I think a diver’s watch from Ming was probably not one of the things anyone was expecting in the near or even medium-term when the brand launched its first watch – the 17.01 – back in 2017. As it turns out, however, the idea of doing a dive watch was, according to Ming Thein and the company that bears his name, already gestating. In retrospect, there have been, both with the first Ming watch and with subsequent models, clear signs that the company’s obvious interest in exploring both the technical possibilities and aesthetic possibilities of its unique approach to watchmaking might well be applied to a diver’s watch. The Ming 18.01 H41 launched in its first series earlier this month (and rather predictably, sold out almost immediately), but on August 22 at 2 AM GMT, the second batch will go live. In between the first release and the second, we were able to take a look at the watch in person.
First, right off the bat, this is instantly recognizable as a Ming watch, having the same general design language we’ve seen in Ming watches going all the way back to the very first. The three key elements found in Ming watches across the board are a copious use of Super-LumiNova for both better legibility and as an abstract design element; the signature flared lugs; and a commitment in general to keeping the size of the watches within reasonable, even classic, parameters. Ming’s first dive watch was actually a 10-watch prototype series, the 18.01 Abyss Concept, which established virtually all of the basic elements of the full production 18.01 H41 with the exception of the case material – while the Abyss Concept had a brushed 316L stainless steel case, the production watches are available in either grade 5 titanium or DLC (diamond-like carbon) treated stainless steel.
The watch specs belie the very wearable size (40mm diameter, 12.9mm thick, 46mm lug-to-lug) of the watch; water resistance is 1,000 meters/100 atmospheres, or about 3,280 feet – that is about three times the test depth of a modern nuclear attack submarine. It is certainly true that such depth ratings are manifestly overkill and largely serve the function, to the extent they have one, of making the watch a conversation piece, but it is still fun to think that the watch can tolerate pressures that might have made the fictional sub Red October implode. The 18.01 H41 is also the first Ming watch to have a center seconds – in fact, it is the first Ming watch to have any kind of running seconds display at all, but obviously, this is an essential element in a dive watch, where it aids not only in precision timekeeping but also in letting a diver know the watch is functioning, both topside and at depth.
The dial is, as is usually the case for Ming, a fairly complex construction; it’s a two-level sapphire construction with HyCeram Super-LumiNova XI (this is a luminous ceramic composite). Super-LumiNova XI is applied to the bezel as a liquid epoxy and to the hands as a solid material. There are any number of luminous watches whose lume you don’t especially notice unless it’s nighttime, but occasionally, you find yourself wearing one (the various Seiko divers have this property) that glows noticeably even in slightly dim ambient light. During the time I’ve had the 18.01 H41, it has surprised me on several occasions by doing so in an elevator after coming in from a bright afternoon.
The bracelet is in Grade 5 titanium as well, and both the bezel and caseback have been treated to give them a slightly roughened surface, to ease turning (in the case of the bezel) and to help keep the watch in place on a wet arm or wetsuit sleeve. I’m not a diver, but were I one, I would probably want some sort of micro-adjustment clasp, but the upside to not having one is a very elegant and seamless bracelet.
The sixty-click bezel has, in a departure from standard dive-watch practice, no knurling at all; however, the slightly roughened surface provides a good grip, and the bezel feel is pleasantly exact. There is no play to speak of at each detent, and the sound of each bezel click is oddly pleasant to listen to. Weird as this may sound, it has a rich, rounded quality which, when combined with the precision of its operation, makes you feel like you’re interacting with a piece of real precision machinery. The only downside to the bezel is that, with no knurling, it’s somewhat more difficult to turn with wet hands, although it’s still possible. One additional use for the bezel is that you can use it to help set the watch, by turning the bezel so that the inverted triangle at the zero position is on the nearest five-minute mark to the position of the minute hand. The movement, an ETA 2824, is adjusted to five positions but, without minute markers on the dial, setting the watch to the exact minute can require some estimating, and using the bezel as a visual reference helps clarify the actual position of the minute hand.
One of the many nice touches in the watch is the visible indicator – a bright red gasket, it looks like, set around the crown tube – which is exposed if the crown is left unscrewed; it is not only practical (diving with a watch with an unscrewed crown could lead to a flooded case), but it is also just fun to look at and adds to the impression that the watch is ready for you to injudiciously submerge yourself beneath 3,000 feet of water at a moment’s notice.
Although you probably won’t spend a whole lot of time looking at it, the back of the 18.01 gives the same impression of precision and care in manufacturing and design as the front. There are six very deep holes milled out for a caseback wrench, which should give any watchmaker who works on the watch an excellent grip, and verbiage is informative but also, unsurprisingly for a Ming watch, well-integrated as a design element as well. That little crab is a reference to the aquatic, of course, but it’s also a little bit of a Ming in-joke about the case shapes of their watches as seen in profile, and there is even a morphology of Ming “crabs” on the company’s website.
The Ming 18.01 H41 is a quite exciting watch to wear. Diver’s watches have a cookie-cutter similarity, and for a reason – the technical features that make a dive watch both compliant with the specifications of the international dive watch standard, and simply practical from a functional standpoint, tend to create a lot of necessary similarities. Within those constraints, however, I think Ming has managed to produce a dive watch that ticks all of the boxes in terms of functionality and then some. As is usually the case with Ming watches, the pleasure is as much in the abstract properties of the watch as in its utility – that one-kilometer depth spec is an impressive number on its own, but to do it in a watch that doesn’t look like it belongs on the tentacle of the Kraken instead of a human arm, is unusual and interesting. And if, like me, you have a helpless love of anything that glows in the dark, you’re going to love the 18.01 – it’s hard for me to look at it in the dark, with its eerie UFO-like profile and glow, without starting to hear the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind in my head.
The Ming 18.01 H41: case, grade 5 titanium, 40mm x 12.9mm, and 46mm lug-to-lug. 3.5mm-thick sapphire crystal with double AR coating; DLC coated one way, 60-click stainless steel bezel filled with Super-LumiNova XI. One kilometer/1,000 meters water resistance. Rigid case milled to hold the movement without spacer ring. Screw down crown, triple gaskets, with red safety indicator. Dial, two-part composite with ceramic HyCeram Super-LumiNova XI fused to sapphire; hands filled with SNL XI as well. Weight of watch head, 65 grams. Bracelet, five-link grade 5 titanium with quick-release curved spring bars, double deployant interlocking clasp. Movement, ETA 2824-2, modified for Ming by Schwartz-Etienne; 28,800 vph, with 40-hour power reserve; tested for 250 hours and adjusted to five positions. Price, CHF 3,250. Two-year warranty; made in Switzerland. For more, visit Ming-watch.com.