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Review: Maen Skymaster 38 Thunder Grey

There are a lot of luxury watches out there. A lot. And that makes standing out from the crowd a real challenge. When one of the most popular watches in the world—the inevitably mentioned Rolex Submariner—looks about as generic as it gets, that poses a problem. How do you make a watch that blends in with classical grace yet catches the eye? Watch company Maen just might have the answer.

Let’s say you lost your absolute mind and decided to start a watch company. First hurdle, actually starting—what on Earth would you do? Like many small watchmaking enterprises, Maen chose the Kickstarter route. It’s a new era where creators aren’t bound to the whims of big corporations anymore. Musicians can rise from obscurity with a track they recorded at home, artists can be discovered in the depths of Reddit, movie stars can be forged from watch-centric YouTube hosts…

Placing the opportunities in the hands of these creators is what makes this such an exciting time to be in—and also such a difficult one. You’re not vying for success against hundreds of others—it’s thousands, even tens of thousands. For a company making watches, it’s a blessing and a curse. Never before has technology offered so much to those willing to pursue their dreams, but inevitably, that means a lot more people are dreaming.

“Setting a new standard in affordable luxury watches,” they’ll say. “High quality materials and Swiss Made movements.” I mean, that’s literally what Maen wrote on its Kickstarter page, and honestly, as true as it may be, it may as well be static noise given how often glib phrases just like that are repeated across the industry. Show, don’t tell, as fancy-pants writers like to say, and for Maen, the proof would indeed have to be in the showing.

So how do you do it? How do you maintain the refinement on which the industry was built, the classicism that seeks to whisper and not shout—and then get everyone to pay attention? Well, luckily this isn’t the first time this particular problem has been addressed, and unsurprisingly the answer remains much the same. You see, in the 1960s, there was a watchmaking boom. Watches were selling like, well, Rolexes, and there were plenty of them about.

That’s because watchmaking didn’t mean sitting in a shack making watches, it meant pooling together the resources of various parts suppliers to create a product you could sell. That’s why so many watches of the era looked similar—because the cases, dials, hands and even movements were all coming from the same parts catalogues.

What could be changed, however, was the colour. This spurred an era of classic chronographs in bold, inviting colours, from reds to blues to oranges and many more besides. Think of the Tudor Heritage Chrono—that’s the era of inspiration we’re talking about, and frankly, watch design could do with a bit of a pick-me-up.

Everywhere you look its black dials in steel cases, over and over, and yeah, that doesn’t make them horrible—but it certainly can make them boring. If you want to catch some eyes, boring is not the best way to do it, and the Maen Skymaster 38 Thunder Grey is out to prove it.

A chronograph, three sub-dials, black 12-hour bezel, 12.9mm thick steel case—including the domed crystal available in sapphire or traditional acrylic—it all sounds very generic. Could be talking about pretty much anything at this point. At 38mm wide, you get a feel that’s much more of the last century than this, and combined with the squat mushroom pushers and deeply ridged crown, is straight out of the mid-1900s Heuer / Omega / Rolex / whatever playbook.

Don’t mistake me: this is a handsome watch, undoubtedly so, and in typical monochromatic colours I’m sure it will keep its owners very happy—but to have owners a business must first have customers, and to have customers, people have got to be paying attention. That’s where the Thunder Grey comes in. Between you and the modular ETA 2894-2 chronograph movement is a palette of colours that could well have been inspired by a liquorice allsort. If you don’t know what a liquorice allsort is, its an aniseed-flavoured confectionary that looks a bit like the dial of a Maen Skymaster 38 in Thunder Grey.

It’s a combo of browny-greys, deep reds and oranges that sound more like the contents of a fruit salad that’s been left out in the sun, but bear with me. It looks surprisingly good, and more importantly, surprisingly eye-catching. It’s not in your face but it’s just in the periphery, making you wonder if you really just saw a watch with bright orange hands.

Perhaps it’s the sixties colour palette, perhaps it’s that skinny bezel, the 50m water-resistant 38mm case, absentee date window or even the domed crystal, but somehow the Skymaster 38, in Thunder Grey, pulls off that trick of shouting with a whisper. On the wrist, it’s small, it’s inconspicuous, and it could well be any number of vintage chronographs actually from the period—but when that dial is rotated towards you, that’s when the magic happens.

Of course, this is terribly subjective, but I think the point of it achieving difference whilst maintaining uniformity stands regardless of preference for the idiosyncratic dial coloration. Underneath all those reds and oranges is a nicely appointed, layered configuration that shows enough attention to detail with things like applied markers without getting fussy for fussy’s sake. It all feels like it’s there to aid the usability of the watch, like it would have been were this 1964.

And there’s another aspect that seems to draw more from the past than the present: the price. Starting at €920—that’s about £800 or $1,150—with the sapphire crystal option I would personally bypass adding another €47, this watch feels more comfortably priced at what would be expected for a Swiss made luxury chronograph. That alone wouldn’t necessarily be good enough for many, but paired with this wholly unique colouration and you’ve got an experience that’s only possible with the Maen Skymaster 38 Thunder Grey.

As always with these emerging brands, you don’t get the same sense of security you might do with a larger, more established watchmaker, but then you don’t have to pay the same price, either. The TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Anniversary is a £5,000 watch these days and so’s the Omega Speedmaster. Thanks to Maen and others like it, that’s not necessarily a pill anyone has to swallow any more. Although there’s probably a lot to be said for pills that take their cues from the sixties …