Baltic MR01: Imitator or Innovator?


By: Ben Andersen

When you think of microbrand watches I would bet that, like me, you usually think of a vintage styled GMT, dive watches like the Halios Fairwind, classic chronographs like a Dan Henry or Lorier Gemini, or maybe even an all-out tooltastic beast of a watch like the Helson Sharkmaster. Very likely it is not a 36mm, micro-rotor, Breguet-numeraled dress watch.

That’s exactly what the guys in France from Baltic Watches did in October of 2021, as a watch brand they decided to buck the 2020s sports watch craze in favor of something different. The Baltic MR01 is a refreshing entry into the muddled waters of micro brand watchmakers. Its sizing is one of its strong suits in my estimation. Measuring 36mm across with a lug to lug of 44mm and a thickness of a mere 9.9mm, this watch takes it back to the classic sizing of yesteryear.

The silver dialed variant I have wears more like a 37-38mm watch, with the proportionally wide lug width of 20mm giving the watch a bit of modern wrist presence. Baltic Watches has made the MR01 available in a popular salmon dial colorway as well as an adequate blue dial, but it was this silver dial that pulled at my heart strings.

The flat bezel reflects light in a similar way as the dial, also making the watch feel just a touch larger on the wrist. It has a similar presence to the familiar and comfortable 36mm oyster case from the Crown we all know and love. At around 550 Euros retail, the MR01 is equally comfortable on our wallets as it is on our wrists. The water resistance is a hydrophobic 3 ATM (30m), low enough that I take it off for everything but the most pedestrian of hand washings.

The entire top of the stainless steel case, including the lugs and bezel, are high polished and the mid case on the side profile is sharply brushed. The finishing is well done, but nothing extraordinary. The crystal is a controversial acrylic (hesalite), but I really enjoy the warm, vintage tones and subtle distortions it brings. A tube of polywatch has yet to let me down and should give you peace of mind.

The stock leather calfskin is nice enough, however I immediately tossed it in the box in favor of some leather straps with contrast stitching that accents the dial better in my estimation. Baltic also offers a beads of rice bracelet (same as what you’d get with the Baltic Aquascaphe) among other options if that’s closer to your style.

The dial however is exceptionally done, with a multitude of finishes, vibes, and flairs to keep your attention. The majority of the dial is a gentle sand texture that appears matte and deep when on the wrist. As you look closer the guilloche textured offset small seconds subdial breaks up the dial and gives the watch a rather German aesthetic.

The symmetrical 9 and 6 indices balance out the asymmetrical subdial brilliantly allowing the timepiece to be easier to read. The star of the show for me however are the elegantly executed Breguet numerals. A style rather rare in affordable watches that just oozes class and sophistication. The leaf styled hands are crisply high polished and nearly blemish free. Running the circumference of the watch is a circularly brushed railroad seconds and minute track that ties it all together and highlights the unique sand texture that dominates the dial.

A small detail I really appreciate is the capped pinion in the hand stalk, it is such a small touch but it demonstrates just how much thought went into this watch. That really is the story of this watch, Baltic’s extreme attention to detail shines through on every facet. The dial is not perfect, under strong macro there are very tiny bits of dust, the hands have a small scratch or two, and the numerals are ever so very slightly unevenly polished. Its easy to hold this watch to a higher standard than it arguably should because of the high end source material it is loosely inspired by.

The real star of the show however, and the driving force behind my quest to add it to my own watch roll, is Baltic’s unusual and controversial choice in movement. Baltic powers this watch with the Hangzhou 500a, a Chinese based automatic movement that seems to divide opinions, with many enthusiasts preferring a Swiss movement. This movement is infamously also found in the Lobinni Interlaken, a sub-$220USD AliExpress special. I don’t have first hand experience with that watch, but it is very similar in most regards except the Baltic seems to have ‘blued’ screws and slightly deeper finishing. The Hangzhou also features approx. 42 hours of power reserve.

I have compared this Hangzhou in my Baltic up against another Chinese movement, the ST19 in my Sugess Panada Chronograph, and the Baltic is clearly the better finished movement. Perhaps not double the price better, but the machine perlage is deeper, the ‘gold’ filled text crisper, and the polished bits glossier. Reliability of the Hangzhou is a genuine concern, but Baltic seems to have a pretty good reputation for customer service and I have zero worries until the limited 2 year warranty runs out. However, the MR01 truly has something unique and special in this movement.

I can confidently say there is not a case back under $1000 that compares favorably to this rather flashy little watch. The movement perfectly fills out the entire display caseback, a further subtle detail that exudes thoughtfulness in design as it makes it appear as though the movement was made bespoke for this watch.

I was recently at my local AD who happens to also carry Glashutte, and I compared the backside of the Baltic to the Panomatic Lunar’s unique semi-sorta-micro rotor movement. Beneath macro there is no comparison, but at just an arm’s length away underneath casual scrutiny the Baltic holds its own under the soft AD lights. My salesperson even commentated on how similar the Baltic was to the $10k+ Glashutte without knowing how much the plucky MR01 had extracted from my wallet.

That is the trap with this watch, it looks so classy and has so few peers in its neighborhood that its easy to get carried away with lofty comparisons. What new watches can you compare this against; a Stowa Marine Classic in 36mm, a dressy Seiko, or an Orient Bambino maybe?

The design itself is so clearly more mature than what I am personally familiar with or have owned in the past I feel as though it has to exist in its own separate space. To plop it next to a Hamilton Visodate would be as inversely cruel as to place it alongside an Omega, Lange Saxonia, or a Patek Philippe Calatrava.

The Baltic MR01 firmly straddles the entry level and luxury line without fully embracing either side. And that is perhaps best for us mortals. Why? I very rarely require a proper dress watch, and I also rarely do things that are dress watch friendly. Therefore having a more formal timepiece in my watch collection superfluous and a waste of my admittedly limited watch resources.

The Baltic MR01 shines in that it gives someone like me a delicious taste of the classic dress watch at a price point that is easy to swallow. While they have been out of stock and on the unobtainable side of the spectrum as of late, this isn’t really a limited edition. The trend-bucking French microbrand has recently had them back in stock as of June 1st, and I would say it would be worth picking up if this hands on watch review leaves you interested.


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