Welcome to Dialed In, Esquire's weekly column bringing you horological happenings and the most essential news from the watch world since March 2020.
Watch collectors come in all shapes and sizes—and with budgets to match. It’s unusual to find a collector, however, with a fully fledged collection of the great and the good, at the tender age of 15. Yet, that was just how Etienne Malec got sucked into a passion that led to him founding his beloved micro brand, Baltic Watches, in 2017.
In horological terms, a mere stripling at 4 years old, Baltic has cachet amongst watch collectors and style guys alike. The brand regularly sells out new watches in minutes, and the resale value is reassuringly high—often two to three times the original retail.
This month, Malec launched for pre-sale a brand-new iteration of his successful dive watch family, the Aquascaphe. The new dual crown, “Super-Compressor” style watch is a head-turner. Most divers are beefy and have their dive scales mounted on chunky unidirectional bezels. It goes with the territory. Baltic, however, has its bezel mounted inside the watch under the crystal, rotated by that second crown. It’s a watch inspired by Super-Compressor dive watches patented in the 1950s, that were engineered to become more watertight the deeper you went. While the Baltic Dual Crown does not have that Super-Compressor functionality, its design does come straight out of the ‘50s. The watch will be available in three colorways: in brushed steel with a dark blue sunray dial, in steel with a black dial, and in PVD blackened steel, each for 550 Euros (approximately $664). That’s if you hurry. One of Malec’s canny business plans was to reward early adopters with lower prices and serial numbers from 1-300. This launch is no exception. During pre-order, which ends on May 4, if you sign up, you get a numbered watch at a lower price. After that, you are allocated an unnumbered watch for more than $100 more.
Malec inherited his own watch collection at 15 from his father, who died when he was just five. He also inherited from his father—a photographer, vintage car nut, and watch collector—a passion for mechanical things.
“We had the same kind of spirit” he says. “There were about 100 watches altogether. Among them were thirty to forty really good pieces, Omega Speedmasters, Breitling Navitimers, Rolexes and Tudors, the sort of things collectors really like today.” Along with the watches were his father’s own scrapbooks full of watch photos, meticulously annotated in pencil.
After his studies, Malec started a brand, Rezin, making spectacles out of natural materials like wood, in partnership with two friends. But watches were never far away, and when he met a French, Hong-Kong based manufacturer who planted the seed, Malec launched Baltic in 2017 with the same partners soon coming on board. The debut watch was a classic hand-wound chronograph, the Bicompax 001.
Two things stood out about Baltic’s first watch at the time, both very classic in origin: attention to detail and finishing, and the 38mm size. Both were not obvious sellers at the time.
"It was a risk to take, because it wasn’t something obvious," says Malec. "The step case was typical of the 1940s. I really wanted to do that first because I thought it was pretty cool; it's a very vintage aesthetic but it's kind of modern as well. But we have always followed our instincts instead of watching what other people are doing. It works pretty well for us."
There was a third thing that resonated with early adopters: the price. From the outset, Malec and his partners were determined to make watches at a certain price point and shape their production to suit. That meant some serious research. Parts are made in Hong Kong, and the watches are assembled in France, in the one-time watchmaking capital of Bescançon. Not in Switzerland.
In an industry heavily fixated on the words “Swiss Made” (whatever that means), Baltic has been deliberately, almost defiantly transparent, choosing reliable movements at a price that won’t push the envelope. While the ceiling is in the region of $1,200, the average is around $850. The earliest watches—especially during a highly successful Kickstarter campaign—were less than $600.
The majority of Baltic’s movements are affordable “workhorses” from Japan, made by Miyota, a stalwart of boutique watch brands. In this case it’s the 9039. But it wasn’t just price that decided it. “We use Miyota movements because they are slimmer than 50% of the movements available to us,” explains Malec. “Those that are on the slim side are usually much more expensive. So, for us, it's kind of the sweet spot between price, reliability and slimness.” Which as well as making for slim and elegant watches, means this Double Crown Diver could be a great addition to anyone’s watch collection.
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