The Melbourne Watch Company Portsea is a modern take on the classic marine chronometer, and for less than $1,000 offers a hefty dose of charm in a well-constructed and attractive package.
If you’re unfamiliar with Melbourne Watch Company, that may be because it was founded just three years ago, in 2013, after a successful crowdfunding of its first model, the Flinders. The company’s goal is “to create premium grade watches that are accessible to watch enthusiasts, casual collectors, and beyond,” and I’ve spent over two months with the Portsea, first released in 2014, to see if the model and the company live up to their self-set standards.
As you might have guessed, Melbourne Watch Company is based out of Melbourne, Australia, and each of their models is a nod to the city in some way. Portsea is a town on the Mornington Peninsula, which is southeast of Melbourne. As the city is a 23-hour flight from where I’m located, I chose not to visit it for this review, but according to TravelVictoria.com it is the former site of numerous military fortifications and now known for its “upmarket dream homes” and “scenic coastal features including pristine beaches, cliffs, reef platforms, and turbulent seas.”
Fortunately, the seas weren’t too turbulent the day the watch was shipped out for review, and it arrived safely. The watch came enclosed in a small black leather box with the company’s logo pressed into the top. Upon opening, I was presented with the Melbourne Watch Company Portsea watch with its rose gold-colored case in 316L stainless steel and navy blue leather band, along with two cards tucked into a small pocket sewn into the lining of the case. The first was a warranty card with information about the two-year international warranty and the other was a quick reference guide on how to set the calendar (more on that later).
It wasn’t long before I had strapped the Melbourne Watch Company Portsea to my wrist, and my initial reaction was that the watch felt weighty and well-constructed. There are items you pick up once in a while that immediately channel a sense of quality through you – the last time for me was picking up a Zippo Armor lighter – and the Portsea gave me the same feeling. Even now, after weeks of wear, when I pick up the watch in the morning before affixing it to my wrist, there is a moment of pause when I just hold the watch, letting its presence register in my palm before moving it to it’s place of prominence for the rest of the day.
The Portsea wears comfortably at 40mm wide (43mm with the crown) and at 48mm lug-to-lug. At 13mm thick, it does stick out from the wrist somewhat, and on my 16cm wrists, I noticed this fact – though someone with larger wrists would certainly be less bothered by it. The lug width is 20mm, and the lugs are slightly curved so the watch wears more comfortably.
The strap is one of the nicer details of the watch. Padded dark blue leather with an alligator skin pattern, it is very flexible and soft. The choice of blue adds immensely to the marine aesthetic of the watch, and though there are other case and strap combinations available for the Portsea, the rose gold and blue struck me as the most interesting (others are: black strap, silver case, black dial; blue strap, silver case, blue dial; and brown strap, silver case, white dial).
Although inspired by classic marine chronometers, the watch will most likely be worn as a dress watch in semi-formal and office environments, and wearing the watch to work with my standard white dress shirts felt appropriate. The coloring and style is refined enough to blend in when you want, but offer enough flavor to keep you interested and catch the eye of any watch-collecting co-workers. Over lunch, my former colleague and friend who has a small collection of mechanical watches immediately took notice of the Melbourne Watch Company Portsea and it quickly became the topic of discussion as we ate.
With the Melbourne Portsea, there is a lot to discuss. Already mentioned was the coloring of the case and strap, but when you get up close to the dial you begin to appreciate the amount of thought that has gone into the design of this timepiece.
The bottom layer of the dial is a thick piece of ceramic, grooved to resemble the planking of a ship’s deck, with a small date window at six o’clock. It’s an interesting use of the material, and on top of it is an also-ceramic ring with the printed hour markers and two sub-dials providing information on the month (three o’clock) and the day of the week (nine o’clock). Applied hour markers would have certainly added to the watch’s appearance, but they are printed in an attractive font that gets the job done.
The two date sub-dials along with the date window make this quite the time-telling device, and a two-click crown makes setting everything simple. With the crown pushed in all the way, you can rotate it to manually wind the mainspring. I, for one, like the short moments of contemplation provided by winding a watch, and while thinking through a problem at work I could often be found winding away.
The crystal is anti-reflective sapphire, and the hands are diamond cut. Ion plated with a deep blue coloring, they are one of my favorite parts of the watch. The minute and hour hands occasionally catch the sun while you’re checking the time and glint cobalt. The second hand, slender and whirring away, is fixed with a “M” on the end. An extra that I personally found enjoyable because half the time it’s upside down, and I got to pretend the watch had been personalized to honor my last name. The watch is water resistant to 10ATM (100m), but with the leather strap you’d be better off keeping it at home should you be taking to the high seas anytime soon.
It is powered by a Miyota Cal. 9120 triple calendar automatic movement which was modified by Melbourne Watch Company to remove the 24-hour dial and move the date window to the six o’clock position. According to Sujain Krishnan, Managing Director at Melbourne Watch Company, the next release will feature the new Miyota Cal. 9122 movement, which has the desired setup straight from the factory.
Partway through my time reviewing the watch I took a day trip to Monterey, CA (I’m located in the San Francisco Bay Area, so Monterey is roughly ninety minutes away from me). Although a different climate to Portsea, it too is a city with a rich military heritage that is now known for its luxury hotels and residences (Pebble Beach golf course is located nearby). I wore the watch that day without really thinking about it, but with the ocean nearby for the first time while I had the watch, there were a few moments when I would look at the ocean, then at the watch, and then back at the ocean and think about how each related to the other.
Marine chronometers were first used in the 18th century, providing a standard time that could be used by navigators on long ocean journeys to determine the longitude of a ship on the ocean. Latitude could be determined by finding the angle of the sun in the sky, but longitude had long been an elusive and difficult item to measure. A marine chronometer, set to Greenwich Mean Time, could be compared to the calculated current time at noon aboard a ship, and the difference would provide an accurate measure of longitude – completely revolutionizing the navigational efficiency of sea-bound vessels. Today, ships use satellites and computers to measure location, though, so a marine chronometer or a watch inspired by marine chronometers, like the Melbourne Watch Company Portsea, are not really meant for the ocean, but more for people who appreciate the ocean and have some sense of connection to it. I feel this is true of me, and that with that in mind, the Portsea did speak to me in some sense.
While I spend most of my days working in an office, miles away from the ocean, I can appreciate the naval spirit, and each time I am near the ocean I find it a calming and natural experience. In small ways, the Melbourne Portsea inspired this same sense in me, even when not near water. Perhaps a bit bold to say, but in this watch I found my love of the ocean.
Melbourne Watch Company has been expanding rapidly since it’s inception three years ago and, according to Mr. Krishnan, has plans for a chronograph version of the Portsea next year, the introduction of a dive watch called the Sorrento that will use the same thick ceramic dial as the Portsea, a line of watches assembled in Australia (currently they are assembled by an OEM in Hong Kong), and are looking into opening a brick and mortar retail store in Melbourne next year.
The Melbourne Watch Company Portsea is a well-constructed and -designed watch from an exciting new player in the mechanical watch world. With a price of $645.39 (discounts can be found if you pre-order models in between production cycles), it makes a great daily wearer to the office and feels special enough to pull out for formal events. If you are interested in marine chronometers or an interesting alternative to standard dress watches, the Melbourne Watch Company Portsea is worth taking a closer look at.
- Brand: Melbourne Watch Company
- Model: Portsea
- Price: $645.39 USD
- Size: 40mm wide
- Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes.
- Friend we’d recommend it to first: Former member of college sailing team who now works in an office and wants something appropriate for the setting that will remind him of fond times out on the water.
- Best characteristic of watch: Ceramic dial offers something different at this price point and really drives home the marine chronometer feel. Rose gold case and navy blue strap are a striking combination.
- Worst characteristic of watch: Printed hour markers and plastic-looking second layer on the dial detract from an otherwise high-quality finish.