You can’t really blame a brand for digging into their back catalog. Vintage watch interest is at an all time high, especially because of the smaller cases and old school charm. By taking that design and building it with modern manufacturing techniques, the watch enthusiast gets the best of both worlds — a vintage looking watch that you don’t have to worry about too much. Continuing the trend of vintage brand revival is the new Malouine diver from Le Forban. It’s been half a century since Le Forban manufactured watches that were worn by sailors in the French Navy. While Le Forban might not be a household name, their new release, the Malouine, hopes to bring the brand into the forefront.
Today, we’re looking at their 39mm dive watch that’s designed, assembled, and tested in Paris — staying true to the French brand’s roots. The Malouine isn’t a direct reissue of one of their previous models, as it draws inspiration from a few of the watches in their back catalog. At $ 445, the Malouine sits in a very competitive price range, so read on to see how it fares.
Hands On: The Le Forban Malouine Dive Watch
Black or Blue
100% Silicone Tropic-Style Rubber
39 x 45mm
I’m a fan of a good sub-40mm dive watch, and the Malouine’s 39mm case certainly fits that bill. It’s a very straightforward design, featuring fully polished surfaces. Surrounding the dial, you’ll find a slim unidirectional bezel with a nice coin edge running around the sides. It has crisp, snappy audible feedback as you rotate it, with no back play. The dive scale is rendered in silver text on a black background. It’s about as slim as a bezel can be while still being functional, and on the reasonably-sized watch, it fits in well with the rest of the aesthetic.
There’s a small crown at 3 o’clock, which is surrounded by two basic crown guards.You’ll notice an engraved anchor decorating the flat surface of the crown. I wish the crown was a bit larger though. It’s a bit hard to grasp and manipulate, and visually, it’s a bit out of proportion. This size of crown lends itself better to a more casual watch, and especially one that doesn’t screw down like the one on the Malouine. Looking at their older watches, the vintage models had large crowns that would have both looked and functioned better on the Malouine.
In profile, the polished case is very basic. It’s balanced evenly between crystal/bezel, mid-case, and case back. A domed sapphire sits up top (more on that later), followed by the slim coin edge of the bezel, a straight vertical slab mid-case, and finally a case back that bubbles slightly below the case itself. The lugs curve down gently to hug your wrist, making for a great feel and fit on my 6.75” wrist. I do wish there was a bit of contrast on the case. Perhaps a brushed size or surface, maybe a beveled edge, or at least some more angles to break it up a bit.
It’s a shame that one of the coolest features on the Le Forban is hidden behind the watch. Flip it over and you’ll see an intricate, high quality embossed case back. There’s an old school dive helmet surrounded by a wavy pattern, with some specs running around the perimeter. It’s one of the nicer case back designs in both quality and execution that I’ve seen on a watch in the price range.
Dial + Hands
A lacquered black dial adorns the face of the watch. There’s a slim silver ring encircling the middle of the dial that separates the hour and minute markings from the text inside. It gives the dial a sort of sector feel, and I really enjoy this small detail. For the hour markings, there are your standard elongated hash marks, which are separated into minute by smaller hash marks. 12, 6, and 9 are rendered in Arabic numerals, while a basic black-on-white date display sits at three. Each hour hashmark and Arabic numeral are treated with Super-Luminova C3, giving off a green glow in dark conditions. Lume performance is decent — not too bright, not too dim with an even application across the board. These features are weighted visually towards the outside of the dial, which causes a bit of a visibility problem when paired with the domed sapphire crystal.
The crystal’s dome and very blue AR coating obscure the numerals and markings, making what should be a very legible watch rather hard to read. The dome adds a bubble onto the top of the 12, bottom of the 6, and left side of the 9. From an angle, the distortion is even more pronounced. While I’m a fan of a good ol’ acrylic crystal and the slight distortion it provides, the distortion seems more like something that was glossed over instead of intentional on the Malouine. I do like the application of the Le Forban logo at 12 with the anchor design as well as the model name and slimline French flag below it. I would really like to see a crystal with less distortion and a less imposing coat of AR. It would fix what’s otherwise a clean and well-presented dial design.
Onto the hands. The hour hand is a pretty straightforward stick hand with a pointed end. The minute hand is much more apparent, with a large arrowhead at the point. When reading off of the dive bezel, the minute hand does stand out quite well against the black dial. It is a bit out of balance with the hour hand. For the seconds, there’s a thin silver hand with a rectangular lume plot towards the tip, which is commonly seen on vintage watches. While I’m no watch designer, something about the hand set is a bit distracting.
Inside the Malouine is Miyotas caliber 8215. It’s an entry-level workhorse movement that’s made in Japan. There are 21 jewels throughout, a 42-hour power reserve, and a date display. Ticking at 21,600bph, the movement does give the second hand a nice sweep, if not a little jerky because of the slower beat rate.
The movement is totally fine, but I would like to see something a little better in a ~$ 450 watch. One thing that’s hard to ignore is the loud rotor/bearing sound from the movement. On your wrist, you will feel and hear the automatic movement doing its thing with each movement of the wrist. It’s loud and can be distracting in quiet environments. In this price range, I would like to see maybe a Seiko SII NH35A movement inside if not only to quiet down the watch a bit.
Strap + Wearability
There are few better ways to wear a vintage-inspired dive watch than on a Tropic-style rubber strap. The Malouine ships with their own custom strap made from 100% silicone rubber. On the wrist, it’s pliable and comfy, never getting in the way. The top side of the strap features the signature weave-textured surface with perforations throughout. This helps with water drainage, as does the pattern of the underside of the strap. Flip it over, and you’ll find a wavy pattern that minimizes contact with your skin (ideal in warmer weather) that helps quickly drain away water. Two rubber keepers help wrangle extra strap (although it’s kind of short, overall) and a custom signed clasp finishes it off. Since the lugs are 20mm, there is no shortage of options out there.
I particularly liked the watch on a thin nylon nato strap. On wrist, the 39mm case is quite comfortable, and Le Forban pushes the fact that this is a unisex watch pretty hard on their website. I can see it working well for all wrist sizes.
Le Forban’s Malouine is a bit of a mixed bag for me. While they nailed the 39mm size and proportions, the case is a bit plain. I like the small details and design of the dial, but it’s obscured by a crystal that makes it quite hard to read. The movement works, but it’s quite noisy and there are other alternatives that would make it a better watch. $ 450 can buy you a whole lot of watch, and I’m not sure my first choice would be the Malouine.
I would love to see Le Forban issue a second version. They’re clearly onto something with the Malouine, and a few small tweaks would make it much more compelling. I appreciate the history of the brand and their true-to-roots rebirth. The fact that they’re assembled in Paris is cool too, as you don’t see too many watches outside of Switzerland, Germany, Asia, or even the USA. It’s hard to convey proper tone through written text, and I don’t mean for this to come off as a negative review. It’s just that the Malouine is so close to being great, and it’s clear that Le Forban is on the right track.