When we introduced the Ming 17.01 in August, we thought it was one of the best values we’d seen in a new watch in some time; you got an interesting and instantly recognizable aesthetic, a ton of technical value (including a nitrogen filled case and a hand-wound movement adjusted to five positions) and all at a price that meant whether you got one was largely not a question of being able to afford it, but how fast you could click the order button on the company’s website: $900. Quite a lot of people did quite a lot of clicking, as it turned out. The Ming 17.01 sold out quickly, and the next version, we heard, would hew to a similar philosophy. The next Ming watch is the Ming 19.01, and it brings a higher price, but also a more complex construction, more elaborately conceived and executed design, and a major upgrade in the movement.
The Ming 19.01 is just slightly bigger than the Ming 17.01; the latter is 38mm x 9.3mm, while the new model is 39mm x 10.9mm. This is still in the sub-40mm enthusiast-favored sweet spot in terms of diameter and perhaps more importantly, the roughly 4:1 width to height aspect ratio and lug length should make the 19.01 every bit as wearable as its predecessor.
I can’t quite recall any other watch with the aesthetics of the Ming 19.01 the dial is sapphire, and it’s been finished with a deep blue lacquer that’s opaque at the center of the dial, and which has a sort of feathered translucent circumference. Often open dial watches aren’t entirely aesthetically successful, and there’s a reason for that: the dial side of a movement is usually much less interesting than the movement side; in a time-only watch, for instance, on the dial side, the only visible components are basically the keyless works (for winding and setting, which can be very attractive and even interesting but don’t have the hypnotic fascination of a balance and going train) and the motion works for the hands, which for all they may do their job ably, are aesthetically very much spear-carriers rather than scene-stealers. In the Ming 19.01, on the other hand, you get a hint of mechanical complexity which is in keeping with the horror-movie dictum that to keep viewers interested, you never show the whole monster much more interesting than it would be if you got the full monty.
The case, as with the Ming 17.01, is grade 5 titanium and as with the 17.01, there’s no spacer ring; the case middle has been milled to receive the movement and screw-affixed caseback directly (as Ming points out, accurately, in the press release for the watch, it’s basically a sapphire sandwich with a titanium middle ring). Both front and back crystals are double antireflective coated and both have the sharp-shouldered profile that gives them the name, “box” crystal. Water resistance is 50m and once again, Super LumiNova is used as much for visual effect as for legibility; there’s a ring of lume just inside the edge of the dial (on the rehaut) which gives you a rather Tron-esque lightshow after dark the watch looks a bit like a front wheel from a light cycle.
The engine inside the Ming 19.01 is the single biggest upgrade from 17.01. It’s a special version of the MSE100, which is manufactured by Schwarz-Etienne (a company we haven’t covered much on HODINKEE; they’re located in La Chaux-de-Fonds, and currently have a total of eight movements in their inventory). The movement has two mainspring barrels, which deliver a 100-hour power reserve, and for the Ming 19.01, Schwartz-Etienne has skeletonized the bridges, and given the movement an anthracite finish. The movement, according to Schwartz-Etienne, was designed to support additional complications, so if the partnership with Ming watches continues we might reasonably expect a complicated Ming watch at some point down the road. The use of a hand-wound movement in the Ming 19.01 runs counter to the general preference in the industry for automatic movements (the thought is that a watch with a self-winding movement is generally easier to sell) but as with 17.01, the idea is that daily interaction with the movement via the winding crown is part of the pleasure of owning a watch, and makes having a watch a tactile as well as visual pleasure.
On working with Schwarz-Etienne, and the possibility of complicated Ming watches, founder Ming Thein told us, “We chose to work with the SE movement as a base for several reasons … the movement is a very solid base caliber for a lot of other developments; in two-barrel form it has very stable torque over the entire duration of its power reserve, but one barrel can be interchanged with an automatic winding system. There’s a lot of space on both sides to use some of the complications they have already existing, but also develop new ones and keep the same case dimensions and overall proportions. Such complications – already in early stages of development – will be reinterpretations of classical horology, but in a way that has never been seen previously.”
Like the 17.01, Ming 19.01 eschews a running seconds hand in favor of a more serene presentation of the time; however, like its predecessor, the 19.01 has a movement adjusted to five positions, and which has undergone a 250-hour internal testing regimen for accuracy and rate stability. Assembly is carried out in Switzerland, and for this outing, the straps are provided by Jean Rousseau in Paris.
“The team at SE turned out to be a perfect fit for us in vision and execution: nothing is impossible, and they are open to all sorts of crazy ideas. They understand our brand philosophy and take it as a challenge to be able to deliver on our ideas – and go the extra mile necessary to ensure nothing is lost in translation. For example, the process for production of our semitransparent dial was developed for 19.01 and is exclusive to us. They have a significant amount of expertise in-house (e.g. manufacture of hairsprings) or through their sister company E2O – for example, extremely short duration precision laser technology required for the markings on our crystals. Most importantly – they have a great network of suppliers who can deliver on time, on quality, and to expectations. SE are beyond a supplier: we work very closely with them as partners, and the 19.01 is just the beginning of a much longer term relationship.”
Despite the greater complexity of the construction of the watch and the use of a much more elaborate, complex, and aesthetically punchy movement the price of the Ming 19.01 still reflects the real commitment to bang-for-the-buck we saw in the 17.01; price if you pre-order is 6,800 CHF; that price is available through December 31, 2017, after which time the price goes up to 7,900 CHF. Price includes worldwide shipping via DHL. Unlike the 17.01, production of the 19.01 is not limited.
At 6,900 CHF pre-ordered, this is obviously a much more expensive undertaking for customers than the Ming 17.01; obviously there are quite a lot of possibilities in this price range; your competitors become very big dogs indeed and include the likes of Omega, Rolex, and Grand Seiko. However, the Ming 19.01 is clearly not really competing, as such, with these brands, which make products designed to appeal to a more conventional notion of what makes a watch desirable; putting a Ming 19.01 up against, say, a Datejust or a Speedmaster immediately clarifies that in terms of design intentions, the Ming 19.01 is playing a completely different game. (Founder Ming Thein has told us, by the way, that they’ll continue to, “deliver value at all price points” and that while the 19.01 will be developed as the flagship line, we will definitely see further developments of the 17 series as well). This isn’t a go-anywhere, do-anything sports watch or a broad-appeal chronograph; it’s the product of an obsessive focus on how a mechanical timekeeper can express not only a very particular design vision, but also a perspective on how time is experienced. On that level, and especially at this price point, it essentially stands alone.
The Ming 19.01: case, 39mm x 10.9mm, grade 5 titanium; double box sapphire crystals with double AR coating; water resistance 50m. Dial, sapphire with blue lacquer applied in a radial gradient; chapter ring and logo laser engraved. Super LumiNova on the hands and dial ring. Movement, Schwartz-Etienne for MING caliber MSE100.1, 30mm x 5.35mm, partially skeletonized; anthracite bead blasted bridges and anglage; 100-hour power reserve, movement adjusted to five positions. Strap, 20mm (two provided with each watch) by Jean Rousseau, with stainless steel buckles. Travel pouch also provided, made of vegetable tanned natural leather by Thirtyfour Bespoke, Kuala Lumpur. Made in Switzerland. Pre-orders begin Tuesday, November 7, with delivery expected sometime in the third quarter of 2018. Visit www.ming.watch for more.