MHD Watches Review: AGT Black Edition
By: Kaz Mirza
Automotive design and horology have had a long history – so long in fact that it can often feel a bit underwhelming these days since it’s a pretty expected pairing. However it’s something else entirely different when a microbrand can execute an automotive inspired design in a way that’s authentic and not too on the nose. So let’s talk about MHD Watches.
MHD Watches is the horology distribution outfit for Matthew Humphries, an internationally recognized car designer whose projects include the Morgan Aeromax and the Morgan 3 Wheeler. Since 2013 he’s been offering his services as an automobile and product designer and since 2014 he’s been making watches with his own personal design aesthetic.
In conjunction with the release of the Alcraft Motor Company GT that Matthew designed, MHD watches has released the AGT automatic timepiece. There are two versions of the AGT: one with a black dial and one with a stainless steel dial. For this review I’ve spent time with the black dial. The headline is that the watch is quite beautiful and something I spent way too long staring and admiring. This is the second MHD Watch I’ve spent time with and there’s a congruent design perspective within the pieces that I find very pleasing.
But taking away the design – how does that MHD Watches AGT actually stand up as an everyday piece? How functionally accessible is this watch and is it something worth your attention in this landscape of way too many microbrands? Let’s find out.
The MHD Watches AGT uses the same beautiful case profile that the brand’s other models feature. However there are some differences here (some that I don’t necessarily think are working). If you’re not familiar with the MHD watch profile, it’s a very classic aesthetic where all of the watch’s features tend to grow organically from the broad long curves that connect lug tip to lug tip. Take a look at the MHD CR1 that I spent time with in the past and you’ll get a sense for the MHD case profile.
However on the MHD AGT the sides of case are very different than the CR1 (and other MHD pieces). The case sides seem to be an homage to automotive grille designs which allow you to see through the superstructure of the AGT’s exterior to a center cylinder. This cylinder is black and features a consistent knurling pattern throughout the shape’s circumference. The effect creates a very clean contrast that’s certainly on brand for MHD since it’s evocative of automotive design. On it’s own the knurled black cylinder reminds me of tire treads, however when analyzed in conjunction with the stainless steel exterior, the automotive grille effect is in full force.
As a design choice, it’s really quite remarkable. However it presents a flaw in horological functionality. Due to the fact that the case sides features these large cutouts, it’s quite difficult to access the MHD AGT’s crown. Since there is no solid area on the exterior super structure of the case, the crown has to anchor itself in the resting position at the knurled black cylinder, which is approx. 2mm away from the exterior of the case.
When you’re trying to manipulate the crown you’re fingers aren’t able to really get past the outer most part of the watch. Even though the crown is approx. 4mm in length, you’re only able to access half of that. So when you do actually need to pull the crown out (or wind the watch manually if you’re like me and prefer that) it’s going to be difficult unless you really dig in there with your finger or you use your finger nails.
Case dimensions here are interesting at 42mm in diameter – 50mm lug to lug – and 12.5mm thick. At 50mm lug to lug, you’d expect the wearing experience of the watch to be a bit unwieldy. This is especially true since the lugs features no downward curvature to contour to the wearer’s wrist. However, the wearability-factor here is still perfect in my opinion. I have a smaller than normal wrist size at about 6.5 inches and I’m satisfied with how the watch wears. I think this comfort comes from the fact that even though the lug to lug span is 50mm, the long broad curves of the MHD AGT case tapper to approx. 20mm at the lug tips.
This allows the MHD Watches AGT to have bold presence in the middle of the watch where it’s most bold, while not occupying a large amount of wrist space by pulling the lines back as the case curves extend away from the watch’s center. The lack of downward curving lugs could be an issue for some folks if the top of their wrist is more rounded, but my wrist-top is most flat so it works quite nicely. I will say though that the dimensions of the watch are right on the edge for me – any larger in any direction and the whole wearability of the watch will be thrown off.
I love the case back of the MHD Watches AGT. The screw down case back lid features 3 distinct visual layers – sapphire exhibition window, brushed steel (with features-text), and a high polished bevel after that. When screwed down into the watch the effect is aesthetically compounded further by adding in another brushed steel element. So the overall patter effect is (1) sapphire exhibition case back, (2) brushed steel, (3) polished steel, (4) brushed steel again.
Plus the actual quality of the finishing here (and on the entire watch) is outstanding. There is some top-notch microbrand QC occurring here and the extra attention to detail is totally showing in the final product.
The MHD AGT dial is a two layer sandwich construction with the top layer being a subtle black sunburst finish and the bottom layer being white lume (as are the hour and minute hands). The black upper layer features laser cut areas for the hour markers with the last 20 minutes on the dial featuring an additional cutout channel. The hands are almost Orient-style pencil hands with the portion of the hand closest to the dial’s center being skeletonized. On the outer perimeter of the dial is a raised chapter ring with seconds and minute ticks.
What I find most intriguing about the design of MHD AGT’s dial is that it’s executed in pretty stark contrast to the case. Where the case is designed with these long curves and an organic perspective towards a lack of right angles, the dial is so minimal and very clearly designed with a non-organic design perspective. There are straight lines and very small, minimal touches. It’s like the AGT case is taking big breaths and yelling in the hallways but the AGT dial is taking short measured breaths and speaking very softly.
It’s not a bad contrast – if anything it’s one of the coolest things about this watch. With the case being so loud and the dial being so subdued, the effect is enthralling in that you can’t help but immediately focus your eye on the center of the watch. To me that’s the hallmark of good horological design – it’s a facet of legibility. You shouldn’t be distracted by all kinds of different stuff on a case when you need to just look directly at the watch and get the time. However the same effect which really drives this eye catching contrast is simultaneously making legibility difficult.
The dial elements are so minimal on the MHD Watches AGT that I often strain to actually read the time. So even though the MHD AGT’s design is drawing my eye in, I’m unable to get a quick reading of the time since the markers and hands are so thin and small in presence. It’s obviously not a deal breaker since with a watch like this I think design can trump legibility, but it’s just something to be aware of depending on your tastes and preferences.
My other favorite part of the dial is the use of orange accents. Again it’s quite subdued but it adds a very fun dimension to the dial’s design. The orange is on the seconds hand as well as the hour ticks on the raised chapter ring. Also, while the hour and minute hands are lumed, the seconds hand is not. The crystal here is also sapphire and features a very cool beveled edge that adds more aesthetic depth when light hits its right – very cool.
Included with the MHD AGT is a tan Italian calf leather strap which visually frames the presentation of the watch quite well. The quality on the strap seems solid. It’s not too thick which is something that has been bugging me with a lot of other leather strap options lately. The stitching on both the front and the back is good quality as well. I don’t notice any points of weakness or areas for potential fraying.
At the lugs the strap tapers from 20mm to approx. 18mm so it ends up being super wearable. The pin buckle is polished and is pretty straightforward – it works just fine for the strap. There are actually also more strap colors available on the site. There are also larger sizes available in case traditional strap lengths is something you struggle with. The MHD Watches review unit I received included an XL black Italian leather strap as well.
At 20mm lug width, you’ll also most likely have a lot of strap pairing options at home. One to consider is that since the case doesn’t have any curvature in the back, then NATOs may not be the best option because it may cause the watch to sit too high on the wrist. The other thing to keep in mind is that the cutaways in the case’s sides actually make strap changes a bit difficult. One of the cutaways is on the lugs right next to the hole for the spring bar. So when you’re reattaching a strap, the spring bar can very easily go into one of the cutaways as opposed to the spring bar hole. This happened to me and it took about 15 minutes to free the spring bar without scratching the watch.
There’s a Miyota 9015 movement in the MHD AGT. For those who aren’t familiar, the Miyota 9015 is a very reliable Japanese automatic movement. It hacks (meaning the seconds hand stops when you pull the crown into second position), has a 42 hour power reserve, and is generally one of the more robust and affordable mechanical movements a microbrand can use.
Through the AGT’s exhibition case back you can see the Miyota 9015 is decorated with Côtes de Genève (Geneva Stripes), which adds a lot to the look of the watch. All the different finishes and metal textures on the case back gives a very refined but industrial feeling to the piece.
What I really love about the MHD Watches AGT is that it’s constantly on the cusp of being over-designed (not a bad thing) – just when you think it’s going to tip over the edge design-wise, it pulls back slightly and keeps all 4 wheels on the ground. Design like that is what really excites me about horology and it’s something I wish more brands put extra effort into. But not all brands are world class designers by trade like Matthew Humphries. For me, this is one of the first automotive inspired watch brands that I would love to have in the collection one day. What sets MHD as a brand apart from other automotive watch brands is that it’s the difference between designing a watch to fit some sort of automotive design mold versus designing both a watch and car with the same design perspective.
So what I’ll leave you with is this. If the cons of the AGT left you a bit unsure, please take a good look at the other offerings on the site. If you’re at all intrigued by the prevalent design congruence across MHD’s case shapes and dial aesthetics, you can find one of their offerings that suits your other tastes. For me, I’m excited to keep my eye on MHD Watches because they’re easily one of the more interesting under-the-radar microbrands out there that folks should pay attention to. Current pricing on the MHD AGT is £550.00 GBP (approx. $697 USD).
You can view more info about the MHD AGT directly on the brand’s site.
Have any thoughts about the write up? Let me know in the comments below!
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Kaz has been collecting watches since 2015, but he’s been fascinated by product design, the Collector’s psychology, and brand marketing his whole life. While sharing the same strong fondness for all things horologically-affordable as Mike (his TBWS partner in crime), Kaz’s collection niche is also focused on vintage Soviet watches as well as watches that feature a unique, but well-designed quirk or visual hook.