The MS-6538 is the latest diving watch from the OWC (Orange Watch Company) in its ISO (In the Spirit Of) Series of watches. It takes its inspiration from the Rolex 6538 made famous in the early James Bond films with Sean Connery wearing this watch while saving the world from SPECTRE. This is OWC’s 7th iteration of the classic diver. OWC watches are incorporate some interesting technology which separates them from other “microbrands. Dan the man behind OWC, he remains quite busy always trying to refine his dive watches. He is like a mechanic, Dan has been quoted many times explaing his watches as “they are like a Porsche 911 – the same but different”.
The DNA of the MS-6538 is obvious, as is the inspiration, but the “devil” of this watch is in the details. Dan has gone through and has made many changes, these changes are hard to see, but rest assure the detail is more than skin deep. The are quite a few 6538 models/clones out there, so why do we need another? What separates this one from the others? The MS-6538 is an inspirational piece with so many departures from the inspirational. If you want a 6538 clone and a good one, this is not the watch for you. I will explain why throughout this review.
The MS-6538 case is 40.5mm case and has no crown guard. The 4.5mm thick sapphire which is quite impressive given that the watch is only 12.9mm. This is where OWC uses pure engineering. The case can be defined as a “Fluid-Tight” case or a Super Compressor case. The MS-65-38 is among very few watches that use this revolutionary technique. To explain this in simple terms, the crystal and the case back are free to move. As pressure increases the crystal and back are forced together and the watch becomes more water resistant. This is not a new, with the idea patented by E. Piquerez S.A (ESPA) back in the 1950’s.
The larger 8.0mm crown is a great size for function and appearance thanks to both the size and the knurled edges. The crown operates with smooth threading without lack of “grit and grab” seen on other microbrand watches. The crown is, as expected, screwed down. The crown is signed with a raised OWC. The pendant (crown tube) is screwed (not pressed) into the case. There are some nice internal splines inside. The watch is tested to 30ATM (300m) of water resistance. The crown gaskets are specially sized and produced for the MS-6538.
I like the contrast that is created with the the ceramic bezel insert. It gives a touch of dress to this tool/dive watch. OWC has been using ceramic inserts for some time. Ceramic inserts are very scratch resistant, though they can break if hit with a hammer, but they tend to maintain their clean appearance for much longer than aluminum inserts. The bezel have no extra play and is secured with 4 tiny screws. This aides in the cleaning process though doing so is not recommended unless you are very careful as the l.0mm screws can be easily lost.
Dan has taken the best that exists and made it better. This is demonstrated with his massive 4.5mm sapphire crystal with anti-reflective (AR) coating. The crystal sits on an O-ring and is secured with a crystal retaining ring (a la Omega Ploprof from the 1970’s). Note that the AR coatings are multilayer with an extra hardening step, for a durable and clear set of coatings for superb visibility.
The OCD continues inside the case. There is no movement ring to move or distort. The inside is milled to the exact dimensions of the movement. The movement is installed from the top and secured from the bottom. Normal servicing can be done by simply taking off the 6 case-back Torx screws. No other milsub does this!
The dial is available in black and with or without a date window. This is the first time OWC has offered applied and printed dials. The applied indices give the MS-6538 a luxury/dress feel. The compulsory Mercedes hour hand is present partnered with a and a very long stylish minute hand, which reaches out to the rehaut. I like the pop of color of the red second hand. My personal preference would have liked the hour hand slightly longer. SuperLumiNova C3 provides flashlight level luminescence as you can see in the lume pic down below. The text on the dial is like most OWC watches, minimalistic. The minute track has been moved from the dial itself to the rehaut (sight ring) which aides in making the dial super clean/legible.
The MS-6538’s bracelet is 20mm. The sure heft of the 4.0mm thick links adds a rugged feel. The links are 33% thicker than most bracelets on the market. The bracelet does not taper and has a butterfly deployant clasp. Dan explains this choice “some may find this strange, but being a pragmatist, most diving watches rarely see the bottom of a sink, this is more than adequate and makes it a perfect partner with cuffs and a suit.” I have personally taken almost every type of clasp out their diving and I have never have an issue with any type, including butterfly style. Each link can be removed (torx screws again) and there are also 2 ½ links that makes sizing the bracelet for even the most elegant wrists a breeze. The bracelet is attached to the watch with solid screw bars, not spring bars. These are strong and while some MilSubs have fixed bars, the Screw Bar offers the strength of the fixed with easy attachment and removal. This is a detail that I rarely see and I completely appreciate. Something else that I initially didn’t appreciate at first, but as the years go on I completely appreciate, are drilled lugs. This little detail makes bracelet and strap changes so much easier and less likely to scratch up the lugs.
As I have discovered, Dan from OWC has OCD and is more than happy to be honest about his condition. He is a little too black and white and his focus is far more on the engineering than the aesthetics. He has written extensively on the benefits of Torx vs Philips vs Hex heads. He used Torx screws throughout the watch. The case back looks like a submarine hatch or bank vault. The case back is like the dial, it is very clean and it is very minimalistic.
One very small point that most will not see, is the changed solid end links. The solid end link is now longer and it follows the lug right to the end. I have never see this on any other watch. This means the first middle link is longer and the bracelet hugs the wrist better.
This watch has been designed by a fanatic and built by people who care. I know this sounds like madness, but OWC sources the parts from different manufacturers in different counties and they all arrive in Orange for inspection. If the part (including movement) is not up to par it is thrown away and the search continues until it meets OWC’s standards. Each watch is all assembled and tested individually and each watch is individually made to order which gives a special and individualistic feel to your watch. OWC is very transparent in their sources, they source from China, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Germany, Switzerland. Currently trailing leather bands from Vietnam, using OWC’s own leather. But these are not quite up to OWC’s standards yet, but I am very excited to see them once they meet OWC’s high standards.
OWC uses 2 physical identically sized movements that are worlds apart. The entry level movement is a 2892-A2 clone – not the cheaper and less refined 2824-2 or the popular choice amongst micro-brands, the Miyota 9015. OWC’s movements are made by Seagull, China’s premium watch manufacturer. They are far more expensive than the 2824-2, the 9015 and the 6R15 and offer better performance. If movements choices were a tree, then the Soprod A-10 (now called the M100) Swiss made automatic movement would be towards the top of that tree. Currently only a handful of high end makers such as Sarpaneva use this movement. It is based on a Seiko 4L25 (unconfirmed by Soprod), but as Dan says, “it is the closest one can get to a Grand Seiko without actually buying one.” This watch has remained +4 seconds per day during my review process.
Some might think that the MS-6538s price is on the high side. While it is on the high side when it compares to other micro-brand watches on the market, but if you look at the engineering and overall design, the MS-6538 in my opinion punches far above its weight. At $1,350 USD, you get precision Torx screwdrivers, spare screw bars, detailed engineering, a quality hefty bracelet and a very unique double box. The two areas that I suggest that can be improved upon is a slightly longer hour hand and a dive extension clasp. Dan is currently working on an alternative to the clasp. The hour hand was specially sized to “kiss” the edge of the triangle at 12 O’clock. Not deal breakers in my book, just nit picky personal preferences.
The MS-6538 is a watch that has clever engineering, great execution and understatement.
I want to thank Dan & OWC and Thank you all for reading.