William Massena’s Massena LAB has created a handful of limited collaboration pieces with some of our favorite brands (we covered their effort with Unimatic here, and they previously collaborated with Habring and MB&F). This time, however, Massena is going it alone, with their first watch produced solely under their own name. The Massena LAB Uni-Racer feels like a very personal creation for Massena, a watch inspired by and paying homage to a cult favorite, wished into existence by Massena himself. That, in a way, is what all vintage inspired watches are to some degree, so it’s revealing to see what Massena has come up with here. Let’s take a closer look.
The Uni-Racer is inspired by Universal Geneve’s Uni-Compax, a watch that over the years has earned the nickname “The Big Eye” for its oversized 3:00 subdial. Massena began planning the Uni-Racer project in 2017 – he had always wanted a Uni-Compax, but its slightly smaller than average dimensions (the Big Eye measures about 36.5mm in diameter) and genuine rarity (it was produced for only two years, between 1964 and 1965, with potentially as few as 100 examples leaving the factory, according to some scholars) made it a tough watch to own on multiple fronts. The Uni-Racer is Massena’s contemporary interpretation of the Uni-Compax, and is the product of careful study of the original watch, even going so far as to speak with former Universal employees to ensure that important details are captured.
The first big update found in the Uni-Racer is a rethinking of the watch’s size. The watch case measures 39mm in diameter and is slimmed down to 13mm (including a 4mm domed crystal) thanks to the use of a hand wound movement, the Sellita SW510 M. This gives the watch a wearability for modern consumers that the original simply lacks being a little more than 2mm smaller, but it’s certainly not in oversized, or even “normal” sized territory for a modern watch. A 39mm diameter is probably the high end of what you can convincingly size a watch at to resemble the look and feel of vintage, and I think it’s a logical place to land for a chronograph in particular, as legibility is going to be greatly enhanced with a more spacious dial.
One of my favorite details of the new Uni-Racer is the case finishing. The angle and direction of the brushing has been carried over from the original Uni-Compax, a detail that Massena achieved through guidance from former Universal Geneve employees and suppliers. Obviously, with so few Big Eyes in existence, and even fewer in original condition, it’s hard to know exactly what these watches looked like when they left the factory, but the finishing here is a product of speaking with those who might have the best possible idea of such things.
Another detail that will bring a smile to the face of vintage chronograph fans is the acrylic crystal. This material will give the dial a warmth that you can’t achieve with sapphire, and produce pleasing optical distortions that vintage watch fans never tire of – it’s all part of the charm of an old watch, or a watch that’s made in the style of a prior generation. Massena LAB took pains to engineer the case so that it maintains 50 meters of water resistance in spite of the lack of sapphire, and they’ve even engraved the brand’s logo into the center of the crystal. Like I said, there are a lot of fun details in the Uni-Racer’s design, including the blued hands that have been reproduced to precisely the same hue as those on the Big Eye, and a crosshair dial that matches the original and accentuates its slight asymmetry.
We obviously see a lot of vintage inspired watches come across our desks at Worn & Wound, and it’s heartening to see one that pays such close attention to the spirit of the original timepiece that inspired it. It goes beyond aesthetics – it’s easy enough to reproduce a dial layout or color scheme. It’s more difficult to do the work involved in understanding the vintage watch, and what made it special. Even more so when that original watch is as rare as the Big Eye. William Massena hasn’t taken shortcuts here, and the end result seems to be a watch that pays appropriate tribute to a chronograph that might not be as easily understood as its contemporaries made by bigger brands that are still in existence.
We used the word “homage” up top, which is of course a loaded term in the watch world, and we anticipate that good natured and spirited debate will follow on how, exactly, to categorize the Uni-Racer. One thing to keep in mind is that an homage, in the dictionary sense of the word, is simply a tribute made with great respect, and Massena himself is upfront and deliberate about his intentions with this watch.
The Uni-Racer is available in two variants, a traditional panda style with a white base and black sub registers, and an inverted version with a black dial and silver sub registers. This watch, like the others already produced by Massena LAB, is a strict limited edition, with only 200 examples of each colorway being produced. The retail price is $3,495, and it goes on sale today via the Massena LAB website and the Hodinkee Shop. Massena LAB