My grandparents came over from Sicily many moons ago with a few possessions, a small amount of saved cash and a big stash of hopes & dreams. As they took root in their new country, and as the years went on in constant pursuit of tapping into that stash of hopes and dreams, my grandmother was extremely raising their 7 children and my grandfather was busy working in his barbershop and putting himself through law school. My grandparents never lost sight of those hopes & dreams. They both did everything with love and passion, something that I continue to draw great inspiration from. I am drawn to drive and passion in a lot of aspects of my life. I will narrow it down to our subject at hand, watches. Recently Wes from Nodus watches brought something that I have often thought about. That thought is how the big names in the watch industry have replaced that drive from passion with the drive to make money. That’s why I am drawn more to microbrands, independent watch makers, ect. They are still driven by passion because they have more to lose and have heart, they have a face, they aren’t hidden behind huge marketing bullshit. At Basel this year ROLEX made something quite apparent, the shift away from big brands has made them take notice. Quite apparent by the new meteorite dial ROLEX. Unfortunately in my opinion simply taking design cues from microbrands isn’t enough to fill the void of that lost passion.
That passion made me take notice of the Italian company Memphis Belle Watches. Their Heritage line specifically is what caught my eye. (Alessandro provided the history of Memphis Belle which is posted at the end of the review. The “cushion” style case is a wonderful historic nod to those early Italian days of watch making. Alex’s design decisions on the Heritage watch definitely aren’t a mistake. The 46mm CuSn8 bronze “cushion” style case is such a comfortable size that allows room for some nice details. The short curved lugs assist in the everyday wearability of the Heritage, keeping it from any overhang on my 7 1/4″ wrist. If I wasn’t so obsessed with watches, I would easily forget that I was even wearing a watch. It makes me chuckle to hear grown men complain about the weight of a watch. If you are complaining that a watch is too heavy, you surely need to get your ass to the gym.🤷🏻♂️ The profile of the Heritage has some serious that are cushion deliciousness and are a great nod to the early days of Italian dive watches. The drilled lugs are a welcome function driven design detail. Ease of strap change and aesthetically pleasing to the eye, aka win-win set up.
As you can see in the pic above, the crown features one of my personal favorite images, a skull. The Buddhism viewpoint of a skull is my personal favorite and if you are interested I highly recommend reading more about it. Also while you are researching, I also recommend researching the Flottiglia Mas skull logo that is found throughout the Heritage watch(Case back, crown, dial). We know that the crown looks good, but how does it function? Function is very important and the crown functions without issue. Easy to grip, easy to operate. Now with the fixed bezel there’s no function to worry about but the design deserves mention. The raised letters and numbers on the bezel are done with absolute precision. They are the perfect breeding grounds for some beautiful patina as you can see in the picture below this paragraph. “Remember to dare” A great reminder to not allow yourself to fall into that dreadful daily routine which never changes, never challenges, never inspires……..
I definitely find myself gravitating towards those things that I know that I like and that I know that I am comfortable with, matte black dials are one of my comfortable happy places. Taking the “remember to dare” into a smaller account, I dared to go outside my comfort zone by choosing the textured brown dial. This was a choice I haven’t regretted once. The color of the dial plays so well off of the color of the blue-green patina and the darkened bronze. I also think that the details on the dial all work together brilliantly to add to that old, underwater treasure feel that the Heritage Predator watch encompasses. I see some dials that are just so flat, void of detail of depth, but this dial definitely doesn’t suffer from that. The texture and the coloring of this dial start the depth process for this dial. The off white/cream colored markers are slightly raised adding another layer of depth. I like the choice of Memphis Belle’s decision to go with a California dial for the Heritage watch. While on this love fest, I want to mention that I love the skull logo both in the light and in the dark! Yes that’s right, the skull received that same lume treatment as the markers and the hands.
The two hands on the dial are driven by a trialed and true engine ETA 2824-2. Nuff said. The Heritage has a nice depth rating of 300m of water resistant insurance. The Heritage possesses a great deal of Italian charm that is achievable without hurting the wallet like something from Ennebi, Panerai, vintage Anonimo, would. I was very impressed with the quality of this watch. The Heritage definitely has a place amongst my Italian watch collection because of it’s respect it pays to the past Italian watch makers yet Memphis Belle infused it with their own DNA which is done in a classy not gimmicky manner. I personally have found my tastes evolving and I now prefer my without a rotating bezel. How can a dive watch not have a rotating bezel? Well before you drink more Rolex flavored Kool-Aid, allow me to answer. I read an article about the Italian frogmen from the 1950’s and how their missions where mostly done in shallow waters approximately 6 meters of depth, carrying small oxygen tanks, and a breathing device that is uses treated air to prevent carbon dioxide retention. These shallow missions did not require decompression stops(as required by deep dives), therefore there’s not a need for a rotating bezel.
I definitely recommend the Heritage watch to those looking for that charm of Italian watches of yesteryear, but are on a budget. I would love to own a pre-public Panerai watch, but unfortunately I don’t have the depth of wallet to buy one at auction. (Panerai did not sell their watches to the public until 1993) The Heritage is executed extremely well both in terms of quality and in terms of overall design. If I had a say in the design of this watch I would have added a more oversized crown and slightly wider hands. But that is just catering to my own personal preferences. Memphis Belle watches are definitely worth a second look. I purchased my watch from my brother and friend Val from
Alessandro Roman, born in Genoa, but of Friulian origins.
What was your earliest memory of watches that influenced you?
“Since I was very young I was used to breathing the air of time – tells Roman, class’ 68, one of the two founders of Memphis Belle – I remember that the first toy was an alarm clock that I kept near the bed, and I learned to take it apart and reassemble it. Then growing up I felt the desire to change, to try other roads, I wanted to be a cook. It was my brother Massimo, who called me back to order, I did a watch-making high school in Switzerland, the Crenchen Wosp. An excellent base: in the morning we did theory and in the afternoon we went to practice “.
What made you decide to go into the business solo?
“In ’98, my historical partner Giovanni Panucci and I decide to found Memphis Belle, from the name of the historic plane, a legendary B-17 that in 1943 carried out 25 war missions without suffering losses, nicknamed the Flying Fortress . We wanted to make a high-end super niche product for the military sector in Genoa; a challenge that friends and relatives considered a bit crazy, but we were convinced.”
What was the toughest part for you during your years in the watch industry?
As soon as we were born we went to Switzerland using almost all our initial investment, about 30 million lira to buy 500 cases. We realized only after they were without movement, that is, the engine was missing, and was no longer on the market.”
Any features that you are particularly proud of in your watches?
“We use the same materials used for the hulls of submarines and spaceships, such as zero-rate oxidation steel or pure grade 2 titanium. We need to make resistant, amagnetic, and light watches. In fact, during the Frecce Tricolori acrobatics, due to the pressure, the perception of the weight of the watch also increases by 10 times. We use only scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, with anti-reflective coating, excellent for pilots.“
What sectors of the military that use your watches?
“Aeronautica, Esercito and soon the Navy, from Folgore to Bersaglieri, from Gis to Nocs, we cover land, sea and sky. We are also very attentive to design.
How many watches does Memphis Belle produce a year?
We produce from 15 to 20 thousand pieces a year, today we have sold around 870,000 pieces in 21 years of history.
Of those watches produced what percentage are exported?
“About 20%, especially in Europe, Asia, and the USA.”
Any plans for future projects apart from watches?
“Open a clothing line with our brand, to bring military style into everyday life. For a company of our size it is impossible to remain still, but you have to handle everything with extreme caution, in short it is difficult to keep up with time, but it is part of our job.”