Nezumi Baleine

David Campo Cárdenes of Sweden's Nezumi Studios clearly digs vintage. Nezumi's first watch, the Voiture Chronograph was a 1960's race timer for the 21st century. Now comes the Baleine, a diving watch that faithfully channels the essence of the early 1970's. Three variants are offered: a brushed case, a brushed and polished case, and a black case, all with black dials. For this review, they supplied their black prototype.


Like the Voiture, Nezumi looked to Seiko for its movement. In this case, it is the tried and true NH35 21.6k bph, 24 jewel automatic. It hacks, hand winds, and has a power reserve of over 40 hours. As it is an updated incarnation of the venerable 7s26, it has that unit's Diashock protection and reputation for reliability. The rest of the Baleine is pretty tough too: the black case wears a hard DLC coating, the crystal will be sapphire with an internal anti-reflective coating (the prototype is sapphire coated acrylic), the crown screws down, and the watch is sealed for 200m water resistance.

I have learned that raw measurements only tell part of the story of a watch's size. What may sound one way on paper may appear very different in photos, and frankly, even the pictures lie, often exaggerating size. You have to put a watch on your wrist to really understand how the myriad design choices affect the final product. The Baleine is sensibly sized at 40mm wide, 47mm long, and 14mm thick from its case back to the top of its domed crystal. That last figure makes it sound chunky, but nothing could be farther from the truth. In profile, the central section of the case appears barely larger than the crown thanks to a clean separation between the body, case back, and bezel. A character line running from lug to lug also contributes to the Baleine's long, slim look.


This is perfect for The Bum's 6.5" wrist or for anyone else who needs a break from the 42mm+ divers that currently dominate the market. I like big watches too, but I have found the mid-size ones tend to see more wrist time as I am more likely to grab one of them if I am wearing anything other than short sleeves. The Baleine fits the bill nicely, tucking neatly under a buttoned shirt cuff when required. Viewed head-on, the inward twist of the bombĂ© lugs make them appear narrower as well. The overall effect is lean and purposeful. My only criticism is that the edges are a touch soft, almost as if it were an older watch that had been aggressively polished. This is not a deal killer, but crisper lines would have improved its definition. If this is a priority for you, David tells me the brushed and brushed/polished models will have slightly sharper edges.
Bezel is action is smooth, offering positive engagement without undue effort. (The prototype has 90 clicks, but the final will have 60.) A coin edge provides adequate grip, but like the other angles and edges on the watch, the teeth are not as crisp as I might like. While other models will have an aluminum insert, the black case has engraved, painted markings in a solid bezel. the numbers and lines are finely rendered and the paint is off-white. An "Old Radium" color lume pip finishes it off. They tell me the bezel will be better on the final, but aside from some uneven paint around the "50" mark (not uncommon for a prototype), I see nothing that demands improvement.


The dial is laid out with four main numbers, dart markers, a 24-hour index, and a minute index printed on a black dial. It is a classic setup employed throughout the 1960s on diving watches from Breitling to Bulova. In fact, as I was writing this review, a friend sent me a message about the Caravelle Sea Hunter, which could almost be the Baleine's grandfather. White syringe hands and a spear-tipped second hand with a Nezumi "N" counterweight underscore the vintage look. (Note that the brushed version shares the black model's color scheme while the brushed/polished one has gold hands and white markings.)


The minute index, handset, and dial text are the same off-white as the bezel markings, and the numbers, markers, and hands all wear a creamy beige lume. I must confess it was devilishly difficult to capture the color accurately in my photos so if you look at the pictures and think "meh, white is white" you will just have to take my word for it. This combination of mellow tones imparts a pleasing, time-worn look. On production models, the white hands and date wheel numbers will also be muted a touch to better match the rest of the off-white elements. I would have liked to see a no-date option, but I appreciate the pains they have taken to integrate the 4 o'clock date window into the Baleine's face.


For dial text, we have the Nezumi logo and brand name up top, model name and water resistance below. My biggest issue is with the large "N" logo. On the prototype, it is the same width as the 12, which sounds perfectly reasonable, except the "1" has a serif. Maybe I'm crazy, but when I see something centered under a serif type 12, my brain tries to align it with the tall stem of the 1 and the broad base of the 2, without registering the space occupied by the serif. Thus, a perfectly centered element looks like it is off to the left. A smaller logo and a little more space between it and the 12 will likely break the illusion. You can see an illustration of the revised logo here. 


Lume quality was very good but given the planned change in color for the final product, it is not possible to give an accurate evaluation. Suffice to say that the prototype's green glow was quite good and they promise the production models will be even better.


Flipping the watch over reveals its stamped case back. The high relief on the logo and textured background look great, but I am told they may be reconsidering the design. Whatever they choose, I will be perfectly happy if it is executed as well as that of the prototype.


Finally, we get to the strap, and that I cannot rate at all because the prototype's black fabric is merely a placeholder and not a very good one at that as it had already begun to fray by the time it made its way to me. Buyers can choose from a 20mm black vegetable tanned leather or a black, rubber-backed nylon two-piece similar to the one pictured but made by a different factory and to a higher standard. Judging it strictly on style, I'd say the fabric strap it is an excellent complement to the black Baleine and a welcome change from the usual rubber two-piece or nylon NATO. Both straps will come with the signed, black, 18mm buckle shown here.


Overall, I found the Baleine to be a delightful watch. Nezumi has faithfully channeled the spirit of a classic diver while successfully imparting its own distinctive spin on the style. Pre-orders start at €295 (about $336 USD) excluding VAT and will increase to about €550 ($626 USD) retail. For more information or to order yours, see NezumiStudios.com. ◆


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