Massena LAB x Revolution Uni-Racer 1949
Presenting our first collaboration with Massena LAB, the Uni-Racer 1949, a modern mechanical chronograph with an elegant mid-century aesthetic.
It gives me great pleasure to announce our collaboration with Massena LAB, a Massena LAB Uni-Racer inspired by a legendary chronograph watch from 1949. It uses the 39mm Uni-Racer platform created by William Massena and features a tribute to a Patek Philippe chronograph with one of the most famous dials ever created — a black lacquer model with a luminous Roman numeral sector ring, and luminous syringe hands in blued steel surrounded by a tachymeter.
While the vintage watch is a million-dollar-plus unicorn, we wanted to create a contemporary timepiece that channels the emotional expressiveness of this unique design, with all the benefits of an excellent Swiss-made mechanical sports chronograph.
The Massena LAB Uni-Racer 1949 will be made in just 120 examples and is priced at USD3,750.
Massena: Made for Greatness
There is a picture of William Massena in 1978 when he was seven years old, around the time he received his first watch. What is extraordinary about this image is that you can already tell that Massena was already in full possession of a preternatural sensitivity to elegance. In the picture, his hair is wind swept and coiffed like a miniature polo player riding resplendently back after a victorious sixth chukka. His scarf is slip knotted and canted at a debonair angle. The fit of his navy cardigan and slacks is immaculate. And the sage green Omega Seamaster 120 adorning his wrist is worn with rakish élan.
Now, I have come across many people in the world who think they have taste — individuals fully convicted that their personal vision of style is the apotheosis of irrefutable elegance. Most of them are wrong. Indeed, I can count on one hand the number of human beings (Nick Foulkes and Mark Cho amongst them) I know who are in full possession of an aesthetic sensibility so refined that if style were a martial art, they would have achieved a 10th-degree black belt, though one invariably crafted from woven silk and hand monogrammed by the Colban siblings of Charvet fame.
Massena is one of these individuals. Even Massena’s manner of speech is so erudite, cosmopolitan and totally unplaceable (he grew up between Switzerland and the South of France) that I’ve always thought he would either make the perfect gentleman spy, or perhaps the greatest Bond villain of all time.
It is Massena’s intelligence, his fierce intellectual curiosity, his encyclopedic knowledge of all things sartorial and horological, his fearlessness in disagreeing with others and his rapier sharp wit that make him the center of attention at any table. But it is his capacity to share information and his love for discourse that saw Massena becoming one of the seminal figures in shaping watch knowledge in the 1990s.
An AltaVista search on “Rolex Sea-Dweller” brought him to TimeZone in its nascent form, and there, he became a central figure in the very first online watch forum. Before long, Massena found his attention turned toward Patek Philippe.
One of his first acquisitions occurred in 1998 and it was (at the time) the earth-shatteringly large Lemania 2310 based chronograph and successor to the legendary 1463 — the 42mm Patek reference 5070. He was also an early champion of A. Lange & Söhne and is the owner of a first-generation Datograph on a highly coveted Wellendorff bracelet. He owns one of François-Paul Journe’s earliest Tourbillon Souverain watches, which he ordered after meeting the man at lunch and falling in love with his watchmaking vision.
What is special about Massena is his capacity to immediately identify greatness and fully commit to it with complete confidence. Oftentimes, watch collectors wait for a global consensus to form before ordering a watch or deciding to support a watchmaker. Massena — and I mean this in the best way possible — only listens to himself, to that inner compass that invariably steers him toward to truth and greatness.
The Story of Massena LAB: What If … He Made a Watch?
Massena has had many incarnations over his professional life. He started off as a banker but his love for watches eventually had him opening a vintage watch shop in Miami and in New York. He went from moderating TimeZone to becoming its managing director when it was purchased by WatchNet. Eventually, the auction house Antiquorum purchased TimeZone and made Massena an offer to become its chief operating officer. But it was with the creation of Massena LAB in 2018 that William Massena found his true calling.
He describes Massena LAB not so much as the creator of collaborative limited edition watches but more of a “horological think tank.” He explains, “It is a place where we can explore the question ‘What if?’ I remember as collectors we would always ask each other, ‘What if a brand were to make this or that version of their watch, or they were to resurrect a past icon?’”
Massena then draws an analogy between Massena LAB and an independent movie production house. He elaborates, “It all starts with an idea. Either I pitch the idea to a watch brand who acts like the movie director, or they pitch the idea to me. If we like it, we agree on a budget and I finance the movie and we put it into production. The watchmakers are like actors who make it a reality and as the producer, I distribute the movie.”
Of course, the rapid proliferation of social media and e-commerce also means that Massena is able to reach the client directly and they transact with his company. Says Massena, “Yes, social media, in particular Instagram, is a game changer. The fact that millions of people can see the image of a watch the moment it is launched and shared is incredibly powerful.”
In fact, the roots of Massena LAB reach back to 2015. Says Massena, “It was TimeZone’s 20th anniversary and I wanted to celebrate this by creating a limited edition of 20 watches. One of my favorite watchmakers is Richard Habring, so I approached him to create a monopusher chronograph. The success of this collaboration motivated me to create a second watch with Habring2 in 2016, which was a 39mm deadbeat seconds model which did very well. With both of these watches, I loved the experience of letting my imagination run free. I am very inspired by historical watches and love adding a few references here and there that, if you know vintage watches, you will see, are a kind of clin d’œil.”
What is irrefutable is that the watches and occasional clocks created by Massena LAB have shaken up the watch world, demonstrating the incredible expressive capacity of Massena’s imagination and yielding some of the most coveted timepieces around.
They include multiple Unimatic watches (you could argue that Massena LAB was a huge launching pad for the brand), the phenomenal “Old School” watch in collaboration with Luca Soprana, featuring a bespoke three-quarter-plate German silver movement, several Habring2 watches including a sublime monopusher chronograph perpetual calendar, partnerships with Louis Erard, Mathey-Tissot and independent watchmaker Raúl Pagès.
But it was in the creation of his own watch model, named the Uni-Racer, a modern watch inspired by the Universal Genève Compax chronographs, that Massena developed a cult following all of his own, with the watch even forming the platform for a collaboration with Romaric André, otherwise known as seconde/seconde/.
The size of the Uni-Racer’s 316L steel case is perfect at 39mm in diameter and 9mm in thickness. It features an acrylic crystal, produced by Kyburz et Cie in Switzerland, replicating the look of a vintage unit. The movement within is the Sellita SW510 M Elaboré with 58 hours of power reserve and a 4Hz vibrational rate. The Uni-Racer is confirmation that, in his own right, Massena is a brilliant watchmaker.
He says, “It was an intimidating move. To keep the movie analogy, I went from being a producer to directing my first film.”
The success of the Uni-Racer demonstrated that if Massena LAB was all about the “What if?” then William Massena had just emphatically answered the question IF he could create his very own watch. He could and it kicked ass — just as his next watch, the Geometer launched in 2022, would continue to do. I was so impressed with the Uni-Racer that I eventually tracked Massena down to ask if he would consider a collaboration with me.
Massena’s Take: The Uni-Racer 1949
During our conversation, we realized that we both were huge fans of vintage Patek Philippe history and the extraordinary tome Patek Philippe Steel Watches created by our mutual friend Auro Montanari, whose own nom de plume is John Goldberger. The book is an extraordinary chronicle of the ultimate unicorns. Why are steel Pateks such an anomaly and rarity?
Says Montanari, “Before the advent of the Nautilus, there were very few made simply because they cost almost the same as a precious metal watch. You had to be a rakish sportsman, roughish adventurer or remarkably cool maharaja to order one of these timepieces from Patek.”
The array of steel horological finery, in particular focused on the reference 130 and 1463 chronographs, to me represents the most thrilling watches ever created. In particular, I was captivated by one watch displayed in Montanari’s book. Said Massena when I mentioned this, “Wait, I’m pulling up an image of a watch I designed and that I think you will like.”
And with that, he showed me an image of a watch with a dial that was an absolutely faithful tribute to the incredible timepiece that I was totally enamored with.
It appears on page 220 of Montanari’s book. It is a reference 130 chronograph featuring a Valjoux 23 ébauche configured as the famous Patek caliber 13-130. The movement was manufactured in 1940 and encased and sold in 1949. It goes to show you how rarely chronographs were sold in that era. It is fitted, of course, in the signature three-body circular case of the reference 130 of the style launched in 1936.
But it is the dial of this watch that makes it truly transcendent. Because the dial is configured as a black lacquer base featuring a luminous sector track with Roman numerals — probably the one and only time that Patek Philippe used this design. This incredible timepiece is complemented by bold blued steel luminous syringe hands.
“Oh my God, that’s the watch!” I exclaimed. This moment should have been accompanied by Richard Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra as a soundtrack. Massena simply chuckled knowingly. And with that, the question “What if we were to collaborate?” was answered.
OK, bear in mind this was over two years ago. Since then, my dear friend Andrea Furlan has totally independently created one of his lovely mecha-quartz chronographs with a dial in the same spirit. I recall the moment I saw this watch and shared its image with Massena. He asked, “What do you think? How shall we proceed?”
I replied, “I think Andrea is brilliant, but our watch is different. It’s your Uni-Racer with the dial we love. And it is a Swiss-made mechanical chronograph, while his watch is a mecha-quartz.” We were both in agreement and forged ahead.
The perfectionist that he is, Massena took multiple passes at the prototype. The first watch, which I considered to be almost perfect, caused him to shake his head in disdain: “No, the lacquer of the dial is not right. It has to be much more glossy as I imagine the original watch was when it was delivered in 1949. Also, even though the lume is color-matched to the vintage watch, it needs to be far brighter at night.” With that, we embarked on prototype number two, which set us back almost another year.
During this time, we saw that our friend, the brilliant Mohammed Abdulmagied Seddiqi, had also been inspired by the legendary 1949 reference 130 for his brand Vyntage, but again it was a mecha-quartz version.
Said Massena, “Look, when someone picks up this Uni-Racer, I want them to immediately feel the quality and attention to detail. Yes, it’s a bit fun and quirky to be inspired by a vintage reference 130, but we need to create a timepiece that feels perfect on the wrist, functions flawlessly and that has that sense of quality and permanence that will have you wearing it for decades!”
With this statement, I can see the same fire in his eyes that you see in the image taken when he was seven years old wearing his first watch. It speaks of the relentless pursuit of excellence.
The Road to Realizing a Dream
The push for excellence is something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. During my trip to the Maldives with MB&F — incidentally, Massena LAB also collaborated with them on an amazing clock — I met Wen Hsieh, a legend in Silicon Valley and one of the managing partners of Kleiner Perkins, a venture capital firm that backed Google, amongst others. He said to me, “In life, there are missionaries and mercenaries. The irony is that the mercenaries who are coin-driven never make that much coin, because they are only interested in the short term. Conversely, if you are driven to achieve excellence and create real value for the world, the coin will always come.”
It is clear to me that with Massena LAB, William Massena is in it for the long term. He is a missionary, albeit one clad in a bespoke Sabino suit and with years of experience in the watch game under his woven silk Charvet 10th-degree black belt in elegance. He explained, “It would have been easy to make as many Uni-Racers as the market demanded, but I didn’t want that. I wanted each person who got one to feel it was a special watch. And maybe this is the most special of the editions we’ve made so far, as it’s the most far-reaching dial. That’s why I preferred to keep it limited to 120 pieces, so that owners know they have something rare.”
With that, I give you our Massena LAB x Revolution Uni-Racer 1949 — a Swiss-made mechanical chronograph made in a limited edition of 120 pieces and priced at USD3,750, excluding taxes.
Massena Lab x Revolution Uni-Racer 1949
Movement: Manual winding Sellita SW510 M Elaboré; 58-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds and chronograph
Case: 39mm; stainless steel; water resistant to 50m
Dial: Black sector display; Roman numerals with luminescent coating
Strap: Deerskin strap with stainless steel tang buckle
Price: USD 3,750, excluding taxes
Availability: Limited edition of 120 pieces
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FROM THE SHOP
|Movement||Manual winding Sellita SW510 M Elaboré; 58-hour power reserve|
|Functions||Hours, minutes, small seconds and chronograph|
|Case||39mm; stainless steel; water resistant to 50m|
|Dial||Black sector display; Roman numerals with luminescent coating|
|Strap||Deerskin strap with stainless steel tang buckle|
|Limited Edition||Limited Edition of 120 pieces|