Boatswain Reviews: MKII Stingray II Keroman
In 1953 Blancpain introduced their first dive watch, the Fifty Fathoms, when CEO Jean-Jaq….ah forget it….chances are that if you are here you’ve likely already read the history of Blancpain’s iconic dive watch fifty times. If you do want more back story take a peek at the following link to get the low down straight from the sea-horse’s mouth The Fifty Fathoms History - Part One - Blancpain - YouTube
Now let’s fast forward 70 years to today and dive in on MKII’s release of the Stingray II Keroman. MKII is one of the older enthusiast brands, starting out life offering Seiko mod parts and slowly growing into today’s incarnation focused on making watches inspired by iconic military pieces of the past. For many years MKII’s Stingray line, which references the Fifty Fathoms, lay dormant, until it resurfaced somewhat surprisingly in the spring of 2022. The new MKII Stingray II Keroman (we will roll with Stingray from here on out) is built on the basic architecture of the TR-660 from MKII’s sister brand Tornek-Rayville. This latest Stingray varies quite a bit from the originals, most notably it now features a reduced size. The MKII Stingray doesn’t directly mimic any one specific Fifty Fathoms model but is a distillation of several, perhaps most closely related to some versions of the Mil Spec 1. I love that MKII works with historical designs (yes, it’s a homage watch) but creates their versions without a whiff of forced vintage elements. No radium-colored lume. No bracelet rivets. Everything is kept crisp and clean and MKII’s watches come across as more modern visions of the reference pieces.
Let’s take a closer look and see how the Stingray floats on its own beyond the watches both new and old that have influenced it.
Case Diameter - 39.8mm
Case Thickness - 14.8mm
Case Length - 48.6mm
Midcase Height - 5.0mm
Bezel Height - 3.3mm
Apparent Case Height (combined midcase and bezel edge) - 8.3mm
Case Back Thickness – 4.5 mm approx..
Crystal Height above Bezel - 2mm approx.
Crown Diameter - 6.8mm
Crystal Diameter - 27.7mm
Lug Width - 20mm
Weight of Watch Head- 83g
Water Resistance - 200m
Price - $895 USD - Aluminum bezel insert
$940 USD - Acrylic bezel Insert
At first glance the case of the Stingray seems to be the watch’s most unremarkable feature and worthy of just quickly glossing over. But the more time I have spent with the Stingray the more I have come to appreciate its case design. Let’s start with the metal itself, standard fare here with 316L stainless steel that will hold up to any adventure around the water. All the visible metal surfaces of the watch (save for one sneaky part) have been treated to a bead-blasted finish. I have to admit that the blasted finish is a major part of the appeal of this watch for me. It gives the Stingray a rugged no-nonsense tool vibe, and helps it to stand out from a sea of divers with brushed and polished finishes. The blasted finish itself is satiny smooth, and perfectly applied into every nook and cranny, even the inside of the lugs where nefarious finishing likes to hide. And despite all the angular corners and edges there are no sharp points to be found. The overall quality of the finish is excellent in a very understated way. The blasting also darkens the metal, giving it a stronger more somber tone, appearing more grey than silver. In dim light the case has a slatey grey tone and brightens in direct light displaying just a hint of sparkle. To the touch there is a satisfying smoothness.
The tooly matte blasted finish ties in perfectly with the simple and direct case shape. While clearly based closely on vintage Fifty Fathoms cases, the Stingray comes across as a stronger more simplified vision, for better or for worse. From dial on the 39.8mm diameter case has a generally round appearance, enhanced by the absence of crown guards. Jutting out from the main body of the case are long lean blunt-tipped lugs that stretch to a just acceptable 48.6mm length. The angular lugs are drilled adding to the Stingray’s tool watch chops, and a handy feature that allows for quick strap swaps and running shoulderless bars for added security. The bezel flows seamlessly out of the vertical case sides and is very satisfying in how integrated the case and bezel appear and function.
Here’s where things get a bit interesting. In profile two things jump out and wrestle with your brain at the same time. First off, the midcase is quite slim at 5mm tall, and even topped by the un-sloped bezel the combination of the midcase and bezel only gets to 8.3mm. That ain’t bad. Then your eye takes in the caseback and to a lesser extent the domed crystal for a total thickness of 14.8mm. That ain’t too slim. Is this a chunky tall watch as the total height indicates? Or does the slim midcase combined with large caseback and crystal dome make it wear slimmer? I think we will save that debate for the On the Wrist section below, but let’s also not beat around the bush here, 14.8mm IS tall. At this thickness it really feels that MKII could either improve the water resistance rating (not really needed) or better yet trim the case down by a mm or two.
Each Stingray is individually water tested to ISO standards for a resistance rating of 200m, a very nice and confidence-inspiring touch. While I want to blame the Seiko movement for the case thickness, perhaps I may be off base there. Seiko recently released the SPB317, that uses a very similar 6R35 movement, and that watch clocks in at 12.5mm thickness for the same 200m WR. I just don’t know why MKII couldn’t trim down the total height, especially the thick case back that hangs well below the bottom of the lug tips. Sure, the back mimics the design of the early Fifty Fathoms, but those watches were using early water resistance techniques that have since been much improved upon. We now know it’s possible for enthusiast brands to offer 200m watches in the 12-13mm range (or better), especially if you want to look at some slimmer movements.
As for the caseback itself, it is almost as simple as it can get with a broad gentle domed shape that scribes the basic info neatly and precisely on the perimeter. Despite my love of caseback art and the obvious temptation of adding a stingray motif, the austere back is just so darn comfy with its smooth surface, and eschewing artistic frippery does land with the overall aesthetic. A smaller diameter back with reduced contact surface would nestle better in wrists under 7” though I think.
I wondered before getting it on the wrist if the Stingray’s case would feel a little too plain, or perhaps even crude. But I’ve come to really enjoy the case from many angles, especially those that come naturally when wearing the watch and glancing down. Sure, in isolation the long thin lugs, wide bezel, small dial, thickness, and austere finishing may seem a tad quirky, and maybe it’s just the familiarity created by being pummeled by images of old Fifty Fathoms that helps, but to my eye the case just works and is more than pleasing to wear. Still if there ever is a Stingray III in my lifetime I would love to see it trimmed down in height and I would be very curious to see some bevels on the lugs to visually lighten the watch and better tie into the slender dial design. But taken as a whole package the basic case shapes and blasted finish combine into an overall cohesive package that runs right into the monochromatic dial.
The Stingray II is anchored by a matte black dial with white printed lume plots and text. On the surface that sounds pretty straight-forward, but how that simplicity is executed is everything. Thankfully, the execution of design details is where MKII excels to my eye. First off, not all matte blacks are created equal. Some can wash out or take on other tones, but MKII has their matte black dials down, a good thing as its pretty much all they do! The Stingray’s dial is calm and steady with an even satin black tone that comes alive with a subtle sparkle in the sun, matching beautifully to the blasted case finish.
The dial layout itself is classic diver, with legibility and orientation as top priorities. Bars at the cardinal points of 3,6, and 9, and intermediate circles are gloriously topped by a diamond at 12 o’clock. I absolutely love the diamond! It is amazing that one shape on the dial can have so much impact, but for me the diamond here does just that. It takes the familiar functionality of the classic triangle at 12 and adds some (Blancpain-fueled) flair, something about it perched over the dial supervising the passage of time just makes me smile. The restrained proportions of all the hour markers are just spot on. I love a bold chunky lume filled dial as much as the next person, but MKII has dialed in (pun intended) the balance of this dial perfectly. The dial design makes the watch wear smaller and I love the crosshair focus created by the circles being pulled in towards the center of the dial.
The lume plots sit on top of white printed backgrounds that define their edges as well as helping to create a brighter cleaner tone to the lume in the dark. The application of the lume is well done, centered on the white plots, and with a pleasing thickness that adds some sense of depth and shadow in certain lights.
The dial is rimmed by a crisply printed minute track of simple dashes that are elongated at the hour markers. The track is clean, tidy, legible, and done with a light enough weighting so that it doesn’t crowd or dominate the dial.
Dial text is kept to a pleasing minimum, with just the MKII logo under 12 o’clock, and Automatic and the water resistance over 6. The printing is very clean and crisp especially for the diminutive font used.
And then we have the date.
Given a choice I think I would have gone for a no-date option for preserving symmetry and simplicity (interestingly the Tornek-Rayville cousin is offered with both options). However, when wearing no-date watches I am always surprised how much I miss the date for practical daily use. The Stingray lands on the issue with a compromise, the 4:30 date. I know I know, I can hear the outrage, but I have to admit that I love having the practical date complication on a practical tool watch and the symmetry of the lovely cardinal indices is preserved despite the wedged-in date aperture. And quite frankly with the white on black date disk used I really don’t notice the date intruding on the dial when on the wrist. It’s there when I want to go looking for it, but otherwise my eye is just naturally draw towards the dial indices. A vertically aligned date wheel would have been a nice upgrade especially in the Stingray’s price tier and MKII’s rep for detail.
The rehaut is vertical and allows the compact dial to be as large as possible. A brushed finish is used on the rehaut, but it does stand out as the only visible metal without a blasted finish unfortunately.
The Stingray’s dial just hits. It is balanced, legible, clean and crisp. And MKII’s reputation for QC comes through as it is one of the tidiest dials I have seen under a loupe. And hey, I am a sucker for diamonds.
Another one of my favorite features of the Stingray is the hands. I am a self-proclaimed sword hands fan, and the Stingray delivers with a set of slender matte white hands that harken to a rare option found on some early Fifty Fathoms. The proportions of the hands are bang on. Each hand lands exactly as needed on its marks for easy legibility (and sanity) and the weighting of the hands is just right. The hands are well balanced to the finer dial elements and create instant legibility without overpowering the dial. They are recognizable as sword hands but with an added elegance that we don’t often see, I especially love the curved arrowhead of the seconds hand.
The manufacturing of the hands is excellent. The matte white paint is clean, even, and all the hands come to precise points. The slightly sunken lume plots surrounded by raised frames on the hands have a subtle bonus of adding some textured depth and visual weight to the watch.
The all-white hands keep the refreshing monochrome effect of a strong tool watch intact and bring great all situations legibility to the table. I have on occasion thought of painted white hands as being a bit boring and flat, but in the right context, such as the Stingray, they work great.
Flowing seamlessly out of the case side, the 120-click unidirectional bezel appears like an extension of the case rather than a separate piece plunked on top. This design makes the watch wear visually taller than a more typical sloped bezel but is also a refreshing change. At first glance the minimal toothing for grip placed right on the corner of the bezel would seem inadequate. However, the pyramidal teeth have a nice bitey sharpness to them and my fingers naturally land and twist on that 90-degree edge, so more texture isn’t really needed. The resulting grip is excellent in practical use wet or dry. The bezel action itself is a bit unique, but very closely related to Seiko divers, if a tad stiffer than those. It has a damped rubbery action with small subtle clicks. It is pleasant and satisfying to use, even though when I look at the design of the Stingray I expect a heavier more positive action, which I think I would prefer. There is no vertical play, and any horizontal play is completely damped out by the gasket.
The Stingray is offered with 2 options for a bezel insert, a toned-down matte aluminum and the glossy acrylic seen here. Neither option screams spec monster when compared to more contemporary scratch resistant options like matte ceramic or sapphire inserts. The available inserts lean more vintage in aesthetic and ethos than ceramic/sapphire and both offer some more unique visual properties that tie in well with the Stingray.
When it comes to the acrylic insert let’s get the big con out of the way first. It will scratch. Easily. That said, acrylic does do some neat things. The original Fifty Fathoms used a bakelight bezel (a predecessor to acrylic) than can be brittle and prone to cracking. Acrylic however is more durable and should be able to withstand an impact without cracking better than the old bakelite or modern sapphire. The black color has a calm deep inkiness that grounds the watch and always appears darker than the dial. I don’t really have much experience with acrylic, but I have heard the rallying cries from the AcrylicFam about its magical warmth. I finally get that now. It truly does behave differently than sapphire even used as a bezel insert and has a steady subtlety for a gloss material that I really appreciate here. And then there is the neat trick of Stingray’s acrylic insert, the lumed marking have been engraved from the backside and filled with lume. Very cool. This technique adds a nice 3D depth to the insert that sapphire can’t match and allow for more lume material to be used. Often sapphire bezel inserts have noticeably weaker lume than their dials as not much lume can be printed on the backside of an insert, but the Stingray’s bezel glows nice and bright.
A symmetrical bezel layout with a solid triangle at 0/60, numerals at 15/30/45, and hashes in between is a nice compliment to the dial layout. The markings on the bezel are beautifully weighted and crisply engraved. The broad bezel insert could easily have overpowered the dial and dominated the watch if a heavier font was used on the bezel. The insert is perfectly aligned and sits flush within the bezel, nestled between the outer rim and an inner blasted ring of steel that frames the insert and will help keep debris from getting underneath.
The bezel of the Stingray may seem to fall short of other watches on specs, but I can confidently say that in hand and on the wrist the bezel insert design and action are a joy that I hope outweighs any long-term durability concerns.
The Stingray employs a simple unadorned 6.8mm double-gasketed screw-down crown at 3 o’clock. The crown is easily accessed in the absence of crown guards and the grip is very good due to the sharp toothed pattern that mimics the bezel. It snaps nicely into positions but has moderate wobble when extended. The external tube of the crown is recessed into the case, which MKII claims helps in protecting it, but I remain skeptical that it would provide much help if the crown took a direct hit.
The threading is smooth, but getting the threads to engage when screwing the crown back in is a bit fiddly and it takes only a surprising ¾ of a full rotation to screw it down. While it’s probably fine, it does not feel the most secure and is definitely an area where it feels the Stingray falls short of MKIIs overall reputation for solid build quality.
Topping off the Stingray is a highly scratch resistant double-domed sapphire crystal with inner anti-reflective coating. The moderate double-dome allows for decent low-angle visibility but also throws a fair amount of reflections, which are more annoying for review pictures than in real life use. I suspect that the pronounced reflections are a result of the relatively high dome for the crystal’s diameter. While the domed crystal looks the business and is fitting for a vintage inspired diver, I am also very okay with flatter, or just plain flat, crystals for their ability to keep reflections to a minimum. That all said the added height of the crystal isn’t really noticable on the wrist, but I suspect the Stingray could handle a flatter crystal while still maintaining its water resistance rating. A little added piece of fun is the pop of blue AR that flashes on the crystal’s rim in certain lighting situations. It comes across as the only playful aspect of the watch and it makes me smile when it catches my eye.
A tool watch needs good lume right?
And the Stingray certainly delivers on the lume front, using Arclite SuperLumiNova for the hands, dial, and bezel. Now the only place I’ve encountered “arclite” is on MKII’s website. I suspect it is actually C1 in the X1 grade, due to its clean white day light color and green glow, and that MKII has just decided to add its own name, perhaps because in the past C1 has had a weak reputation.
The lume strength is "good” on the Stingray, especially when taking into consideration the relatively small lume plots used. It charges quickly to a nice bright green burst then mellows to a moderate glow that can be easily read with dark adjusted eyes many hours later. There are certainly brighter watches out there, but also there should be no disappointment in the performance here either. The strength of the lume is even across the dial and hands, with the bezel trailing just a smidge behind.
I would love to see the Stingray upgraded to use the 3D ceramic lume blocks such as employed by Tudor, Vertex, Halios etc..
Driving the Stingray is a SII Seiko NE15C automatic movement. Pretty standard Seiko fare with a beat rate of 21,600 bph, 50-hour power reserve, hand-winding, hacking, and a factory accuracy range of -15 to +25 seconds per day.
(Picture from MKI Website)
MKII states that the movement has been timed in 3 positions and I suspect that they do some general quality control to help mitigate the variation sometimes seen in Seiko movements. This particular watch is running at about +10 seconds per day, which is right on my personal threshold for acceptable accuracy. It is rock steady in terms of its daily rate, and most notably there is very little variance across all positions. This may be down to winning the Seiko lottery or perhaps MKII deserves some credit for wrangling it under control. Those results give me confidence that the movement could be regulated to be very accurate if/when desired. MKII does include a nice card showing relative adjustments, but I found it not terribly accurate compared to real life tracking.
But the question also needs to be asked, why this movement?
Certainly, outside of Seiko’s own watches we don’t really see many 6R family movements being used at the Stingray’s price point. I don’t know the answer so I can only speculate that MKII likes the familiarity with Seiko movements after having started their business modding Seikos. I would much prefer to see a Selitta SW-200 or Miyota 9-series movement in the Stingray. The 9 series has always performed well for me and would come in thinner, with a higher beat rate, and still tie into the Made in Japan label of MKII’s Ready To Wear line of watches.
The reputation of Seiko movements being rough and tumble, long wearing, as well as easily serviced and replaced does tie into the Stingray’s rugged tool watch ethos. I don’t want to think of myself as a movement snob, so if the movement continues to be a reliable timekeeper for a long time that’s all I would ask. And even though MKII builds in some value by going over the movements, the Stingray will never win acclaim for offering a tremendous value in the movement department.
The Stingray has several stock strap options available from MKII, a standard black nato, Biwi rubber, and MKIIs ribbed single-pass dubbed Nytex, available in black or khaki. Each option works well with the Stingray so it’s really a matter of choosing your favorite flavor, and the Stingray is a classic strap monster so you certainly shouldn’t feel bound by the stock options. This watch came on the black Nytex so let’s take a look at that.
MKII developed the Nytex strap to launch with the Tornek-Rayville 660, as the style appeared in old Blancpain/Tornek-Rayville ads. It is a nylon single pass strap with a ribbed texture and classic nato-style hardware. There is no doubt this strap looks the business on the Stingray. It is burly and tough with just enough texture to add some interest and stand out from the pack. The mid-black tone and moderate sheen pair nicely with the Stingray, visually landing in between the glossy bezel and matte dial. The ribbed texture helps the watch grip the wrist without needing to be worn too snug. But there are some cons…the material is stiff and scratchy, and certainly less comfortable than a standard nylon nato. It does break in a bit but don’t expect it to rival your fave strap for comfort. The stiffness makes the strap reluctant to bend around the spring bars, which as a result makes the Nytex wear bulkier than other pass under straps. It also comes in a hair under 20mm, so you may on occasion glimpse a risqué flash of spring bar, but we aren’t talking Connery levels of exposure here either.
As for the hardware, I think there is a missed opportunity here. It is bog standard stuff with a brushed finish, a thin folded tang and the MKII logo engraved on the buckle. Seeing as the Nytex is the primary strap choice for the Stingray and cousin TR660 it really should have blasted hardware to match the case and a nicer buckle, preferably sewn-in with a solid tang. I may be nit-picking but as a brand with a reputation for an eye to detail and quality execution at a premium price, the strap and hardware seem to be a dropped ball by MKII. The Nytex is a good rugged pairing though, having grown on me much more than I suspected. It would be good for outdoor adventures to soak up some mud and sweat without a fuss.
Let’s get granular and talk spring bars. Yes, spring bars! The Stingray ships on Seiko style fat bars with 1.1mm tips and 2.5mm diameter barrels. These bars are certainly tough and rugged but do add some apparent length to the watch as it pushes the point at which the strap drapes over the bars further outboard on a watch that already has longish lugs and spring bar holes a little farther out than most 40mm watches as well. Probably not a big deal if your wrist is over 7”, but for us more humble-wristed folks you may want to switch to the alternate set of supplied bars that are 1.8mm in diameter. That may sound ludicrous but it’s a reduction in where a pass-under strap drapes by almost a mm, and when you think of a watch’s lug length and how a mm can impact that, it’s not nothing. I would choose the slim bars most of the time, but if taking the stingray for a big adventure I think I’d be running it stock on the fat bars, or if I could find ones that fit, standard barreled shoulderless bars.
I had a Biwi rubber strap on hand and was able to give that a spin as well. In short it is one of my favorite straps, period. The thin supple rubber with a concave underside makes it supremely comfortable. I thought the Stingray would work better with a bulkier rubber strap to match the case design, but to my surprise I came to opposite conclusion. On the wrist the Stingray comes across as much finer than one would expect. Chalk it up to the graceful dial and hands and that most of the excess height is in the caseback and crystal. The matte black texture of the rubber strap matches the dial and case finish really well. There is some gap between the strap and the case walls from the long lugs and spring bar position, something that usually drives me batty, but to my surprise I was very okay with it on the Stingray. As an added bonus when the rubber strap is ordered with the Stingray it will come on a nice solid looking blasted buckle.
I have tried the Stingray on a lot of straps and frankly most of them work great, with my preference changing almost daily. But probably at the top of the strap power rankings is just a simple classic matte black Nato in a single pass configuration.
On the Wrist
On the wrist the Stingray is a bit of an enigma when it comes to how it wears. Some elements, such as the dial, make it wear smaller than expected, but others like the broad bezel, thickness and lug length make it want to wear on the larger side. In the end the dimensions and shapes balance out and you are left with a watch that feels pretty true to its 40mm diameter. But I could also see that if one or some of those elements fall outside of someone’s personal preferences they may have a hard time reconciling the whole. On my 6.75” wrist the watch works well, just. Anyone with a smaller wrist may be challenged by the lug length, and I think if your wrist is over 7” it will wear very well.
The smooth caseback is extremely comfortable against the wrist when the Stingray is worn on a two-piece strap, and somewhat nestles into your wrist depending on your wrist size and where you like the watch to sit in relation to your wrist bone. The caseback is a little broader than most watches this size too so the larger the wrist the more it will be able to sink in.
The caseback also creates the biggest challenge in the wearing experience for the Stingray. The bottom of the caseback sits below the bottom of the lugs, resulting in the lugs floating off the wrist despite the angled down lugs. This may or may not be an issue for some depending on how large your wrist is, how snug you like your straps, and personal taste. I have found if worn on a snugger strap it will minimize the float, especially if worn above the wrist bone. I thought I would have a hard time bonding with the Stingray as a floaty case is a big pet peeve of mine. But I have found that the actual amount of float is less than I expected and that there is so much else I love about the watch that it outweighs any remaining concerns.
There is a sneaky upside to the tall caseback too which caught me by surprise. When worn over the wrist joint it keeps the crown high enough that it does not dig into the back of my hand, which is especially handy when being active or battling cuffs.
I do find the watch wears visually much slimmer than the 14.8mm height and I never think it looks chunky on the wrist. The case back and crystal disappear and the thin midcase and broad flat top bezel help to trim things as well, aided by the lean lugs. I never had trouble with cuffs, but mind you, I was never trying to squeeze this matte diver under any fancy dress cuffs either, where I am sure things could get sticky.
The Stingray’s overall matte monochromatic aesthetic places it squarely in the true tool watch genre. I absolutely love the calm, subtle, strong character. It is a watch that demands to be strapped on and taken for an outdoors adventure like a good piece of gear. The Stingray can handle a pretty versatile range of straps, and you could get sassy and dress it up a bit with a leather or glossy seatbelt strap, but ultimately this is not a beach to boardroom marketing stereotype watch. The only board room it may see is at the local break. The Stingray is most at home being snugged up on a nato as you take a refreshing swim in an alpine lake before hefting your pack again to make for the next camp site.
The MKII Stingray II Keroman is a straightforward strong dive watch designed and built with a keen eye to detail. That’s it. There aren’t any bells and whistles, or fancy features. There is a refreshing purity and simplicity to the design that will resonate with some folks and may frankly be plain boring to others. I like a good dressed up diver with some intricate details as much as the next person, but sometimes paring things back and distilling a dive watch down to its basic functional elements is refreshing.
The Stingray will never win a competition based on its spec sheet or price alone. But as a balance MKII builds quality into each watch, like the WR test, regulation, persnickety QC, and responsive after-sales service. This all adds cost and time to a watch with basic specs, but you can trust what you are getting now and in the future.
Sometimes (often?) a watch is an emotional choice more so than a logical one. So go ahead and ignore spec sheets and rationales and just enjoy the design. That’s where the Stingray lands for me. Despite there being some things I would have done differently, the whole comes together excellently, resulting in a design and watch that is greater than the sum of its parts. The overall crisp clean tool aesthetic created by the design choices throughout, all wrapped in a rugged matte case, just make me smile and want to wear the Stingray as much as possible. And really that’s the point. Well, that and telling the time.
If you are looking for a well-made matte dive watch that is a modern take on an iconic diver, you may want to check out the MKII Stingray II Keroman.
Thanks for reading!