The world of watch companies offering “Homages” of the most popular watch designs in history is one that is currently extremely saturated and it seems it will not change. Most new watch companies unapologetically release blunt copies of the greatest.There are only a few companies that pay homage to these models and still manage to add their own twist to the designs. Manchester Watch Works (MWW), a company with original designs, has the Iconik series, a collection that pays tribute to some of the “Ikons” in watch history, at a very affordable price and limited production of 100 pieces.
After the successful release of two previous models on the Iconik series, MWW digs into watch history and comes up with the Iconik 3, an homage to the ultra rare unicorn, the Tornek-Rayville, US, Ref. TR-900.
A Brief History:
At the beginning on the ‘Cold War’, the Soviet Union had an advantage over the
US with their use of naval mines. The Soviets didn’t have a large fleet, but they relied on
their advanced technical skills on naval mines to protect their shores and hinder the
enemy’s vessels. In response, The US retrained their divers as Explosive Ordinance
Disposal Units to protect harbors, waterways, US NAVY and allied vessels. With the
development of new technology mines, the divers would be exposed to new conditions
that would require a very specific dive watch.
The US NAVY contacted all major US watch companies at the time: Hamilton,
Elgin, Waltham and Bulova requesting the production of the watch, but because of the
limited quantity asked (1,000 pieces) and because of the specifications needed required
major challenges in the testing and construction of the watch, all companies found it
non-profitable; however, one American company saw this as a great opportunity. Allen
Tornek was the US importer for the Rayville Watch Company, a swiss brand based in
Villeret, Switzerland. Because Rayville already manufactured watches under Blancpain,
they were confident on taking the request from the US NAVY.
The first batch of the watches was delivered within two years of the original
inquiry. The watch was very different than the already known Fifty Fathoms. Instead of
Blancpain, it has Tornek-Rayville on the dial (Sounds like Tornek-Rayville was one of
the first Micro Brands out there, right?) One of the most interesting features, and the
reason why the watch is so rare, is the use of Promethium 147 on the luminous marker
of the dial. Promethium is a chemical element in which all of its isotopes are radioactive,
and one of it’s practical uses is luminous paint. The Prometheus 147 emits more
particles than Radium or Tritium, making it brighter and long lasting. Unfortunately it has
a very short life of about 2.5 years. After the watch dials lost their luminescence, they
became less useful for the divers, so they were sent to the naval stores. This is where it
gets sadly interesting. Because the watch casebook was stamped with “Danger
Radioactive Material” and it had the radioactive symbol, they had to be disposed. As
other low-level radioactive waste, they were placed in concrete filled containers and
then buried underground in deserted areas all over the US. Of all the small production
ever built of the watch (a little over 1,000) it is known that there are about 20 or so in
existence, making the Tornek-Rayville one of the rarest military watch.
Manchester Watch Works takes a new spin on the amazing piece of history with
the Iconik 3. I had the chance to photograph and wear both prototypes, so let’s find out
more about the watch.
For those of you familiar with MWW, you will recognize the case used for the Iconik 3. Doug Kim, owner of MWW, decided to repurpose the case of one of his most popular models, the Tatoskok. This is a great case design with interesting angular lines and I think it works extremely well for the Iconik 3. He executes excellent changes to the case that differentiates both watches in great fashion. Starting with the crown; the Iconik 3 placement of the crown is at 3 o’clock. The crown is also different. Instead of the grooved cut outs on the crown (like the Tatoskok), the Iconik 3 sports a standard screw down crown that has an easy grip to it. The MWW emblem is signed on the crown, always a great touch. The case on the Iconik 3 screams dive watch. The bead blasted 316L steel case offers that antireflective quality that the original Tornek-Rayville had, not to mention it is almost fingerprint proof. At 42.5mm width,the case is a standard size for a modern diver watch.
At first glance and with the specs alone, one might think it is a hefty watch, but due to the 47mm lug to lug dimensions, it wears well even on my 6.5”-6.75” wrist.According to my “not always reliable” electronic caliper, the watch thickness is 15mm at the highest point of the domed crystal, and 13.5mm the rest of the watch. However, when wearing it, the back case sinks on the wrist dropping its thickness.I wore the twoprototypes for a whole week and never once I banged them.In my ideal world, because I am on a thinner watches kick lately, I would prefer a thinner case. However, it is a divewatch after all. One that has a robust presence to it and I don’t mind it at all. The Iconikhas a 200/656 water resistant. Two hundred meters is a good standard for diver watches; however, I would’ve love it if the watch had the same 400m water resistance as the original TR900. I guess I can take that as another difference between the two.
Another design aspect that stands out from the Tatoskok is the bezel. The 20 click, unidirectional bezel features a matte finished aluminum insert with a very predominant lumed 12:00 marker. According to Doug at MWW, the final version will have thinner bezel insert markers, except for the 12:00 marker, the silver inner ring on the bezel insert will also be added.
This is one of the features of the original Tornek-Rayville bezel and I am glad MWW is including it.
The bezel on the Iconik 3 has an excellent grip to it. The diamond-like cut outs on it make it easy to operate even with gloves. Even though the prototypes had minor misalignment on the bezel (I know this will activate everyone’s OCD) there was little to no play on the bezel action. I am sure the misalignment will be taken care of for final production.
The dial on the Iconik 3 is very reminiscent of the original dial on the TR-900. Although not using Promethium 147 (wouldn’t that be something?), the markers are finished with old radium Superluminova to add vintage look. We have seen a trend lately of dive watches using this vintage lume look and this is something that matches the style of the Iconik 3 very well. It adds character, a retro look and keeps true with what the watch is honoring. The lime is extremely bright, evenly applied through out the dial. In many occasions while wearing it out, I would notice the lime torching on the daylight in shade areas. This is always a good sign of strong lume.
One of the differences the Iconik 3 has over the original dial, is the size of the markers. MWW makes a clever move IMO to make the markers more prominent. With stick markers at 3, 6 and 9, dot markers for the rest and a sharp triangle at the 12’oclock mark, the dial is easily readable in any condition. The hour markers are outlined in white over the black dial version and black over the white dial version. In marking the time, we find the old radium Superluminova baton/sword hands like in the original TR-900. The dimensions of the hands work extremely well on the clean dial. The hour hand has close proximity to the dot markers, while minimally overlapping the baton and triangle markers. The minute hand expands over the hour marker gracefully floating over the chapter minute ring printed on the dial. The spear shape tip second hand also does a great job at covering half of the markers. Personally, I really like when designs take this into consideration. This small attention to detail makes a huge difference in a production. I am not a fan of short hands, but who is?
One thing MWW really nailed with the Iconik 3 production is the release of two versions, the classic black dial and the very attractive and unique white dial. I believe MWW is the first micro brand that has made a white dial version of the TR-900 so far. For those who are fans of black dial watches, you won’t be disappointed. The black dial offers your classic design, yet there’s an elegant quality to it that can make it a nice casual dive watch with a quick strap change. The markers really pop against the black background, making the time very easy to read. On the other hand, the white dial offers a bold, eye catching and unique look to the watch. In certain light conditions, the white dial has an almost eggshell color to it, evoking a vintage feel. Both watches have a very clean dial. The MWW logo is well positioned at the top center in black and/or white. Instead of the cool moisture indicator dot on the TR-900 , the word automatic also in white and/or black is positioned at the bottom part of the dial. Above it 200/656 is printed on a very cool yellow hue that balances well with the vintage radium lume. MWW has informed me that the ‘200/656’ on the final version of the white dial will be more legible. Both versions will be available with a no date option only. I know this may have all of you date window junkies overlook the watch, but IMO keeps the dial extremely clean and true to it’s origin.
Inside the Iconik 3 we can find the Seiko NE15 (6R15). A hacking, hand winding
capable movement beating at 21,600bph and one of the highlights of this movement is
an impressive 50+ hours power reserve.This was my first experience with the NE15
movement and I was pleasantly surprised. Not only were both watches keeping time
within specs, but the power reserve was outstanding. I would wear the black dial for a
day, then switch to the white dial for almost 3 days and when I went back to switch to
the black one, it was still ticking away with only less than 10 seconds lost. I am not
extremely picky about accuracy. After all, the gain/loss of seconds is part of the nature
of most movements, specially at this price point, but it is always great too see a
prototype that works this well.
MWW made an excellent choice with NE15 movement. Most micro brands out
there are commonly using the well known workhorse NH35A, which is a very reliable
movement we all like. Not only does this set the watch apart from the plethora of diver
watches out there, but at the time of this review, I believe the Iconik 3 is the most
affordable dive watch out there with the NE15 movement.
Caseback: The screw down caseback on the Iconik 3 pays excellent tribute to the Tornek-Rayville. Keeping the design simple and efficient, the MWW logo replaces
the famous radioactive logo in the center. The Danger sign inside the capsule has been
cleverly replaced with the name of the watch ‘ICONIK3’. The word ‘AUTOMATIC’ took
the place of ‘NON MAGNETIC’.
Strap: The 22mm, textured, olive, military canvas strap with leather backing feels
right at home with watch. Adding another vintage feel to it, the strap tapers. At the time
of this review the buckle was not signed, but for the final production, the MWW logo will be present on the buckle. These are extra little details that count IMO.
Lume: The vintage radium Superluminova on this watch is excellent. Not only it is well applied on the indices, but the multiple layers light up quickly and it is long lasting. One thing I would’ve love to see was a lume bezel, but the TR-900 didn’t have a lumed bezel so I can be OK with that. For those of you, like me, who love lume, you will not be dissapointed at all.
On The Wrist:
At first glance the Iconik 3 looks like a hefty and big tool watch, but upon taking it out of the box, you immediately feel how misleading this look is. For a watch with these specs, it is very light in weight, and will wear well on the majority of the wrists. The caseback sinking on the wrist really helps with the thickness of the watch. The straight 22mm lugs are short enough to not overhang. On the wrist the watch is very inconspicuous for the wearer in terms of weight and feel. It definitely has a big presence on the wrist, I mean this in a good way. With he 22mm lugs you can have plenty of options for strap playing. This watch looks great on a NATO; however, it added too much height to the watch for my small wrists.
Manchester Watch Works once again shows us why we love classic watch designs. Even though the Iconik 3 reminds us of the original TR-900, at a closer look the watch sets itself apart from the Tornek-Rayville and other Tornek homages out
there. The Iconik 3 will be great addition to anyone looking for a casual style diver watch. Due to it’s thickness, I don’t know if it will slip unnoticeably under a dress shirt, but it will work great as a casual wear or your weekend warrior watch.
The Iconik 3 will have a limited run of only 100 pieces total.
will be $510 plus shipping.
I really enjoyed my time with both of the watches, but after wearing both watches, I was more drawn to the white dial, mainly because I don’t have anything like that in my collection yet and I love the the look of the vintage radium Superluminova against the white dial.