Gruppo Gamma MKIV Vanguard
Many here know I have long been a supporter of Gruppo Gamma. They continue to improve their watches and the Gruppo Gamma Vanguard MKIV is no different. With this latest release, there a couple of firsts for the brand. One is the 42mm case size, their smallest to date; an exhibition case back is another and a super sandwich dial. The quality, as usual, is there, especially for the price, and I will discuss all of this below. The look is there for sure, but is it the best from Gruppo Gamma?
Gruppo Gamma MKIV Vanguard Specifications:
- Stainless steel, brushed
- Case Width: 42mm
- Lug to Lug: 50mm
- Case Thickness: 14mm. With Crystal, 15.5mm
- Lug Width: 22mm
- Sapphire Crystal
- Seiko Instruments NH35A Automatic Movement
- 140 g with strap
- Water Resistance: 200 m/ 660 ft
Price: $499 ($399 During Preorder)
Gruppo Gamma started out making much larger size watches, as that is what their fan base at the time wanted. I believe 47mm is the largest they made, but I could be off a mm or two. Keep in mind, Gruppo Gamma is still a relatively small company, and it took a few years for them to get the word out. As more and more people started to notice the brand, an ongoing question was, “Will you make a watch under 44mm?” Once the brand saw that there was definite interest that would translate into sales for a 42mm piece, they went ahead with it. The Gruppo Gamma MKIV Vanguard is a collaboration of sorts. Listening to their customers, or potential customers I should say, they shifted to, at least for this model, the seemingly ever growing demographic that does not want a gigantic wristwatch.
I would say I am firmly in that demographic. It took me a long time to get here. Not as long as some others, but over the years, I found myself enjoying smaller and smaller wristwatches. I have not jumped into vintage sizing yet, like under 40mm, but many moons ago, 48mm or larger was the norm for me. I have found that 42mm is my sweet spot, and even though Gruppo Gamma MKIV Vanguard case style wears a little larger than that, this would be the perfect Gruppo Gamma for me, in terms of overall dimensions. The case is still a little on the chunky side, like a short fat guy, but a lot of that is more in perception than reality. The way the case bezel and case are constructed, it gives off the appearance of it being thicker than it really is.
There are 3 variations of the Gruppo Gamma MKIV Vanguard, the brushed stainless no date I show in this review, a date version, and a no date all PVD version. I chose this all brushed no date version as I like the contrast of the PVD bezel against the steel, and also I think it is the cleanest or most sterile looking of them all. There is no doubt that they designed this watch with minimalism in mind, a rugged but good looking piece that does not have any extra added to it. So then why did they do an exhibition case back? Good question. I am not really sure of the reasoning behind it. I always applauded Gruppo Gamma for doing the engraved or stamped case backs, whether it was just the brand name, or the skull and rose emblem of some past models. When I flip this Vanguard over and see the plain looking NH35, it just leaves me a little cold. The movement itself is fine, as far as it is a decent automatic movement, not the best, not the worst and it should hold up well. But I always enjoyed a Gruppo Gamma case back, so I was a little disappointed here.
The dial of the the Gruppo Gamma MKIV Vanguard is far from disappointing though. Instead of just going with a regular sandwich dial, Gruppo Gamma decided to up the game and went SUPER SANDWICH! (Said in a loud tone like a boxing announcer would). A normal sandwich dial is a bottom dial that has a few layers of lume paint applied to the markers and numerals, and a top dial with the cutouts. This is similer, but the lume material is filled in, allowing for the strongest lume that Gruppo Gamma has ever produced.
The lume is absolutely fantastic as you can see, and while lume is not the measure of a great watch, there is definitely that cool factor when you wake up a 3 am and the damn thing is still like a flashlight.
As usual, the Gruppo Gamma MKIV Vanguard comes in a zippered pouch and two straps. I can easily say that both included straps are by far the best they have ever produced. I wore the canvas for the first week or so, and did not want to take it off. This is true canvas, with rolled edges and no leather backing to be found. Super comfortable right out of the box, and this will only get better looking in time as it gets a little rough around the edges. I reluctantly switched to the leather strap one cold winters day and I could not have been more happy that I did. I am very picky when it comes to leather straps. I can go on and on about leather and watch straps but I will spare you all of that. Suffice to say, this strap is beautiful, well finished, and wraps around your wrist from day one. It also does not stain your wrist, like some improperly dyed straps tend to do. I might still lean towards the canvas, but it is close, very close.
Lets get to the negatives. While both straps are of great quality, they are on the short side. Both would possibly just fit an 8 inch wrist, although that may be stretching it. It you have a wrist 7 3/4 inch or larger, this watch on the included straps will probably not fit you. I know brands can not make custom straps for each customer, and I know their has to be some kind of compromise, but I would like to see longer straps if possible. When it comes to the bezel, it is firm, precise and ratchets nicely. I have no issue with it being sterile, as I do not time things with a bezel. All that said, the Gruppo Gamma MKIV Vanguard bezel is rather difficult to grip, as there are no grooves anywhere and I find that I have to weirdly hold the extended portions to turn it. Some knurling on those parts would have made a world of difference.
The microbrand watch world continues to grow, and as a consumer, it can be overwhelming. Some brands are here today, gone tomorrow, some do not evolve, and others are just there. Gruppo Gamma seems to strive for the best, and offer a value at the same time. Yes, I know the NH35 brings it down a notch for some people. I would rather a Miyota 9015 or a SW200 as well. Some will say that because the movement is rather inexpensive that the Gruppo Gamma MKIV is overpriced at the retail price of $500. That of course is their opinion. When you take a look at the quality of the case construction, the two high quality straps and the super sandwich dial, you can see that nothing is off the shelf here, and Gruppo Gamma is committed to making the best product they can. The aesthetic of this model might not be for everyone, and personally I think I might like their Divemaster series a little more, but this a great watch in its own right and just more proof that Gruppo Gamma listens to their customers feedback.