Almost one year ago I had the pleasure of reviewing the Melbourne Watch Company’s Portsea models. A play on Marine chronometers, these nautically themed watches had great style, unique elements, a cool movement with calendar complications and a great price. They were, and still are, one of my favorite casual watches under $1,000. By taking a classic style and adding some modern elements, namely a layered dial that utilizes ceramic discs, they created something very successful and very wearable.
To follow up the first series, Melbourne has taken the interesting approach of making a more stripped down and therein more affordable version with the Portsea Heritage. Typically, brands tend to add in more complex versions with the success of a simple three-hander, but in a move that speaks to Melbourne’s goal of making very obtainable watches, the new Heritage version drops the Miyota 9120 for a Seiko NH35 and sheds about $200 of the price tag coming in in the low $400’s (currency and model depending).
With that said, the Heritage model shares just about everything else from the case design to the quality execution with a few minor differences. The full polished 40 x 48 x 12mm case is an ideal size for a Marine design, which are often much larger. I say ideal because it’s a style that needs some mass, presence and masculinity, which the size provides, while also being comfortable to wear casually, and still reserved enough for dressier circumstances. On the wrist, the watch sits just right, while the thickness reminds you that this is based on nautical instrumentation.
There is one significant change, though it’s hard to see with the naked eye. The lug width went from 21mm to 20mm, and the lugs got slightly thicker, likely to balance it out. I say significant, since, to me, the 21mm lug width was probably the only real draw back of the original as 21mm straps are less common and squeezing in 22’s is never ideal. Now that’s simply not an issue, and the wider lugs give the watch a slightly more masculine look.
Flipping the watch over reveals one of my favorite details, the glorious stamped case back. It’s sculptural, infringing and a nice change from seeing yet another stock Seiko or Miyota movement. It’s also a detail that they manage to pull off in a $400 watch that succeeds in concept and execution over watches costing many times more.
The dial concept is the same, but new for the Heritage is a black option, seen here. Alongside white and blue, black rounds out the color choices for something a bit more conservative and formal. The dial layout is essentially the same, but the floating calendar sub-dials have been removed. You have a matt base layer with ridges that provides a textural back drop. Then you have the gloss ceramic disk on which stark white numerals are printed. Then one last layer with a white railroad index. I loved the watch with the calendar, and I expected it to feel a bit lacking with out, but the cleaner and more reduced dial works just as well. Perhaps it’s because of the black coloration which imbues some starkness to the watch, but the dial feels more serious, more formal. Melbourne also matched the date to the dial across each color of the Heritage. Even the black dial with gold PVD case has a sort of gold text on black surface.
The black Portsea Heritage comes on a German-made faux-croc leather strap in black. It’s the obvious choice to go with the black dial, furthering the more formal appearance of the watch. I personally might have liked a dark brown instead, but now that the lugs are 20mm, it’s easy to find a replacement, including other faux-crocs. The strap itself is well executed, gently tapering towards the buckle and featuring matching thread. The buckle is that same, and very nice, signature buckle we saw on the original Portsea as well as the Flinders. Another nice touch that adds value.
Simply put, if you we’re a fan of the original Portsea, you’re going to like the Heritage. And if you’re a fan of marine chronometers, you’re very likely to like the Heritage. Perhaps the price tag or the calendar complication on the original wasn’t your cup of tea. If that’s the case, the stripped down dial and sub $500 price tag will make this a sure fit. As far as the color goes, the black is nice and formal. The white dial is a bit preppy and classic marine. Both great options, but the blue dial still may be my favorite, as a really good blue is hard to come by, and the context of a nautical watch is the perfect place for one. So head over to Melbourne to pick one up if you’re so inclined…oh, and get 15% off with code wandw.