Updated on May 10, 2021
There aren’t a lot of mechanical chronograph watches available around $1000, and far fewer with swiss made automatic ETA movements inside. But MAEN, a small watch brand from Stockholm, Sweden, has overcome many trials and tribulations (more on that below) to deliver just that with their Skymaster 38 automatic chronograph.
In this MAEN Skymaster 38 review, I look at the panda dial version of this nicely executed vintage-inspired watch.
An affordable Swiss Made automatic chronograph
Micro brand MAEN began as many watch start-ups do with a couple of quartz models. They followed those with an automatic dive watch called the Hudson. Their fourth watch release, the Skymaster, launched as a Kickstarter project in 2019 with five dial variations that began shipping in the second half of 2020.
With the Skymaster, MAEN offers a very compelling mechanical chronograph at around $1000. The watch is stylish, classically designed, and nicely made. And it’s Swiss Made, carrying the “Swiss” designation on the dial and running on a well-respected ETA 2894-2 automatic chronograph movement.
With a choice of dial variations, the Skymaster appeals to a range of preferences. The watch comes standard on a leather strap, but a custom stainless steel Speedmaster-style bracelet is available as an additional option. And though the Skymaster 38 uses a domed hesalite crystal to increase its vintage appeal, a domed sapphire crystal is available for a little extra.
The vintage-sized 38mm chronograph case
True to its vintage inspiration, the dimensions of the MAEN Skymaster 38 are smaller than most modern-day chronographs. The case is 38mm wide with a lug-to-lug length of 47.3mm. The watch is 10.9mm thick, 12.9mm including the domed crystal. And it has a lug width of 20mm.
The 316L stainless steel case design is rather simple, with tall, angular lugs and straight sides. The top of the lugs are polished and the sides of the case are brushed, with no chamfering in between. The drilled lugs extend almost straight out from the case, with only a slight downward curve to help the Skymaster hug the wrist.
The large push-pull crown signed with the MAEN “M” is easy to grip and turn. And the two small mushroom cap pushers start, stop, and reset the chronograph function. The pushers have a firm springiness to them. And they deliver a satisfying click when pressed all the way to activate the chronograph.
Turning the Skymaster 38 over, a sapphire display caseback with a coin-edged outer perimeter shows off the ETA movement beating inside.
The Skymaster case only offers 5ATM of water resistance so it can handle some exposure to water. Hand-washing and a bit of rain shouldn’t be a worry. But you’ll probably want to avoid swimming or even showering with it.
The panda dial
The Skymaster photos on the MAEN website and the company’s social media posts make the panda dial appear white. In reality, the panda dial is much more of a champagne color. Perhaps it’s a light champagne color, but it is certainly not white. And looking closely, you’ll notice that the finish has a sparkling grain pattern to it.
It’s an attractive color if you like cream or champagne dials, and it has an interesting finish. But it would be much better if MAEN would more accurately represent the panda dial’s color in their marketing materials. If you order one expecting it to be white, the color would probably surprise or even disappoint you when it arrived. UPDATE: It appears that the images on the MAEN website now show the dial to be closer to the actual champagne color.
Dial details and handset
The MAEN Skymaster 38 is a time-only three-register chronograph, which means it has three registers, or sub-dials, inset within the main dial. The sub-register layout is a common 3-6-9 layout found on classic chronographs like the Omega Speedmaster and Heuer Autavia.
The Skymaster sub-dials are textured, with a concentric circle pattern radiating out from the center of each. This tight concentric pattern catches the light and appears to shimmer with even the slightest movement. It’s a vibrant visual effect that adds another dimension to the dial.
Besides the sub-registers, there are lots of fine details on the dial. Applied brushed metallic indices mark the hours, with printed markers for the minutes and seconds in between. Arabic numerals on the chapter ring mark each five minute and second increment, with ¼ second increments printed between each.
Wide, polished metallic baton hands with strips of lume down the center show the time. The large chronograph seconds hand is also polished metal with a lumed rectangle near the end. Simple white stick hands on the small seconds and chronograph sub-dials resemble those found on a Speedmaster Professional. It’s an attractive handset that is easy to read.
Overall, the dial of the MAEN Skymaster 38 is well balanced, with enough detail to keep it interesting and enough space to keep it from feeling crowded. The Skymaster definitely borrows many dial details from more famous and classic chronographs, but does so tastefully. And it manages to keep the dial clean, stylish and uncluttered even within a 38mm chronograph case.
The 12-hour GMT scale bezel
In keeping with the travel-inspired design, and reminiscent of a vintage Heuer Autavia, the MAEN Skymaster 38 includes a thin, bi-directional GMT bezel marked with a 12-hour scale. The glossy black aluminum GMT insert allows the wearer to track a second time zone by rotating the bezel to the corresponding time. The hands point to the first time zone on the dial, and the second time zone can be read from where the hands are pointing on the bezel. It’s actually a very useful feature, and a simple way to get GMT functionality without a GMT complication.
If you are used to diving bezels on watches, the bezel of the Skymaster may feel a bit different. First, it rotates in both directions, instead of just one. And second, the feel and sound of the bezel clicks are a lot softer than the click of many dive bezels. But the bezel is easy to grip and smooth to operate, with a refined feel and very little play.
The ETA 2894-2 chronograph movement
A large part of what makes the MAEN Skymaster 38 so impressive for the price is the swiss-made ETA 2894-2 automatic chronograph movement. The ETA 2894-2 is a 37 jewel movement beating at a smooth 28,800 BPH or 4Hz. It’s not an integrated chronograph movement like the Valjoux 7750, however. It’s an ETA 2894-A2 movement with the addition of a chronograph module. The ETA 2894 is a high-quality movement, but the addition of the chronograph makes it more complex than a normal 2894 or a Valjoux movement, which might affect your options when it comes time to service the watch.
How the Skymaster 38 wears
At 38mm, the MAEN Skymaster is a great size. While most chronographs are 40mm or larger, with many in the 42mm-45mm range, it provides an attractive option for those with smaller wrists. And for those with larger wrists, it delivers a classic, vintage look with a modern movement and materials.
The somewhat straight, tall, angular lugs seem to wear long, however. Longer than their 47.3mm length would suggest. Before measuring the lug-to-lug distance, I would have guessed that it was over 48mm, even closer to 49mm. The spring bar holes are close to the ends of the lugs as well, adding to the perceived length.
But at 12.9mm thick, the Skymaster is a relatively thin watch, especially for a chronograph. Thanks to the ETA 2894-2 movement, the case remains thin, and though the domed crystal adds another 2mm, it doesn’t really add to the visual thickness. And the dome slides easily under a shirt cuff.
A modern vintage-inspired chronograph watch
MAEN is very upfront that they set out to create a vintage-inspired chronograph with the Skymaster 38. And it’s clear that the dials are heavily inspired by a few much more famous, and more expensive, Swiss watches.
The Panda and Reverse Panda dial Skymaster closely resemble a Heuer Autavia. In fact, the Heuer may be the watch that the MAEN is most closely modeled after overall. For those who like the look of the Autavia, the much more affordable Skymaster could be an excellent substitute.
The Jet Black MAEN Skymaster looks a lot like the Omega Speedmaster Professional. But the Skymaster offers several things that might make it even more attractive than the Speedy Pro for some. Like applied hour markers, a self-winding automatic movement, and a more attainable price tag. Plus, the 38mm Skymaster will fit smaller wrists better than the 42mm Speedmaster will. Of course, the MAEN is not in the same class as the iconic Omega. For those who like the look of the Speedmaster Pro but find it out of reach, the Skymaster could be a great alternative.
And the Thunder Grey version of the Skymaster, with its orange hands, charcoal gray dial, and unusual red sub-dial markings is obviously MAEN’s adaptation of the more rare Omega Seamaster Soccer Timer watch, circa 1969. The Thunder Grey Skymaster delivers the unique appeal of that vintage Omega watch without the need to seek out and buy vintage.
MAEN Skymaster 38 review conclusions
The MAEN Skymaster 38 is an attractive, seemingly well-built watch. In all of its dial variations, the Skymaster offers a classic vintage-inspired style and a high-quality ETA movement at a price that very few other swiss chronographs can beat. It delivers an admirable level of finishing and attention to detail. With a 38mm case and thickness of only 12.9mm, including the beautifully domed crystal, it will fit smaller wrists better than most other modern chronographs. And for those with larger wrists, the Skymaster 38 offers the look of a vintage-sized watch in a modern package.
If there is anything that I’m disappointed about with the MAEN Skymaster 38, it comes down to two things. First, the panda dial. I’d prefer a true white or even silver dial, which I think would make the watch more classy and more versatile. The creamy champagne color will appeal to some buyers and certainly adds a certain warmth to the dial.
And second, the watch wears longer than I’d like it to. The tall, angular lugs appear to curve downward, but that’s mostly an illusion: they are basically straight. I think it would wear better, especially on a 6.5-inch wrist like mine, if the lugs were more curved.
MAEN Skymaster: a rocky start
Overall, though, the MAEN Skymaster 38 is a very nice, well-priced chronograph. The biggest challenge at first was getting one. MAEN experienced repeated setbacks and delays to deliver the watch because of COVID-19 restrictions, manufacturing delays, and quality assurance issues with the first batch of Skymasters sold. Initially offered through Kickstarter and then through the brand’s website, some buyers waited 12 months or more for their watches to arrive. I waited 15 months to receive my Skymaster.
Periods of product availability followed by longer stretches where their watches are sold out are all too common with microbrands. This is often because of shared manufacturing resources, smaller-scale production runs, and more limited financial resources. The delays that MAEN experienced with the Skymaster seemed extreme even for a small watch brand, however.
And judging from forum discussions, the first batch of Skymasters also had a few hit-or-miss quality issues. The one I received was completely fine, with no issues at all. But there have been a few complaints of the chronograph not resetting properly, or not running as smoothly as it should.
But hopefully, the production problems and early QC issues are behind them. Both for the sake of the company and for the sake of watch buyers. With the Skymaster, MAEN offers a nice watch that fills a gap between manual-wind Seagull-based chronographs on one side and higher-priced Swiss chronographs on the other. If you’re looking for a mechanical chronograph, the MAEN Skymaster 38 is definitely worth checking out.
You can see the full MAEN Skymaster 38 automatic chronograph collection and order online at maenwatches.com.