I last reviewed a Gruppo Gamma watch in December 2014, the A-41 Ascent. It was a splendid timepiece that punched well above its’ weight. Two and a half years on, I thought it was about time I checked to see if anything had changed. Unfortunately, the prices have gone up – but don’t worry, so has the quality.
In this review, we’re looking at one of Gruppo Gamma’s most popular offerings – the Vanguard. It’s available in a few different styles, with bronze of steel case, with and without date, and more. This model in particular is the MK IV Vanguard A-04.
I had heard a number of great things about this watch on various watch reviews, so I decided to check for myself if all of this was true. Let’s take a closer look.
If you do decide to go for the Vanguard, then you can get a cheeky $100 off until 31st July 2017 using the code MKIV0303. You’re welcome.
- Dimensions: 42mm diameter x 14mm height x 50mm lug to lug
- Weight: 140g
- Water resistance rating: 20ATM / 200m
- Movement: Seiko NH35A
- Accuracy: +13.1 s/d
- Lug width: 22mm
- Warranty: 1 year
- Price: $499 / ~£390
- Buy here: http://www.gruppogammawatches.com/store/p195/A-04.html
Every aspect of this case is over-engineered. From the crown and the crown guards, to the caseback and lugs, through to the the bezel – it’s all been so well thought about and made to such a high level it’s an incredible case to view and feel.
The shape is rather angular and slightly aggressive; which complements Gruppo Gamma’s military ties. When sliding your fingers over the corners, you can feel the definition of the case – it’s proficiently machined.
The short stumpy lugs mean that it still sits on the wrist well for a 42mm diameter case. In fact, it’s a bit of an anomaly when it comes to case size: 42mm is in reality quite a standard size nowadays; but the Vanguard looks larger than that, providing a more imposing wrist presence. Perhaps it’s due to the larger than average height of 14mm. The lugs are drilled through with a screw pin to make changing straps easy.
The crown and crown protectors are a lovely component of the case, demonstrating close attention to detail. The crown protectors are a separate entity rather than being machined as part of the case itself and are screwed in place with hex screws. A small thing really, but something that takes that little bit more effort to get right and that looks really good.
The screw-in crown has Gamma IIII embossed on the end, done with impressive accuracy. It has great grip for unscrewing, setting the time and winding.
The bezel has an interesting matte black insert which is PVD coated, with a lumed pip at 12. It has fascinating bulges at 2, 6, 10 with screws within – they provide grip but also carries through the industrial feel to the watch.
The caseback has a sapphire crystal exhibition window; the watch details are deeply engraved in thick font type to provide a bold impression.
The crystal sitting at the top of the case is double-domed sapphire, and the good news is that it’s loaded with very good anti-reflective coating on the underside. You can see the blue tint at certain angles which I find enjoyment in witnessing.
The dial is a fairly simple design, which has military cues: simple, bold and uncomplicated. Technically it is a sandwich dial; although it doesn’t look like it. It’s named “SuperSandwich” by Gruppo Gamma – the lume is applied so darn thick within the ingress it actually reaches the top layer. Therefore the dial looks flat – but in reality the hour markers are approx 0.5mm deep filled with lume.
Moving onto the lume, the Swiss Superluminova used truly is tremendous – it’s some of the strongest lume I’ve ever seen, even matching the fabled Seiko standard.
The hour markers are lume filled numerals at 12, 3, 6 and 9, whilst the remaining markers are trapezoid shaped. Simple, strong and great legibility.
The printing on the dial is fine and simple. The Gruppo Gamma logo is printed within the top half and “Vanguard” along with 200m in the bottom half.
The hour and minute hands are straight batons with pointed tips, and a lumed channel in the centre, with a muted blasted finish to them. The seconds hand is a bright red with an arrow near the end and a flared counter weight. The lume on the hands is just as strong as dial.
Another cool thing about the Vanguard is that it comes loaded with two straps: leather and canvas. In addition to this, it also comes with a very solid mini screw-driver for the screw-in lug pins for easy changing.
The canvas strap is thick, sturdy and very soft on the wrist; it’s a nice alternative to leather that you don’t come across too often. Visually, it’s a military green colour with complimenting stitching and it’s good to see something else than the usual. I have noticed that it’s starting to fray slightly at the holes, but I don’t think this will affect the longevity of the strap itself.
The leather is a pleasant vintage / rustic style. It shows creases quickly but that’s part of its’ charm and helps it develop character. It’s very thick, beautifully finished and high quality; the two thick keeper loops are of the same standard. The tan colour has a variety of hues, which work well with the pale tan stitching.
The strap comes with a chunky pre-v buckle, with the Gruppo Gamma logo engraved on the top bar. It’s impressive to look at yet easy to use.
The straps are easy to swap due to the screw-in pins that penetrate the drilled through lugs.
The movement found within the Gruppo Gamma Vanguard is the Seiko NH35A. This is one of the most popular movements available for micro-brands currently – it can be found in watches such as the Nodus Trieste, Helm Vanuatu, G. Gerlach Submarine, Invicta Pro Diver 9094 and Melbourne Watch Co Parkville just to name a few I’ve reviewed recently. It’s also used in all Gruppo Gamma watches so they’ve tried and tested these movements.
Using my Lepsi Watch Scope, the accuracy is coming in at +13.1 sec / day, which is acceptable for an affordable movement – however there definitely is room for improvement there.
Specs include 24 jewels, runs at 21.6k bph (6 ticks per second), 41 hour power reserve, hacking seconds hand, and bi-directional winding (rotor winds the movement as it spins both ways). The rotor has custom signing which is an added bonus.
I have only heard good things about the Gruppo Gamma MK IV Vanguard A-04; I thought I’d like to see this in the metal and decide for myself. The honest truth is that it’s a marvel of engineering: a delightful mix of craftsmanship and chunky engineering. The lume is sensational, which in my opinion is a key that has the ability to take any watch from above average to excellent.
The fit and finishing is flawless, it comes with two straps plus a tool to change them, and is the kind of watch that you know will last a very long time. It also comes in a very handy travel pouch that I have used already for a weekend trip away to Barcelona.
Sure, $499 is at the top end of what I’d like to spend on a watch housing a humble Miyota NH35A, but the build quality makes up for this. It’s the kind of timepiece that impresses you every time you strap it on.
Don’t forget you can grab $100 off until 31st July 2017 using code MKIV0303.