If you have not heard of Techné Instruments, you are missing out on one of the most intriguing independent watch makers. Based in Switzerland, Techné produces quality aviation themed watches at appealing prices - a combination The Time Bum finds irresistible. Even more appealing was this little note on their site: "Thanks to improvements in our logistics, we have been able to slightly reduce most of our prices." Now that is statement I like to see. Frugality firmly established, I sampled the $120 Ref. 280 Merlin, and found it to be one of the best bargains out there.
"Merlin" evokes both the Arthurian Wizard and the British warplane, but given the watch maker's avian naming convention (Goshawk, Sparrow Hawk), I'm betting it refers to the falcon otherwise known as the Pigeon Hawk. The watch has a vintage look to its design with poire squélette hands, and arrows to indicate day and date. Unlike many quartz watches in this price range, every one of those hands lands dead on its markers, every time. Minute and hour markers ring the dial with seconds indicated by Arabic numbers in increments of five around the outermost part of the dial. The lone Arabic hour marker is 12, sitting just below a narrow inverted triangle at the top of the dial. Below it is the script Techné brand and Principo beneath in fine block letters. The layout and design would not be out of place on a pocket watch.
The vintage theme is carried in the case design as well. It is 38mm excluding the onion crown, and only 10mm thick, owing to the Seiko VD78 quartz movement that drives it. Despite its modest dimensions, the watch makes the most of its size. Wrist presence is enhanced by a dial that stretches to a slim bezel at the edge of the case, a domed mineral crystal, and long tapered lugs resulting in an overall length of just over 42mm. The result is a watch that will slip easily under a shirt cuff, but will never be mistaken for a woman's size. The case is brushed stainless steel, which is appropriate for the aviation theme. The case back is engraved with the brand, model, serial number, technical information, and the maxim "Ars Longa, Vita Brevis" (Art is Long, Life is Short). Water resistance is only 50m, but I suppose if a pilot suddenly needs water resistance, the time of day is the least of his worries.
The Merlin takes a 20mm strap, and the long lugs provide ample room for any number of straps. I found I liked the Techné strap so much, I actually bought more. The Merlin came on a shaved cowhide with contrasting stitching that tapers to an 18mm engraved buckle with the same finish as the case. It not only looks good on this watch, but also on others in my collection. For $25, it was worth getting another. Techné also offers nylon NATOs, oiled calfskin, and riveted straps. Of course, if you have read any of my reviews, you know I can't resist a strap swap. As nice as these stock straps may be, I will also wear it on a Hirsch black buffalo with white stitching on those days when black shoes are required. Unlike many military style watches, I found the Merlin to be quite versatile, and is easy to wear every day. Although it is not a dress watch, its antique appearance and slight dimensions work easily with a suit and tie when it is on an oiled strap. The cowhide pairs beautifully with tweed, khakis, and suede bucks. A nylon NATO puts it squarely in jeans and polo territory.
If the $120 three sub-dial Ref. 280 with leather strap is a bargain, then the single subdial Ref. 249 starting at $80 on a NATO, is an absolute steal. Either way, you are getting vintage military looks, an elegant shape, an attractive strap, and a quality movement at a highly competitive price.
Pro: Strong value, lovely looks.
Con: Only 50m water resistance.
Sum: Put it on a suede strap and wear it everywhere but in the pool.