Manchester Watch Works’ varied designs, solid specifications, and affordable pricing has made them one of my favorite micro-brand watchmakers. I have followed owner / designer Doug Kim’s progress from his first prototype to his latest offerings and I continue to be amazed at how each successive model outshines the last.
The Beluga Ascent is the first of MWW’s Professional Series. It is not only the best thing the brand has produced, but also one of the most appealing diver’s watches you can buy for under $1,000.
Beluga is a premium line, the Lexus to MWW’s Toyota if you will. In a first for MWW, the Ascent is Swiss made and powered by an ETA 2824-2. This hacking, hand winding, 25-jewel automatic is a stalwart of the industry and known for its durability. It has a smooth 28,800-bph sweep, ETACHRON regulator system, black-on-white date disk, and a 40-hour power reserve. Each unit is timed and regulated to three positions.
At first glance, the Beluga Ascent looks like a traditional diver in the classic Submariner mold. The stainless steel case is a rather tidy 41mm wide, 50mm long and 13mm thick from its caseback to the top of its raised and beveled sapphire crystal. The finely brushed surface is interrupted by a delicate chamfer that runs from lug to lug, narrowing as it approaches the center until it disappears beneath the bezel. Shallow crown guards on the right side are mirrored on the left by an even smaller protrusion that frames the escape valve.
These subtle, sculptural details add character, setting the Ascent apart from its competitors.
This is a dive watch through and through, equipped to a degree of overkill (it is rated for 500 meters of water resistance.) The crown screws against twin gaskets and the screw down caseback is sealed with Viton. Commercial saturation divers will appreciate the helium escape valve.
The dial is set beneath a brushed rehaut with a 24-hour index. MWW only offers this watch in the maximum contrast combination of white Superluminova on a black surface. The watch features a traditional dive watch layout of darts and bars with pencil hands and a spearhead second hand.
MWW went for two-tone SuperLuminova on this model. It is green-white C3 for the bezel and minute hand, and blue-white BGW9 for the hour hand and markers. While it is an uncommon design choice, it works quite well here.
The company calls the dial “maelstrom,” an apt descriptor for the micro-engraved spiral that shimmers on its surface. That pattern doesn’t overwhelm but offers an eye-catching glint that invites a second look. It is a clever touch and goes far to set the watch apart from the rest of the dive watch crowd.
The only thing I would change on the dial is the typeface used for Beluga brand name. On the packaging, you can see the fine lines and rounded corners that distinguish it from the generic lettering used by so many micro brands, but that detail is lost in the far smaller confines of the dial.
The bezel is 43mm wide, creating a 1mm overlap for a better grip that is further aided by tiny scallops surrounding its upper edge. It travels smoothly through its 120-click rotation with firm engagement in each detent. The insert is polished black ceramic, which is greatly resistant to scratching and provides depth and luster that far outshines the more common aluminum. The C3 filling the engraved markers looks great and also makes them far more useful underwater - something of particular importance on this watch.
While Doug at MWW is not a diver himself, he is a tinkerer. When he polled divers about their watch-related requirements, he discovered almost no one uses a watch to track dive times. They quite sensibly entrust that duty to modern dive computers, and wear watches for nostalgia and as back up in case of computer failure.
While a conventional dive watch is fine for measuring elapsed time, Doug thought he could do better for measuring ascent. U.S. Navy standards recommend a rate of 30ft (about 9 meters) per minute with five-minute safety stops at the last fifteen feet.
On the Ascent Bezel, each hash represents one-minute elapsed and 9 meters distance, and each number indicates the depth in meters, except for the “05,” which is both meters and minutes. A diver sets the bezel to his depth and uses the minute hand to track the time and distance of his ascent against the index. When he reaches 5 meters, he starts his safety break. When the minute hand hits the main arrow, he can surface.
Because of the way it tracks, the bezel rotates clockwise as a safety feature, and not counterclockwise like a traditional timing bezel. It is a clever system, unlike any other. MWW has a patent pending. Traditionalists will be pleased to know that MWW has made 100 Ascents available with a conventional 60-minute timing bezel, but it seems a shame to delete something so central to the watch’s identity.
The Ascent’s brushed stainless steel bracelet is just as carefully made as the rest of the watch with screw pins, solid end links and a signed flip-lock clasp with solid bridges. I found it offered a range of adjustment sufficient to fit my relatively small 6.5” wrist. If you prefer a strap, drilled lugs and the supplied spring bar tool will make it an easy swap.
Many brands proclaim their watches can go anywhere for any occasion; few deliver. The Beluga Ascent is one of those few. It is every inch a rugged tool watch and there is no reason not to wear it in civilized society. It’s mid-range size case and small dial allow it to look quite at home on most wrists while its low profile allows it to slip under most buttoned shirt cuffs.
I would hardly call it a dress diver, but those discrete reflections off of the case accents, ceramic bezel, and guilloche dial provide just enough polish to look smart with a suit.
The Manchester Watch Works’ Beluga Ascent is a handsome, versatile watch, packed with useful features and brimming with character. These traits appeal at any price point, but for less than $1,000, it is quite the bargain, particularly considering the watch’s Swiss movement and manufacture. If you are looking for an excellent, all-around diving watch that offers some distinction without shouting, then see the fast-selling Ascent and other Manchester Watchworks models here.
Loren Sciurba founded The Time Bum in 2013. He is an avid watch enthusiast, prolific reviewer, and unrepentant cheapskate. While he appreciates watches of all kinds, he has a soft spot for micro brands and independents. In addition to being a watch nerd, he is a husband and father who enjoys good food and old cars. This article first appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of About Time.