What Makes a Baltic Watch Special?

Baltic recently released a new collection, the Hermetique which is Baltic’s neo vintage field watch. I’ll be right up front and say it, I love this watch. Everything about it is perfect. The dial is dynamic and gorgeous for the price point, the size, even being unique in the watch style it decided to homage, being a lovely shoutout to Francois Borgel watch cases from the 50s. It’s still not perfect, and I will write more on that in a bit but I’m more curious about breaking down Baltic’s brand identity and design language, to see what makes a Baltic watch a Baltic watch. 

The first watch from Baltic that I learned about was the Aquascaphe, which for the record remains one of my favorite dive watches today. This was still when I was new to the watch community so I didn’t think a 600 euro watch could look like this.  My favorite version is the black dial with the faux patina lume, everything is so layered on this watch. The dial is a sanwhich style dial but not every indice, its only the triangles at the 3, 6, and 9 are cut out of the black textured dial while the 12 and all the circles are more or less raised, just a little bit. The bezel is designed to replicate the old bakelite bezels with flat printing and a sheet of saphire glass over top giving a more three dimensional look. My only citicism is the size, I feel like the lug to lug length could have been reduced but it’s still a sub 40 millimeter dive watch which I will always welcome. The only other thing of note here on this watch is the simple font used, very rigid and utilitarian, but this idea will prevail in the rest of Baltic’s lineup.

Baltic Aquascaphe Classic Black Cream

The latest iteration of the HMS line was the first Baltic where I struggled with the design, it’s just so close to perfection but something about it was always a little bit off. For one, it is a dressier watch and I very much prefer field and sport watches, but mostly it’s the case. I don’t like stepped cases like this unless it’s executed to an extremely high level, which you won’t find at this price point. But I have to appreciate the dial of the HMS 003. Two essential layers, one brushed circularly and the other with a similar grainy texture to the Aquascaphe, then a crosshair is molded and printed on and finally atop all that is shiny applied indices. The indices are in a 12, 3, 6, 9 style which seems to be a semi important design detail for the brand, and the handset is this leaf shape. The watch doesn’t quite hit for me, mainly because of the style of stepped bezel. I appreciate this watch for what it’s doing, but it’s also not for me, much like the MR01.

Baltic HMS 003 Salmon

From a design point of view the MR01 is perfect. Gone is the stepped case, the watch is half a millimeter smaller, and it has the all familiar grain textured dial. Everything else is new for the brand, using a small seconds taking up the space where a seven an eight should go, just for a bit of quirkiness. The dial features Breguet Numerals instead of the minimalist font we’ve gotten used too. Most importantly the movement is a micro rotor movement! That is actually my problem with the watch but we will get to that. For the first time Baltic has a true dress watch, not just a dressier sport watch. I do think this is a great watch, and I hope to try it on someday but the movement inside kinda trips me up a bit. While it’s not a bad movement, there have been reliabilty concerns with it and its not a movement that will get regular maintenance, mostly because it will be cheaper to replace it. That’s a real shame because for me mechanical watchmaking is cool for the longevity of a good mechanical watch. Not that good watches don’t need servicing, but a good watch shouldn’t have a movement thats cheaper to replace than it is to repair in my opinion. 

Baltic MR01 Blue

Now here we are with the almost brand new Hermetique Tourer. This 1950s themed field watch is so beautiful, and I think it’s the first watch from the brand that I truly love, and plan on buying. Let’s start with the dial and work our way out. The innermost part of the dial is a solid matte color, my favorite of the bunch is the beige version, it’s framed by a metal ring and then a thicker black ring with a railroad printed minute track on the very edge of the dial. It follows the familiar 12, 3, 6, 9 format using a minimalist blocky font, the numerals have simple batons between them and there are circles on the very edge for each number, giving off an Omega Railmaster vibe. The handset is my oh so favorite syringe style and the numerals replicate ceramic lume blocks sometimes found on higher end watches. The case features an inteegrated crown similar to that of Francois Borgel watch cases and is brushed all the way through with a polished sloping slightly stepped bezel. Finally you can get the watch on a bracelet, either beads of rice or a three link flat link bracelet, or you can get it on a color matched rubber tropic strap, which would be my pick. 

Baltic Hermétique Tourer

There are quite a few other watches on Baltic’s website, but I just don’t care about them from a design point of view, especially when most of them are just different case materials, and then there was that perpetual calender that Baltic made for Only Watch this year. And on top of all that Baltic’s archive is really interesting. 

So what makes a Baltic watch a Baltic watch? Sure we can be easy and say affordability and that is a part of Baltic’s identity, but I want to try to focus in on that design. Even though Baltic has many watches among many design eras, there are a few things I would like to point out. The first is muted colors, the most colors we see from Baltic’s permanent collection are muted shades of blue and green, but we also have brown and beige with the new Hermetique Tourer watches. Compact sizes are also important, sure their largest watch has a 41mm diameter but most of their collection resides in the sub 40mm domain and around that 36-38 millimeter range. Last but not least, modern fonts on vintage designs. Even if numerals aren’t the main focus we see simple modern indices and hands on relatively vintage watch designs.

Hopefully this spring I will be in Paris, and if I can make it I will be visiting Baltic’s showroom. The brand’s evolution has been fascinating and I think it’s obvious looking through their archive page that they know what they are doing. Buying a Baltic isn’t just buying an affordable mechanical watch, you are buying into a niche culture where the traditions of watchmaking are still alive despite the Apple Watch of it all. I, for one, cannot wait to see future Baltic Experiments projects, and I hope to own one of those projects because this Only Watch 2023 entry is so fantastic but oh so limited.