H. Moser & Cie. Endeavour
£11,500 is a lot of money. It'll get you a brand new ceramic Daytona and change. It's enough for a lightly used Royal Oak Offshore. With some haggling, it'll just about see you into a gold Patek Philippe Calatrava. So, why would you spend it all on a three-hander from a brand you've never even heard of?
Watch our video review of the H. Moser & Cie. Endeavour Small Seconds
This is H. Moser and Cie—Cie. means Co., or company—and like many other obscure watch brands, it suffered heavily during the technological uprising of the quartz-regulated watch in the 1970s. Notice I didn't say, 'other obscure Swiss brands,' because H. Moser & Cie. hails from over 1,500 miles north-east of the landlocked nation of Switzerland in St Petersburg, Russia.
Swiss watchmaking, Russian brand. The ultimate combination?
Swiss-born founder Heinrich Moser learned the family trade in the watchmaking hub of Le Locle, quickly demonstrating a knack for the art—but instead of staying in Switzerland to found his brand, he moved to Russia, carrying everything he could on his person for the seven-week journey, having refused to pay for additional baggage. There, in 1828, he established H. Moser & Cie, though his watches were still manufactured in Le Locle.
There, he earned a reputation for producing exquisite timepieces, supplying watches to politicians and royalty, movements to famed Russian jeweller Fabergé, and even getting a mention by author Fyodor Dostoevsky. 'Moser' became a Russian byword for quality.
Now, pay attention, because this is where it gets a bit complicated. In 1874, Moser died, and his widow left the company—still based in Russia—to watchmaker Cornelius Winterhalter, who enlisted the help of one Octave Meylan to keep the business operational.
But in 1917, the October Revolution took place. Led by Vladimir Lenin, the Bolsheviks commandeered the national army and overthrew the government to establish the Soviet Union, leading to the declaration of a dictatorship of the proletariat. Of course, a business such as H. Moser & Cie, supplying luxury goods to an exiled upper class, could not continue. The company was nationalised, and wound down to nothing as quartz took over.
But there was still hope yet.
The in-house movement has been inspired by vintage H. Moser & Cie. timepieces
In 2002, Roger Nicholas Balsiger, the great-grandson of Heinrich Moser, re-established the company. But he needed help, and who better to enlist than the man who, as CEO of Audemars Piguet, orchestrated the meteoric growth of the brand by introducing its most popular watch: the Royal Oak Offshore. His name: Georges-Henri Meylan. Sound familiar? He's the grandson of Octave Meylan, the man who helped run H. Moser & Cie after Moser's widow handed over control of the company.
Heritage—check. Know-how—check. Experience—check. The result? The H. Moser & Cie Mayu, now renamed 'Endeavour'. Now, in-house, hand finished and high quality are all phrases bandied about by the marketing departments of watchmaking firms to loosely earn some kind of prestige, but with H. Moser & Cie, that's the hand-on-heart truth.
'In-house' as a term comes with varying levels of honesty: it can mean commissioning an exclusive movement from a movement manufacturer; purchasing the rights to a third-party movement; heavily modifying an existing movement beyond recognition; designing a complete movement in house and manufacturing most of it except the really tricky bits; and designing, manufacturing and assembling everything in-house.
H. Moser & Cie.'s movements are as in-house as it gets. Never mind manufacturing bridges or plates or even escapements—H. Moser & Cie. makes its own balance springs. This may be news to you, but the final part that many manufacturers who claim to make in-house movements still source from third parties is the balance spring. This is because it is incredibly hard to make. There are only a handful of companies that can do it.
The simple, well-balanced dial is elegant and sophisticated
Why? Get this: a balance spring starts off life as a 0.6mm wire—already pretty slender—and ends up as a 60 micron-thick blade, with a tolerance of less than 1 micron. That's a thousandth of a millimetre. When your company can do that, it can do anything. Hand finishing is low hanging fruit by comparison.
The question is, how can a company that only makes 1,500 watches a year do all this for just £11,500? This is where Meylan's experience as a CEO comes in. It would be easy to buy all the equipment, make watches and sell them at a huge, unattainable cost ... and then very quickly go bankrupt, but Meylan knew better than that.
What he did was set up H. Moser & Cie. as two organisations: H. Moser & Cie. and Precision Engineering AG. Precision Engineering AG is the home of the high-tech CNC machines that cut and shape the parts of an H. Moser & Cie. to hundredths of a millimetre—including screws barely a millimetre in diameter—as well as parts like balance springs for other manufacturers.
On the other side of the building, H. Moser & Cie. is where the design, finishing and assembly happens, taking the raw parts and fashioning a world-class watch for little more than the price of a Rolex Daytona. So, the company is basically the opposite of most other watchmakers, making complex parts and selling them to other manufacturers to subsidise the watchmaking side of the business.
The power reserve is located on the back to keep the dial clean
This all sounds very emotionless and business-like, but that's the beauty of letting the two companies operate in this way. Precision Engineering AG sits in an industrial setting filled with steel and noise and machinery, where H. Moser & Cie. operates in a traditional watchmaker's workshop, with old clocks ticking quietly and leather-bound books lining the backs of benches. It's a curated environment that lets the creatives be creative.
It takes little more than a glance at the Endeavour to see this artistry in effect. It's a classic design, yet manages in subtle ways to hold its own identity. It can only be an H. Moser & Cie. watch, and that's so hard to do in an era where everything has already been done. It's all in the details: from the lightly concaved bezel; scalloped case sides with a mix of polished and brushed finishes; and the big, open dial that thankfully avoids any sense of clutter. At 38.8mm in diameter and 9.3mm thick, it's hard not to say that it's the perfect size, feeling unobstructive without appearing diminutive.
These touches of individuality make it to the movement as well. It would be so easy to make a simple, bland but well-made movement, but H. Moser & Cie. couldn't help it but do something special. This calibre HMC 321 is hand-wound, of course, and there's a really quite useful power reserve indicator on the back to let you know how much to wind it in the morning, all while keeping the dial clean and tidy. And how about this: even the bridges borrow their design from Moser's original watches.
If H. Moser & Cie. is a new brand for you, it's understandable to be wary. It's also understandable to feel inclined to put your hard-earned into any one of those other watches mentioned at the beginning. But, if anything at all, it's worth having a look at an H. Moser & Cie, holding one and seeing it for yourself. Nothing else will ever feel quite the same again.
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