Ming 19.01 By Ming Thein, Unparalleled Quality For Price
The rise of micro brands over the last few years has given watch lovers everywhere a chance to be a part of something new, support cool ideas, and (perhaps in direct conflict with a WIS’s significant other) spend more money growing a collection.
But the micro brand trend has also developed a reputation for at times less-than-stellar creativity, and there’s the uncertainty about the future of some micro brands (thanks, in part, to Kickstarter and its ease of use).
However, the micro brand trend has its stars, in some cases only fitting the term micro brand superficially. Some brands aren’t any less “micro” than established independent watchmakers and aren’t any more reliant on suppliers than many mid-level Swiss firms.
This is the realistic truth of how things are made, and that is something a growing number of “micro” brands are beginning to wear as a badge of honor.
The traditionally utilized term “in-house” is triumphantly countered by “partners with the top suppliers to the Swiss industry,” which to the collecting community is a way of saying “our stuff is as good as their stuff.”
This encourages trust in the quality and allows choices to be made on style and taste instead of hesitations about reliability. These brands are challenging a bias and shedding labels that the term “micro brand” might imply.
They are, in effect, re-mastering the market segment.
These types of brands are growing and are in good company with each other. The standouts (and some of my favorites) are Chicago-based Oak & Oscar, the automotive-inspired Autodromo, and the Octavio Garcia and Lukas Gopp brainchild Gorilla.
Recently, one more joined the ranks of the new micro brands: one clearly destined to become a mainstay of affordable, high-quality, beautifully designed watches that are sure to become objects of desire for collectors of all levels.
Even better, though, is the unexpected person behind it: Ming Thein.
If you know, you know
The name Ming Thein should be instantly recognizable (seriously) to any ardent purveyor of all things horological. Thein is widely known as a watch photography master.
Having worked for various brands while being a very knowledgeable (and picky) collector has given him a stellar reputation.
Thein got into photography, among other reasons, for the opportunity to appreciate pieces owned by fellow collectors that he knew he could never afford. For this reason, his photography led him to discover the smallest details and understand every aspect of a watch’s design through the focus of his lens. This meant it was only a matter of time before he understood every little design choice that, in his eyes, fell short of achieving a great (or at least cohesive) design.
And, like all collectors do, he discussed these things with his collector friends and imagined making a watch that “ticked all the boxes.” The first step came with creating his own Ochs und Junior (see Design Your Own Watch? A Collector Explains The Pros And Cons With Ochs Und Junior).
After enough discussion with like-minded watch enthusiasts, who also happened to be business-savvy men, the next step seemed almost inevitable: create watches that they would want and see if others would buy them too.
And just in case you were distracted by something else at the time of launch: the collecting community collectively lost its dang mind, and it sold out in minutes!
That was because the watch, designed by Thein, was priced at an extremely affordable $900 with two dial options limited to just 150 pieces each. Plus, it blends in easily with a crowd of F.P. Journe, H. Moser, Laurent Ferrier, and Ressence watches.
The 17.01 is beautiful. The design is simple and features many extremely considered details that descended from years of focusing on minutia. The design clarity of the 17.01 can be attributed almost directly to Thein’s notoriously meticulous approach to watch photography, considering every aspect of a watch and how the light interacts off and within the tiny machine.
Years of noticing everything pays off when your team works through a design to perfect it as much as possible.
Possible “Hodinkee effect”?
While every watch can have its detractors, the response to the Ming 17.01 was nearly unanimous across the board. Even if people didn’t want to buy one themselves, most reactions were that it looked really, really good. So good, in fact, that after the first batch of 50 watches were sold (the deliveries to the company were staggered based on industry holidays and workload) and the second batch of 50 went live, it sold out in less than three minutes.
That’s less than 180 seconds for all 50 to be sold on a “first come, first served” waiting list of over 2,500 people. Even the Hodinkee x Zenith El Primero collaboration didn’t sell out that fast and there were only 25 of those (granted, the price point was eight times higher at a cool $7,900, but still). The demand for the Ming 17.01 was crazy.
The new micro brand may have had Hodinkee to thank for that watch’s popularity. Not because of any written stories about Ming, but rather thanks to the Hodinkee collaborations over the past couple years, the collecting community is now aware of what happens when cool limited editions from respected people hit the market: people buy. And fast.
When the style is widely applauded and the opportunity is provided to snatch one up at a great price knowing they won’t get another chance, it drives people to pounce such an opportunities.
After all three batches were sold, Ming waited only a short while before announcing a new watch; this time at the opposite end of the Ming spectrum, representing the ultimate daily wear timepiece.
19.01: the Ming pinnacle
The new piece is the 19.01 and it features an exclusive Schwarz-Etienne 100-hour skeletonized movement, a stunning design, and the prospect of what people can expect from the brand in the future. This piece is offered currently, non-limited, for $6,800. While it is still seven times the price of the 17.01, it is an absolutely fantastic deal for the quality. And, more importantly, it shows what the Ming brand can really do.
The 19.01 is positioned as the top-of-the-line Ming timepiece, aka the most expensive (probably) piece it will make, as the entire brand philosophy is centered around creating an honest watch that the brand’s creators would personally wear while remaining accessible to a wider audience. The entire team knows the excitement of discovery and the sense of value that can be had after a special acquisition, something that was much more common before a general rise in prices and increase in the number of reissues and rehashing of old ideas overtook the industry.
The Ming team believes that the collecting game has lost its mojo, if you will, and it wants to bring it back with affordable pieces that have clear design intent and refinement. Thein’s background in collecting (as well as that of the rest of the team) is the main instigator for this brand purpose. Thein and cohorts want to be open and honest, creating things that people get truly excited about and can actually afford without having to sell a kidney.
They believe in the value of a well-designed and smartly priced watch and therefore have made it the driving force behind the development of all Ming watches. The brand does not want to be in the business of grand complications and extremely expensive customizations, even if they excite (but also exclude), the majority of collectors.
Thein, who self-proclaims he will never be able to buy a minute repeater, has a horse in the race. He has a vested interest in creating things people can buy because he wants to as well. His collecting background was the perfect impetus for creation of such a brand. And as the 19.01 shows, all that awesomeness doesn’t have to break the bank.
First off, the 19.01 utilizes the superb Schwarz-Etienne MSE100.1 movement in a Ming-exclusive skeletonization and finish. This choice allows for an awesomazing caliber with a healthy helping of custom design, yet keeps costs down as it is a Schwarz-Etienne production movement, “just” modified.
Developing a new movement is always very expensive; it is something that results in the $50,000 through $500,000 price tags on many of other incredible independent brands’ timepieces.
The MSE100.1 movement is a rather fabulous-looking caliber in this state, with the rear plates and bridges skeletonized to show off more of the mechanics. The double spring barrels are also skeletonized in a pattern visually related to the dial design of the original 17.01. This openwork provides a glimpse into the mainsprings, allowing a rough understanding of the remaining power reserve. The wheels inside the movement are crossed out, adding more detail and visual complexity for the eye to capture.
The bridges are blasted, beveled, and then coated an anthracite color creating a nice contrast between the radially brushed wheels and black polished screws. Even as good as it looks, the best fact is that the movement is adjusted to five positions and tested for 250 hours to ensure reliable accuracy. That accuracy can also be maintained through production as every component in the movement, even the hairspring, is manufactured in-house by Schwarz-Etienne.
Back to the design: the mainspring barrels are etched with the Ming logo (which is just the name “Ming” in a modern sans serif) and the rest of the watch’s details are etched into the rear sapphire crystal. The double ring design found in both the 17.01 and the front of the 19.01 is added to the rear sapphire crystal as well to establish a more cohesive visual style through the watch.
In addition, the case back is so large that the screws securing it to the case are actually located in the base of the lugs.
Deliberate design choices
Those lugs, by the way, are rather unique in that they are flared out, taking a bit of inspiration from shaped lugs of the past without feeling dated or out of place. The lugs on the 19.01 are a bit more exaggerated than on the 17.01, a purposeful design choice to take the shapes of the entry-level model and push them a bit further. This is most clearly seen in the dial – or the lack thereof.
The dial is a large sapphire crystal disk (thematically related to the sapphire crystal disk in the 17.01) that spans the entire movement. Unlike the 17.01, this sapphire crystal was coated in the center with a beautiful blue lacquer that fades towards the edges, allowing some transparency to the movement, but keeping the dial largely opaque.
It is a pretty unique dial to say the least, and it is even more haunting thanks to laser-etched rings on the inside of the outside crystal that have a “zero” shape at 12 o’clock (something to be expected across Ming watches as a design staple). The rings project a shadow on the dial and provide a large amount of depth that gives more of a hint of time than actual accurate time display.
The hands are a stylistic follow-up from the 17.01 but focused more on the 19.01 skeletonized style. The tips have Super-LumiNova X1 inside of the small enclosed section, adding some stark contrast against the more subdued dial. The Super-LumiNova doesn’t stop there, though: it is also on a large ring just inside the bezel to help the dial, hands, and crystal markings glow.
All of these details are combined with a case size of 39 millimeters (a widely agreed upon holy grail of case diameters) and the quick-release 20-millimeter straps to create a superbly finished, spectacularly considered timepiece that represents years of thought and consideration from every angle with the intention of creating something people of all income levels can really get excited about.
That is exactly what this and every Ming piece will have in common, and that is what Thein wants to make for enthusiasts and collectors everywhere: excitement about watch collecting.
After the initial success of the 17.01 and the very positive reactions already to the 19.01, not to mention the fact that Ming Thein has already mentioned that there are currently nine watches in different stages of development, the future of the Ming brand seems to be on a good trajectory.
As more pieces come out that fill in the gap between $900 and $6,800, there are going to be many more moments of lust as well as the growth of a full-fledged brand that focuses on incredible yet affordable timepieces every collector would be happy have in his or her collection.
Given that the original 17.01 was limited, I know there are many anxiously awaiting new pieces in the 17.xx line that can be had for shockingly good prices, and many that are excited to see what comes out in the slightly higher price ranges.
Personally I have found here a new independent brand that I absolutely love and a market segment that, like with Gorilla and other quality small brands, wants to create watches that excite people like me – and at a price point I can afford now.
The use of the Schwarz-Etienne movement manufacture is a fantastic move (I discovered the movement maker/watch brand for myself wandering Hall 2 at Baselworld) and one that will hopefully give more exposure to the high-quality movements it creates.
The 19.01 (and the initial sold-out 17.01) from Ming represent the future of the affordable “high-end” watch segment, given the quality that is coming through these watches.
I sometimes feel like it was only yesterday that I personally discovered brands like Urwerk or Laurent Ferrier, and, hopefully, years down the road, I can reminisce about when Ming was born while wearing one of the brand’s awesome watches. Until then, I’ll just keep my eyes out for the next new thing from Ming.
But now, the breakdown!
- Wowza Factor * 9.4 The design details combined with the movement and the super-affordable price makes the 19.01 a very, very strong wowza!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 106.5 » 1,044.408m/s2 Seriously, the lusting created by this piece (and the 17.01) are driven not only by the price point (fantastic) but also the overall exquisitely considered package!
- M.G.R. * 64.4 This movement gets a rather high rating because even though it is time only, it looks fantastic, is very capable, and will be the base for even more amazing things to come!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A Most watches wouldn’t wear this as a badge of honor like the Ming 19.01 will. The entire brand philosophy started around simple, time-only daily wear watches, so not needing to use Gotta-HAVE-That cream for any mechanical swelling is the finest possible compliment!
- Ouch Outline * 11.1 Burning the top of your mouth, and then your chin, with hot, delicious pizza cheese! I love pizza, and I hate when that happens because it effectively ruins that pizza for you. A little patience can go a long way sometimes. But I would throw hot pizza cheese at my face if it meant I was able to get one of these incredible pieces on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * Instantaneous! I don’t know about you, but it was literally love at first sight for me. I know I just gotta lock that down, better call a reverend!
- Awesome Total * 750 Multiply the number of hours in the power reserve (100) with the number of positions the movement is adjusted in (5) and then add the number of hours each movement is tested for (250) for a surprisingly fantastic awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.ming.watch/products/19-01.
Quick Facts Ming 19.01
Case: 39 x 10.9 mm, grade 5 titanium
Movement: manual winding Schwarz-Etienne Caliber MSE100.1 exclusive for Ming
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: CHF 6,800 pre-order until December 31, 2017; full price after that CHF 7,900
Also published on Medium.