I’ve reviewed a lot of watches over the years but this is the first time I have ever reviewed three at the same time. What makes it even more special is that they are three from the same maker. It was another classic message from my friend and WatchWabi cofounder; Ariel Javier that alerted me that there was a package on its way. No indication of how many or which ones. I must admit, I like it that way. No idea of what to expect, no influence from knowing about the brand and certainly, in this case, a total surprise as to the number.
There is an old saying that opines that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Well the first impression of the Viribus Unitis collection was very favorable indeed. I just love the watch case. Boxes are so passé, tubes are so 2000 and wallets are positively Victorian. What Viribus Unitis have done is really quite refreshing. Yes, we all know that 20 minutes after opening a presentation case and extracting the watch it is consigned to a dark drawer or cupboard for eternity, so does the style or quality really matter? Well yes it does, as far as I’m concerned. It is all part of the buying experience and in my opinion the Viribus Unitis case is a definite winner.
So before exploring the watches, let’s step back for a minute. Who the heck are Viribus Unitis? Well, a quick search brings up: SMS Viribus Unitis was an Austro-Hungarian dreadnought battleship, the first of the Tegetthoff class. Viribus Unitis means ‘Strength through / in Unity’ and, of course, the Viribus Unitis watch company. And that pretty much is where I ended up. I really couldn’t find out much more about the company other than what is on their webpage. I could have contacted them and said I was doing a review and could they give me the history and inside line, but I didn’t because I wanted to review the watches without knowing anything about the company until afterwards.
The first watch I opened was the model number 153.52. Like all the Viribus Unitis models there is an intriguing history behind the watch. It seems the inspiration for it was the ALBATROSS D-III with the aircraft identification 153.52. The pilot of this aircraft was Godwin von Brumowski, who was the most successful Austrian-Hungarian fighter pilot (40 won air combat missions). The really cool thing is that the caseback shows the plane with the 153.52 designation on the fuselage. And this is actually a recurring theme with these watches… little, almost imperceptible, nice touches.
OK before proceeding, for all those number junkies out there, here are the stats.
Case: Stainless steel 316L polished / brushed
Diameter: 42mm (excluding crown)
Weight: 180gr (without strap)
Lug Width: 22mm (with spring bar)
Case back: Stainless steel 316 L
Waterproof: 30 ATM
Crown: screw down crown
Sapphire crystal with AR-coating
Dial: Sandwich construction
Lume: Super Luminova
Hands: Hour, minute and second hands with Super Luminova
The numbers give you the facts, but they really don’t tell the story. The story is that this is actually a really nice watch that is more than the sum of its statistics. Look at the sweep hand, for instance. I love the fact that it has an anchor at the end. I used to be a ship surveyor, just don’t get me started on double bottom surveys of old rusting bulk carriers or freezing my arse of mid winter in Dalian New shipyard, but I still like nautical things and I thought the anchor was a nice touch. Not knowing about the company and finding out that the 153.52 is part of their airborne collection, my first thought was that here was a watch in search of an identity, but once you get to know more, the Viribus Unitis anchor is exactly the same as the Rolex crown. It’s their identification mark. I like it. I also like the shape of the hour hand and the onion crown. Never owned a watch with an onion crown and I have to say, they are very easy to grip and use to adjust the hands or wind the watch. You can see in the photo that I didn’t remove the blue protective coating. I’m a sucker for them and just think that manufactures should bake a ceramic blue overlay on crowns. Under the protective coating is the same anchor emblem found on the sweep hand.
Never owned a watch with a sandwich dial before either. I didn’t know what I was missing. Having the bottom layer completely luminous makes the 153.52 a real standout, not only at night when charged, but also on a sunny day when the superluminova charges through the natural daylight. Again, another nice touch. One thing about the dial on the Viribus Unitis watches which I was not sure about are the arrows and numbers where the number 9 usually sits. I had to think about these for a while and just loved the revelation. OK, I know the arrows point up and down and the down arrow shows -1.000ft against it which approximates to the 30 Atmospheres water resistance. However, I struggled to find the find the relationship of +18.044ft. I thought 18.044 feet is not very high, then I looked again at the +1.000ft numbering. Does anyone else get it? Continental Europeans (not the island crowd in Ireland or the UK) use a point rather than a comma to indicate thousands. We would write 1,000, they write 1.000. So the 18.044 is not 18 point 044 feet, it is 18 thousand and 44 feet which is equivalent to 5,500 meters. And guess what? 18.044ft is the service ceiling of the ALBATROSS D-III. I told you, this watch is full of nice little touches.
I thought I was pretty cool getting that one, then I looked at the bezel. It is a ceramic bezel with lumed indices. 120 clicks and a good solid click sound and tight movement. 52 at the 1 o’clock position and 153 at the 11 o’clock position. Anyone make the connection with the numbers? It’s the model number of the watch: 153.52. I like these guys……. I don’t think I’ve ever owned a watch that actually made me think anything other than; what time is it!
The next watch out of its case was the A11 and you probably won’t be surprised that it is named after an airplane and an image of it is on the caseback. That plane was the OEFFAG Mickl H seaplane with the identification number A11. The pilot of this aircraft was Gottfried Freiherr von Banfield, who won the first nighttime air victory on 31st May 1917, near castle Miramare (Northern Adriatic sea) where he forced an Italian seaplane to land at 22:30 hours.
Like the 153.52, the dial colors represent the plane’s fuselage colors and the numbers on the dial at the 9 o’clock position represent the aircraft’s operational ceiling (+13,123 feet) and the watch depth rating (-1,000 feet). The difference with the A11 is that the number 9 is there, between the altitude and depth arrows.
In reality the only differences between the A11 and the 153.52 are a slight change to the dial and bezel. The dial is the same luminous sandwich dial with the twist that at the 11 o’clock marker there is a stylized A11 in place of a normal 11. Again a very distinctive, nice touch. The bezel is not a ceramic insert this time but a “normal” metal insert with markers at the hour positions. The hands, crown and bracelet are the same as those on the 153.52
Although the 153.52 and the A11 are very similar, the next Viribus Unitis was a different beast altogether. The case was the same shape and dimensions as used on the other watches and also had the name Viribus Unitis engraved into the side but it wasn’t 316 stainless steel, it was bronze. Coupled with the green dial, bezel and Nato strap, it was actually quite striking. The bronze and green went together remarkably well. I very rarely wear watches with straps. Everything I’ve tried invariably brings my wrist out in a rash. I did try on the 153.27 but I have to be honest and say I really didn’t like the Nato strap. The buckle things stick out too far and I think it just looks odd. Sorry to all you Nato strap lovers, but not for me.
Of course you already know what I’m going to say now. Yep, the model is again based on the ALBATROSS D-III, this time with the identification number 153.27. The pilot of this aircraft was Georg Kenzian Edler von Kenzianhausen, who entered the list of the most successful Austrian-Hungarian fighter pilots with 9 victorious air combats.
The green-blue colour of the dial of this watch is based on the original color scheme of the aircraft. Like the 153.52 the caseback shows the ALBATROSS D-III with 153.27 on the fuselage.
The dial on this watch is somewhat different than the other two. Again it uses the luminous sandwich design but instead of numerals for the hours it has round indices with bronze colored metal ring inserts. The 12 o’clock triangle also has a metal insert. Once again the dial has the aircraft operational ceiling and water resistance at the 9 o’clock position, but this time the depth is about 200 feet less at 670ft. Like the A11, the bezel insert is Aluminum with the numbers 153.27 at 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock.
I’m not sure if the crown on the 153.27 is also bronze, it may be plated as the colour is slightly different, but at least it matches the case. I’ve seen several bronze watches and the crown is made of polished stainless steel and it looks out of place. The crown on the 153.27 looks like it should look, in my opinion. The caseback is stainless steel and it is flat. Flat caseback. Yep, they had me at hello with the caseback. Anyone who knows me knows I have a thing for flat casebacks, the larger and flatter the better, especially on large watches. Really annoys me when watch companies try to go for the thick watch and use a thick caseback with a small contact area. All the Viribus Unitis models have a large flat caseback and they just hug the back of my wrist like limpets. All three watches come in a limited edition of only 200, with the casebacks numbered accordingly.
The subtle differences in the dials and bezels of the three watches can be best illustrated by a photo of the watches with fully charged lume. Although different, they all light up spectacularly well.
The movement in all three watches is the Citizen Miyota 9015. It is a 24 jewel automatic movement, made in Japan and was first introduced in 2009. It has a power reserve of around 42 hours, is hacking, cheap to service and considered a workhorse movement. A couple of days after receiving the watches I had to go on a business trip. I was away for 5 days and wore the 153.52. During that time it averaged plus 14 seconds a day. No complaints from me with that kind of accuracy.
The watch was also very comfortable to wear. Although a relatively big watch, it never dug into my wrist or pulled hairs. It sat well on the wrist and looked great. The bracelet uses a push button lock and retaining clip. It also uses split pins to secure the links. I know the trend now is to use screws but I think the split pins are far more secure. They really are a fit and forget mechanism.
During the trip I mentioned above I was sitting beside a pilot on my flight out of Chicago. He had flown a jet in and was hotseating it back home. I showed him the 153.52 and explained the markings and the caseback. He was really interested and thought it pretty cool. He told me he used to wear a Breitling Navitimer but had to have it serviced and was so appalled at the cost that he sold it. He was wearing a G-Shock when I spoke to him, but after handling the Viribus Unitis, he said: ”hmmm, I really should wear one of these.” Praise indeed.
OK, so you are probably thinking, is there something I don’t like about the watches? Well, don’t like is probably too strong, but yes there is something that most people wouldn’t notice but I did and I know that it is a function of the design and size of the case. What is it? It is the offset position of the crown. In a perfect world the position of the crown should be equidistant from the top and bottom of the case. Not so with these watches. The crown is asymmetrically positioned towards the top of the case. Not something you notice when wearing the watch and I only caught it when taking pictures of the crown. Have another look at the photo above which shows the side of the case and he crown with the blue protective coating and you will see what I mean. Most people would never notice or care and unless pointed out would never see. In many ways it is another of those little touches I talked about which make the Viribus Unitis watches different.
I’m thankful to Ariel and the Viribus Unitis guys for giving me the chance to play with and review a couple of watches which really did allow me to see something different. I have to admit that I’ve become a bit jaded with the whole watch thing. There just doesn’t seem to be anything new coming out. Pretty much everything is a variation on the same old, same old. I know it must be really hard to try to come up with something new, but I honestly think that Viribus Unitis have taken a theme and by making little additions and subtle nods to history they have actually achieved something new. Priced at between 390 and 420 Euros, they also represent tremendous value for money. I just can’t wait to see what they come up with for their Seaborne collection. From what I have seen from the Airborne collection, it augers well that they will be spectacular.
When they are released, you will find them here: