Extra-flat or ultra-thin watches present an interesting challenge to a watch designer. The interpretation of the idiom tends to follow a pretty narrow design language: Round, two hands, precious metal more often than not, and with a minimum number of dial elements. The reasons for this are pretty straightforward: The fewer dial elements there are, the thinner the watch can be, and making extra-flat watches has always been at least partly about being able to boast about just how much thinner your watch is than the competition’s, as well as conventional watches in general. A major exception to this rule in recent years has been Bulgari, whose Octo Finissimo watches have a unique design vocabulary – in the context of extra-flat watches, a thing much more easily said than done.
All this means that there tends to be a much stronger, generic family resemblance among extra-flat watches (partly abetted by the fact that there are not that many extra-flat movements out there, although the ubiquitous ETA 2892 is arguably an extra-flat movement, at 3.60mm). In creating the Ming 27.01, Ming set out to create a watch that is faithful to the basic traditional codes of extra-flat watchmaking, but re-interpreted in the company’s own design vision.
It’s an interesting problem to go at because, of course, what is wanted is something which does not cross the fine line between individualistic and outlandish, but which at the same time has enough of its own identity to stand out from the usual run of extra-flat watches.
The Ming 27.01 is quite different from anything else the company has created. Its initial offerings were intended to put the brand on the map by offering an almost unbelievable value proposition, and since then, newer watches from Ming have been used most often to introduce new movements (for example, a 100-hour movement by Schwartz Etienne) or to launch new complications, including a GMT complication and world timer (although the award-winning 17.06 Copper is an exception).
For the 27.01, Ming has used a movement new to the company – it’s an ETA caliber, but highly modified, which is the ETA/Peseaux 7001. The movement is well under the somewhat arbitrary 3mm thickness for extra-flat movements – it’s 23.30mm x 2.50mm, and Ming has modified the movement considerably in order to produce a quite striking visual effect.
Externally, the watch is immediately identifiable as a Ming creation, although it is also immediately noticeable that it is quite a bit thinner than previous models, at 38mm x 6.90mm. (The 17.06 Copper, by contrast, is 38mm x 10mm and is powered by an ETA 2824.) The dial is noticeably different as well. Ming watches are generally a showcase for the decorative effects possible with Super-LumiNova, but the 27.01 doesn’t use any (according to the company, this is to maintain a connection to one of the most salient traditional characteristics of extra-flat watches, which is the absence of luminous material). The dial still shows remarkable depth for an extra-flat watch, and although this probably means sacrificing a few fractions of a millimeter in thinness, the purpose of the watch, after all, is not to break records, but rather to explore what it would be like to create an extra-flat watch in Ming’s unique design language.
With respect to how well the characteristic Ming design language translates into an extra-flat watch, my impression is not so much that it has translated well as that it has, in a sense, come into its own. In an extra-flat iteration, all the details – the characteristic lug shape, crown, and dial design – seem to find a very pleasing harmony of proportions, which gives the watch not only a lot of visual interest, but which also makes it very attractive from a tactile standpoint. This is also an unusual feature for an extra-flat watch; in general, they do not seem so much like watches that ask to be handled in order to appreciate them (unless it is to feel how thin they are, which is a bit of an abstract pleasure) as they almost ask the opposite. They want to be appreciated for how they disappear on the wrist, at least from a kinesthetic perspective. The 27.01, on the other hand, offers a more positive sense of pleasure to the touch.
Though it is handled in a quite subtle fashion, the consistency of various elements in the design is carried through to every detail of the watch. A particularly nice detail is how the skeletonizing of the case band is echoed in the pin buckle – an example of thoroughness in conception which few brands show.
Historically, extra-flat watches have generally had solid casebacks which, while understandable from an engineering standpoint (a solid caseback is more rigid and offers better support for an extra-thin movement), has always seemed a bit of a shame. While a display back can certainly be abused (the phenomenon of so-called display-back finishing, where a simulation of real high-grade movement finishing is given to only the elements visible through the caseback, happens less frequently than in previous decades, thank heavens), it can, under the right circumstances, also mean the watchmaker has the opportunity to offer further interest to the owner. In the case of the 27.01, the re-engineering of the base caliber really delivers, and then some. The individual, very slim cocks and bridges supporting the going train and the balance give a wonderful air of transparency, nearly equal to what you might get from a full-on openworked movement – in fact, perhaps even better, as an openworked movement can easily create a sense of clutter which would have been inimical to the design of the rest of the watch.
In some respects, I think this might be the most successful watch from Ming thus far – and I applaud the decision to make the watch in steel; in titanium, it would have lacked the slight but definite sense of physical presence so essential to the success of the overall design. As most folks reading this are already probably aware, the 27.01 sold out within minutes of the initial announcement, but it remains a most interesting watch to look at, handle, and think about – a small piece of irrefutable physical evidence that you can teach an old dog (extra-flat watches, in this case) new tricks.
The Ming 27.01: case, stainless steel, 38mm x 6.90mm, water resistance 50 meters. Movement, ETA/Peseaux 7001 base, Ming caliber 7001 MI, custom design, adjusted to 5 positions. Price at launch, CHF 3,950. See more at Ming.watch.