Marnaut Safe Harbour and Dark Surge – the everyday warrior and the diving explorerBorna Bošnjak
One of the greatest additions to the world of watches in recent years has been that of the microbrand. Not only are these startups important for offering great specs at lower prices, but they also have the freedom to experiment and build brand identity in a way that few big corporations can. Case in point – Marnaut, and their sea urchin-inspired dials. After announcing their very first boutique earlier this year, Marnaut is looking to outfit it with the latest versions of their Dark Surge diver, as well as the new Safe Harbour – a tonneau-cased GADA piece with the signature urchin dial. Both are now equipped with Sellita movements, with assembly taking place in Pforzheim, a German city with a long watchmaking history.
With its elongated indices transitioning into 34 lumed pips reducing in size towards the centre, Marnaut’s dials are the stand-out feature for the brand. Owing to its smaller size, the sea urchin-inspired design of the Safe Harbour is bunched up more closely, sitting against a shiny black backdrop. Interestingly, Marnaut calls it an enamel matte black, though the finish in person takes on a very glossy, lacquered appearance. To fit the more subdued look, Marnaut went with a very slender handset, which at times does get lost among the busy dial appliques.
The updated Dark Surge sports the same glossy dial finish, though exchanging the cardinal point indices for chunky, lume-filled numerals. The handset also becomes a lot more legible, with rounded-off arrow style that offers great luminescence.
Finally, the lume is a bit of a party trick with Marnaut dials, as you would expect given that all of the indices are covered in green SuperLuminova C3. As cool as the lume shot is, however, it also reveals a design choice I find a little odd, concerning the printed dial text taking the spot of two lume pips. While I understand that branding is essential, especially for a young brand, it would be really cool seeing the dial design be the branding and Marnaut omitting all dial text – especially the slightly clumsy AUTO MATIC text.
If you’ve read any of my previous articles, chances are you would’ve read my waxing lyrical about how great Universal Genève is. The barrel case shape of the Safe Harbour immediately reminded me of the Genta-designed Silver Shadow, and that’s a very good thing. Admittedly, the Safe Harbour is a little bigger in size, measuring 39mm in diameter, with a 13.2mm thickness and 45mm lug-to-lug, though these dimensions will make it ideal for most people looking for an everyday watch that won’t look out of place in sportier scenarios. One measurement that did surprise me was the height, as Marnaut does a great job of concealing what could appear a bit thick on paper. The mid-case is elegantly curved, preventing the protruding caseback from being too overbearing, and the curvature is followed by the convex sapphire crystal which hides a few millimetres in its dome. The left side of the case is notched, helping the crown sit a little more flush, though it does protrude a little even when fully screwed in. On the flip side, this makes it really easy to grip and hand-wind, so swings and roundabouts, really.
Where the Safe Harbour packaged its dimensions compactly, the Dark Surge isn’t shy about being a big boy. Top-down, the slim bezel is somewhat reminiscent of mid-century skin divers, though the 41mm case is a little more complex than those slab-sided oldtimers. It’s the lug profile that will determine how well the Dark Surge fits your wrist, and even though they reach all the way out to 50mm, they have a sharp downward change in direction midway through. The result is a claw-like grip over your wrist, which works reasonably well even on my 15.5cm (6.15in) wrist. The crown screws down as expected, ensuring 300 metres of water resistance.
A final note on the bezel, the Dark Surge is available with two insert types – I tested the steel insert, but there’s also a black ceramic one for both the steel and PVD-coated model variants. The tall coin edge makes it quite grippy and satisfyingly clicky, though there is a noticeable amount of backplay.
In order to fit into its vintage diver aesthetic a bit more, Marnaut ditched the featureless rubber strap of the previous Dark Surge, replacing it with a rubber tropic-style number. It’s not quite as soft (and doesn’t smell like vanilla) as the Tropic-branded stuff, but considering the entry-level pricing of the watch, it was perfectly serviceable. I also appreciated the brushed steel pin buckle, which was appropriately sized for the watch and well-finished.
The Safe Harbour, on the other hand, comes standard with a padded, faux-croc leather strap that helps with its more dressy intentions. While a fitting stylistic choice, the material was stiff out of the box and will probably take some time to mould to your wrist.
Should you wish to swap out either of these, the 20mm lug width on both watches will make that easy, though it’s worth noting that neither strap have quick-release spring bars.
As mentioned in the intro, the big upgrade for Marnaut has been the switch to Sellita movements. Both the Dark Surge and Safe Harbour sport no-date SW200 variants of the 4Hz Swiss workhorse, with a power reserve of 41 hours. These are usually not the prettiest movements, so I’m fully on board with Marnaut’s choice of closed casebacks, especially when a brand machines them pleasantly like in this case.
Marnaut’s look is by no means conventional, which can be both a blessing and a curse for smaller brands. In my view, the refinement that the brand has shown since launching their first watch is commendable, as is the decision to stick to a distinct look. The new Dark Surge is a great example of this, with a reworked case that wears well despite its large dimensions, and the switch to more premium movements.
Personally, my preference lies with the Safe Harbour for its smaller size fitting my wrist better, but more so for its connotations with a vintage favourite of mine. While I wasn’t that impressed by the choice of factory strap, the black dial and 20mm lug width open up a world of opportunities for experimentation.
Marnaut Safe Harbour 100C and Dark Surge 300T pricing and availability
|Model||Safe Harbour||Dark Surge|
|Case Dimensions||39mm (D) x 13.2mm (T) x 45mm (LTL)||41mm (D) x 14.6mm (T) x 50mm (LTL)|
|Case Material||Stainless steel||Stainless steel|
|Water Resistance||100 metres, screw-down crown||300 metres, screw-down crown|
|Crystal(s)||Domed sapphire||Domed sapphire|
|Dial||Black lacquer||Black lacquer|
|Strap||Black faux croc leather, steel hardware||Rubber tropic-style, steel hardware|
|Movement||Sellita SW200-1 b, automatic, no date||Sellita SW200-1 b, automatic, no date|
|Power Reserve||41 hours||41 hours|
|Functions||Hours, minutes, seconds||Hours, minutes, seconds|