The city of Montreal is often called by those residing outside of it as North America’s crown jewel. Where Europeans find familiarity as they walk the city’s welcoming streets, Americans are greeted with a Canadian warmth, but in a very foreign landscape where they never run out of things to do and places to explore. This aura of wonder is not lost on those living within the city, especially not for the three men behind the relatively new watch brand Héron. Starting a watch brand came naturally to the three childhood friends.
“We’ve always been interested in horology and the design aspect of watches, and we started collecting timepieces individually. As we talked about our collections and shared our knowledge and enthusiasm with each other, the idea of starting our own watch company began to take shape,” said Simon Perez, who oversees the company’s accounting and finance.
Nathan Elkaim, who is in charge of the company’s creative direction, went on to explain how their new watch pays respect to their beautiful city. “With the Gladiateur, we wanted to pay tribute to Héron’s hometown Montreal. We felt a dressy sports watch would do a good job capturing the city’s urban feel without deriving from our aspiration as a tool watch company. This watch would be meant for urban adventurers.”
It is with this perspective that we start the review of this watch. Without this foundational understanding of how the Gladiateur came to be, it is too easy to fall into some of the habitual pitfalls enthusiasts do when looking at a new watch and brand.
On Wrist and Overall Experience
While wearing the Gladiateur, it never felt out of place on my wrist. Watches I receive for review usually compete with a series of Omegas, Garmins, Nomos, Tudor, and watches from other brands such as Nodus and MKii. The Héron instinctively felt like it was in good company. Most people I asked about this watch instantly thought of the Rolex Yachtmaster while the watch was on its rubber strap, but others mentioned the Constellation series by Omega when the Gladiateur was on its bracelet. Not only does the watch look like a watch from one of these brands, but on the wrist, it also comes close to feeling like it, and there are plenty of good reasons for this.
This is aided by the careful yet fully self-aware finishing of the case, its thin profile, and the automatic rotor of the watch is well dampened; this watch never calls attention to itself in an uncalled manner, which is appreciated. This is a trait that many people do not speak of when it comes to the watches that the Gladiateur reminds them of, their ability to become a part of your life effortlessly.
When I spoke with Adam Attias, who covers the daily operations of Héron, we discussed Omega, how the bezel and bracelets call on the Constellations and heritage lines of Omegas, and how that translates to the user experience. “It’s no secret that we are big fans of Omega, and that passion clearly translates into our design language. While the bezel and case shapes of our watches weren’t specifically designed with Omega references in mind, you are absolutely right about the bracelet,” said Adam referring to the bracelets found on the 1957 series of Speedmasters. “We fell in love with it and decided to incorporate a similar style into our designs, as we find it is a good fit for the Gladiateur aesthetically.”
All this being said, the Gladiateur feels and looks like a unique watch when seen in person. We will cover how this watch is perceived by some enthusiasts and other writers in the final section of this article and how it is beneficial to shift their perspective when approaching such watches.
Héron Gladiateur MMLXV Specs
Case, Strap, and Bracelet Details
I mentioned how the finishing of the case and bracelet of this watch is self-aware. How can this be so, you ask? For a timepiece that comes well under the $1000 mark, the Gladiateur rightfully does not try to do too much. All surfacing transitions on the case and bracelet are handled simply and smoothly. This allows the watch to not call attention to itself while worn. Plenty of watches in this price range have unrefined surfacing treatments, usually done by young brands. In the past, while handling such watches, images of young brand owners ticking off every option box from the manufacturer across the planet repeatedly came to mind. This is not the case here. In some areas, Héron balanced the case and bracelet with carefully polished and matte sandblasted elements. The bracelet’s clasp and inner links are calmly treated with a matte sandblasted treatment, while the outer links’ highly polished finishing gracefully leads the eye to the case. The case itself is highly polished and sports a healthy crown guard. The crown measures about 4mm and is highly detailed and well-executed. While providing ample grip, the crown has a similar wobble when fully extended for watches around the $700 USD mark, which is $200 above the asking price for this watch. The crown is finished with the simple yet refined “H” company logo.
The rubber strap fits perfectly against the case of the Gladiateur, and I recommend that anyone who purchases one of these watches also buy one or more of these straps. During its nearly month-long stay with me, the strap has shown minimal wear and has been very comfortable. This strap’s hardware matches the watch’s rose gold treatment as well. Héron also offers a decent leather strap with a rubber underside.
Héron offers a wide selection of straps for the Gladiateuer, and this speaks to the watch’s versatility, and this versatility is underscored by its design highlight, which is the bezel.
In Motion: Bezel and Movement
The bezel is undeniably the shining star of the Gladiateur. While the case of the Gladiatuer may look like a modern Rolex to some, the bezel is unique and contrasts the modernity elsewhere with a subdued and mature classicism. As mentioned earlier, when referencing the city of Montreal, this was a deliberate design decision, and Nathan explained why.
“Montreal famously blends old European architecture with ultra-modern buildings and structures. This translates into the moulded Roman numeral bezels paired with the stark, minimalist dial. Montreal is cold in the winter but gets surprisingly hot in the summer. It’s also a city where two languages are spoken fluently by most. There’s always this sense of duality in this city. It only made sense to add a dual-time functionality, which was a very fitting feature with our urban adventure concept.”
Furthermore, the bezel function is treated appropriately as well. Whereas a dive bezel’s function comes from a place of urgency, that of life support monitoring, the 12-hour bezel is more relaxed. Made to reference another time zone for those in an urban setting, the bezel’s legibility speaks to the level of haste the wearer would be in when needing such a function. This is to say that they would not be in a hurry as they check in on their relatives back home or a client who resides on the other side of the continent. The bezel is unidirectional, which is commonplace for a dive bezel but not for a 12-hour bezel. This was never an issue for me, but other watch enthusiasts mentioned that they preferred a bi-directional bezel instead. Interestingly, those who did not mind were not watch enthusiasts, and they simply stated that they liked how the bezel felt.
The bezel exhibits absolutely no wobble when set in place, and it resonates with a distinct sharp metallic sound when rotated around its 120 available clicks. This may contradict other reviews found online. Unfortunately, due to how internet platforms reward watch reviews, whether they are on YouTube or driven by social media, the bezel of this watch got a bad reputation due to its initial prototype review units. The initial reviews never bothered to revisit their articles and videos when the production version was ready, for they are not incentivized to do so. This is an issue that many writers face today when dealing with PR firms that more prominent brands hire as well. Instant rewards are what drive this space, and this is highly unfortunate. These instant rewards are presented as “likes” and very hollow metrics provided by the service providers, giving the brand/client poor data to work with.
Furthermore, the writer or content creator’s work has a surprisingly brief period of time to work with for maximum exposure on most platforms. Those who would like to research a watch long after its initial release can be misled due to inaccurate representations of the product on the market and by articles motivated to be released within a narrow press window for maximum effect for the PR firm to show their clients. This is one of the many reasons I continue to write for Watch Clicker, for I have been allowed to revisit and update several reviews as time passed. It is a shame that many of those who review watches are not entirely doing so for the right reasons. This shows that the Héron Gladiateur deserves better. I am comfortable writing this for the three owners of Héron are not personal friends, as are some other brand owners, and I in no way gain to benefit from making this statement.
When asked about what they had learned from their experiences, Adam went on to expand on the lessons that they learned. “We learned a lot about manufacturing while working on the Gladiateur, and those lessons have helped us improve our upcoming models. One of the most important things we learned was the need to work closely with our manufacturer during the mold-making process. A notable example was when we found out that our manufacturer wasn’t familiar with the bezel click system we designed, which caused some issues initially,” said Adam referencing the prototypes sent out to reviewers before the launch. “It was a challenge to walk them (the manufacturer) through it, but we got the click just right eventually.” This speaks incredibly well for the Gladiateur being supported in the future and for Héron’s future releases. A common cause of concern for many consumers is that smaller brands simply move from one watch model to the next and do not address issues as they arise. Héron addresses these concerns, and the Gladiateur is a testament to this.
When in motion, the bezel does its job quietly, as does the well-dampened Miyota 9039. The watch I received was incredibly well-regulated and performed consistently around the +8 to15 seconds a day. The choice of the 9039 does bring us to something which speaks to the level of care that went into this watch: the hands and the dial.
Dial, Caseback, and Crystal Details
At first glance, the dial just looks simple. As Nathan mentioned earlier, this was deliberate. The choice of the Myota 9039 was also a calculated decision, for this movement allows for the hands to be set much lower than with other movements. This further helps to separate the dial from the bezel and the case, as the elements that your eyes rely on to tell the time exists on its own stage. This stage is set with perfect proportions, which few new brands get correctly. Having classically appropriate dimensions makes the Gladiateur more timeless and versatile. The applied and lumed indices do an excellent job of telling the time. The printed seconds markers comfortably fall into their supporting role and come into play when called upon. The blue BQW9 lume is more than adequate, and legibility is never an issue, save for one instance.
The only criticism I can comfortably make about the Gladiateur is the sapphire crystal’s anti-reflective treatment on the models with the darker dials and inevitable reflections. The crystal only has its underside treated, and the reflections are not as noticeable with the white dial as on the darker dials. Still, as seen here in black, the beautifully straightforward dials would be incredibly better suited to have the top of the crystal AR treated as well. I would happily pay an extra ten percent of the asking price to have this, for this dial deserves an unimpeded view.
It isn’t easy to make a simple dial work, and Héron has accomplished this. The choice of fonts and size does not overwhelm the dial, and the graceful heron bird graphic logo brings the modern dial and the classic bezel together. Here in the dial, one can see definite hints of Hublot’s line of Fusion models, which works wonderfully well in this application.
While on the topic of the bird theme and the logo, I asked why the brand was named after the heron. “We went with the name “Héron” because it’s a bilingual name that sounds great in both French and English, which was important to us since our company is based in Montreal, Quebec,” said Simon before continuing. “Moreover, herons are graceful birds that can be spotted all over Canada. Their ability to navigate different environments – land, water, and air – is not unlike the versatility of watches, which cater to diverse needs like field, dive, and pilot watches. Additionally, herons are known to migrate, making them a fitting symbol for adventurous spirits and a fitting representation of a Canadian tool watch company.”
The second design highlight is the extraordinary caseback. At the center is an elegant heron wearing a gladiator’s helmet surrounded by a laurel wreath. This is one of the most handsome case backs I have seen, and everyone I showed the watch to say so. Nathan, who designed the special caseback, said, “the idea of a gladiator seemed obvious but relevant. Plus, it’s a fusion between the brand and model name, further reflecting the theme of the duality of the Gladiateur.”
The Gladiateur’s mission of representing the duality of the active urban citizen is accomplished. The design is incredibly refined yet sporty and would look at home during a night out with friends and at a job interview. This watch was conceived from a place of love, and it shows.
Héron’s founders, Adam, Nathan, and Simon, are watch enthusiasts. Each separately became collectors on their own and adored everything revolving around horology. It should be noted that Simon’s father worked in the field of watches, and his exposure started at a young age. Their tastes as enthusiasts can be seen in the Gladiator. When I asked others what they thought about the watch, many enthusiasts simply stated what other watches it looks like and used that as a point of dismissal. Some mentioned that the case resembled a Rolex and said so negatively. Most modern sports watches have a similar case shape, and this line of criticism is equivalent to condemning every sedan for having the same three-box shape. When asked about the thematic references, Adam said, “the Rolex Yachtmaster was also a significant source of inspiration for us. We drew inspiration from the Yachtmaster’s balance of form and function, as it was a perfect example of a dressy tool watch.” Expanding on further sources of inspiration, “the early sketches of Gladiateur took some cues from the Hublot Fusion.” Once he said this, I saw what he was talking about. Adam’s love for watches also started at quite an early age, as his father is a collector of timepieces.
As enthusiasts and even some writers who like to think of ourselves as informed in the field, we need to take a step back and not fall prey to horological stereotypes. One hears comments at events about a new release and how it resembles another watch or two, and though true in some cases, this is simply lazy. Many aficionados expect something entirely new and novel when presented with a new watch.
“Frankly, we are not trying to revolutionize anything. ‘Good-looking, reliable watches at a fair price’ is all we are trying to accomplish – for now. We aren’t interested in creating homages of popular watches, nor do we want to produce over-the-top, spaceship-looking watches for the sake of being different. I think our strength lies in crafting watches that have a classic and familiar look without borrowing heavily from other brands,” Nathan said before going on. “Maybe as we design more watches and grow our brand, we will find some kind of ‘x-factor, but for now, we want good design and quality to lead the show.”
This notion of unjustly and quickly passing judgment on a young brand extends well past design decisions, and more mature brands are also not immune to such judgments. Nodus’s recent release, the Unity, was called a fashion watch by many who had not handled it simply because it breached their common conception of tool watches they are known for. The Unity is an elegant and robust tool watch with 150 meters of water resistance and tolerances that would make an Omega from 2010 blush. The Héron Gladiateur was also commonly disregarded as a fashion watch by some enthusiasts I spoke to, but it was enlightening when it came to one feature in particular. This was the rose gold plating and how we consumers are conditioned to see any gold-plated watch from a smaller brand as cheap. Thankfully, the Gladiateur, once seen in person, is not cheap and very much worth its $510 USD asking price. Regarding how resilient the rose gold finishing is, I did not get to test that out during its stay with me.
As informed consumers, it would benefit us to approach such watches without our prevailing cognitive shorthands. These shortcuts get in the way of enjoying what brings us so much joy. We should celebrate watches such as the Héron Gladiateur for it is made by a group of childhood friends who are brought together by their love for horology, and they made a love letter to their city, which also happened to be one of the most beautiful in the world. For this reason and those stated above, the Gladiateur comes highly recommended.
Check out more dive watch reviews at The Watch Clicker here
Check out the Héron website here