When I reviewed the Melbourne Flinders some time ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the subtleties of the design and quality manufacturing. So, I was very excited last summer when they announced they were coming out with the Portsea, a playful variation on the Marine Chronometer style. I wasn’t the only one either, as their Kickstarter campaign for the watch raised just over $100k, nearly triple what they had asked for.
What struck me about the Portsea is that it wasn’t just another Marine watch, it really took the concept into a unique direction and used a cool movement, the Miyota 9120. By using this movement, Melbourne got to design around having a triple-calendar function, which added more complexity to the typically time only genre. The dial they came up with, which I’ll dig into below, has an ingenious design, adding depth and texture where it is usually absent. All in all, a striking watch… but also one that comes in at a fairly modest price of about $615 (fluctuates with currency), really sealing the deal.
Melbourne Watch Company Portsea Review
Movement: Miyota 9120
Strap: Faux-croc leather
Water Res.: 100M
Dimensions: 40 x 48 mm
Thickness: 12 mm
Lug Width: 21mm
Crown: 6 x 3 mm
Warranty: 2 years
The case of the Portsea is classic and handsome, with a subtle details that make it unique. Measuring 40 x 48 x 12mm, it’s a robust medium sized watch. It’s a great size for a Marine Chronometer style, as it’s much smaller than they classically are, but large enough to have the right feel. It is based on a piece of naval equipment, so it should and does have a solid heft and some ruggedness. With that said, the overall aesthetic is refined, airing on formal.
As with the Flinders, what strikes me about the Portsea case is that the design manages to be a twist on the very familiar. The lines, general shapes, etc, all speak to classic styles we’ve all seen before, yet tiny details make this their own design. Looking at if from above, you have a cylindrical center with slab sides, and long, gently contouring lugs protruding out. What makes it interesting is how the bezel, case and lugs all attach, sometimes intersecting. So, you have the bezel, which is a tall cylinder as well. This give the top surface a stepped appearance. Then the lugs raise above the middle case ever so slightly, intersecting with the bezel. This makes the lugs more pronounced, appearing longer, and as though there is deceptively complex construction.
On the right side of the case, you have a fairly standard push/pull crown measuring 6 x 3mm. It has wide teeth and a Melbourne “M” logo etched on the flat side. Just above that, at 2, is a sunken pusher used for advancing the month. Perhaps the most standout feature of the case is one that will typically not been seen, and that’s the caseback. Melbourne pulled out the stops to make a truly beautiful, sculptural case back. In the center there is a relief of an anchor with a sign in front and various naval/mythological symbol behind. It’s not just an elaborate etching, rather it has actual dimensionality to it. I love details like this that are only for the owner of the watch as they add more gravity to the object. This is also a nice change from seeing the rather plain looking Miyota 9000 series movements.
The case of the Portsea is great, but the dial is really where it comes alive. Once again, it takes a classic concept and riffs on it to make something new, refreshing, and perhaps more interesting than the source material. The dial is composed of a few layers that mix textures and materials for a dynamic outcome. The base layer is a matte surface with a texture of deep horizontal lines, with wide spaces between them. This serves as a nice backdrop to the rest of the design, immediately adding texture, activating the open spaces, but remaining reserved enough to not add noise. Also on this layer is a Melbourne logo at 12, “Portsea” in script and a date window at 6. Everything is well spaced and proportioned, not feeling cluttered.
The next layer up is actually made of ceramic, giving it a glossy sheen. Here is where most of the information is kept. There is an hour index with arabic numerals in a simple sans-serif typeface. Encircling this is another ceramic disk, this time quite thin with a railroad index, adding minute and second definition. At first, I didn’t realize this was its own layer, but the small shadows it casts revealed its height. The use of three tiers adds complexity to the dial as well as a greater sense of depth.
At 3 and 9 are floating sub-dials for the day and month functions, respectively. I love this execution. Sub-dials are so often sunken or flat, that this treatment is simply interesting by way of being different. The dials are actually rings connected to the middle ceramic layer. They echo each other in design, with three letter abbreviations for days/months and a small railroad indexes of their own. Since they are rings, they reveal the textured surface beneath them.
The two sub-dials are graphically the densest portions of the dial, perhaps needing a moment longer to read, but as they are date functions that are far less critical than the time at-a-glance. Conversely, the big open primary index is very clear and easy to read, so this all works out for the best. One thing I really love about this design is simply the symmetry. The date is at six, the sub-dials balance out, there are no interruptions in the main index… it just makes for a well balanced dial.
The two colors give quite different experiences of the dial, both attractive and enjoyable. The white is clearly the classic option. It’s about the cleanest white i’ve seen on a watch, with the mix of finishes giving it an almost frosty feel. The black indexes standout sharply on the surfaces for easy reading and the textured subsurface is more apparent as shadows have higher contrast. The dark blue is a unique and surprising option. The blue chosen is beautiful. It’s a dark navy that looks waxy on the matte sub-surface and crisp on the gloss ceramic. It’s not too blue becoming garish, nor not blue enough, becoming basically black. The white indexes standout well here too.
Both watches feature the same handset, blued on the white dial, polished on the blue dial. The hour and minutes are sharp, faceted “alpha” hands, clearly pointing to their respective marks. The seconds hands are thin sticks with Melbourne’s “M” counter-weight. The sub-dial hands are simple sticks with circular counters. The blued steel is ion plated, not heat treated (which is to be expected at this price point) but has the same effect. It looks black in some light, blue in others; it’s the right choice for the white dial. The polished hands stand out against the blue dial, perhaps adding a bit more of a formal edge.
The Portsea sports the Miyota 9120. It’s essentially a 9015 with a triple-calendar module on it, so it functions largely the same way and has similar stats. It’s a 26-jewel automatic with hand-winding, hacking seconds, day/month/date, 40+ hr power reserve and a frequency of 28,800 bph. To set the various dates, you pull the crown out to first position and turn it away from you for the date and towards you for the day. To set the month, you can either progress past the 31st, or use the sunken pusher on the case at 2, the latter being the more appropriate. As with all movements, but even more so here, be cautious changing the date between about 8pm and 2am, as that can damage the movement.
As with the 9015, the 9120 provides an excellent affordable alternative to Swiss movements. With this specific arrangement, there isn’t even an affordable Swiss alternative at all, with the added day/month functions likely having to come on an additional module. This really adds a ton of value to the watch, if you are looking for the calendar functions.
Straps and Wearability
The Portseas come mounted on German faux-croc straps. Oddly, the lug width is 21mm, which is a bit annoying for putting after market straps on, though 22’s should fit. The straps themselves are beautifully made with firm padding, clean edges and matching stitch. The have a tapering design that suits the feel of the watch. Like the Flinders, they have an elegant, custom Melbourne buckle. My one complaint is that due to the springbar positioning, the straps rub against the case.
The blue dial version comes on a blue strap that matches the dial perfectly. This creates a very fluid, and very blue, aesthetic that is on the formal side. The white dial comes on a dark brown, that also works very well. I was glad to see that it came on brown, rather than black. The brown is a bit more stylish and casual, playing off of the white dial and blued steel differently. Swapping the straps had an interesting effect. On the blue, the brown strap makes it look darker and warmer, almost casting a purple haze on the dial. On the white, the blue strap really pushes the nautical feel in a cool way, giving it a much preppier look.
These watches wear so well, it’s amazing. They have just perfect proportions for a good business-casual watch. They are small enough to be discreet, big enough to have a nice, masculine presence. The mix of the 40mm case and the complex dial also makes them feel a bit more compact than they really are, which adds to their general wearabilty. They also wear a bit lower than 12mm, as the caseback presses into your wrist (not in an uncomfortable way), though they aren’t thin by any means. This could present an issue with a tight cuff, but that didn’t happen to me.
Aesthetically, they are also really enjoyable. I think every collections needs a Marine Chronometer of some sort, as they are a nice mix of formal and casual elements, for something versatile that is a nice change from a sport watch. The triple-calendar, layered dial and texturing add complexity to the Portsea that distinguish it from the herd. The two dial colors do present a challenging choice though. As with every collection having a Marine watch, I think a good white dial watch makes sense as well, and they work together so naturally… That said, the dark blue is perhaps the more unique of the two, providing an all together different experience. Either way, rock these with khakis, boat shoes or ranger mocs, oxfords, etc… and you’ll have a great look… bonus preppy points if your tie or belt has whales on it.
The Melbourne Portsea really impressed me, as is probably very evident. They are unique and attractive. They play off of something classic, but aren’t derivative. They have beautiful details, especially on the dial and caseback, that distinguish them… And they simply look damn good. The choice of movement was also very smart, as it’s an underused variation and adds values.
Lastly, at $613, they are a very good value. They are in-line with other Miyota 9000 series powered watches coming out, but have no stock parts and a dial that must have added cost. They also are still far enough below most entry level Swiss watches to feel like they are priced accordingly… despite offering more. All in all, if the look appeals to you, the Portsea is a great option.