
This model will retail for CHF 3,850 before taxes. That means it is CHF 500 more than the Transatlantique, which I referred to as a “ceiling” for the brand. Clearly, the brand sees big things going forward and the continued price increases (and the undeniable improvements in the offering itself) set Laventure on an interesting trajectory.
The next release
I have strong feelings about this, and both roads the brand could take will prove defining. My gut feeling is that the next release needs to be priced lower (if the brand sticks with this movement level). I’d love to see another Transatlantique colorway hit the shelves. It would feel then that we had a bit more of a handle on the brand’s price bracket. We would have a lower end (the long sold-out Marine) and an upper end (the Marine II), and activity between those prices. As it is, it feels very open-ended and my fear is that if the prices continue to go up, the hardcore following of the brand might be alienated.
But there are two responses to that: one is that the prices are increasing because the watches are getting materially better (or at least more extravagant with the bracelets and Plexiglas crystals and, of course, this gold dial). And the other is that maybe retaining the same customer base is neither important nor possible if the long-term goal of the brand is to exit not just this price bracket, but also this “style bracket”.
And that leads me to the second option, which I actually think seems more likely given the steady and unrelenting rise in prices thus far: I would not be surprised for Laventure to respond to the points in this article by really upping its movement game. With something proprietary, for example, the conversation would suddenly turn from how there are cheaper watches with the same movement to how there is nothing quite like a Laventure in the sub-10K sphere (which I would regard as the top end of the next phase in brand development).
A brand for adventurers
When Laventure launched it was very clearly a watch brand for adventurers. The first three releases lived up to that perfectly. I’d say none of them were perfect (the open case back of the Marine, the ghost position of the Sous-Marine, and the dial fade of the cream Transatlatique being my family-by-family criticisms if you were interested) but they were all incredibly honest, excellently executed concepts that thrilled their intended audience. The Marine II is different. It is almost an homage to the brand. That’s not the worst thing in the world in some contexts, but this is the fourth release, all time, which means that 25% of this adventure brand’s models now have a precious metal dial.
I believe the Marine II to be a much more accomplished watch than the original Marine…
That is a weird stat and one that will no doubt create some discussion. There will be plenty of people that think the dial material doesn’t matter at all. It has almost no effect on the suitability of the watch because it is an internal aesthetic component. And yet we cannot pretend legibility is not an integral part of an adventure watch so a dial’s style and material are never irrelevant. Personally, I really love the aesthetic, I am pleased to see a Marine without a date, I believe the Marine II to be a much more accomplished watch than the original Marine, and yet I cannot get away from the effect the price has on my feelings toward it.
A philosophical road
What is Laventure? It is still one of my favorite young independents without a doubt. Despite the more philosophical tone of this article, I genuinely think the Marine II is a design success. My mood, at this point, is clouded by what I see as a cloudier next step for the brand and a slight concern that the comparison with other top-quality micros, specifically MING, that does excellent work to its movements for what is now around half the price will hit thick and fast.
And so I find myself wondering if we will see incredibly ambitious projects from the brand in the future (a la MING) or will this model finally mark the upper echelon of the brand and be joined by more affordable pieces that, perhaps, break from the original design for the first time since the brand’s foundation? I’d like to see more GMT colors, and perhaps a precious metal dial version of both the Sous-Marine and the Transatlantique to give the concept a bit more body. What I would love, however, is maybe to see those ideas executed with some tasty movements that really push the brand to a new level.
How about a platinum dial Sous-Marine with an open case back revealing a heavily modified Schwarz Etienne ASE 100 micro-rotor movement with three central hands? What about a rose gold dial root beer Transatlantique with an ASE 120 and a similar modification to the hands and the addition of a date? There is scope for this to work, even if it would have to work in a way I never imagined for the brand. With 99 pieces of the Marine II available, I cannot wait to see and hear the community’s response to this one. Will it fly? Almost certainly given the brand’s justified reputation for delivering excellent products. Will it prove controversial? To be frank, I’d bet my house on it… Learn more about the brand here.