MKII is a bit of an anomaly in the watch world. Their watches are immediate cult favorites, they base their designs largely if not entirely on classic designs from military and tool watches from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and they are basically a company of one. MKII is the project of Bill Yao, a perfectionist with an eye for the details and obsessive dedication to quality and execution. In hand, a MKII has the feel of a watch worth much more. These are not just dials and movements and cases put together and sold, each piece is carefully designed, assembled, examined and tested. They are all built with top quality components, and though their prices reflect this all, they are not outrageously priced.
Case: 316L Steel
Movement: ETA 2836-2
Water Res.: 200m
Dimensions: 39.2 x 47.95mm
Thickness: 14.5 mm
Lug Width: 20 mm
Crown: 7 x 4 mm screw down
Weight: 144g on bracelet (our measure)
MKII’s most recent release, the Nassau, is on the surface a Submariner homage. The Nassau is a follow up to their much sought after limited edition Kingston model, which was a reference 6538 “James Bond” homage with a gilt dial and golden hands that ran for around $1,500. The Nassau utilizes much of the same design aesthetic, referring to Subs from the late 50’s early 60’s that had cases with no crown guards, but drops the gilt line and gold hands to come in at around $900. Yet, it still features a doubled domed sapphire crystal, rhodium plated hands and an ETA 2836-2 automatic movement. It’s also the first MKII to wear the badge of “Assembled in the USA”, having been manufactured in Switzerland, but put together by MKII at their offices in PA.
So, when reviewing this watch there are really two things going on. One is clearly that it is a Sub homage. That might end your interest in the watch right there, and that is totally fair. Homage watches can be contentious, we know this quite well and have written about the topic recently. But as an homage watch there is the topic of whether or not the watch is well executed, which we will discuss. The second thing going on is what I described before, and that is the sheer craftsmanship and quality that the watch exudes, making it, beyond it’s homage status, a worthwhile watch to wear and own.
The Nassau is sporting a 39.2 x 47.95 x 14.5mm (exact numbers thanks to MKII) stainless steel case, including the domed sapphire crystal. It’s a marvelously finished case that stays very true to its Sub roots, though is slightly larger than the models from the 50’s, giving it a more modern feel. The top surface has a clean brushing to it, the sides are high polish, and along the edge is a polished line that curves with the case. This is a detail that really brings the case alive visually. The case back is very plain, featuring just a think line of text around the otherwise polished screw down back. At 3 is a 7mm signed crown, but no crown guards, which is part of the Nassau’s vintage identity. The crown’s design is simple and functional, and features a triple seal for water resistance. The watch also features drilled lugs, which is not just a practical detail, but true to the Sub look.
The bezel of the Nassau has a 60-click unidirectional mechanism that is very precise and has a reassuringly snappy feel. It’s a relatively thin bezel with small but functional teeth around its edge. The aluminum insert angles upwards leading into the double-domed internally AR coated sapphire crystal that tops off the watch. Though perhaps the most modern element of the watch, it is very welcome, and the large dome does have a bit of a retro feeling on its own. The transition from bezel to crystal is also extremely well achieved, giving the watch a seamlessness that speaks to the build quality.
It goes without saying that a Sub homage is going to have the classic Sub dial markings and layout, and the Nassau is no exception, though it does have some stand out detailing. The dial is matte black with all white indexes. Along the perimeter of the dial is a thin white line with small hash marks for each minute, which get bolder for every 5th minute. The main index has the iconic Sub layout with large dots at 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10 and 11, rectangles for 3, 6 and 9 and a large triangle at 12. It’s worth noting that the Nassau has a date free dial.
It’s a simple, clean and timeless design, hence its remarkable popularity. Around each of the markers is a thin white line, which would have been gold on the LE Kingston. Though it’s a simple detail, the exact placement of the lume within the white outline gives the dial a cleanness and precision that speaks to the relentless eye for detail that is a hallmark of the brand. Below 12 is a MKII logo and the words “auto-winding”. Above 6 it simply reads “200m ~ 660ft”, which is a classic Sub marking. The overall lack of text is appreciated as it keeps the dial clean and not overly referential.
The bezel insert has the typical Sub layout as well, with markings for the first 15 minutes and numerals every ten minutes alternating with thick lines. The font for the numerals is a thin rounded font with a vintage feel. At 0/60 is a red triangle with a small lume dot that gives the watch a sudden jolt color that is very cool, and one of my favorite aesthetic details of the watch.
For the hands of the Nassau, MKII went with rhodium plated hour and minute hands and a solid white seconds hand. Rhodium is an interesting material that at a glance looks like polished steel, but has a sheen similar to silver. It is subtle, but it does enhance the appearance of the hands. Needless to say, the hour hand is “Mercedes” style and the minute is a long, thin sword. All of the hands, the large markings on the dial and the lume dot on the bezel are filled with SuperLumiNova BG W9, which has an icey blue glow. I was very glad to see that they went with something a bit different here. Not only does it glow effectively, it looks very cool, giving the watch a modern twist.
Straps and Wearability
The Nassau comes mounted on a genuinely superb bracelet that really ties the whole vintage inspired homage theme together. As one would expect, it is a steel Oyster style bracelet, but rather than stopping there with the basic look, MKII designed it to look like a very old version of the bracelet. First off, it’s a tapering design that starts at 20mm at the lugs, and thins down in steps to 16mm at the clasp. This is thinner than most contemporary bracelets get at the clasp, but it looks great, still feels sturdy and is quite comfortable. The bracelet also feels a bit like the rolled link bracelets you find on old Subs. They have a slight flex to them that the MKII somewhat recreates by having a bit of extra play between the links.
Then, rather than having flat sides and push through pins, each link has polished plates on both sides held on by pins and screws. This has a strong visual impact as the heads of the screws and pins stick out significantly, giving a studded appearance. I happen to really like this detail, it gives the Nassau a genuinely vintage style, while still being a modern made watch. The only downside is that it makes the links difficult to change. Since you have to use screwdrivers on both sides, it is hard to keep the bracelet from slipping. I ended up using a table-vice to hold one of my screwdrivers, and then gently pushed the bracelet against it to stop slipping, which worked. At least once it is sized you will not likely have to deal with that again.
Naturally, a great alternative to the bracelet is a nylon NATO. There isn’t one included, but considering they usually cost from ten to twenty dollars, it’s worth getting one for a more military and sporty feel. I threw the Nassau on a brown Maratac, and was immediately enamored by the combo. Not that I, you… we haven’t seen a million photos of Subs and Sub homages on NATOs before, but when you see it in person, you really understand how perfect it is. The red triangle on the bezel of the Nassau jumps out against the darker material, giving the watch a touch more edge.
If you like the look of a Sub, you’ll love the look of the Nassau on your wrist. It’s a very nimble diver with a lot of character and a touch of elegance. The MKII’s all around excellent execution and detailing really come through when you put the watch on. It looks and feels gorgeous and well built. Naturally the design credit for the Sub aesthetic belongs to Rolex, but MKII’s interpretation, mixing various elements, gives the Nassau a unique character within the genre of Sub homage.
The Nassau arrives heavily protected with tape and vinyl wraps, tucked in the foam insert of MKII’s overbuilt case. It’s a large plastic case with an integrated handle and 2 snap-tight clasps. Inside, there are multiple pieces of foam, one of which has several cavities in it. The cavities can hold up to 3 watches, each in its own compartment, as well as some tools and straps if necessary. The MKII comes with a spring bar tool and a vile of extra spring bars for good measure. As far as packaging goes, this is a simple but very functional case you can keep around and use for travel that certainly will protect your watch in transit. It’s also fairly low profile, making it easy to store in a drawer or closet.
The MKII Nassau isn’t a watch for everyone, but it’s not really meant to be. First, it’s a Submariner homage, which unto itself will limit its audience. Second, it’s pricy for an homage watch at $895. But while both these things are true, the Nassau is also an incredibly well made and superbly executed watch. Everything about it is simply beautiful, from the case finishing to the sharp dial to the vintage-styled bracelet. When you first see the Nassau, covered in protective tape and vinyl, you can immediately tell that the Sub style was a conduit for MKII to make an incredible timepiece.
And when you look at it from the standpoint of execution and components, the watch is actually quite fairly priced. Don’t forget, on top of the finishing, etc, the Nassau is packing a domed sapphire, rhodium plated hands and an ETA 2836-2 automatic movement, which is often considered better in quality than the more typical 2824-2 (not something I can personally speak to). Lastly, the watch is Swiss made, but assembled in the US, which is something I find very appealing. The people behind this brand don’t just order their watches and hope everything goes well. They, or more specifically Bill Yao, put a lot of care into each watch.
So, in the end I think there are a couple types of people who are going to be really drawn to this watch. First are those of you who are looking for a superb Sub homage with vintage looks, and are willing to pay extra for precise detailing and execution. In the end, what you are getting is a lot more than an homage watch. Secondly are those of you who know Bill Yao from his days of making mod parts and custom watches through the growth of MKII. Every watch he makes, and it says this somewhere in his about pages, is intended to be better than the last, making the Nassau yet another achievement worth collecting.
By Zach Weiss