Marnaut, an independent watch brand founded in 2018, has taken the trend of dive watches and placed a truly unique spin on them. Their first release, the Dark Surge, was an amazing and truly unique take on the skin diver. It’s design inspiration, the sea urchin, can be seen in its design. It truly is remarkable to see at any angle and most important to lume junkies, any light.
To follow this successful release, Marnaut will introduce their next diver – the Seascape. This model will have a 200m water resistance but will include the added functionality of an internal numbered bezel. After he shared a photo of some of what he owns, I also wanted to see what inspires such a unique design perspective on such a classic as the Super Compressor.
The Dark Surge is one of the loveliest and unique releases in my recent memory. Was the plan to always offer a numbered bezel, or was it influenced by consumer demand?
It was our choice to offer as much as we could considering the funding we could get and the timeline we had coupled with what ultimately looked good. I think the classic two-tone with a silver case and black bezel is a design that MUST be included- never old, classic and looks good in any scenario. The full silver model (300S) a bit more understated, more old school, that one just came together and looked good as soon as we saw it. Now, for the 300B – full IP plated black version, this one I added last minute. To me, it gives a more modern, futuristic look to our design. On top of that at 42mm, the watch is not small, and the full black version does make it appear smaller on the wrist than the others. So, if some people are interested in our watch but have reservations about the size then the full black version is for them.
You seem to have a very eclectic eye for watches. Which models were the most influential in your break from tradition in the Dark Surge and upcoming Seascape?
I love collecting vintage dive watch from the 1960s and 1970s, rugged, varied in designs, and still looking good today. But I have to say that vintage Seiko’s have a special spot in my heart, I think this had to do with me living in Japan as a kid, I have loved learning and owning a lot of their old timepieces. From the very early divers – the Silver Wave to the 6105-8110 masterpiece, the 6217-7000 made to commemorate the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and to the groundbreaking Automatic Chronos of 1969 and onwards. There was one dial that captured my imagination and put me on the path of symmetry and that was the J12082 Seiko Silver Wave Starburst edition. Made from 1961-1963 I believe, and they are rare. The dial is superb with lines in an asterisk-shape that shines when the light hits them. I have owned several of these and I can say that there is magic in that dial.
Speaking of tradition, are there any plans to offer a mesh steel bracelet for either model? Will the strap options increase in the future to include steel and/or NATO straps?
The thing that I am currently looking for one that will come with the Seascape in the future. I have not finalized yet, but I have designed the Seascape with a bunch of different steel bracelets, but the mesh is the best fit. I am a huge fan of NATO straps and we will be included MARNAUT NATO straps with the Seascape as the stretch goal was met. The Dark Surge 300 will have a metal band as well but that will be finalized later in the year.
Customization is slowly becoming more and more desired by the modern watch buyer. People love to have options in the watches they wear. Are there any plans to offer a sliver or white dial for either model? Color variations?
Yes, I do see customization as a factor, but it is tough, especially for a small company such as ours to be manufacturing one-off pieces. What I hope to create with our design DNA is the same thing that the Submariner has created, a design with longevity and style that is not swayed by trends. I also feel that too much customization cheapens the brand and is a short-term outlook. We want to do one thing, that is to create a quality automatic diver that offers a unique design and can find its place in the timepiece market and last.
What inspired the coordinates to the cave on the dial?
My love of Croatia and its magical seaside is part of the reason. The other reason is that I have one of my most memorable and exciting experiences venturing out on a small boat with friends from the island of Brac to the far Island of Bisevo a third of the way to Italy and exploring the Blue Cave of Bisevo. After that experience, I thought I will commemorate that experience by adding the coordinates of the Bisevo Blue cave to my first watch which was the Dark Surge 300. For the Seascape 200M, I thought the name was fitting to the new watch design as a Seascape is a depiction of Marine Art and the dial is based on the exoskeleton of the sea urchin it was kind of a seascape on the wrist. One of the most magical seascapes in Croatia is the town of Bol on my island of Brac, so the Seascape coordinates are that of Bol’s magnificent seascape.
Besides the numbers on the bezel, what can people expect from the Seascape?
It holds true to the “gentleman’s” diver as they call Super Compressors, with the rounded case that bridges the gap between sporty and dressy. I think people will be pleasantly surprised as to how well this watch can be dressed up with a suit.
When you aren’t designing, we spoke about motorcycle building and road-tripping. Do you still ride? What’s your grail bike?
Yes, I have a love of motorcycles, this is passed down from my father who still rides his Harley. For his retirement celebration, my brother, father, two friends and I rode from Miami Florida to San Francisco in 14 days, that was a trip I will never forget. I have a 1983 BMW R100RS with the 1 and a half seat configuration. I think it is the mechanical feeling of the machine that I enjoy, it feels very realistic and alive in the sense that it is somewhat stiff and cold at the start of the ride but once it warms up, stretches its legs a bit it becomes so agile, responsive and such a blast. I would say that my grail bike would probably be the cafe racer that I will turn my R100RS into one day.
Developing pieces that are unique, but not garish, can be difficult. Can you talk about the specific challenges you overcame in the developments of the Dark Surge and Seascape?
I think what was most beneficial for me was the 8 years of collecting vintage divers I did before I attempted my own design. That gave me a good base and overview of what had been designed and seeing that the diver watch market is pretty much all homages, my main goal was for the dial to be original as that is the heart and soul of the watch. The designing process became about restraint, not forcing a design that reminded me of something I had seen or collected in the past. This was also one of the first design projects that I consciously did not give myself a deadline. Once I had bridged my childhood of snorkeling in Croatia and my fascination with sea urchins, I knew that symmetry texture was a viable option for the dial. One thing that added about 9 months to the project was my determination to stay true to the sea urchin exoskeleton and that meant that the markings had to be raised therefore applied indexes needed to be made. This was a bit of work if you can imagine, with tolerance obstacles, lume application obstacles and more.
When I first started studying watchmaking and watch collecting, YouTube was a huge tutor in design history and movement technology. Which comes first for Marnaut – design or the movement? Why?
Design for sure. Today, it is extremely difficult just to be a player in the watch market let alone get into movement design. Having said that I have a new watch design in mind that has a specific feature that was used only a few times and in movements made in the 1960s. I will have to figure out and see if there is a way to obtain those movements for my idea. The other reason why most brands do not really worry about custom movements is that the movements of many well-known brands are shared across brands. ETA, Sellita, Miyota, etc. all make good, quality movements and take that difficult part of manufacturing out of the equation.
Excluding your own models, what watch on the market would you buy for a family member?
My first instinct would be to buy vintage as I feel the best designs have been made already. This is evident by the number of reissues big brands are doing as well as all the homages micro brands are putting out. In the new market segment, I do really like what Autodromo has done. They are focused, a brand that sticks to a design language and puts out some very nice pieces.
A Bit About Me and the Project: Mario, in His Own Words
MARNAUT was officially founded in 2018 but I started conceptualizing this watch (Dark Surge 300) about four years ago. I have been collecting vintage watches (mainly divers) for the last 8 years. I was wearing a Seiko 6309-7040 turtle on NATO when I got married when my daughter was born, I was wearing a Seiko 6217-7000 grey dial Olympics GMT. I have been lucky to get a few vintage Seamaster 300’s cals. 552 and 556 as well as a Heuer Regatta, a few J12082 Seiko silver waves starburst dial to name a few. I have the watch bug, I love the stories, the designs, the ruggedness of tool watches and the fact that you can dress it up.
During those years I saw thousands and thousands of dials from old Silvana’s to Z.R.C. to Alsta’s, super interesting diver watches and I kind of built up a mental database of these vintage dive watch designs. Every time a watch brand came out, I could pick out the features these “new” watch brands took some of their design from. It seems to me that a lot of the good stuff, especially in diving watch design, has already been made and the proof is also that there are a whole lot of “re-edition” watches from the top brands as well as a whole host of homage watches.
As a career creative, I approached this project primarily from a design standpoint. I wanted to challenge myself to create something that was NOT a homage piece but rather a timepiece that had the same feel as the legends of the past but could stand on its own as the original. That meant that I had to create a unique dial which for me is the most important part of the watch. I am Croatian and as a kid, during summer I would go snorkeling on the island of Brac in the Adriatic Sea looking for sea urchins and their shells. I remember always being captivated by their shape, symmetry and the utter uniqueness of them. That texture and balance came back to me and ended up being the design inspiration for the MARNAUT Dark Surge 300M and now became my design DNA.
It is unusual to have a dial with 46 indexes (Dark Surge). It is complicated yet simple, there was some balance struck there in my opinion. It is laborious and a bit risky and one puncture to the dial off by a fraction of a millimeter throws off the balance of the dial. I have attached a picture from a side angle (Marnaut side view) so you can see how the light reflects around the circular indexes.
The name MARNAUT is Mare(sea) + Nautica (Naut – explorer)
I have worn a few nice vintage watches and a few nice new watches, so I am already somewhat accustomed to “feeling” what a proper quality watch feels like. I needed to make sure that when I take off a Seamaster 300 that the next day I can put on the MARNAUT and feel good about it. It had to feel quality and be made properly otherwise I wouldn’t want to wear it. I hope people can see it for its originality and want to add it to their collection even though it is a totally unknown brand.
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