Review of the MK II Kingston

This post is a copy of the review that I wrote for TZ-UK, save for one or two references to members there that I’ve removed for this “environment”.

General Impression and “Wearability”

Having agreed to carry out an objective and impartial review of the MK II Kingston for a friend on TZ-UK (a watch that I’d never set eyes on before, by the way), I have to admit that I was genuinely impressed when it arrived and I removed it from its packaging. The case is well finished and has reasonable weight to it, and – perhaps the consequence of the gilt finish to the dial and hands – it makes a striking first impression. It also has a very clean look to it, partly due to the deep black of the dial but also as a consequence of the very white lume; it’s consequently very clear when glanced at quickly, and very easy to read.

I suspect that the triangular marking in the bezel insert is one of those marmite things – you either love it or hate it. Bearing in mind the watch to which the Kingston pays homage (the 6538 Sub), it’s understandable why such a design would have been used. Personally, I would have gone for a slightly larger pip although I do quite like the triangle, but it really is a matter of personal taste.

The bezel moves in 60 increments to circumnavigate the dial once, and the clicks are precise if slightly on the stiff side. My only real gripe is that the bezel itself seems a little thin and lightweight – certainly, it doesn’t feel solid enough that I was put completely at ease with regard to it’s robustness.

The case sides are polished nicely, and the brushed finish on the top is fine and well applied. Importantly, the lugs are drilled so the purists will be delighted and fumbling strap-changing buffoons relieved. The crown – unprotected and quite large – is signed “MKII” whilst the case-back is almost sterile; it simply has the MKII logo together with the model and serial numbers, all of which are engraved in very small font around the perimeter.

Finally, on the wrist it’s very comfortable indeed. For many it’s the ideal size at marginally over 39mm diameter (sans crown); 43mm wide with the crown; slightly under 48mm lug to lug; and 15mm high, including the slightly domed crystal. The height is slightly misleading as it wears smaller and fits very easily under a shirt cuff of either description. Lug width is 20mm so there would be no problem putting a variety of straps on it if that was the preference.

The Dial and Hands

Obviously, the main talking point regarding the dial relates to the gilt finish, and I’m bound to say it’s another issue that will depend entirely on personal taste. In terms of the look that Bill was trying to achieve, I’m sure that the result will have satisfied him; the gilt detail jumps out from what is a deep black, electroplated dial, and the effect when the light hits the dial and hands from certain angles is stunning. I can understand its attraction, even as someone who wouldn’t naturally gravitate towards this kind if finish.

I’ve read elsewhere that the indices and font are applied, but I can tell you categorically that this isn’t the case. I’ve examined the dial quite closely, in window light and with a loupe, and it is without question a printed dial. That said, the work has been carried out with precision and there were no defects anywhere that I could see, with everything set out sensibly and in an uncluttered fashion and the indices also perfectly finished.

Another striking detail is that – along with the “full-on” indices and hands – the lume is a very bright white and perfectly applied. Looking at the lume is a bit like changing printer paper, when you inadvertently get a pure white shade and then place it next to a pile of the usual off-white. The contrast between black, gold and white is fantastic, and its one of the things that gives the Kingston it’s unique appearance. Consequently, although the hour markers are small by today’s standards, they’re particularly easy to read and overcome the requirement for larger plots à la Rolex’s maxi-dial.

The hands are Mercedes-style, a touch thin in my opinion and finished like the dial in gilt. Once again, the quality of the finish itself is excellent, with both the minute and second hands touching the edge of the minute markers as they traverse the dial and the hour hand equally well proportioned. Whether or not you’re a proponent of the gilt finish, they do look stunning in the right light and whilst I’m not personally a fan the effect overall is magnificent.

Finally, the lume itself (though not tested for longevity) is reasonably bright, whilst not being in the same league as, say, a Seiko. In reality, it’s not in the same league as a Rolex either, but it does the job adequately save that the rather small bezel pip could be bigger and I fear would lose it’s luminosity fairly quickly. (Yes, I know the pip’s not part of the dial – it was a comment on the lume in general, though.)

The Crystal

Bill has opted for a domed sapphire crystal, with AR coating on the underside and no discernible tint that I could detect. The domed shape is, of course, in keeping with the original Rolex vintage that informed the design, and for me it works very well. It also means that, whilst the overall depth/thickness of the watch seems large, in practical terms it wears much smaller than one might expect. I also think that opting for sapphire was the right thing to do; whilst an homage, this watch in no way pretends to be the original and there was therefore no reason to compromise in terms of strength and scratch-resistance.

The Crown

I have to admit to being a little disappointed in the crown overall, although not all my comments are negative. On the plus side, it’s substantial enough that the lack of crown guards shouldn’t be a problem, therefore enabling a risk-free adoption of the “original” style. It’s a trip-lock design, so reassurance is provided in terms of water-resistance. And is has a nice firm feel to it, both in terms of unscrewing and in screwing-down. It feels like it’s been designed to last.

That said, I do have a couple of reservations. The first is that, when unscrewing the crown in order to wind the watch or set the time, I would prefer a clear indication that the stem is fully unscrewed and the crown has been “released” into the winding position. Instead, though, the indication of the stem’s release was almost imperceptible and I found it hard to tell when I should stop unscrewing, and start winding.

Secondly, whilst the crown screws down firmly and precisely, when fully screwed it doesn’t sit even close to flush with the case side. Now, I do understand why Bill would have designed the case without any kind of recess for the crown, and I also appreciate that the trip-lock design requires an outer gasket. However, I think the second photo below will demonstrate that he might have got a little closer to the mark with this one.

Bracelet and Clasp

Okay, I’ll preface this section by making it clear that this is where I had the biggest problem in avoiding appearing to be negative in my view. However, the purpose was always to be impartial and honest, so here we go…

The bracelet measures 20mm at the lug ends, reducing to slightly over 16mm at the clasp; the links are 2.4mm thick and the finish itself as of decent quality with the brushing fine and well/evenly applied. I can’t verify whether or not the end links are solid as I didn’t want to remove the bracelet for fear of marking the lugs in any way. Similarly, I understand that the polished “plates” at either side of the links are separate to the links themselves, but I haven’t taken any of the links apart and can’t therefore vouch for that to be the case.

When all’s said and done, however, I found the bracelet to be far too light for the watch, and whilst I’m sure its quite secure it didn’t give me any feeling of comfort in use. In fact, when worn even slightly on the loose side the bracelet was a little rattly, and reminiscent of the cheaper Seiko’s rather than a watch that is actually of a better quality than that. I also take issue with Bills choice of link-fastening system; whilst screwed pins are fine (and probably preferable to a non-screwing pin or pin & collar system), I really don’t like the way the screws on either side sit proud of the links themselves. I personally think it looks cheap, although I accept that it’s a subjective view and others may disagree.

What isn’t subjective, though, is that the clasp itself is lightweight and basic in design, again akin to Seiko’s entry-level equivalents. Yes, it has a flip-lock arrangement and is therefore no doubt quite secure, but it feels relatively flimsy and doesn’t bear any kind of comparison with even the mid-range watches from more established manufacturers. I can only conclude that Bill made strenuous efforts to keep production costs down when it came to both the bracelet and the clasp, and I suspect that this was something of a mistake in hindsight.

Summary (and Exclusions)

Having worn this watch for a couple of days now, I have to say that my overall impression is a good one. Whilst I’ve not tested it for accuracy I do know that Bill uses high quality, elaborated ETA movements (2836-2, I believe) that are regulated in a number of positions and which can be found on reasonably expensive dive watches from many of the well-known watch houses. I don’t profess to be an expert when it comes to the mechanics within a watch, so can’t tell you how this compares to, say, a Rolex 3135; I’m sure that others on TZ could offer a view in this respect, though.

When Vicky suggested that the Kingston was a better watch than a Rolex Submariner 14060, I don’t think she would have possibly imagined the ensuing kerfuffle that has now seen not one, but two reviews as a consequence. However, I was asked to form a view in this respect, and a view I have indeed formed!

The “ND Sub” is a true icon of a watch, currently selling for £3940 (although we all know, of course, that as consumers we have a mighty PR machine to fund when we buy a Rolex). In truth, I haven’t seen anything whatsoever in the Kingston to suggest that it’s comparable in terms of quality, be that the materials used, the finish itself or the impression of robustness and longevity. Indeed, the bracelet and clasp are really not worthy of the watch, and don’t compare even to the worst of Rolex’s offerings over recent years.

The answer to that question, to me at least, is clear but I suspect it was the wrong question anyway. What I would ask is how the Kingston compares to other Submariner homages in a more similar price range, and I suspect that the answer is “very well indeed” (and the competition is pretty fierce, with Steinhart, Orient, Marcello C, Sandoz, O&W, Invicta and even Seiko jockeying for position – most for less money than the Kingston). Whist the detail on the watch may not be to everyone’s taste the overall impression is one of quality, and – bracelet and clasp aside – the watch seems to be well engineered save for the small niggles regarding the crown.

From my own perspective, at this moment in time I wouldn’t buy a Kingston, although I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed wearing one and actually think that it’s a great watch. However, if a Rolex was out of my reach; or if I wanted a cheaper-than-Rolex dive watch simply because it better suited my purposes; and if I felt more drawn than I do to the gilt finish… then yes, I probably would. Bearing in mind what the plank owners have forked out, I think it represents great value, a unique look and a watch that’s unlikely to disappoint those who are patiently, or impatiently, awaiting delivery. As for whether it’s a decent investment or not – well, time will tell!

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