To round up the year, the Revolution editors share their personal picks for the watch that defined 2021. For Revolution USA’s editor-at-large Adam Craniotes, the defining watch of 2021 is one that has elicited a rollercoaster of mixed emotions — the 17.09 Ming × Massena LAB.
There are few contemporary horological success stories that ring quite as clear and true as that of Ming Watches, the passion project of noted photographer and watch collector, Ming Thein. Anyone who has had even a passing meeting with the man will attest to his genuine love for horology, and his watches are a pure reflection of just that. His first watch, the 17.01, was an instant success, and what’s more, it was a watch that pretty much any collector could afford to add to their stable. To be sure, there’s no shortage of affordable watches out there — even back in 2017, when the 17.01 made its debut — but the value proposition for Ming’s inaugural piece was off the charts. In essence, it was a $3K watch masquerading as a sub-$1K watch. For your money, you got a polished grade 5 titanium case, a manual winding Sellita movement (adjusted to five positions), and a unique guillochéd dial capped off with a sapphire crystal. In the box were three additional quick-release straps, just to drive the point home.
Fast forward to today, and Ming Watches is a full-fledged brand with some truly haute-inspired pieces under their belt. To be sure, even their high-end offerings still represent a tremendous value when compared apples to apples with the competition.
Another success story is that of Massena LAB, the eponymous design house/brainchild of industry veteran William Massena. Oh, and when I say “industry veteran,” I really mean it; William has been a horological stalwart from day one, with deep ties to the auction industry, digital media and everything in between. Given his storied background, it was just a matter of time before he struck out on his own, which he’s done to almost universal acclaim. And whether it’s a sub-$1K design collaboration with micro-brand Unimatic, or an off-the-charts montre d’école piece created with master watchmaker Luca Soprana, the results are instant classics — and usually instantly sold out.
All of which brings us to the absolutely delightful train wreck that is the 17.09 Ming × Massena LAB. Intended as a supergroup pairing of two industry darlings, the “Honeycomb,” as I’ll refer to it from now on, was meant to be yet another success story in the vein of pretty much everything else that had been released by either brand up to this point. And indeed, that seemed to be the case, with the anticipation building to predictable heights in advance of its launch.
And then it all went wrong.
Of course, to understand how the launch got borked, you have to understand how today’s “hype economy” works. Initially just the bane of sneaker heads trying to score the latest drops from their favorite brands and artists, it has since become a plague across multiple genres, with the watch collecting game getting hit particularly hard. Thanks to watches now being firmly regarded as an asset class, as evidenced by the astronomical prices that certain pieces are hitting on the secondary market, “investors” are always on the lookout for the Next Big Thing. Of course, this is no longer limited to the usual steel Patek/AP/Rolex suspects — now it could be absolutely anything. “Anything” in this case was the Honeycomb, and the “investors” were ready. But being ready these days means more than simply having your credit card out and hitting refresh on your browser when the watch launches. Now it means having an automated ’bot to unleash, the nanosecond the target is released to the public, which, when multiplied by the thousands who utilize this disruptive technology, has the effect of a) shutting out rank and file collectors; and b) shutting down the actual site offering the target acquisition.
This was exactly what happened to Massena LAB’s site on launch day. But rather than give up, Massena moved the launch back a day and purchased more bandwidth from their ISP. Alas, this still wasn’t enough, and the site crashed again. In an effort to placate the spurned collectors, who were growing increasingly vocal on social media, Massena and Ming moved the launch back yet again, this time using a lottery to decide who would receive one of the 200 pieces. Naturally, this did nothing to assuage the wounded egos of those who weren’t chosen, who continued to vent on their IG soapboxes, thus proving the adage that we are all destined to be punished for our kindness.
And this would seem to be the end of this story, if it weren’t for yet another small issue: namely once the watches wound up on their new owners’ wrists, it turned out that the modified Sellita movements, which featured jumping hour hands to facilitate easier time zone changes, weren’t properly adjusted, leading to slack in the minute hands. Now, things like this happen all the time (I’m looking at you, Mr. Tudor GMT), and are typically handled neatly by the manufacturer. Ming × Massena was no different in this regard, offering to take back the affected watches at no charge and fix the offending movements. Unfortunately, the social media echo chamber wasn’t ready to let go quite so easily and, egged on by shit posting accounts, turned what should’ve been a minor snafu into nothing less than an existential attack on the integrity of the entire industry as perpetrated by two evil masterminds. Never mind that nothing could be further from the truth, but when coupled with a few less-than-ideal CS moments between both Ming and Massena, which were broadcast writ large, you had nothing less than the horological crime of the century.
So, what exactly is going on here that makes this “the watch that most defines 2021”? Well, everything. Collabs, micros, social media, hype economy, shit posting… All the good, the bad, and the ugly rolled into one utterly charming watch, that, at least IMO, deserves nothing but praise for its effortless blending of design and craft. And what of the Honeycomb, now that the dust has settled? Naturally, they trade hands for between three to five times MSRP — trending up, naturally — depending on the dial, with most having wound up in the hands of actual collectors. The offending movements were fixed, and the Honeycomb will go down in history as both a cautionary tale and an unmitigated success.