Normally when you write a review you attempt to be impartial, to set aside any bias or prejudgement you might have and be as fair as you can to the watchmaker and your readers. This is a massively biased review. Let me explain.
I first corresponded with Dan Fock back in 2009 when I was writing for ABlogToWatch, when I got the MS-5517 to review. Ten years ago! That initial email and review blossomed into a friendship that I count among my closest, despite the fact we’ve never met, and over that time I’ve reviewed and owned two or three 5517s, both on ABtW and my previous site, WatchOtaku. I’ve also recommended OWC to other sites and friends, both as a fine watch and as a company deserving of publicity. Heck, I even remade his website for a while! I’m an advocate, not an impartial judge. Thinking about those things led me to reuse the idea and title behind my Scurfa review – “You should buy a Scurfa dive watch.” Because I think that you should buy an OWC.
On a closely related note, impartial reviews can and should stick to the original straps and bracelets. I, however, while strongly a bracelet guy, do not like the OWC bracelet as too heavy, so this review will feature straps that I prefer, with of course details and links.
Let’s get started.
You’re looking at three generations of OWC, so let’s start there. I would characterize Dan’s watch philosophy as “kaizen,” the Japanese term for continuous improvement. Often seen in manufacturing and research, kaizen here means that every generation of OWC is subtly different and better than the last. That can be difficult as a prospective customer, as there’s always the dilemma of “buy now and enjoy” versus “wait for the next, improved model” as famously sunk the Osborne computer company. Here, we have my MS-6538 “Big crown” leftmost, a previous-generation MS-9411 “Snowfake” center and MS-9411-GD “Gradient Dial” on the right. Straps are the Moose Strap “Premium Slim Nato”, the Toxic Magnum and the Scurfa blue, respectively. More later on the straps.
Let’s start with the differences and commonalities. The center 9411 has a Rolex-style bezel edge, while the others have knurled (crosscut) edges. Ditto with crowns, coin edge vs knurled. I find knurling to be easier to grip, espectially when wet, muddy or begrimed, though honestly either style works well. All three watches have mechanical movements, lume-inlaid ceramic bezels, 316L stainless steel cases, 20mm lugs with Torx-bolt bars, screw-down crowns, sapphire crystals with dual-side antireflective coatings and solid steel casebacks.
The 6538 has Mercedes-style hour hand and a red second hand, Sub-style circle and rectangle hour markers, black rehaut and large crown with no crown guards. The 9411 has Snowflake hands, square/rectangle markers, minute marks on the dial, a brushed steel rehaut and deeper red second hand and a bezel that adds minute markers from zero to 15 plus a date window at 4:30. The gradient dial 9411 moves the minute markers onto a black rehaut, goes to matching orange OWC logo/second hand and reverts to 5 minute spacing on the bezel. And of course the spectacular central color gradient dial, shading from medium to deep blue, paired with the addition of applied markers; the GD is by far the most luxury-watch of the three.
The cases are pretty similar. Note, and this is important, the Torx-key bars – while incredibly strong and reliable, the larger holes don’t work with straps that have quick-release springbars, so no Barton canvas or silicone on these.
The 6538, photographed to show the applied markers and anti-reflective coatings.
The 9411, showing similar hand finishing, printed markers and crown.
At this angle, the gradient isn’t visible but can see that its gloss finished versus matte, as well as the very well finished applied markers and hands. This dial is just plain sexy.
See what I mean?
At most angles the gradient stuns.
As I like in a luxury watch, the reflective surfaces provide a varying and beautiful play of light.
The cases are so well made that they are optically flat – I initially tried to lightbox these but decided to show how good the polishing is.
So you can selfie on the side of your watch. Also note that the tiny screws in the bezels, it’s user-serviceable in case you get sand or grit in the mechanism.
Casebacks use the same Torx bit. These watches are super tough and Dan personally pressure tests each one. Dan, in fact, spent a lot of money on a pressure testing machine to do so.
Each OWC comes in a Pelican-style, OWC-branded waterproof box that I reuse when on the beach. Outside of the Pelican case, is the custom designed and made outer case, cut from bombproof 1cm thick high density polyethlene that is initially a puzzle to open. Here you can also see why I chose the blue Scurfa strap – it matches the dial almost perfectly and is the most comfortable dive strap I own.
Here you can see what’s in the box: two OWC-branded Torx drivers, the butterfly-deployant bracelet, spare bars and the amazing OWC kangaroo strap. It’s summer here, and sweat ruins leather, otherwise I’d simply wear them on the kangaroo all the time as its a wonderful, comfortable strap that looks fantastic.
Showing the strap lining, solid end links and deployant clasp. Also note the foam cubes in the Pelican case; this lets you customize the storage space in case you want to reuse it for a camera, phone, etc.
Dan also made some commercial silver coins with custom logo. If you buy a snowflake you’ll get one. Beautiful, mirror-polished silver in a clear plastic case, it’s mesmerizing to play with.
Here’s pics from Dan showing the OWC coin. He only had two of these made so far but more may be forthcoming next year.
I paired this 9411 with the bulkier Toxic Magnum strap. It’s similar in comfort to the Scurfa but styled like an Isofrane, with both straps being strong, flexible and having lots of closely-spaced sizing holes. You can get both from Toxic Natos.
Sorry about the residual fingerprint.
This feels to me more like a rugged, get shit done and don’t mess around watch. I appreciate having the date function, too.
I like the minute markers better on the rehaut, but here it does make precise time easier to discern and it’s a legible, well-balanced dial.
That’s what you see when you open the box, before I removed the bracelets.
So which watch would I recommend? I’m torn, and here’s why – the 9411 has the date that I like for an everyday watch and a no-nonsense, functional look. The gradient dial, however, is great for when I want something beautiful and and superbly detailed, and it’s a great example of why blue dials are popular. I love what color and gradient bring to the functional OWC look and the negative space on the dial is reminiscent of the nine! thousand! dollar! Blancpain Bathyscaphe that I covet in vain. Also, I already have my 6538, and the 9411 might be a bit too similar in terms of style.
Interestingly, the snowflake hands are quite a bit more legible than the mercedes hands on the 6538; day or night the 9411s are faster and easier to read.
So I’ve already told Dan that I want to buy a gradient dial for myself. And I may end up with the 9411 as well. At $1,200 to $1,500 each, these are simultaneously less expensive than most Swiss-made and more expensive than many microbrands. I’ve used macro lens pictures to try and capture the fineness of finishing so that you can understand why I think they represent value for money. Subjectively, they feel like luxury dive watches, especially the gradient dial, yet I don’t hesitate to wear them into the ocean or hiking. They occupy a fiercely contested price range, of course, and there are scads of competitors to consider as well. I’d point to Monta, Farer, RGM, and maybe Benarus/Raven, Weiss, NTH and Nodus.
One important note: one psychological component of luxury is recognition, in which other people can tell what you’re wearing and infer cost and social status from it. OWC is almost opposite to that, in that they sell in small numbers, advertise very little and generally don’t carry the prices or margins required, so if you want to emphasize your success, look to brands that advertise more. This carries credibility on another axis, that of skill and knowledge, so among watch geeks you will have status, but frankly that’s not a very good reason since most people just don’t care.
These are superbly made watches that you can rely upon.
In the all-important functionality, there are two key aspects not photographed here: timekeeping and luminosity. All of these, and indeed every OWC watch, are hand-tuned and adjusted by Dan’s watchmaker before they are shipped, and indeed each of these keeps COSC or better time. The movements are either ST1812 or Soprod A10, but honestly they’re similar in handwinding, feel and accuracy, with the same 28,800vph beat rate and ease of service. All are better in thinness than the 2824, and are all easy to service by any watchmaker.
Normally I have lume photographs, but the camera I use with my lume rig has been donated to a cousin and my Lumix macro lens can’t focus properly. So please accept my apologies and also that these are all spectacularly lumed, visible all night and equal to almost any dive watch made.
I will be shipping the 9411s to the time bum for review, but as I said above I hope to buy one or both for my collection. And given my quartz bias, this is my highest praise and recommendation. These are superb watches and like it says on the tin, I think you should buy an OWC dive watch. Tell Dan I said hi.