Welcome to Dialed In, Esquire's weekly column bringing you horological happenings and the most essential news from the watch world since March 2020.
There is something mischievous about Swiss watch brand H. Moser & Cie, despite its long and worthy history. The manufacture turns out very short runs of unusually beautiful—and very expensive—watches, almost all of which, in some form or another, are an oblique, often-amusing comment on the state of Swiss watchmaking, an industry not widely celebrated for its sense of humor.
As a small independent watchmaker, Moser’s survival relies on doing things differently. Like removing the company name altogether from certain of its watch dials, a move in 2015 that baffled and intrigued in equal measure. With an output of barely 1,500 pieces all told per year, Moser relies on its small army of passionate fans to do its brand-building for it.
The latest addition to that output in very limited numbers is the Pioneer Center Seconds Mega Cool, a steel-case watch that, despite the name, is actually really rather cool. Driven, like all Moser watches, by an in-house movement, it comes with a blue-green fumé dial reminiscent, in this case, of the Carribean sea. (Fumé, or “smoky,” dials are a house staple.) The logo makes a (sort of) return in this watch by being engraved on a sapphire disk as if it is floating on the limpid waters. At certain angles it disappears altogether. Conceived as a multipurpose watch that is both sporty and dressy, it can go anywhere—with a 12atm (120m) depth rating—from coral reef to night out.
Set up in 1848 Schaffhausen, the hometown of founder Friedrich Moser, the brand soldiered on for a good 130 years until, like many others at the time, it fell foul of the quartz revolution in the 1970s and disappeared. Had not Moser's great-grandson Roger Nicholas Balsiger resolved in 2005 to resurrect the family business, we would not be talking about it today. In fact, it was when the house was sold to the Meylan family in 2012 that Moser really began to set tongues wagging.
In January 2016, Moser launched the Swiss Alp watch, an expensive mechanical watch in white gold that was the doppelgänger of a certain new American smartwatch, launched just barely six months before (the clue is in the name if you haven’t got there yet). While other Swiss brands galloped off to harness the new technology of fully digital smartwatches, Moser instead made a fully mechanical watch in beautifully finished white gold and added a hand-wound, in-house mechanical movement with a 4-day power reserve, making perhaps the point that watches have always been pretty damn smart and that, anyway, beauty is every bit as important as function.
But even that move was not as audacious as 2017's “Swiss Mad,” a 1 million Swiss Franc, one-off watch made from real Swiss cheese. Real. Swiss. Cheese. Moser made its moove (sic) at a time when the Swiss government had just revised its rules governing what constitutes “Swiss Made,” raising the threshold from 50 percent to 60 percent, but in the process relaxing some of the stipulations. For Moser, that was not enough. The “Swiss Mad” was made from Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese stabilized by resins. The watch—which in addition to a Swiss cowhide strap had a red dial and white markers to suggest the Swiss flag—was both a piece of horological performance art and a protest. Proceeds were used to set up a fund to support independent Swiss watchmaking.
The Alp watch made its last official appearance as the “Swiss Alp Watch Final Upgrade” at the beginning of this year, with a dial painted in Vantablack—officially the blackest material known to humanity—that absorbs 99.9 percent of light. It came with a stylized seconds display at 6 o'clock that resembles the spinning wheel on your (um) iPhone, just before it reboots…or shuts down. The Swiss Alp watch had a good run, but for a brand that prides itself on rarity, all good things must, eventually, come to an end. Not that H Moser need worry. For a relatively small brand but one at the top of its game, it knows how to put itself at the center of the horological conversation. Which is sensible. As Oscar Wilde once famously put it: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
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