Exploring the world of watches on a budget

Bern Milford

Review and photos by Mike Razak
Note: This review was completed in July. As of this morning, the Bern Milford is finally available via Kickstarter.

At this point in my watch problem, my days are peppered with not short looks at Instagram, which has become a waterfall of watches (though some of my friends’ dogs seem to have been caught in the waterfall, which is concerning). One day a few months ago, amid my midday scroll, a post of an unknown watch caught my eye. I’ve always been on the fence about bronze watches, but the blue/bronze combo and the angular case checked some boxes I didn’t even know were there. After reaching out and a brief back and forth, I was on my way to reviewing the Bern Watch Co. Milford diver.

Bern Milford blue

Bern Watch Co. is a new venture out of Auckland, New Zealand, started by Amin Tharani and his brothers. After years of collecting microbrands, Amin and his siblings got the itch to create a brand. They wanted to deliver designs that were accessible both aesthetically and financially; it’s not the most original concept, but that doesn’t mean it’s tired or that it shouldn’t be pursued.  Fortunately, such world-weariness didn’t stop Amin. He decided that the challenges of creating a piece in the saturated dive watch market was one to be undertaken, not avoided. The result is the Milford Diver. While the company takes its name from the Swiss capital (and the founder’s favorite city), the watch’s is derived from Milford Sound, which is, in the words of Mr. Tharani, "one of the most beautiful places to visit, in the south island of New Zealand, surrounded by snow-clad mountains and waterfalls cascading into the Tasman Sea.” And you thought “Submariner” was cool.

Bern Milford blue

The Milford Diver comes in a whole host of combinations—blue, black, white, or green dial; black, blue, or green bezel; steel, bronze, or black PVD case. My review piece was the bronze model with blue dial and bezel. The bronze (CuSn8, if you care to know) case is perhaps the highlight of the watch, with its angles and robust build. At 42mm and 12mm thick, this isn’t dainty, nor should it be, given the fact that it was designed as a recreational diver’s watch. Everything about this watch, from its sharp 22mm lugs to the matching crown guard says, “please dive with me.” The crown as you see it was just a prototype and the production crown will have thicker, more pronounced ridges for better gripping and ease of use (which was one of the issues I had with the model I received). I’ll add that I do wish the crown itself was wider, leaving less space between itself and the guards—an aesthetic issue, to be sure, but one that caught my eye almost immediately. A nice accent on the crown is the ring of color that matches whatever color the bezel is on each piece.  While the bezel would seem to be easily gripped and turned, with raised sections all around, the prototype I had was not functional, so I can’t say for sure.  A stainless steel screw-down caseback with the ‘B’ insignia and a wave motif is found on the reverse. I’m growing weary of brands printing details on the back of the watch, but they are there if you want to read them.

Bern Milford blue side

A sapphire crystal protects a matte blue dial, which overall, I rather like. The layout and spacing are something close to perfect, with the sizing of the numerals at 12, 6, and 9 nicely complementing the framed date window. The indices are wonderfully executed, with sharp angles that reflect the case design. At 12 o’clock is the Bern name in white capitals, though I feel this should have been slightly larger, as a matter of balance. At 6 o’clock are the model name and ‘Automatic’ in white capitals, sandwiching the water resistance rating in orange text. The orange text is a nice touch and matches the tip of the second hand, which is white. The hour and minute hands, too, remind me of the strong lines of the case (and of a hybrid of my Mido Ocean Star and Maen Hudson hands). Along with the indices, they are bronze-toned to match the case. Super-LumiNova X1 (apparently the Superest LumiNovaest out there) graces the hands and the indices. While I suppose adequate, it does not shine as brightly as other watches I have with this grade of lume, which suggests it may have not been applied quite liberally enough.

Bern Milford blue back

The Milford—as received—is powered by the tried and true Miyota 8215. This Japanese automatic movement is not winning any serious awards, but it is reliable. The main drawback is it’s lack of hacking, meaning you’ll have to be okay with having your time set to the minute, not the second. The good news is that following some direct feedback, the team at Bern Watch Co. acquired 500 Seiko NH35 movements that they will be utilizing for a limited release directly on their website—if you go and order right now, you’ll get it with the Seiko movement. If you aren’t already aware, the NH35 is kind of the microbrand movement. It’s the Kevin Bacon of watch movements: it’s everywhere and always does a good job, but will never win an Oscar.

Bern Milford blue wrist

22mm straps are a weird thing for me. I have very few watches that need them (maybe my 7-inch wrist just doesn’t play well with the larger watches that usually have them), and as such, I don’t have a wide selection. The Milford Diver comes with two of them (and a two-watch zippered case, by the way): one is rubber with a standard, proportional tang clasp in bronze, the other is blue leather with an Andre the Giant-sized, Panerai-style tang in bronze. I have never liked the clasp style of the latter, and don’t think I ever will; it’s needlessly jumbo. The leather strap itself was a bit wanting in the structural integrity department, especially the keepers. The rubber strap is much more agreeable, not least because this a dive watch, and one does not dive in leather. I was also able to carry the watch on a spectrum of brown straps, from beige to chestnut. I feel a green option would not have been out of place, but as I said, I don’t have a breadth of 22mm straps to choose from. While I didn’t get to try it out, there is an option for a 5-link bracelet on the PVD and stainless steel models, which will be available as a $29 add-on during the Kickstarter campaign.

Bern Milford blue case

The Bern Watch Co. Milford Diver checks a lot of boxes, and features a design that is a strong first effort for a new brand. It performed well for me, in so far as I asked it to. I never went diving with it because that’s not something I do. And we haven’t joined the local pool yet, so I didn’t swim with it. But it wore well, and I think there is a well-executed consistency of design through the case, bezel, indices, and hands. I would have liked to see better lume, a larger crown, and a better strap, and I hope their next offering improves on these. I’ll be keeping an eye out, for sure. The Milford Diver is available now on Kickstarter, with Super Early Bird pricing at $299 for stainless steel and PVD, and $350 for solid bronze (all of which include a leather strap and rubber strap. There will be lots of other add-ons and such, so make sure to visit the site and the campaign page. ⬩
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