Just a few weeks ago, I reviewed the Melbourne Portsea, which was a really strong new model from the young brand. It was a clever twist on a classic style with plenty of unique details. Well, now Melbourne is back with the launch of their newest watch, the Avalon, via Kickstarter. Their fifth watch release to date, the Avalon is a departure from the brand’s previous designs. Rather than a take on a more subdued or dress style, this watch is a large, aggressive pilot in full black DLC. But in true Melbourne style, they took a unique approach that makes it thoroughly their own.
The case of the Avalon is unabashedly large at 45 x 53.7mm, but surprisingly flat at 11mm. With the wide 24mm lugs, it looks and feels broad and masculine, and is best worn on larger wrists for it. The case design immediately says “pilot” but has some details that make it different from the herd. First, the lugs are faceted with a wide bevel on the side and front. This immediately makes it feel more contemporary and aggressive. Next, the crown is completely shielded by large guards that jut out suddenly from the side.
Perhaps the clearest is the use of matte DLC for the mid case, bezel and crown, and no steel option. This watch is meant to be stealthy and have a high contrast dial, which this finishing achieves. The matte DLC has a very smooth and clean finish that perhaps slightly down plays the size, but accentuates the lines of the facets. Flipping the watch over, you have a non-DLC display case back showing off the Miyota 90S5 automatic movement, which is an open-heart version of the 9015, so it looks just about the same. Around the display window is an etched turbine swirl that ties with the theme of the watch.
The dial is where Melbourne truly departs from the norm and ties in some of the brand’s distinct flavor. When I think of the Flinders and Portsea, what comes to mind is a great use of texture on the dial, and the Avalon stays true to this. The Avalon then goes its own way with the use of high contrast lume. The matte black surface is heavily grained giving it a unique sheen and a lot of depth. There is an outer ring of broad concentric circles that pull the eye in to the central area, which has a texture that is altogether different, and a bit tricky to describe as there is a sort swirling pattern, though very appealing.
On the outer ring is a primary index of applied steel markers with bright orange lume filling, that are longer at 12, 3, 6 and 9, giving the dial a slight cross-hair feel. Because the applied markers are dimensional, they add yet another textural element to the dial. There is a funny play of styles going on with the markers. On one hand, their shape works with a pilot watch, though pilots are more typically printed, and the hot lume feels very aggressive, keeping in line with the attitude of the case. On the other, they have a slightly dressier feel, especially as they glint in the light.
Around the very outer edge of the dial is a minutes/seconds index in light grey. It’s quite faint, so it doesn’t stand out on the dial, which is good as it easily could have gotten too busy. That said, it seems more decorative than functional as it can’t be seen in lower light. At 5.5 is a large aperture exposing the balance of the movement. This is the first so-called “open heart” watch Melbourne has made, and using it on a pilot was a bold choice, one the will likely be divisive.
Open hearts are more typically found on dress watches as they have an ornate, decorative feel, but on the Avalon they tried to tie it in to the theme. So, you have a propeller style bridge bolted to the dial over the balance with a black and yellow striped “warning” graphic along part of the opening’s edge. Both are a clear nod to aviation, while the actual balance adds some more motion to the dial. I honestly can’t make up my mind on having this on the dial. I enjoyed seeing the balance, and the propeller bridge is cool, but I also like the textures of the dial and high contrast lume, so this sort of distracted from those elements, like they all wanted to be the star. Perhaps for my eyes, which prefer subtlety over most other things, one element could have been removed… the warning graphic seems the most novel, so that wouldn’t be missed, but maybe the seconds hand itself could have been eliminated to make the balance the only point of motion.
The Avalon features big, broad Roman swords for the hour and minutes hands. Both are partially skeletonized towards the center of the dial, with the rest having the same bright orange lume filling as the markers. The second hand is a solid hot-orange stick with Melbourne’s signature “M” counter weight. The Roman sword hands were a logical choice for this watch, and they work well. Their large size is well proportioned to the expansive dial and case.
The Avalon comes mounted on a 24mm (the one on the sample was slightly under) black leather strap with black stitching. It’s straight cut and fairly thick in true pilot style. The strap is an obvious choice, as well as the correct choice. I was glad to see that they didn’t use hot orange stitching or something equally cheesy. Finishing off the strap is Melbourne’s signature buckle, which has been DLCed to match the case.
On the wrist, the Avalon wears big, which is to be expected given it’s dimensions. It’s long and wide, while also being quite flat so you have to have a sizable wrist to pull it off. Admittedly, I prefer smaller watches, so I found it a bit too big for my 7″ wrist, but I could see how it would work on the right wrist. Regardless, the look of the watch is very distinct and a interesting departure from typical pilots. The play of the high contrast orange and heavy texturing makes for a piece that despite being very aggressive, has elegant elements as well. And while I’d consider it to be a more casual wear, it did go nicely with khakis and an oxford.
Any large pilot watch will likely only appeal to certain people to begin with, as simply not everyone can pull them off, but if you are one of those people the Melbourne Avalon offers a unique twist on the style. The combination of the DLC case, open-heart dial and high contrast lume give it a distinct personality that works well. Amazingly, while nothing on it looks quite like that of other pilots, it is clearly a pilot. The ability to create unique designs within the boundaries of classic and very saturated genres is definitely one of Melbourne’s strongest features as a brand.
The Avalon will retail for about $600 USD when it is available. For a DLC coated watch with a sapphire crystal and Miyota 90S5 movement, this price is totally in line with current trends. That said, you can get one for less through their Kickstarter. So, if you’re inclined to pick one up and help support Melbourne on this new watch, head over to their campaign, which runs to March 17th, 2015. If you’re one of the first 50 backers, the price will come to a more modest $445.