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Monbrey MB1 L01 Silver

The Updated Grammar of Design

Like many people have in the past five decades of watch enthusiasm, I got sucked into the history of Seiko and was marveled by a particular model, the King Seiko KS44. The latter was designed according to the 1960s “Grammar of Design” laid out by designer Taro Tanaka. One key element of which was that “all surfaces and angles of the case, dial, hands, and indices had to be flat and geometrically perfect to best reflect light” according to this article published on Worn & Wound. In other words, sharp and flat angles all around. I absolutely love how many Seiko’s, made in the 1960s/80s under various brand names, came out with such looks.  But few modern micro and independent brands dared creating watches inspired by this particular style of horological design.

That was the case until that Monbrey came onto the scenes in early 2023. Based in Hong-Kong, Monbrey was co-founded by two industrial designers, Henry Kwong and Austin Lee, with the goal of “inventing a new dimension” in horology, as they so put it on their website. Their first collection, the MB1 Series, was certainly inspired by 1970s design as you immediately can tell by the case profile and dial layout. The MB1 is bold, geometric, and weirdly vintage whilst looking futuristic at the same time. Today, then, we’re going to take a look at the L01 Steel variant which, to me, reminds me the most of the 1960s King Seiko’s I mentioned above. 


One thing will become instantly clear here: the Monbrey MB1 L01 Steel is not the type of watch where the dimensions match what you see in photos and feel on the wrist. Despite having a diameter of 38.5mm, a lug-to-lug of 47mm, a thickness of 12mm (including the crystal) and a lug width of 20mm, the MB1 looks and feels larger given its case profile and the long, straight lugs. While we will talk about its design in more depth later, I wanted to point at the elephant in the room right off the bat. However, its saving grace for someone like who has smaller wrists of 6.50”/17cm*, is the fact that the MB1 L01 is not only relatively thin but also gorgeous. But we will gush more about its looks and finish later in this review. 

*For two years I’ve been mentioning that my wrists are 6.25”/17cm but it turns out that now, by some miracle, they are actually 6.50”/17cm. Go figure. 

But for now, let’s talk about all specs which you should be aware of starting with the movement within. The MB1 is powered by a premium Miyota 9039 caliber that beats at 28,800 BPH (4Hz) and has 42+ hours of power reserve. Monbrey sandwiched the 9039 inside a Faraday cage made of soft iron to bring its anti-magnetism property to 4,800 A/m to meet the requirements of ISO 764:2020. To put this into perspective, this is the minimum antimagnetic resistance a mechanical movement has to show in order to be ISO certified. And also the brand indicates a minimum resistance to magnetism of 4,800 A/m, I’ll assume that the actual number is much higher given its construction. (For reference, the Wolf Creek North Star also has a soft iron cage and high resistance to magnetism.)

The 316L stainless case is endowed with a superb alternation of polished and brushed surfaces placed in strategic areas to highlight the angularity of the case. Brushed sections on the case sides and top of the lugs, while a high-polished fixed bezel and angular chamfer creates dynamic light plays. A similar alternation of finishes can be found on the bracelet. (More on that below.) The MB1 has 50 meters of water resistance, a small screw-down crown (I really don’t mind small crowns although that’s an unpopular opinion) and case-back. The latter, by the way, has a matte-black finish which endows the MB1 with a subtle air of utilitarianism. 

Before that I start gushing over the design of the MB1, you should know that the H-link style bracelet is well manufactured, comes with a pin-and-collar system to add/remove links, and a double-pusher deployant clasp complete with on-the-fly micro-adjustment system. One thing I already like a lot about the Monbrey MB1 is how much attention the brand put in designing and manufacturing this model. It’s full of small surprises that make this watch a full package. But we’ll figure this out very shortly. 


Alright, let’s now talk about the design. As mentioned in the introduction, the MB1 reminds me a lot of 1960s/70s King Seiko models and that’s a very good thing. When I look at this watch, the first element of its design that jumps out—as you may have noticed already—are the lugs. They are exceptionally angular and bold, as well as being long and absolutely flat. Again, this might not be to everybody’s taste but it works for me because it’s different from what I’m used to seeing from micro and independent brands. And however you feel about the lugs, they do endow the MB1 with a strong wrist presence and will definitely make for many conversation starters. 

But there is more to the case design than its lugs. Indeed, the angularity of the latter is echoed in the bracelet where each link showcases polished upper bevels on all sides which create dynamic light plays. (In addition to making the MB1 look luxurious, in a good way.) The bracelet truly is superbly designed and machined and the same attention to the design and construction can be found on the clasp. Proportionally, I feel that the crown has the right size for this type of watch and being this small, it doesn’t overshadow the elongated lug design. (A larger crown would have made the sides of the case look too prominent in my opinion.) 

The dial is quite handsome too. I’ve come to adore Dauphine hands and the execution here is superb: the top sections of the hour and minute hands are finely brushed while their beveled edges are fully polished. The same alternation of finishes can be found on the applied hour markers, doubled at the 12 o’clock. (I also have a weakness for fully polished needle-shaped seconds hand.) The level of execution here—and I do insist on pointing this out—is stellar. Although we haven’t talked about prices yet you should know that the MB1 retails for $599 USD on the bracelet, and for this price one will find two additional leather straps in the box. That’s arguably a very good price for the superior quality of design, manufacturing, and design one gets. 

Furthermore, the entirety of the surface of the dial is endowed with a fine—as in refined—radial brushing. Although we find ourselves here with gray hands and applied markers set against a gray background, the MB1 is easy to read, though it doesn’t have any lume. As it shouldn’t, to be frank. This is not the kind of watch that requires lume. Additionally, I would point out the minimalist minute track painted in black which is visible just enough to make it possible to set and keep accurate time. 

The Heart of the Matter

At the heart of the matter are two elements. First, that the MB1 is a full package that is perfectly executed. Great finish, good movement, a sapphire crystal with AR coating and finger-print coating (whatever this means,) and outstanding bracelet that comes with a tool-less micro-adjustment clasp, as well as having a movement with increased anti-magnetic properties. Second, is the fact that the Monbrey MB1 offers us, watch enthusiasts and fans of 1960s Seiko designs, an opportunity to get a taste of it at a reasonable price. Yes, I believe that $599 USD is reasonable given all of what you get for what you pay. (I’ll refer you to the aforementioned spec sheet.) Again, the MB1 is remarkably finished. 

Furthermore, it should be noted that the MB1 comes in nine (9) color variants: Steel (L01) as shown here, Black (L02,) White (L03,) Black Gilt (L05,) Turquoise (L06,) Olive Green (L07,) Indigo Purple (L08,) Cherry Red (L09,) and Blue (L10.) There is, therefore, and arguably, a color for everyone. I asked to be sent the Steel variant because I’m currently a sucker for gray dials. Though, looking at the product shots on the brand’s website, it seems that the MB1 remains an elegant and legible timekeeping device whichever color you might go for. I like it very much  when brands give us options for colors as we all have different tastes and preferences. 

The latter point brings me to a final one: the MB1 is Monbrey’s very first model which is an impressive fact to me. Impressive because this collection is better thought through and manufactured than many first models I’ve reviewed in the past three years. For the meager asking price of $599 USD, you get a quality of finish that is equal—according to yours truly—to a modern $1,600 King Seiko recreation. I know, that’s saying a lot and I applaud Henry and Austin for coming up with such a stellar debut collection. 


I won’t lie, I would have preferred if the lugs were a tad shorter or angled down just a bit. I did not like how the watch sat on my wrist at first, whether I was wearing it on the bracelet or one of the two leather straps. But I must say that the flat case profile has grown on me after a few days, just like it did with the Marin Instruments Skin Diver which too comes with a flat profile. Honestly, if you like the way the MB1 looks then you’ll like how it sits on your wrist. And if your wrists are larger than mine, even by just a quart of an inch, then the fit will be really good. 

I encourage you to check out Monbrey’s website to see all color options and learn more about the brand. 

Thanks for reading. 


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