Launched in 2015, the L. Kendall watch brand comes with some serious historic roots in the name. Larcum Kendall was a British watchmaker who lived from 1719 until 1790. Among other things, he is well-known among horological historians for producing the marine chronometer that Captain James Cook used when exploring the Americas. Historians refer to the watches Kendall produced as “K1,” “K2,” and “K3.” It is thus that the “new” L. Kendall watch brand starts off with the K4.
Rights to the Larcum Kendall name were purchased by the U-Boat group which is the parent company of L. Kendall, and at least in the United States, the place to get them is Grenon’s of Newport watches (by Ray Grenon). An enterprising watch retailer with good taste for more interesting brands, Ray showed me the watches that I unfortunately missed at Baselworld. These are weird, but imminently cool watches produced with really nice quality – and the prices are not totally stupid. These days, new watch makers realize that the boom of getting people to spend oodles of cash on new and untested brands is over. There is still a healthy appetite for fresh, innovative designs, but thankfully the people that make them realize that there aren’t limitless budgets to buy them.
L. Kendall watches are designed by Italo Fontana – who is the designer of U-Boat watches. I’m admittedly not a fan of everything Mr. Fontana has designed, but that is often because he and I simply don’t have all the same tastes. I like his work enough to be an overall fan since he has some cool credits to his name. There is very little that is “standard” about L. Kendall watches, but the pieces do a good job of being interesting and thoughtfully conceived.
The primary design aesthetic behind the L. Kendall brand’s initial watches – which are the K4, K5, K6, and K7 – is historic marine instruments, and Italo went a bit wild with this theme in many of the watches. In many instances, the watches actually suffer from some legibility issues, but at the same time, for the type of statement these watches make (and their quality), I don’t think they will have a problem finding willing buyers. Who doesn’t want a little sextant on their dial?
Even though it has one of the busiest dials, the L. Kendall K4 is arguably their most straightforward watch, containing a base Swiss ETA Valjoux 7750 automatic movement which has been modified to include a synchronized 24-hour hand (AM/PM indicator) and a date dial rather than a date window display. This is a rare configuration, but I recall seeing it years ago in a watch that in terms of design and personality I would consider to be the spiritual sibling of the L. Kendall K4, and that is the Louis Moinet Jules Verne Instrument watch (aBlogtoWatch review here).
L. Kendall offers a view of the nicely decorated mechanical movement and uses their own custom navigational instrument-style 925 silver automatic rotor (another rare treatment). There is a “north star logo” image further applied on the crystal. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that the entire back of the watch is produced from a piece of sapphire crystal. More than just a window, L. Kendall made the interesting choice to put a sapphire crystal not only over the dial, but as the entire rear of the watch as well. Mind you, the K4 and other L. Kendall timepieces are not thin.
One benefit of having a sapphire crystal caseback is major scratch-resistance – which is a good idea given that people so often place their watches down on the caseback. The L. Kendall K4 case is 46mm wide and a whopping 19mm thick, with 100 meters of water resistance. Don’t worry, the watches are very comfortable to wear. Interesting details on the case abound, yet the overall look feels complete and more or less harmonious.
As a guy who really likes mother-of-pearl dials or other elements on men’s watches, I sort of feel that L. Kendall had people like me in mind when they decided that (at least for now) all of their watch dials are produced with a mother-of-pearl face. They do use various tones of mother-of-pearl, and over the MOP dials are frames which contain the various markers that make up the indicators on the dials so that they are legible. Clearly, not everyone will like these designs, but the look is refreshing and inspired for those who do. Not everyone should like these watches, but as I often say, all watch lovers should be glad that they exist. With that said, to wear one, you better like anchors, stars, and of course, sextants (lots of sextants).
Attached to the L. Kendall K4 case is a strap right out of Italo Fontana’s book of fetish items. It is a distressed blue leather strap with an aged-looking sextant emblem as well as a sextant-style buckle. I told you that a love of sextants is required. Dial legibility would be a bit better if the hour and minute hands stuck out a bit more. I do appreciate that for the most part the dial is symmetrical (most L. Kendall watches right now are not), but I think a bit more needed to be done in order to promote the main hour and minute hands. Did you see the sextant counterweight on the chronograph seconds hand?
Italo Fontana is always good when it comes to populating a timepiece with lots of interesting little details. How useful they all are can vary, and how welcome they are is a matter of taste. The remarkable thing is that despite the obviously exotic design of L. Kendall watches, this is a relatively restrained Mr. Fontana in the scheme of his more “ambitious” designs. In all, I think he is the right type of person to be pushing the brand ahead, but I think in future watches it would be a good idea for L. Kendall to combine their distinct look and obvious good use of colors and materials with a bit more emphasis on core legibility. For watches so very much inspired by instruments, I think timepieces like the L. Kendall K4 (as well as the rest of the L. Kendall collection) deserve to be as readable as the instruments they aspire to evoke.
As you can see, there are at least two different versions of the L. Kendall K4 that use different colors of mother-of-pearl and other dial applications. You can opt for the lighter dial or the darker one depending on your taste. Each is further a limited edition of 300 pieces – which is about right if you think about the obviously niche appeal of these otherwise very interesting and mostly well-done watches. Good to see that even in this day and age we can expect the unexpected when it comes to luxury watches. Price for the L. Kendall K4 watch is $7,900.