Home General The Controversial Ginault – on the wrist, and what’s really going on...

The Controversial Ginault – on the wrist, and what’s really going on here

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Ginault came on the scene in 2011, making a decent, but not amazing, sterile dive watch. The Base Module 1 watch had a sterile dial, an engraved case back, and while the Ginault company logo had yet to evolve to what it is today, it wasn’t entirely dissimilar. This is the story of the Ginault Ocean Rover 181070GSLN.

They were meant to release a Silent Service Model in fall of 2011, but by April of 2012, their website hadn’t changed for 8 months. This caused people to question whether they’d be around as a watch company in six months’ time. Amazingly, they returned to business in 2016. This is a review in several parts – the history of the company, addressing the controversy, history of the watch it emulates, and the review of the watch itself.

Let’s go back to the Base Module 1 for a moment. Base Module 1 was a Submariner style dive watch with a sterile dial and engraved caseback. While the caseback advertised that the watch was Made in the USA, it was equipped with a Swiss-made ETA movement. The watch enjoyed some success and was written about on some of the watch blogs of the time. It wasn’t a faithful Submariner homage, but it was a decent watch, enjoyed by its wearers.

Fast forward to now. We received the Ginault Ocean Rover for review.
The case back back on the Base Module 1 from 2011 was engraved with exactly the same engraving as the watch we recieved. It has a Made in USA engraving, water resistance, and model numbers that are precisely the same as the original model. I confirmed this by looking at photographs of the original model from reviews from 2011.

The problems begin here in the past. Swiss-Made regulation up until this year required 51% of a watch be made in Switzerland, with some wiggle room on what ‘made’ means. The United States is more stringent. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) defines Made in the USA as all or virtually all components made in the United States. As we know, there are very few movements made in the US. The FTC means virtually by percentage, and expects that if a manufacturer uses subcontractors or suppliers that they provide a bill of materials showing their percentage of non-US-made content. Manufacturers aren’t required to provide a declaration like this to consumers, but they are required to provide evidence to the FTC in the event the FTC investigates.

The replacement back

Here’s how the FTC describes the “virtually all” bit – “Example: A company produces propane barbecue grills at a plant in Nevada. The product’s major components include the gas valve, burner and aluminum housing, each of which is made in the U.S. The grill’s knobs and tubing are imported from Mexico. An unqualified Made in USA claim is not likely to be deceptive because the knobs and tubing make up a negligible portion of the product’s total manufacturing costs and are insignificant parts of the final product.”

You can’t have a functioning gas grill without the tubing and knobs, but they aren’t parts that define what a grill is. However, if you made a table lamp and the base was non-US made, even if the base is a small part of the cost, the base is too close to the final product – you can’t talk about the style of the table lamp without the base being important.

Fast forward to the present. The watch box proclaims “HAND BUILT IN AMERICA” and the dial states the same. It’s possible to interpret this claim as ‘assembled in the USA’ which doesn’t require the parts to be manufactured in the US. At least some number of examples including the watch we received have the same caseback as the 2011 models. Pictures online show that some recipients who got their watches after us have a different caseback without the “Made in USA” claim.

But it doesn’t end there, if you can believe it. The web page also made claims, and not just that the case, dial, hands, and bracelet would be made here, but that almost all of the movement is made in the US. It’s hard to believe, and Ginault promised us answers to our questions. (We’ll get to their answers in a moment. That’s how we build suspense. This is where we lay out the issues involved and what’s at stake.)

This is a real problem, especially if you’re considering the purchase of a Ginault because you want to support American manufacturing and American watch-making. That’s what the FTC regulation exists to clarify and prevent – the confusion and potentially fraud on the customer around claiming something is American when it’s somewhat less than 100% American.

Let’s shift gears. In the replica making community, there’s a man who makes high quality replicas in small numbers for his fans (it isn’t exactly a seller-customer relationship, it’s more of a mutual fandom relationship). He is a dedicated watch-project-manager. He arranges the production of cases, bracelets, dials, and even ETA-style movements made to his specifications with different height hour and pinion so that hand spacing is like it is on the Rolex 5 digit Submariners that he replicates. He’s been doing this since 2013, and is now on version 7 of his well-regarded high quality replicas (well-regarded among the replica community, at least.)

In his announcement introducing version 7 of his watch, he talked about the difficulty in replicating the bezel click feel, sound, and resistance while turning. He was having difficulty producing bezels accurately in China, but discovered that gunsmiths in Pennsylvania were able to do the broaching perfectly as he required.

Coincidentally, Ginault mentioned that they too used gunsmiths (without naming a state) to broach their bezels. Also coincidentally, Ginault’s movement holder looks very similar to the replica maker’s. For some people, this clinches it – for them, Ginault is the same person as the replica maker, there can be no question, and it’s just a rep-maker swapping dials, crowns, and engraving a caseback to go “legit.”

The problem is, that American replica maker has more business than he can service making replicas. He barely is able to respond to email, he’s so swamped. At any time in the past 3 years, anyone could have bought a replica and replicated the movement holder. That gunsmiths do broaching was no great secret, it just wasn’t common knowledge to watch nerds. There’s nothing that’s solid that says he and Ginault are one and the same, just some coincidences: mentioning of gunsmiths for broaching bezels, a movement holder similarity, and focusing on building more or less the 5 digit Submariner. Oh, and they’re both based in California. I’m discounting that one: California is a rather large and populous state.

To be clear: we asked Ginault these questions:

  1. Are you the previously mentioned replica maker?
  2. Why did the wording on the Ginault website about using gunsmiths to broach the bezel disappear?
  3. It’s hard to believe that an ETA style watch movement could be produced almost entirely in the US. Can you provide a list documenting the country of origin and state for each component?
  4. Can we talk to your watchmaker?
  5. Can we tour the shop where the watches are made?
  6. Can we get more photos of the manufacturing process?

When Ginault was in business in 2011, a fellow going by the name of Charles Ginault was operating it. Now emails and blog posts are written by a person using the name John McMurtry. The facebook page for Charles Ginault shows parts said to be for the Silent Service model that never shipped (as far as we know), and the header image is the current Ocean Rover watch. When asked about this, McMurty answered that Mr. Ginault is still in charge, and that he (McMurtry) was the one put in charge of the web site and customer emails. McMurty answered unequivocally that Ginault had never heard of the replica maker. (Update 5/10/2017: The replica maker confirmed that he is not Ginault.)

Ginault arent willing to give tours and show detailed bill of materials with sourcing listed, because they don’t want to reveal which suppliers they’re using, and give it away to competitors. They’re very clear that they’re using sub-contractors, and insist that they’re US-based sub-contractors. The only people they have as direct employees in the US are watchmakers, and a watchmaker’s bench looks a lot like most watchmaker’s benches, so a photograph wouldn’t necessarily remove doubt for a hardened skeptic. At the same time, it’s important to point at that the Swiss use machines to make movements, as do the Japanese, and Chinese. It’s not impossible to believe that suitable CNC machines are in the US, and available to be hired for contract work.

photo used with permission

The ability to have the bulk of the movement made in the US means that they’re able to be more independent than they would be if they were reliant on Swiss movements and supply became constrained. It also gives them the ability to ramp up and supply movements to third parties if they so chose. They state that while they were testing the movement, they supplied some number to other independent watchmakers to verify its reliability.

photo used with permission

The thing Ginault learned most from this exercise is how difficult it can be to reproduce the 16610LN watch. There are a lot of details that require very specific manufacturing techniques to get right, and when they were making the BM1 years ago, they didn’t know how much they were missing. Now that they’ve mastered these techniques, they may be able to apply it to designs of their own.

This is the difficulty. In the watch-collecting, watch-wearing hobby, you have to be able to trust that people are telling the truth about what they’re selling you, whether it’s the basics like, “is this really a sapphire crystal, or is it some other material?” or “what automatic movement is inside?” to the very strange and unverified claims of Ginault: custom copper-aluminum alloys in the movement, a movement with many parts claimed to be made in the USA, and the Made in the USA claim on the re-used case back.

With that in mind, we should review the watch separately from the controversy. The last word we have on the Made in America / hand built in America problems this watch poses are going to be these: Is it possible to make a watch in the US? Yes. RGM does it for watches priced around $5k to start. The Minus8 Diver we reviewed late last year was made by PCH in the US, was prototyped in the US on 5 axis CNC machines. These CNC machines cost north of 50k USD. Is it possible to make an ETA style movement in the US? Not entirely, and the level of precision required would be difficult and expensive. Is it possible for much of Ginault’s case and bracelet to be made in the US? Yes. Is it likely? That’s been the question.

Before we discuss the actual watch, we should talk about the watch behind the watch. The Rolex 16610LN was introduced in 1988. The cases for the then-new version of the Submariner went into production in 1986, but weren’t actually announced or released to customers until 1988, when the 3135 calibre was created. At that time, the watch had lug holes, a bracelet with folded endlinks, and the usual Submariner traits: 300m, triplock crown, fliplock clasp on the bracelet with diver’s extension, unidirectional rotating bezel for decompression times, oyster case, automatic (perpetual) movement, COSC chronometer certified, with a sapphire crystal (previous models used acrylic crystals. Well, the 1680 was acrylic, the 16800 was the first use of sapphire, followed by the 16610 we’re discussing here.)

The 16610 went through some changes. It started out with tritium lumed dials and hands, with the dials marked SWISS T<25. At the end of the 1990s, this changed to Superluminova, and the dial text was changed to SWISS MADE. In 1999, the crystals started having the laser etched crown at the 6 position to indicate a genuine crystal. In 2003, the lug holes went away, and the model number engraved between the lugs became 16610T, for “trous borgnes,” which means “blind holes.” In 2003, we also saw the introduction of the solid end link bracelet. 2008 brought a new model, the 116610, equipped with a glidelock clasp, which eliminates the need for a diver extension. The glidelock clasp is covered under two separate patents, one from October of 2006, covering the clasp release mechanism that replaces fliplock, and the other from April of 2008, covering the two methods used for glidelock adjustment. To be very clear, the glidelock clasp never appeared on a 16610LN or 16610LV watch. The models we’re interested in pre-date the invention of that clasp.

See the adjustments for the clasp? Excellent.

The Ginault is a very specific sort of homage. It borrows from the 2003-and-later 16610T case, with blind holes for the lugs, uses endlinks much like a 2003 16610LV 93250 bracelet (16610LN could have shipped in 2003 with either the 91350 and folded end links, or the 93250 solid end link bracelet) and a glidelock case like the 116610 ceramic bezel equipped Submariner that came in 2008 at Baselword. The rehaut above the dial changed to be engraved with ROLEX around the periphery in 2008 on the M serial 16610 watches, and carried on into the post-Baselworld ceramic Submariners. The hands are a milsub type not seen on a Submariner since the 1977 ref. 5517 Submariners made for military use. (They were also in use on the 5513 that preceded it.) The seconds hand is red like you might find on a Yacht-Master. The hands were defined as a part of England’s Ministry of Defense standards 66–4, which addressed that a watch the military would purchase for issuing to its members would conform to specific features. These features included:

  • Sword hands for increased luminous visibility
  • 60 minute marked bezel for addition countdown time
  • Fixed springbars bars for extra durability
  • Dial marked with a ‘circle T’ to denote the tritium used in the dial construction
  • Broad Arrow engraving to denote the piece as property of the crown.
  • Engraved serial numbers on each piece so the Q branch (quartermaster) could keep account of where and to whom the watch was issued. People who were in service tended to ask for “their” gear back, not just anyone’s after servicing.
5513 Milsub Rolex Submariner

All this makes the Ginault Ocean Rover based on a 2002–2012 14060M watch with hands that recall the 5517/5513 and the clasp off the 116610 or 114060 watch from 2008. Why did we spend all that time talking about the 16610 only to shift gears to the 14060M? The 14060M is the no-date version. The 14060M didn’t ship on solid end links, but this watch does use the updated bracelet. The Ocean Rover in this incarnation is a no-date watch, so it makes sense to refer to the correct number. Ginault have shown limited numbers of prototypes of the date version – a 16610LN type with the same hands and clasp is called an Ocean Rover 180165C1LN and has the white date wheel and Cyclops crystal. An homage to a watch never made is the 180260GSLN, with black date wheel to match the enamel dial and no cyclops on the crystal. We hope to review both of them for you soon.

the 14060M Rolex Submariner

Speaking specifically about the Ocean Rover, the watch is very well constructed. The bracelet has polished sides, and brushed top surfaces–just like the 16610LN watch it draws influence from. The bezel has sharply defined scallops just like the 5 digit Swiss watch. The case has correct bevels on the sides of the case and lugs, and has correct crown guards. The clasp differs from the original by using a glide-lock copy that belongs on a six digit Swiss watch. So far, it’s an extremely good rendering of the 5 digit Submariner, with the glide-lock clasp I like from the 6 digit. It’s important to note, the bracelet end-links are machined. We’ll come back to this later.

 

The dial and handset is a gloss affair with gold sand lume and a red second hand. The hands are sword hands. The Ginault website makes mention of traveling to the ends of the earth for the gold sand lume. Some commenters have said, “they should have just placed an order off alibaba, the Chinese supplier website.” Ginault counters by saying, “if you can order it in China, please do” – they say they couldn’t find the material they wanted cheaper in China. Gloss dials are nice, but they aren’t impossible to make, either. It’s nicely executed, as are the markers. The dial text consists of two lines above the hands and four lines below, consistent with 14060M dials. Here, the words are GINAULT / KINETIC CONTINUOUS, which emulates ROLEX / OYSTER PERPETUAL. Below the hands, it’s OCEAN-ROVER / 1000ft = 330m / SUBMERSIBLE MARITIME / PRECISION CHRONOMETER. For our Swiss friends, it’s SUBMARINER / 1000ft = 330m / SUPERLATIVE CHRONOMETER / OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED. Ocean Rover uses synonyms for almost every line, except it inverts the last two lines, and doesn’t attempt to cover “officially certified.” If the watch were made in Switzerland, “chronometer” would lead people to think that it had been certified by COSC. Since it’s not Swiss, it just literally means something that measures time. Is it absurd? To some viewers. There are people who believe if a watch says “chronometer” that it must be COSC certified. This isn’t so if it’s not a Swiss watch, since COSC will only certify a Swiss Made watch. Is it a suitable way of getting four lines of text on the dial to match the thing they’re paying tribute to? Yes. We weren’t offended by the word being present on the dial, especially when the timing sheet included with the watch indicates it falls within the –4 / +6 spec that COSC certifies for anyway.

The movement is an ETA design, running at 28800 bph. Ginault tells us the parts that are made overseas are the hairspring, the mainspring, the red synthetic sapphire crystals also known as jewels, and the shock absorber. That much is believable. The rest is harder for skeptics to believe without evidence. They claim they make the other parts, main plate, bridge, and more in the US from their own alloy. The WJL Chinese shock absorber leads some to believe the movement could be a Chinese movement. Ginault state they use the WJL because Incabloc only sell to companies whose movements are assembled in Switzerland. Is the movement made in the US? Ginault say it is. “If we did not claim parts were made here, no one would ask to see proof. But we claimed it how it is.”

As mentioned before, it’s held in a machined movement holder that appears similar to a replica maker’s design. There have been machined movement holders before that design, and they were similar. Stilty was a user making them in 2010. The good news is, the movement is an ETA design, which is out of patent protection and a reliable design. They seem to have done a good job with the ones they’re using; Ginault includes a time sheet that shows it within COSC standards. They state they test it over a period of six weeks.

We also have to discuss what is the value of the watch. Retail pricing is $1299 at time of writing. At the same time, they have discounted the watch heavily by 55% if a person agrees to write a review online (we did not take advantage of this offer), or by 60% if you own another Submariner homage and agree to write a comparison review between your homage and their watch, (we didn’t take advantage of this offer, either.)

Machined end links aren’t cheap. They can add as much as $100 to the retail price on a watch. Add for the gloss dial, the gunsmithing on the bezel, and pretty soon you get up to the retail price they ask. But how then, are they giving them out at the deep discount? They’ve done it for more than ten people. And, when you reach that price, does it make more sense to source the movement from STP and have a Swiss movement, and maybe push the price to 1499, but be able to make the Swiss claim? We don’t know their cost structure, but we’re guessing. The bracelet is nicer than many other brands in the same price range as the discount, and as nice as bracelets on watches in its normal retail price range.

The lume is one of my favorite things about a watch, whether it’s the NTH divers we’ve reviewed in the past, or the Spinnaker SP–5033 that has bright lume rivaling the Seiko Orange Monster. Here, the gold sand lume sparkles in the day when it catches the light, and shines at night. The lume is very bright initially in the dark, and then remains a pretty consistent slightly dimmer glow for the next 12 hours. I like it very much. I also like how the pearl at 12 is a similar color to the cream colored hands and indices.

The shape of the crown guards perfectly mirror the original design, and that’s about all anyone could hope to ask for of them. The fit of the bracelet end links to the lugs is perfect. The feel of the bezel rotating clicks just right, not too loose, not too tight, with no play. It’s one of those things where you know when it’s been done right… and this was.

We asked Ginault about the discounted review offer they had made, because it seemed too good to be true. Ginault clarified, “The promotional pricing which we are running right now is temporary. There is no way we can maintain this project at $500 a piece let alone profiting from it. We understand that even though we have been around since 2010 we have to start from zero again. Therefore, we are doing it because we need the reviews and recognition from real WIS users in order to set foot on watchuseek forums.”

It’s a well-made watch, with a well-designed movement that seems to be timed very well before sale, and if they had just not made ambitious claims about Made in USA or Hand Built in America, it might have not caused as much controversy as it seems to have. In the words of a well-renowned writer, “Maybe we need a little controversy, because it’d be so empty without me.” It’s very difficult – we say when we talk of used watch sales, “buy the seller, not the watch” – here, the watch is spectacular, but Ginault polarizes people by their lack of communication – whether it’s explaining what they’ve made or responding to emails, which takes them quite a while to get back to us. They don’t need to name their suppliers, but they could benefit from a lot more transparency instead of difficult-to-believe claims of making their own movements with their own alloys. This is the difficulty – sub-contractors get paid for their time, and you want to pay them to run machines and make parts, rather than stand around to be interviewed by people. Would we like to see youtube videos showing parts being made, or short interviews with the people running the machines? Sure. Do we get that from many of the Swiss houses that make watches? (and we should note, many of the Swiss houses make parts over in China and assemble them in Switzerland.) No, we don’t. Are we bothered by the Made in USA issues? This issue is pretty well resolved. If you can make a watch, you can read the FTC’s guidance on it and avoid the whole problem. It just never occurred to them they had to look up what the requirements were when, as far as they were concerned, they were making most of it in the US. They’ve offered replacement casebacks that don’t say “Made in the USA” to watch owners, and tell us that only one owner has taken them up on the offer so far. The other way that Ginault hinders themselves is in the timeliness of their answering emails and customer support requests. It takes Ginault 5 days to return an email at best, usually twice as long. In a world where non-watch customer support happens within 48 hours, this is difficult. Yes, much of the watch world support is also days long, or non-existent. That doesn’t mean it’s desirable. Any watch brand wishing to succeed needs to set expectations on response time and live up to them. We strongly recommend a ticket-issue tracking system so emails don’t get lost, and brands can see the age of a request for help. Ginault said they don’t participate in forums because they’d prefer to let the watch speak for itself. That’s fine, but for a consumer with an issue, however small it may be, this could stand to be improved.

Ginault told us, “On our website we said ”To create something new, we must first master the craftsmanship of the vintage classics”. I know many members laughed at that statement. But we meant what we said.

“We spent the past 5 plus years making improvements on our BM1 into the Ocean Rover you see today. I don’t think any other micros have done anything like that.

“We didn’t focus on marketing, or something else. We focused on the product itself and made sure it is the best Submariner homage made. Truth be told although many of us have been in the industry of building/making things by machine and tools, the past 5 plus years were a great and yet very humbling learning experience for us here at Ginault in terms of the parts production aspect. With each improvement made on the parts the more we realized the intricacy and ingenuity in the Rolex design concept. With that said, we will definitely apply what we learned to all the styles which we plan to make down the road.”

We’re very glad that the people who ordered watches have received them, and they’re good watches. The overly-proud flowery marketing and slow communication hinder what would otherwise be a ridiculously good deal at the reduced prices, and a good value proposition at the retail prices. As said, the reduced prices aren’t sustainable, but don’t let that deter you from considering one at regular pricing. We can’t think of another that comes as close to the original. If you want one of the best made homages, this watch might be for you. Or, you could spend a little under four times as much for a used example of the 14060M that it pays tribute to. If you want a well-made, properly faithful homage, this is it. We look forward to reviewing new models that Ginault may make. Ginault.com

Watch Overview

  • Brand & Model: Ginault Ocean Rover 181070GSLN
  • Price: $1299 USD
  • Who we think it might be for: You like one of the best Submariner Homages we’ve seen ever, and don’t mind a little controversy
  • Would I buy one for myself based on what I’ve seen?: I’m tempted. Sorely tempted. I almost did last night.
  • If I could make one design suggestion, it would be: Sterile case back would be good. Let’s be clear: the design is directly based on the Big R one, so there’s not much to comment on here.
  • What spoke to me the most about this watch: Getting every detail on the case to check out against the original, and, and that nice bracelet with the good clasp and end links.

Tech Specs from Ginault

  • Case size: 40mm
  • Height: 11mm
  • Case material: steel (brushed and polished)
  • Crystal: sapphire with 3.1mm thickness, with no direct reflection point
  • Strap: stainless steel bracelet, solid end links
  • Movement: Ginault calibre 7275 (similar to ETA 2824–2 design)

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