I would like to introduce a very good friend and early supporter of both the blog and the Team. Jon Gaffney is a freelance photojournalist formerly of Boston, MA. He has been there for me in some of the more stressful times during the formation of the Team and some of the early deployments. He's someone I trust.
He currently lives in a camper van with his girlfriend traveling North America and working from the road. Life on the road has only lent to his tendency to wear gear out in record time. He's passionate about getting outside and on the water whenever he can, usually with a new piece of gear to flog in his capacity as a Contributing Editor for Gear Patrol and Huckberry.
When it comes to quality gear, to stylish gear, to the right gear, Jon is the guy to go to. So, it's not surprise when I was looking to have someone review a time piece that I find personally very appealing (he and I share a passion for quality mechanical watches), he said: I have one and I'll write the review for you.
If you want to follow his road trip, the easiest way to keep up with him is on Instagram. Keep him in mind for field photography, gear testing and for writing fantastic pieces.
The pictures in this review were taken by Jon and by Gale Straub, also traveling in the van across America.
Military watches command ever higher price tags these days, and with a small supply to begin with that only continues to contract it's a trend that will only continue. Even the New York Times has recognized the popularity of military watches, never good for the non-rich WIS. Around this demand has sprung a number of "homage" watch brands making copies of the originals for significantly less money. While many are good, often the quality follows with the price tag.
MKII is unique amongst the watch brands of the world and certainly in the "homage" world. A one man shop out of Philadelphia, PA, MKII is the brain child and labor of love for Bill Yao. Yao is a student of the history of military time keeping. He's not looking to find these watches and copy them though, he's looking to learn. MKII stands for Mark 2, as in the second generation. Bill takes the classic military watches of yore and reissues them with improvements on their weaknesses and incorporates todays technological advancements. These are military watches built for you to earn your own patina.
With this background, MKII had been on my wish list for years. I'd even had one of their special editions pass through my hands for the briefest of moments before it was sold when money tighter. When an opportunity arose to trade a vintage Seiko for a lightly used MKII Paradive this past summer I jumped at the chance.
The Paradive is Bill Yao's take on the Benrus Type 1, a rare dive watch issued to Special Forces units and some CIA forces up until the the 1980's. Needless to say, original examples are exceedingly rare and also have some weaknesses.
To improve upon this lineage, the MKII Paradive takes the shape of the Benrus and beefs it up to a 41mm diameter bezel, adds a HRV (helium release valve), and a uni-directional bezel for safety sake. On my 7.25" wrist it's worn incredibly well. It stays put on the stock rubber strap in a way usually only seen with a tightly cinched NATO, most importantly, the crown never digs into the back of my hand, a rarity in my experience. Yao also opted to make the case two piece versus monobloc for easier servicing, key since this watch is made to be on the wrist of people who will be beating on it and thus probably in need of a service now and then.
One of my favorite details on the watch is the completely sanitized dial. The indicies are big and bold on the matte black dial and SuperLumiNova BGW9 glows through most nights for easy time checks. The only marking the Paradive bears are on the case back and are minimalist in a way only defense contractors can usually do. The bead blasting of the case replaces the parkerizing of the original and has proved to be scratch and dent resistant in 4 months of daily wear around the country. Inside this impressive case beats a highly decorated ETA 2836-2 movement that Yao regulates in 6 positions. I'm not one to check my watches for seconds lost or gained each day, but I've found the Paradive to rarely need a reset and it's yet to be the cause of me being late, a resounding success in my book.
Overall I've found owning an MKII and the Paradive specifically to be a very satisfying experience. I demand a lot of my gear and I'm rarely easy upon it. Not every piece of gear is built for that kind of use, whether it claims to be or not. The Paradive has been bridge jumping, cliff jumping, desk diving, and digging out stuck vehicles while off-roading. I live on the road full time and it's on my wrist each waking moment, whatever that might entail. It has nary a new scratch, keeps as good of time as when I got it, and looks damn good. I look forward to wearing it every day, I can't give it much higher praise than that.