Since I’ve started collecting watches, I’ve seen so many videos speaking of Seiko and their SKX line as the quintessential first watch for someone beginning to get into watch collecting. It is described as having perfect dimensions, a dial and bezel that are easily adaptable to most dress codes, with the bonus of being from a brand with serious horological history. What is also just as much discussed is the fact that the bracelet quality is shabby at best, the chances of getting a model with QC issues being extremely high, and its increasing rarity and price increases relative to its meager standing in the watch world. With these types of negatives, why would anyone want that to be their first good watch?
Small, independent brands (known as ‘micro-brands’) have started to surge in popularity for this exact reason. The desire to have a great watch without spending a ton of money is appealing to everyone beginning in collecting, and also to those who are used to spending more money on average. They may want something of exceptional quality that they don’t have a problem getting scratched or nicked. There are levels to these pieces as well and Marnaut is on the price level of those lauded SKX’s, but the quality is what pushes their brand above them.
I was sent the Dark Surge 300 S by the founder, fully expecting to have an even number of things I loved about it, along with a good number of things I found wrong with it. I was prepared to poke fun at the dial and the little dots of lume. There’s no way a USD 549 (500,49 EUR) could be good enough to be worth its price, right? Right??
Let’s get the specs out the way. 42mm x 20mm x 13mm. These proportions wrap around a Miyota 9015 movement with a 42-hour power reserve. The movement hacks and hand-winds. There is a rotor wobble, but I only noticed it when moving briskly. If you would like to compare this movement to a Swiss counterpart, use the ETA 2824-2.
Now, the part you see… The entire case has a brushed finish. The bezel on my model is in brushed steel as well. There are no numbers on the diver-style unidirectional bezel, and the watch does not suffer for it. Bezel’s action is crisp in sound and smooth in motion, with no back play. There is a cleanness to the design of the head of the watch that strips it of the uber-sportiness numbers give divers and allows the watch to be something more. The satin finish on the lugs is done well enough that it spreads light evenly, giving them a sort of gleam when light hits them. There is a final taper to the lugs that helps bring the watch closer to the wrist. They are stunning when noticed but disappear at most angles. It is incredible to see in person.
Two strap options come with the watch. The black rubber strap comes fitted, and there was a tan leather option included. I didn’t want to wear the leather strap and damage it too much with sweat and creases before I returned it, so I stuck with the rubber strap…for a while. The rubber is soft and comfortable, and I experienced no itching or discomfort. What bothered me about it was the dust collection. Every time I looked at it, there were white specs of lint everywhere. It doesn’t affect the wear of the watch, but it makes the strap look cheap. Eventually, I changed the strap to a shark mesh bracelet from WatchGecko and that is where the love began.
There is a heft you get from things of quality. I can’t describe it, but once you hold something of high-quality, it ‘feels’ like it’s made well. The head of this watch carries its weight with such confidence, so evenly, it feels like an extension of your wrist. While on the given rubber strap, I could feel that I was wearing a watch. I felt the rotor move and I felt the watch wobble. Once I placed it on the bracelet, the watch seemed to sit in a pocket on my wrist. It stopped moving around. The heft stopped feeling noticeable and started feeling wonderful. To best describe it, I can only say once I placed the watch on this bracelet, I did not want to take it off. There were also many more times where I forgot it was on. I almost hit the basketball court wearing it after I had been in a locker room and changed clothes. It’s butter. This watch is simply butter on the wrist.
And the dial…!!!
When dials are designed outside-of-the-box from what we are all used to, it’s either adored or loathed. There’s no room for anything else. You can either design something like what’s come before or strike out on your own and shun tradition. The reference to something as natural and stunning as the sea urchin is something unexpected but desperately needed. As a bonus, each applied marker is lumed. At night it’s impossible to miss it. Coupled with the domed, anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal, in the light, it becomes incredibly hard to not just stare at. The design language created by this watch is unique, powerful, and understated. Truly, truly amazing.
You may see this and think the SKX’s of the world offer you a safer bet. You can think that following the suggestions of our community of what you should reach for first would be easier. In both instances, the Dark Surge 300 series tells you flatly that you are wrong. This is a remarkably designed, incredibly engineered piece at the price. There is a serious chance you would be making a mistake in buying that suggested Seiko. Picking this, however, is as close to a layup as you can get.
Sanford has been a watch lover all his life, but just recently got into the hobby deeply after making some lifestyle changes. Born and raised in Chicago, IL, he offers a perspective of a seasoned rookie – not knowing much, eager to learn, with a keen eye for dumb shit. His writings focus on news in the watch industry, model reviews, and the occasional op-ed sprinkled with a movie quote or two. Be sure to check for his upcoming series’ as well as his assessments of watch trends. Feel free to reach out to him on Instagram!
You can find Sanford at @quest327