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Review: Straum Jan Mayen

If you could build the perfect watch, what would the ingredients be? The integrated theme of the ever-popular Patek Philippe Nautilus? The intense dials of nature-inspired Grand Seiko? The affordability of the entry-level greats like Longines? Well, if that’s you, your prayers have been answered with this: the Straum Jan Mayen.


It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the co-founders of Straum are designers, combining knowledge of both product and industrial design together into the Straum brand. I’d give you their names but what with being Norwegian, I have no hope of getting them right, so I’m not even going to try. There’s an “O” with a line through it and I don’t even know what that means. No entry, perhaps?

As well experience working for the likes of Philips, Samsung and Sennheiser, these two also have something unique to anyone who’s either lived in or visited Norway: they’ve seen it. And it’s very pretty. Awe-inspiring, even. There are glaciers, mountains, fjords, forests—and volcanoes.

The only active volcano, Beerenberg, is located on an island west of Norway called Jan Mayen, and it’s here our plucky co-founders landed on their inspiration, because basically all of the afore-mentioned incredible landscapes exist within that remote island. There’s fiery lava within the volcano, the thundering Arctic Ocean surrounding the volcano, the ice-cold glacier traversing the volcano, the resilient moss clinging to the volcano and of course the volcano itself.

From there we get five dials, red, blue, white, green and black. That’s the reductive way of putting it, because within those colourations are three different textures that do a remarkable job of capturing the terrifying majesty of Norway’s backdrop. The red one—a Fratello limited edition that’s all gone now, sorry—gets a deeply rippled radial pattern that evokes the nightmare of hell I’ve been having a lot recently. The blue and green share a similar but finer texture that looks like how my skin feels watching a horror movie. And the white and black dials get a linear texture that reminds me I need to redo the plastering in my bathroom.

The combined colours and textures on each watch make for a rustic spread of rural diversity, and whilst that might sound like a better description for a meeting of town planners, it’s very apt for the Jan Mayen. There’s an organic feel to each that stays just the right side of unsettling, but digs deep enough to trigger some primitive emotions that aren’t entirely outside of the perimeter of the ones that keep you up at 2am watching videos of pimple popping.

Visceral is a word I could have used to get to the point faster. You can imagine the master copy of each these textures coming into existence with the energy of a bohemian, New York-loft dwelling modern artist. But instead of being painfully derivative and cringey, they summon feelings of ancient Nordic legends that are as old as the hills upon which they are told. Basically, the film “The Northman” but in a watch.

Grand Seiko really set the scene for this type of approach with the blisteringly chilly Snowflake, recalling the icy tundra of the Shizukuishi studio car park during the winter months, and so whilst the Straum is doing nothing new in terms of concept, it’s still a fresh perspective from a different—and equally beautiful—part of the world. And a completely different culture, too. Grand Seiko’s approach is a light touch of faintly apologetic delicacy; Straum’s is to forge a design with fire and brimstone and make you survive a month in the wilderness just to own it. That last bit may or may not be true.

A dial, however, is but a single component in a watch, and so whilst this plucky pair have found a strong direction for the big round bit in the middle, it’s no good if the rest isn’t up to scratch. The Mona Lisa isn’t hung in a $5picture frame from Bed, Bath & Beyond, and the essence of Norway’s harshest environments captured on a circular canvas shouldn’t be either. Does the carpet match the drapes?


From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense to package up the Jan Mayen in the most appealing form factor possible, and for right now that means an integrated case and bracelet. It’s not the most complex iteration of this design, but it is bold and well-appointed, with finishing taking priority over fussiness. Makes sense when the dial is doing so much of the heavy lifting, and competing with it for your attention would probably have been a bad move.

Really, the case is only a chunk cut out from between the lugs away from being a pretty typical design, with squared off crown guards and a brushed round bezel with a polished lip being transferable from a standard design to integrated. The execution of the bracelet itself, whilst lacking micro adjust and sporting pins instead of screws to keep it thin, is similarly stark but well-finished. Wide centre links evoke those of the Nautilus, but more heavy brushing and a polished lip feel better suited to the harsh bitterness of the watch’s inspiration.

The dressing of the dial takes a similar approach, with perhaps the most unlikely detail being the separation of the lume on the minute hand into two pieces. The hands and markers are chunky, simple and well-finished, doing as little as possible to distract from the scene below without making it hard to read. In fact, the second hand keeps things tidy by relegating its lume to the counterweight.

The dial-heavy design makes the watch in pictures look like it’s going to be big, but actually at 39mm it’s decently wearable. It’s not going to win any prizes for slenderness, but it doesn’t look like a wrist biscuit either, so no points won or lost there. There’s one hundred metres of water resistance from the screw down crown, without which this watch would have never survived the month in the wilderness you may or may not be required to endure to purchase it.

And then there’s the Miyota in the back. But wait! There isn’t! And it’s not a Sellita either. The Jan Mayen features a movement that I think will quickly become the upmarket movement of choice, the La Joux-Perret G100. Some context for you: the Sellitas are based on an out-of-patent design from ETA that was seized upon when ETA decided it was no longer going to allow free and easy access to its catalogue. ETA is owned by the Swatch Group and had had enough of supplying its competition with movements.

This is when other groups started pushing the idea of “in-house” being superior, to turn the wick down on interest for ETA powered watches. Sellita jumped in to hoover up the crumbs from anyone not equipped to manufacture their own movement—or indeed have access to a group movement supplier—and Miyota filled in right at the bottom as a non-Swiss alternative.

Well, Miyota is actually owned by Citizen, a Japanese watchmaker that also owns Swiss watchmaker Arnold & Son and Swiss movement maker La Joux-Perret. In fact, La Joux Perret is effectively the group provider of movements for Arnold & Son, and I’m sure you know how impressive those are.

I personally consider the Miyota calibres to be exceptional for the price, Japanese made, well-finished and a modern architecture compared to the ancient ETA designs, but of course the label “Swiss Made” is very important to a lot of people. And so La Joux-Perret offers a base movement built on that same architecture, only this time made in Switzerland, and I consider it to be the number one choice for a brand seeking to buy in a Swiss movement. It’s a touch pricier than a Sellita by a hundred or so, but even from an aesthetics perspective, it feels like a step up from what we’re used to.

That’s what’s in the Jan Mayen, and will be in a lot more affordable watches coming up. The G100 gets a few upgrades from the equivalent Miyota of course, both functionally and aesthetically, so it’s not just a case of paying more for the place it was made. Put that altogether and the Jan Mayen comes in at €1,600—not the cheapest, but not unfair for a watch that feels as premium as it does. It’s all about that dial. It’s very unique. If it speaks to you, you don’t have much choice. Especially the red one. That one calls to you during the darkest hours. There’s no hiding from its fiery gaze. It sees into your very soul…

What are your thoughts on the Straum Jan Mayen?