Werenbach Leonov Model 2

It seems The Time Bum was good this year because I found a Werenbach Leonov waiting for me under the tree on Christmas morning. The fact that I purchased it, wrapped it, and placed it there is entirely beside the point. It was exactly what I wanted, and I have worn it every day for the past week. What makes this watch so cool? Three things: space stuff, excellent proportions, and top-notch graphic design.

Werenbach Leonov Model 2 booster shell

Werenbach watches are made from Soyuz rocket parts salvaged from the steppes surrounding the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site in Kazakhstan. Rockets are single-use items, shedding their fuel tanks and propulsion systems in stages as they deliver their payload to orbit. The Werenbach team collects these discarded fairings, engines, booster shells, etc. and, in what must be an extraordinary feat of bureaucratic navigation, brings them back to Switzerland to turn them in to watch parts.  They currently offer three collections: the quartz Mach 33 with rocket fragments embedded in the dial,  the automatic Leonov with whole dials cut from rocket skin, and the Soyuz automatic 3-handers and chronographs with cases made from engines or shells. Prices range from a couple hundred dollars for a Mach 33 to several thousand for a Soyuz chronograph. I chose a mid-range ($1,151) Leonov Model 2 dual-crown launch sequencer with a gray booster shell dial and took advantage of their 25% off holiday sale (code XMAS25 and still active as of today).

Werenbach Leonov Model 2 booster shell

The Leonov's stainless steel case is 40mm wide and 50mm long. It is fitted with two sapphire crystals (domes in front and flat in the rear) and is listed as being 14mm thick, although the precision instruments here at Time Bum Labs got that last measurement only by including the feet of the lugs. From the case back to the crystal, it is a far more manageable 13mm. A combination of a brushed top and matte sides enhances the Leonov's industrial appeal. Engraved on the left side is the symbol for hydrogen that was included in the Pioneer plaque.

Werenbach Leonov Model 2 symbol

The crowns are curious as they are two different designs. The 2 o'clock crown for the internal bezel is coin-edged. The 3 o'clock time-setter has fat flutes and is signed. Why not make them the same? I have no idea, yet somehow, it works, coming off as more of an eccentricity than anything else.

Werenbach Leonov Model 2 booster shell crowns

With its sheer sides, angular lugs, and chunky guards, it projects the aura of a tool watch, although perhaps not as toolish as one might think. I would have expected a 100m water resistance rating given the fact that both crowns screw down, but recall that this is not a diving watch. 50m is on par for most pilot and field watches, and more than sufficient for almost anyone's daily use, the proliferation of Giant Squid-depth dive watches notwithstanding.

Werenbach Leonov Model 2 booster shell case back

The backside offers a view of the Swiss STP 11-1 automatic movement. This is a 26-jewel ETA 2824 clone, nicely finished with perlage and a signed custom rotor. You will find more than the usual specs engraved back here. Because Werenbach collects its space junk shortly after launch, they can accurately identify the rocket and mission from which these parts came. Along with the usual case back specs of water resistance and serial number, the Werenbach also states that its material came from the Soyuz FG rocket that propelled Flight Mission MS-09, sending three astronauts to the ISS on June 6, 2018.

Which brings us to the most unusual part of the watch, the dial. Werenbach uses several different parts of the Soyuz shell, jettisoned at various stages, each with its own character. This dial was cut from the inside of an aluminum booster shell, part of the first stage of the rocket and one of the first items to fall to earth after attaining an altitude of between 46-85 km, which, depending on whose definition you follow, is more or less the edge of space. Its surface is left as-is is, so whatever nicks, scratches, marks, or discolorations it picked up in its travels remain, and no two are alike.

Werenbach Leonov Model 2 booster shell launch sequencer wrist shot

The layout is clean and straightforward, consisting of lumed bars and a printed index. They have truncated the 3 o'clock marker to make way for a porthole date window. The 9 o'clock marker is similarly shortened to make way for the "Soyuz Mat.'[erial] engraving. I'm generally agnostic about date complications, but I do love them when they are done well. This one is ringed and countersunk, which shows off the thickness of the dial and reveals a glint of fresh aluminum that finds its match in the engraving on the other side. You can appreciate the raw material even more by inspecting the actual block of rocket skin from which your dial was cut, included in the packaging.

Werenbach Leonov Model 2 booster shell certificate and original material

At 12 o'clock, we find the last shortened marker, this time making way for the Werenbach crossed arrows logo - and, boy, do they need the space because there are seven lines of text to follow. Regular readers know I tend to be critical of wordy dials. There is really only so much information anyone needs on there, and I have never once looked at a watch and thought, "You what this needs? More words." Well, the Leonov proves to be the exception to my rule. They packed a ton of information onto here in a manner that keeps it legible while becoming an essential feature of the watch's face.

Werenbach Leonov Model 2 booster shell

The text is printed in a lightweight, sans-serif typeface. Up top is the "Spaceborn" label (the only exception as it is slightly bolder and has more tracking), then the specific rocket material, and its coordinates. Below the pinion is "Launch Sequencer" (referring to the bezel, which I'll discuss next). The final three lines list the three stages of rocket separation.

Werenbach Leonov Model 2 booster shell

Like I said, it's a lot in a small space, but the information is unique to the Werenbach's composition, nothing is crowded, all is legible, and the stacked text ends up working quite well as a design element. It could have come right out of the 1975 NASA Graphics Standards Manual. I was instantly reminded of precision instruments, warehouse-sized IBM computers, and maybe a dash of "Doctor Strangelove" war room.

Werenbach Leonov Model 2 booster shell

The Launch Sequencer index was another huge selling point for me. The bidirectional bezel indicates time to separation for each stage after liftoff. As the entire process unfolds in just 8:49 minutes, the remainder of the ring shows the approximate altitudes achieved by each stage. You can use this handy tool when viewing a Soyuz launch, or you can just set "lift-off" as you would the top triangle on any other movable bezel devoid of other useful markings. But let's face it, the sequencer bezel is just a nifty curiosity. While it has little practical value, I must admit that in my life, it no different than tachymeter, a moon phase, or any number of other interesting but unused functions on my watches. It is all about character, and the Leonov has it in abundance.

In keeping with the industrial aesthetic, the handset is a clean pair of long, black batons, filled with lume from the 3/4 mark. The only decorative flourish is the open counterweight on the second hand that mirrors the shape of the hour markers. Both the hands and the markers have an ample application of SuperLuminova for an excellent nighttime glow.

Werenbach Leonov Model 2 booster shell lume

Werenbach offers several strap options, including leather, rubber, nylon NATO, and an engineer bracelet. I know I always say to buy the bracelet, but the absence of fitted end links makes this one less desirable for me. Instead, I opted for the black textile strap. As a stand-alone accessory, it sells for a steep $85.49, and I can understand why. It is a heavy nylon weave with great texture, quick release pins, and leather keepers and reinforcement from the adjustment holes to the tip, which is stamped with the Werenbach logo. The underside is rubberized leather printed with two graphs, trajectory on one side, and the solar system on the other. An engraved buckle finishes it off. It is a top-quality piece all around and I love the fact that Werenbach allows you to choose from three lengths for a perfect fit. My only gripe is that it is quite stiff out of the box and takes some time to develop a comfortable curvature, but that's a small price to pay for such a unique strap.

Werenbach textile strap

Of course, my enthusiasm for the strap did not stop me from fitting a different one. I figured the arrival of my rocket watch provided the perfect justification for trying a NASA strap. I ordered mine from CheapestNATOStraps.com for a mere $9.95. Designed initially to secure watches over the gargantuan arms of an external vehicular activity space suit, these straps consist of a single-pass strip of Velcro that folds back over a metal loop to stick to itself. Cheapest NATO offers a suede-accented model that is considerably shorter and a tad more luxurious than the original. The system works perfectly. Once in place, that long strip of hook-and-loop is not coming apart until you do it yourself, and there is more than ample length to wrap it over any wrist. I liked it, and it is an ideal match for a watch like this, but I'll warn you that Velcro will grab all kinds of loose fabric, so I found myself continually picking odd bits of fuzz and fluff off its trailing edge.

Werenbach Leonov Model 2 booster shell on Cheapest NATO Straps suede NASA strap

I recall when Werenbach's Kickstarter campaign was still underway, a friend joked about how someone was selling a "rocket watch" and asked if anyone would buy this thing if it did not have that gimmick. I said I would. I agreed that a watch made of salvaged bits could easily have been little more than a novelty. Instead, the Werenbach Leonov is a cleverly executed design in and of itself, and the fact that it was fashioned from the skin of an honest-to-god, shot-into-space rocket brings it all together. 

I am very happy with my prurchase. The raw-looking medium gray dial has the perfect scientific instrument look I initially fell for when Werenbach first introduced the collection, but there is so much more to choose from: orange engine cladding, burned booster shell, yellow hatch skin, decal-clad faring... it's all fascinating stuff and well worth a look. If the Leonov's space-race era looks and unique origin appeals to you, then head over to Werenbach.ch. You won't be disappointed. ⬩

Werenbach Leonov Model 2 booster shell launch sequencer

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