Hands-On With The New UNIMATIC X Massena LAB Marine U1-MLM

Whatever your take on 2020, one thing is for sure: it’s been a great year for collaborations. We’ve seen 5 pretty cool examples just this month already, and there’s no sign of slowing down. We love it when small independent brands join forces to bring a collaborative vision to life, such as we saw with Vianney Halter and Louis Erard. Today that list gets a new entry with a(nother) watch from Unimatic and Massena LAB: the Marine U1-MLM. Inspired by French Navy dive watches of the ‘60s, the U1-MLM brings a vibrant blue color scheme to the minimal dive watch stylings of Unimatic.

The Marine U1-MLM marks the second collaboration between Unimatic and Massena LAB, with the first being the Modello Uno U1-ML6 released earlier this year. Massena LAB is the brainchild of William Massena, who we recently spoke with on Episode 162 of the Worn & Wound podcast. Their first effort got the full vintage treatment, including a unique tropical dial that will lighten with age. The theme there was to bring many of the vintage dive watch tropes to life within the bold confines of the Unimatic Modello Uno, a very modern and capable dive watch from Italy. The U1-ML6 sold all 99 examples rather quickly, so it seemed a safe bet to expect a follow up. Enter the Marine U1-MLM. 

The newest watch receives a blue dial and aluminum bezel insert to match, accented by subtle, off-white hour plots and hands. Sounds pretty straightforward, but there’s more going on under the surface here. The color scheme as a whole was inspired by the professional dive watches used by the French Navy circa 1960. Looking closer, it’s clear that the bezel and dial have not received your typical application of blue. They have depth and aren’t meant to be static in nature.

The bezel insert is light blue in direct light, but shifts quickly to darker tones at an angle thanks to the (quite subtle) matte texture. Minute hashes appear around the entire bezel, with a lume pip at 12 carrying a dollop of noticeably off-white lume. The insert itself is set within a broader bezel assembly, and is outlined by two bare metal rings on either side. The assembly is a 120 click unit that has nearly zero play in its action. 

Moving to the dial, we are presented with a light blue that’s been slightly desaturated, though don’t expect uniformity here. The blue coloration is achieved through a depigmentation process, and the results will vary between navy and turquoise, making each dial unique. Super-LumiNova is applied by hand to the hour markers and hands, providing a charm that may not stick out at you, but you’ll definitely notice. In typical Unimatic fashion, the branding is kept to a minimum, and appears only at 6 o’clock. The result is a watch that transcends the sum of its parts, and truly must be seen to fully appreciate the subtlety in its variances.

The case is harsh and geometric, serving as a point of contrast to the dial and bezel. There isn’t a bevel in sight, leaving the case to appear as if straight out of a cubist’s mind. It’s bold, but somehow wearable thanks to the restrained proportions. The case measures 41.5mm in diameter, and 13.5mm in thickness, with a 49mm lug to lug measurement. It’s not small, but it’s surprisingly wearable if you don’t need it to fit under a tailored cuff. 

Buyers will receive two straps with the watch: a French Navy style olive strap with a yellow line down its center, and a blue heavy-duty Unimatic nylon strap. The lug span is 22mm and this will be a fun model to experiment with all manner of strap from your collection. 

The Unimatic X Massena LAB Marine U1-MLM uses the automatic Seiko NH35A (yes, there is a phantom stop in the crown), and will be limited to 200 individually numbered units at a price of $895. More from Massena LAB here.

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Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent his professional life covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seiko to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.