The Marine Chronometer Company is based in Ealing, here in the UK. They produce just one model of watch: the Offshore Professional Field Engineer. It’s a hand-built timepiece, made up from a Swiss movement with British-designed and engineered parts. They say it combines leading-edge CNC and laser-cutting techniques with the craft of the traditional watchmaker. How does it fare after a week on our editor’s wrist?
A Week on the Wrist – Offshore Professional Field Engineer Chronograph
When Lorne Gifford from the Marine Chronometer company got in touch to offer the opportunity to borrow one of his Offshore Professional Field Engineer watches for a week, I was a little wary at first. I’ve heard countless brands telling me tales of “precision design”, “precision Swiss movements” and how they are disrupting the watch industry, bringing value to the customer by cutting out the middlemen. Mr Gifford, however, makes no such claims. He makes one-off timepieces to a single design, in a single colourway. Like Henry Ford, he produces it in any colour, so long as it is (in this case) off-white. And he makes them to order – there are only about 150 of these watches in existence. The price is just under £2,000, which initially sounds high, but is actually very reasonable for a watch with almost-entirely custom-made parts, a hand-made Teju strap plus a custom bracelet and all powered by a decorated Valjoux 7750 movement.
Intrigued by the lack of hyperbole, I did some digging. I ended up reading every page of the brand’s website marinechronometer.co.uk – which I highly recommend as it is full of laugh out loud quips from the creator – and I was hooked. I dropped Lorne a line, and he agreed to send me serial number 000 to try out. Now comes the provisos: this watch is the company’s tester. It’s not yet been updated to the latest spec, and it came to me having just been removed from the bulkhead of a helicopter, after undergoing vibration testing. Lorne is a marine field engineer, and this watch is designed to go with him in some of the harshest and most unforgiving environments on the planet.
Ah yes, did I mention the brand’s Unique Selling Point? This is a watch that is designed to be worn in harsh environments. It has been to the Arctic and the desert, up mountains and in the sea (although it is not officially dive-rated) and everywhere in-between. It’s specially designed with a copper movement holder and floating crown. Considering that the Valjoux 7750 movement at its heart is renowned for the date change breaking (the Field Engineer actually uses a new, custom day and date change mechanism to prevent this) or the hands slipping when the chronograph is reset, it’s a real sign of confidence to use it in a watch that is intended as a beater.
It’s not just words: the watch comes with a comprehensive 2-year guarantee against pretty much any failure or damage (in Lorne’s words, he has not yet come across anything that is not a perfectly reasonable way to break a wristwatch) and a lifetime warranty against non-reasonable breakages: Lorne promises that as long as he lives he’ll replace the watch with a new one at half the current retail price, even if you do something silly like drive a truck over it. That’s some guarantee! The other interesting point with this watch is that Lorne is striving for perfection, and has a track record of offering upgrades to owners at a low price – for example when the original date-only dial was changed to the day and date “oo series,” the old watches were all upgraded at cost price.
Anyway, on with the review…
The watch comes in a shiny leather roll-type case with room for two watches. Inside is the Offshore Professional Field Engineer on a leather strap, as well as a custom-made bracelet if you prefer. There are cards with instructions and warranty details. The case is nicely made and practical – and useful for taking two watches on holiday. Plus the one on your wrist, of course.
Like most watches based around the Swiss Valjoux 7750 movement, the Offshore Professional Field Engineer is big and thick. The case measures 44mm in diameter, thanks to the shock absorbing components within, and 14.5mm thick. It has sapphire crystals on the front and back – so you can see the decorated movement, which is individually adjusted to chronograph accuracy by the Marine Chronometer Company’s watchmaker, Dariusz. A lovely custom rotor completes the design, with a cutout trident symbolising Britannia. The latest watches have some slight changes to this design – the engravings are now filled in black and include “The Marine Chronometer Company” name.
The movement is actually named 775M2, as it has a couple of modifications from the base calibre but it is still serviceable by any skilled watchmaker. The modifications include a whole new day and date mechanism, which is hopefully more reliable in the long-term than the notoriously fragile original. Lug width is 22mm. Overall, it’s a satisfyingly chunky watch, yet on the wrist, it is really well balanced – perhaps the least intrusive 7750-powered watch I’ve worn. So comfortable I actually forgot I was wearing it a couple of times. Surprisingly, it also fitted under my shirt sleeve, which I did not expect.
Dial and Hands
The dial is made up of several layers. A very slightly off-white matt dial is surrounded by a brushed steel ring with cutouts for the hour markers. That is surrounded by an angled steel chapter ring. The three usual 7750 subdials are grey and slightly sunk into the dial. Unusually they have no numbers, just markings, which looks good but makes them slightly tricky to read. The date and day are shown in small circles beneath the model name around 4 O’clock, which was a feature I loved! The main hands are lumed in white, the others are coloured black. The second hand, instead of being a hand, is actually a little black and white rotating turbine: a really cool feature that stood out to me. Small lumed, black sticks mark the hour.
Around the outside is a tachymeter. A Roman numeral bezel is also available as an alternative, but I didn’t find either particularly thrilling. I wondered what a plain or engine-turned bezel might have looked like on the watch. I found the spacing of the number around 3 O’clock detracted from the visual balance of the watch. The edge of the bezel, the edge of the case back and the pushers are all knurled. The signed crown is also knurled and has a nice, positive action – it’s not screw-down like most watches in this price range, as it is designed to float to absorb shocks. A screw down crown would transmit vibrations to the movement and potentially damage it. A nice touch is a little cutout under the crown into which you can slip a fingernail to set the time.
The dial does a good job of blending in. By that, I mean it is neutral enough to match any strap, lighting condition or clothing, yet has enough contrast to be easily readable. The steel ring looks darker in some lighting conditions and almost blends into the dial in other. I found it really legible and supremely attractive. The only criticism is the lume. Lume divides opinion, as it is really only meant for dive watches, but my view is that if it is there it should be done right. On the Offshore Professional Field Engineer, the lume is neither quick to charge nor long-lasting, and the hands are significantly brighter than the dial when it is activated. I thought this spoiled the look somewhat, and wondered just how cool it would look with an all-lume dial instead…
Strap, Buckle and Bracelet
The watch comes with both strap and bracelet. The latest version of the watch has a Teju strap, and an English saddle leather option will be ready early in the new year. I was unhappy with the way the strap failed to follow the contours of the case (making the watch look, but not feel, “top heavy”, but the Teju strap seems, in photos, to be perfectly shaped. I really liked the square strap-end and was a little disappointed that the new strap seems to end in a point, which will make it easier to catch on things. I’ve not seen the new leather strap, but expect it to be the same great quality. The clasp looks exactly the same as the clasp on the Arcturus – a butterfly deployant. It’s laser etched with the trident logo and does the job well, closing with a firm click.
I don’t normally like butterfly clasps as they are fiddly to close, but once the watch is on, the curvature of the strap made the case and clasp perfectly pinched my wrist with just enough pressure to stay in place without rotating or slipping – and without leaving a mark. Honestly, this is the most comfortable leather strap watch I have ever worn. The way the strap leaves the case combined with the long lugs left a bit of an “air gap” around the sides of my wrist but I expect that with wear this would mould itself perfectly to its owner.
The bracelet is a 5-row engineer’s style, with a custom engraved clasp and solid end links. It’s 22mm thick all the way down. I didn’t bother trying it for two reasons: the supplied strap was perfectly comfortable, and it looked a bit too bulky for me. The watch is big and heavy and I thought it would upset the perfect balance. If I owned the watch I would certainly switch between the two, but the lack of micro-adjustment on the clasp would very quickly become annoying in daily use as I like to faff about and increase or decrease the size with my wrist. The bracelet is nice and slinky with full freedom of movement in every direction. It doesn’t look like a “hair puller” but don’t quote me on that!
What I liked
- This is a truly unique design, and you have little chance of bumping into anyone else who is wearing one. I find that exclusivity a huge plus point.
- The watch is supremely comfortable to wear. Its size, shape and balance are all “just right” for me – and are the three reasons I do not currently own a Valjoux 7750-powered watch.
- I love the overall look of the watch. It’s really well balanced and everything just works for me. Lorne says this is due to his use of the Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio. I will take his word for it.
What I didn’t like
- The lume is underwhelming – it is slow to charge and mismatched between hands and markers. This is a deliverate design choice, but I think it spoils the look of the watch in low light. At this price point I’d have liked to see C3 Superluminova.
- I wasn’t convinced by the Tachymeter bezel. I found the number positioning near the crown detracted from the visual balance. The alternative, Roman numeral, bezel does not really appeal to me either, so it’s Hobson’s choice for me!
- Although it would detract from the looks, some will find the lack of numbers on the subdials unintuitive.
Offshore Professional Field Engineer – The WRUK verdict
Okay, before I give my verdict, let’s put the Offshore Professional Field Engineer into context. It’s £1750 on bracelet and £1975 with the strap included. That’s a big chunk of change, and about ten times the price of most watches we review at WRUK. However, it is not competing with budget quartz chronographs – it’s a go-anywhere, do-anything watch that is built to last a lifetime and could quite reasonably be the only watch in your collection. Similarly specced models in the same price range would include a used TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 16 (click here to view them on eBay) or a used Breitling Super Avenger (click here for eBay prices). If you are buying new, a Longines Conquest Chronograph (click here to view on eBay). To get something equally exclusive you’d probably have to step up to Bremont (click here to see just how much one of those will set you back on eBay!)
Personally, other than the TAG Heuer, none of them really float my boat – and I like the idea of owning something exclusive, hard-wearing and rugged. Although I’ve been an admirer of the Carrera series for some time, I have never felt motivated to buy one – but the day I strapped the Offshore Professional Field Engineer to my wrist for the first time I started a savings account to buy one for myself.
Buy an Offshore Professional Field Engineer
Although the Marine Chronometer company has a website at marinechronometer.co.uk , it does not have any eCommerce features. To find out more and buy a watch, contact Lorne Gifford at email@example.com, or visit The Clock Gallery, 147 Pitshanger Lane, Ealing, West London W5 1RH.