Every watch enthusiast inevitably reaches a point of overload once or twice in their horological journey, when they look at their watch box and feel more apathy than excitement. A feeling of “Do I really need this many watches?” And “Wouldn’t life be simpler if I had only one…” Granted, that feeling usually passes and we get right back to the all-encompassing madness, but it’s a fun thought exercise while it lasts. Watch brands seem to know that we want this, at least, in theory. There is no shortage of marketing-speak out there, subtly hinting that THIS is the one, this watch can do it all, come and play! And today, this watch is the H. Moser & Cie. Pioneer Centre Seconds Swiss Mad Red.
H. Moser & Cie. is a brand most of you are familiar with, famous for their colourful and brilliant dials and irreverent sense of humour. And while the excellent Streamliner has gotten more attention lately, the Pioneer line is Moser’s answer to the “One Watch Problem.” But can it really do it all? Fit in in every situation? We are taking the H. Moser & Cie. Pioneer Centre Seconds Swiss Mad Red on an action-packed trip to Florida to find out.
Today’s Moser consists of four core collections: Streamliner, Endeavor, Heritage and Pioneer. The Pioneer line is the sportiest of the bunch, presented as a do-it-all, everyday wear, gentleman’s adventure watch. A claim I put to the test during an adventurous week in sunny Florida. I wore it for everything from sitting down at a casual dinner to snorkelling in a natural spring to hiking in the swampy woods. Before we get into that, let’s cover the basics.
The Swiss Mad Red is one of five variations of the H. Moser & Cie. Pioneer Centre Seconds model, and the only one that is a departure from cool blue (Funky Blue and Blue Lagoon) and green hues (the striking Cosmic Green). And quite a departure it is.
The 42.8mm stainless steel case is just big enough to give it a strong wrist presence, without feeling too big or bulky. The relatively short lugs and curvaceous design coupled with a slight 10.6mm thickness let it hug the wrist very nicely, a quality that is quite important in a do-it-all sports watch. The case is finished with a lovely combination of polished and brushed surfaces, that is only broken up by the vent-looking designs on the sides. These bits add a touch more character and increase the sleek, aerodynamic look of the watch.
Flipping it over, the sapphire caseback offers a full view of the HMC 200 movement that runs the show. This is Moser’s in-house, 3-hand movement. Beautifully finished with the famous Moser double stripes on the bridges and mainplate, along with gold engraving, this 27-jewelled, 21,600vph movement has a power reserve of a whopping 3 days, wound by hand and/or with the skeletonized, engraved rotor. The movement is mesmerising to look at and would be the high point of the watch if not for what is on the other side: the Swiss Mad Red dial.
First appearing on Moser’s 2017 Swiss Mad Watch (yes, that is the watch partially made of cheese), this bright red fumé dial with a gradient sunburst pattern is pure Moser. No one does colourful fumé dials quite as well as they do and this one is no exception. It starts with a bright, candy-apple red in the centre, and gradually gets darker moving outward until it becomes a dark cherry red around the edges. Add that to the sunburst pattern that moves around playfully with lighting changes and you have a dial that is truly hypnotising, and impossible to not stare at for alarmingly long periods of time, much to the concern of friends and family.
The beautiful dial is accented with polished indices that each have a small pip of lume at the base, because it’s not a sports watch if you can’t read it in the dark. The trademark Moser leaf-shaped hands are also lumed, but skeletonized at the base to let just a touch more of that mad red show through. Every little bit counts.
The Pioneer is billed as an everyday wear, “one watch” kind of affair. From the boardroom to the beach and all that jazz. While I don’t currently have access to any boardrooms, there is no doubt that this Pioneer’s elegance and pop of colour would make a classy addition to a suit and tie. But we are here to try out the watch in its other mode, that of the simple, pure adventure watch. So let’s get down to business.
Out In The Wild
Hiking in Florida in the summer months is no joke. If the mosquitoes and snakes and alligators don’t scare you off, the threat of dehydration in the 35°C heat probably should. In the right unfortunate circumstances, keeping track of the time of day could become a matter of life or death. Making sure not to push things that far, I took the Pioneer out for a hike through the woods and it proved to be a worthy companion.
When I could take my eyes off that dial long enough to follow the barely visible path, the watch melts away into the wrist as a good sports watch should. Just big enough to feel the comfort of knowing it’s there, but not so big it ever gets in the way or gets caught on anything. A couple of accidental knocks against trees later, the Pioneer is no worse for the wear. To steal the classic Timex slogan, it takes a licking and keeps on ticking. The perfect sidekick. The rubber strap stays cool and comfortable, even when subjected to the unpleasant mix of dirt and humidity and sweat. Four hours later, all it takes is a quick rinse with clean water and the watch is good as new, ready to get back to that boring old boardroom. Or…
Beneath the Waves
…We can go snorkelling instead. The Pioneer is rated water resistant to 12ATM or 120 metres, which would be plenty for pretty much any underwater activity. While its lack of timing bezel would make it pretty pointless to take scuba diving (beyond its inherent value as an adventure totem, of course) it is the perfect watch to take in shallower waters where you really only need to keep track of the hours left until sunset spoils the fun.
The first stop was Rainbow Springs, a natural spring with stunningly clear water and a variety of wildlife including many species of fish and turtles, and yes, the occasional alligator. Thankfully there are boat patrols to warn of any gators nearing the swimming area, and this was a quiet day for them.
Underwater, the Pioneer performs just as well as it did in the woods, if not better. The large, brightly coloured dial is exceptionally legible, and the perfect dimensions disappear into the wrist when submerged as well. It was slightly unnerving to wear such a classy, high-end watch while jumping off a dock into the cold water, but double-checking the sturdy, screw-down crown beforehand offered a bit of reassurance. The rubber strap also quells any fears by keeping things comfortably and firmly in place.
We finished the day with a trip to Devil’s Den; another spring, but this one is underground inside a dry cave, much like the famous cenotes in Mexico. The Moser was a trooper here, too. In darker, colder waters that needed a wetsuit, the watch continued to be a highly visible, perfect companion. Once again taking a few clumsy knocks against rocks in stride, it couples million-dollar looks with a G-Shock soul. Finally, back ashore, the watch looks equally cool on a sunburnt, T-shirted arm, pulling up a stool at a taco stand to refuel after a gruelling day in the water.
So is the Moser Pioneer Center Seconds Swiss Mad Red a do-everything, gentleman’s adventure watch? After crunching the numbers from my meticulous and calculated testing, I have reached a verdict: a resounding yes. The Pioneer perfectly straddles that fine line of beautiful piece of handcrafted art and beat-it-up tool watch, and manages to be both things without missing a single beat. It is surely a strong contender for a single watch collection, and one I hope I get to wear/test again someday. Maybe next time we’ll go somewhere cold, with fewer alligators.
Availability & Price
The H. Moser & Cie. Pioneer Centre Seconds Swiss Mad Red is priced at CHF 12,900 or USD 14,200. It is now available from retailers or directly online from the brand’s website. For more details and orders, please visit www.h-moser.com.
A short history of H. Moser & Cie.
Heinrich Moser was born into a family of watchmakers in 1805 in the northern Swiss town of Schaffhausen. He continued their trade, learning the basics from the family before continuing his studies in Le Locle. In 1828, a 23 year old Heinrich set off for St Petersburg, Russia and founded the first iteration of H. Moser & Cie. Quickly becoming known for high quality timepieces, he gained clients like Russian princes and members of the Russian Imperial Court. It is said that even Vladimir Lenin owned a Moser watch.
In 1848, Moser returned to his hometown of Schaffhausen to set up a watch factory to supply his expanding business. He also started using his by-now vast fortune to transform the town of Schaffhausen from a sleepy little village into a booming industrial town. One of his most ambitious ventures was building the eponymous Moser Dam, the largest hydro-mechanical dam in Switzerland at the time, to harness the energy of the Rhine to provide power to local industries. Moser also had his entrepreneurial hands in train wagon production, railway lines and local real estate. Little-known fun fact: Moser rented part of a building he owned to a fledgling, up-and-coming watch brand you may have heard of, a little maison by the name of IWC.
Upon Heinrich Moser’s death in 1874 the entire company was left to his second wife, Baroness Fanny Moser von Sulzer-Wart. Having little knowledge or interest in the watch business, she subsequently sold it off in pieces; the Swiss production company went to its manager, Paul Girard, and the Russian company to its joint managers, Cornelius Winterhalter and Octave Meylan (Octave Meylan is most likely the grandfather of Georges-Henri Meylan, today’s Chairman of Moser Watch Holding). The Russian arm of the company was nationalized in 1918 with the Russian Revolution but continued making watches at least until the 1960s, albeit under control of the communist government. The Swiss arm continued working in the premium market segment all the way until the 1970s, before being derailed by the quartz crisis and eventually sold off to the Dixi Mechanique Group (DIXI S.A.) in 1979.
Fast forward to the new millennium, the year 2000. Jürgen Lange, the former production head of IWC (things really come full circle, don’t they?) was looking for an old, valued watch brand to revive. He reached out to Heinrich Moser’s great-grandson Roger Nicholas Balsiger to ask if he would be interested in joining the revival of the brand as a representative of the Moser family. Balsiger agreed, and five years later, H. Moser & Cie was officially back in business, and back in Schaffhausen, where it all began. In 2012, the family-owned MELB Holding group (Meylan family) acquired the company, beginning a new chapter in its history.