You may wonder if Mk II watches are indeed good watches. It’s a fair question as the microbrand has flown somewhat under the radar and occupies an odd space in the watchmaking world. They do homages, contemporary takes on classic designs that could be disastrous in the wrong hands. But Mk II watches do this arguably better than anyone else. Here are a few reasons why.
1: The Spirit of Bill Yao
Founder Bill Yao is about as hands-on as a company head can get. Literally. He’s often found at his workbench agonizing over every little detail on whatever watch he’s currently fixated on.
A graduate of the elite Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Yao turned away from the world of high finance and a lucrative career on Wall Street. Instead, he followed his love of tinkering with timepieces and started making aftermarket parts for Seiko watches. That passion project would eventually lead to his launching Mk II Watches in 2002, based in the suburbs of Philadelphia where Yao was born and raised.
And while Mk II has a range of ready-made offerings, they’re equally known for their customizations that are done by Bill himself. That kind of personalized attention requires patience from his loyal fans who wait months or even years until their one-of-a-kind creation is complete.
2: The Turbulent Tale of the Kingston
If you’ve heard nearly nothing about Mk II, which is the case for many non-watch-geeks, the little you have heard probably involves the Kingston. It’s the watch that put the fledgling company on the map and nearly caused its downfall.
It started with a simple idea. Yao wanted to create a watch that pays tribute to the Rolex Submariner Reference 6538 worn by Sean Connery in the James Bond flick Dr. No. Sounds straightforward enough. He wanted to build it to match the Rolex quality and offer that high-end craftsmanship at a price of just over $1,000. Okay, ambitious, but plausible given Yao’s skills. Soon enough, 100 trusting customers made pre-orders.
But the financial crisis that was rippling across the world in 2009 had its say. From vendors to assembly and quality control, you name a stage of the watchmaking process and there was a problem facing Yao. Delays led to more delays, with months turning into years. Some customers even accused Yao of fraud. But, after five harrowing years, the last of the initial orders were delivered, though with little profit to show for the years of pain.
Then fortune took a turn. The Kingston was so well received that nobody even talked about the disastrous rollout. Reviews were glowing. Some people started reselling the watches for two and three times the price they just paid. Many felt the homage actually outdid the original Rolex! Yao was suddenly famed for homage watches, renowned for creating affordable masterworks that were well worth the wait. Mk II had arrived.
3: They Transcend Homages
Say the word “homage” and you can almost feel the collective eye roll of serious watch aficionados. But for Mk II watches, “homage” is a guiding principle, with a very specific meaning. That’s why the company is named Mark 2, as in the second version. Mark 2 is the new chapter in a watch’s story. So for Mk II, this second evolution of a timepiece means capturing the original style of watches from the past and making them more accessible with today’s technology.
Mk II has some strict rules about how they handle homages. First, in order for a watch design to get the homage treatment, it must be at least 15 years old, and preferably much older. You can’t pay homage to a contemporary timepiece as that’s not how homages work. Second, the functionality of the homage must be equal to, or better than, the watch that they’re honoring. They don’t do cheap knock-offs. Third, the homage should bring value to a watch’s story. Changes and modern interpretations of original designs take the initial intent into account and attempt to honor that intention rather than simply go for similarity.
4: Modern Military Style
Among the list of things that Mk II watches do well in, and that’s a solid list, perhaps none is better than making military-inspired watches.
The Mk II Paradive goes in a different direction with its homage to military watches, notably with the Gen 3 model that mirrors the Benrus Type I divers watch that was issued to US soldiers during the Vietnam War. While looking decidedly modern, the Gen 3 echoes the style of the Benrus on its dial, bezel, and case without ever slipping into tactless imitation.
Drawing inspiration from Rolex and Tudor’s MilSub, the Fulcrum is what Mk II likes to call its “American MilSub.” The Fulcrum is unique in the Mk II line as it doesn’t pay homage to any specific model, but rather the genre of vintage military watches as a whole. Instead of a diver-style rotating bezel, an American MilSub has a prominent twelve-hour unidirectional bezel. A bead-blasted steel case wears on the large side at 42mm in diameter, with anti-magnetism and a sapphire crystal adding durability. It’s ready for action on a sturdy rubber strap.
5: A Nice Price
From the beginning, affordability was at the heart of Bill Yao’s plan. The goal was to make luxury watches accessible through imitation. And the reasonable price tags of their ready-to-wear timepieces prove that Mk II watches have succeeded. Offerings in their Cruxible line are available online for about $650, while their Hawkinge models cost even less at under $600. Their Paradive watches come in at just under $900. And for true bargains, they’re accepting pre-orders for their Stingray II and Tornek-Rayville watches at $450 each.
None of this is to say that a Rolex isn’t worth the cost. Or that homage to an Omega is better than the real thing. But if you broaden your thinking a bit, and understand the motivation behind an homage watch, a creation from Bill Yao’s MKII workshop just might be the next timepiece you put on your wrist.