MAT AG5CHL French Special Forces Diver’s Chronograph Watch Review
Until Baselworld 2015, I had not heard about Paris-based French brand MAT Watches. As such, it was in the busy little town of Basel that I met the founder of the company and first saw some of their watches, among them the MAT AG5CHL. I seem to be on a roll when it comes to watches with unfathomable model names, but as long as the product behind it is as great as it is here, I shall not say a bad word.
MAT stands for Mer, Air, Terre, i.e., Sea, Air, and Land, and once we familiarize ourselves with the profile of the brand, that name starts to make sense. MAT Watches has for over twenty years been the supplier of French Special Forces, including police and commando squads and even the infamous French Foreign Legion. The watches are now available for purchase by the public, and there are already are a large variety of them. From three-hander watches with different case configurations to chronographs, most all of them coming with chunky, brushed or black PVD steel cases. Having seen around 30-40 different models in Basel, I kept picking up this, the MAT AG5CHL – and I wanted to find out more.
Inspecting it for a few minutes there raised one – big – question in me: can this watch really be as good as it feels here, now, or is it just some passing sensation? I asked for one to review, and after more than a month that I’ve spent with it, I am genuinely excited to summarize my thoughts and experience with the MAT Watches AG5CHL.
What first really impressed me was the feel and apparently uncompromising build quality of the case. It is a rare occasion to handle a watch that feels so solid right from the moment you lift it off the table – and I personally really like that sensation when a product (in this case a timepiece) feels as though it was crafted from one single piece of unobtainium. The MAT AG5CHL provided that feel, without it coming off as trying too hard. The 44.50mm-wide steel case feels soft to the touch, thanks to its black PVD coating and rounded edges along the side of the case and the lugs – you will see the execution of the lugs’ shape on the image below.
The lugs have been drilled, rendering the changing of the 24mm-wide straps easy. That is a relief, not only because 24mm is the same size as most Panerais and hence the aftermarket for this size of straps offers virtually countless options, but also because MAT sells the watch with a selection of straps. The MAT AG5CHL came with a black leather strap, an orange rubber strap (more on that soon), a black version of the same strap, and an over-the-top canvas strap that is so cool, I truly don’t see myself ever giving it back.
The orange strap is remarkably soft and flexible, and smells like vanilla – certainly a neat detail and unquestionably better than the smell of rubber, but not necessarily a good match to the overall theme of the watch. The inside of the strap has a hobnail pattern on it, saving the strap and watch from sliding around the wrist even after swimming. The orange is of just the right tone, vibrant but not overly so, and is a great match to the color of the hands and the marker on the bezel – I find the strap to be closer in color to those than the images here suggest. Frankly, I never bothered putting on the also rather soft and well-made leather strap – the orange works so well with the watch that I hardly ever took it off.
The “L” in the model name of the MAT Watches AG5CHL refers to it having the crown and pushers on the left side of the case, as it is a “leftie” model – although that is not entirely correct here. In a conversation with the brand’s founder, I learned that they have created this case for bomb defuse squads who requested the crown to be on this “other” side of the case, although still worn on the left wrist: their explanation was that they needed to be able to move their hands as freely as possible, and not having the crown on its regular location helped a lot in that.
While I have refrained from activities related to the defusing of bombs in any way, I can still relate. I find it very uncomfortable to wear watches on my right wrist, as the watch presses onto a bone there constantly, making me want to take the watch off immediately – plus, it also feels unnatural. This might explain why the members of those squads didn’t just put the watch on their other wrist.
Being a military watch, legibility has to be excellent – and it is. Upon closer inspection, both the hour and minute hands turn out to be slightly shorter than I would like them to be, but weirdly enough, because of their contrast against the dial, this literal shortcoming is very difficult to notice. It is also thanks to the large lumed areas of the hands and indices that the hands, despite their black frames, look great on the black background.
And with this, we have arrived at what is one of the two most notable – and quite annoying – issues that I encountered with the MAT AG5CHL: its at best mediocre lume. That is something I did not have the chance to test in Basel – and it also explains why long term reviews are necessary and why we call hands-on posts just that, and not “hands-on reviews.” One would think that those large white areas hold some crazy good lume, but no: the lume fades fast and glows about half as bright as the best I have seen. It also has some small, darker spots in it, another giveaway sign of lume that could be better. It is not something that is impossible to fix, and I would love to see MAT upgrade to some proper C3 Super-LumiNova – and while they are at it, add that to the bezel too; that would really be the icing on the cake.
The movement inside is a trusty old ETA 7750 that runs at 4 Hertz and provides approximately 44 hours of power reserve – most watchnuts will know these specs by heart. The 7750 is quite thick, which explains the large, bulbous case back that extends quite a bit from the plane of the side of the case. One annoying “feature” of the 7750 is that the winding rotor can be audible when in motion – the MAT AG5CHL is no exception to that. What is audible, let alone what is annoying, very much depends on the person and is very subjective, but it is true that there were times when I wished the watch would not make its winding noise.
Noises aside, the movement works as it should: the screw-down pushers require some skill to unscrew as they are on the other side of the case, but one can get the hang of it quickly. To this day, I appreciate how the 7750’s minute counter (located at the 6 o’clock position here) jumps at the end of every elapsed minute, as opposed to crawling between the indices. The MAT AG5CHL has no running seconds, as that counter has been removed from the dial – a design decision that gets a big thumbs-up from me. The pushers feel solid and the crown screws securely into place – although it is quite wobbly when unscrewed and pulled out into the time-setting position.
The package that MAT has put together with the MAT AG5CHL is very compelling, despite its smaller, and not unfixable foibles: exceptional build quality, solid feel, and great wearability regardless how much time it spends on the wrist, all with a true – and a bit noisy – mechanical movement inside. The lume is a disappointment, one that I wish they will get right very soon. I like the long, leather case the watch comes in, and the straps that are added in there, but what got me most is the pure military look that is, at last, not inspired by what soldiers were using half a century ago, but what they are using today. Priced at $3,130, the MAT Watches AG5CHL is indeed a very competitive and complete package and one that I enjoy wearing just about every day. matwatches.com
>Brand: MAT Watches
>Size: 44.50mm by 16,50mm, lug-to-lug distance is 24mm
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Someone looking to get a more unique tool and/or military themed watch with solid build quality
>Best characteristic of watch: Overall build quality is just exceptional, the case is rock solid while the supplied straps are soft and comfortable to wear
>Worst characteristic of watch: Mediocre lume and often audible winding noise