There are few replica watches on the market today that are as timeless and iconic as those designed by Max Bill for the German replica watchmaker, Junghans. The Max Bill line is undoubtedly a master class in form and function, and the timepieces sold by Junghans today are largely unchanged from their 60s predecessors. Any new entries into the Max Bill line remain largely true to Bill’s original vision.
One such entry is the Max Bill Automatic Anthracite (Ref. 3401). Released in 2014, the 3401 is nearly identical to the 3400 model, but repackaged in a bold new color palette. And it’s this color palette that sold me on the replica watch. It might not be pure Bauhaus, but neither was Max Bill. Let’s get to it.
The case on the 3401 is identical to what you’ll find on the rest of Max Bill’s 3-handed automatics. It measures 38mm in diameter, with a lug-to-lug length of roughly 40mm, and a height of about 10mm. The bezel is quite thin so the replica watch face is almost all dial. As a result, the replica watch wears a bit larger than its given diameter. Conversely, the case wears a little closer to the wrist, so the 10mm height is a bit a misleading. The lug width is a surprising 20mm, which was a bit wider than I expected, but I think it does a good job at balancing out the case.
From top down, the case appears a bit plain. In profile, however, one can see all the intricacies of the design. There’s the iconic domed acrylic crystal sitting high off the case. The crystal first rises straight up before curving toward the center. The lugs, which at first glance appear squared off and squat, are actually angled geometric teardrops when viewed from the side. And the mid-case is sculpted via a series of bevels that taper as they get closer to the case back, resulting in a stunning UFO-like effect.
One of the major benefits of this sort of case design is a much closer strap fit. The angling of the lugs, in conjunction with the tapering of the case, results in almost no gap between the case and the ends of the strap. Normally, this would limit what straps you could use, but the allowance here is quite generous as a result of that taper and I haven’t had any issues with aftermarket straps.
The screw-down case back is also domed, though unlike the crystal, it flattens out toward the center. Smack dab in the middle you have Max Bill’s signature etched with “DESIGN BY” right over it, and along the perimeter are some of the specs. The crown is plain and unsigned, and perfectly unobtrusive.
The whole case is polished, and while I’m generally not partial to polished replica watches, the choice of finish works quite well here. Because the case is sculpted rather than simply curved, there aren’t any large reflective surfaces. So what you get is the elegance of a polished surface without the annoying blingy effect often found on polished replica watches.
The dial is, hands down, the star of the show. It’s also a bit difficult to describe. It’s not quite matte, nor is it glossy. It falls somewhere in-between the two. And then there’s the color. Junghans calls it anthracite, but that seems wrong. When I hear anthracite, I imagine a lustrous dark grey. That’s not the case with the 3401. The dial is certainly grey, but it’s neither dark nor lustrous. Nor is too light. Again, it falls somewhere in-between.
Part of the difficulty in accurately describing the color is that the dial tends to pick up tones from whatever lights source it’s under. Under diffuse daylight (think a cloudy winter day), it’s a cooler subdued gray. The bluer tones of the light tame the colors on the dial, almost desaturating it. Under direct sunlight, the grey looks warmer and slightly oversaturated, and the hour markers pop. And under incandescent light, the dial darkens.
The rest of the dial is easier to talk about. It’s curved, staying true to the replica watches of the era of its birth, and it works wonderfully with the dome of the crystal. The Arabic hour markers are parchment-colored, while the minute indices feature a beautiful mirror polish. This contrasts beautifully against the grey of the dial, and the effect is, as Zach mentioned, a palette that looks almost sun-bleached. One criticism that I’ve read is that this makes the replica watch face far less legible than other replica watches in the Max Bill line, but I haven’t found that to be true. “JUNGHANS AUTOMATIC” is printed in reflective silver.
The hour and minute hands are thin and elegant polished steel with pointed ends. Both have parchment-colored lume at their center, though the lume is relatively weak and almost useless in terms of any true utility. The second hand is remarkably thin, and yet manages to somehow taper towards the end. Both the second and minute hands are ever so slightly curved at the ends to match the curvature of the dial. All of these elements add to the vintage feel of the replica watch.
The 3401 uses the calibre J800.1, a modified ETA 2824. There’s not much left to say about the movement that hasn’t already been said; it’s the bedrock of the Swiss replica watchmaking industry, and it’s wholly reliable. The accuracy on my piece is within 2 seconds a day, which leads me to believe Junghans regulates their movements.
One minor quirk is that I can hear the date switching over despite there being no date window on the replica watch. It seems that the date mechanism was not removed/disengaged. Even weirder, the switch over happens at 7:05 and not at 12, a hapless oversight made even more annoying when you consider the level of attention put into the design of the replica watch. It’s obviously not a deal breaker, but I would expect a bit more refinement at this price.
Straps and Wearability
As one might guess, the 3401 is a joy to wear. It ‘s comfortable and discrete, and it easily slips under a shirt cuff. Unfortunately, it’s not an everyday replica watch. Domed acrylics can be scratch magnets, so if I were wearing a short-sleeved shirt, I’d likely leave the 3401 in the replica watch box. Junghans does coat the acrylic in something called Sicralan, intended to improve scratch resistance. I can’t comment on its efficacy just yet, but as of now my crystal seems to be relatively scratch-free. It does raise an issue about removing scratches in the future. I assume buffing the crystal with Polywatch would also mean removing this coating, which would be quite difficult on a domed crystal. Regardless, there’s always the option of swapping out the crystal if there’s too much damage.
And now, the strap. I know most probably think the strap is the weakest link of the package. I felt that way when I first received the replica watch, and I couldn’t wait to swap it out. My main issue with the strap isn’t the color. It’s that it just feels a bit cheap. The leather is a bit plasticky and not nearly as nice as one might expect on a nearly 1K replica watch. But I have to admit, after wearing the 3401 on the stock strap for a few weeks, I’ve come to appreciate the pairing a bit more. Granted, the nude color isn’t attractive on its own, but it definitely complements the tones of the dial.
For another option, try a shell cordovan strap in whiskey. The tones of whiskey shell look great against the dial and parchment numerals without feeling too matchy.
The Max Bill Anthracite is one heck of a replica watch. If you’re a fan of the Max Bill line, then this is certainly the jewel in the crown. It’s difficult for me to gauge the replica watch’s value because I’m obviously biased, but it’s certainly a unique timepiece with few competitors. I’d even go as far as to say it’s one of the more aesthetically distinctive replica watches on the market regardless of price point, and how often can one truly say that about any replica watch. Some will undoubtedly have a hard time getting over paying nearly 1K for a modified ETA 2824. I would too if it were some soulless, derivative micro brand. But it’s not. The real draw of the Max Bill series is the unique, timeless design. Beyond that, you’re also getting solid German construction from a reputable brand and a workhorse movement to boot. I think the value speaks for itself.
Note: Junghans also recently announced the Anthracite Chronoscope, which will also feature a black date wheel.