Paris-based MAT watches (“MAT” stands for “mer, air, terre” or “sea, air, and land” in English) is one of my favorite boutique sport watchmakers — I put this brand in the same design-ethos category as Bell & Ross, also based in Paris. MAT takes classic and contemporary military and professional-use-style watches and renders them in as attractive and well-made a form as possible while adding a bit of a distinctive look and actual utility/durability to the package. Bold and bright is how I would define most of these watches, which I have come to enjoy wearing because of their legibility and often beautiful aesthetics. I really do have a lot of positive things to say about the brand and further feel that their pricing is quite fair. Today, I look at one of their slightly more unusual watch options — the MAT California XL.
The California XL is a larger, left-handed (because of the crown position) version of the smaller MAT California. The smaller model was originally designed as the brand’s sole “dress watch” since it came in a 39mm-wide case versus the brand’s typical 44mm-wide case. As I understand it, popular demand for a larger version of the California watch prompted MAT to create the California XL model which satisfies because it has MAT’s distinctive take on the California dial, and also offers the bolder wearing experience many have come to appreciate from the brand. It also offers a new case size of 42.5mm-wide which exists between the smaller 39mm-wide MAT California and the brand’s slightly larger 44mm-wide cases.
California, as a name, appeals to me because I’m from California but also because I’ve always been fascinated by California-dial timepieces. These began on Rolex models, I believe, and there are a few Panerai watches with California dials as well. My history on the California dial is fuzzy, but I believe the name is derived from the fact that, quite some time ago, a watch dealer in California ordered dials of this style from Rolex, and the “California dial” name stuck. What is a California dial? In general, it was a design in which half of the hour markers were written as Arabic numerals and the other half as Roman numerals. I don’t believe there was any functional reason for this arrangement, but it did look interesting. MAT’s take on the California dial is distinctive from what you’d see on a classic Rolex or some contemporary Panerai watch dials and seems to combine a Submariner-style dial with a California dial aesthetic. On the MAT California dial, the 10 and 2 o’clock hour markers are Roman numerals, and the 8 and 4 o’clock hour markers are Arabic numerals. The other hour markers are shapes.
In polished and brushed steel, the MAT California XL is also a bit more durable than the original California. Water resistance is up to 200 meters from 100 meters, thanks in part to a thicker 2.8mm sapphire crystal for the XL model (as opposed to a 2mm-thick sapphire crystal for the original California model). This further positions the California XL as a middle-sized model between the smaller California and MAT’s larger “OPS” cases, which are water resistant to 300 meters.
Bold styling is a key element of the MAT California XL, and that starts with the case. In a lot of ways, the California XL is inspired by historic sport watches but with larger proportions. This can be seen in the “XL-sized” bezel, lugs, and dial elements. Staying true to some of the historic California dial watches out there, MAT opted for a new handset, which here is colored in gold for both style and optimal legibility. The crown placed on the left side of the case is also good because it prevents the crown from sticking into your wrist when wearing the watch on your left hand. Blue-emission lume painting on the dial covers the hands and hour markers making for good darkness legibility. While the California XL is at its heart a “fashion” item, it has the spirit and durability of a sport watch. This is, perhaps, why I like it so much — because it is a tool item whose creators took the time and effort to make it attractive and fun to wear.
Inside the case is a Swiss ETA 2824-2 automatic movement which operates at 4Hz with about two days of power reserve. It’s a fitting movement for a watch of this style and price point. I like how the dial lacks a window for the date, as that helps preserve the aesthetic look and dial symmetry. MAT is generous with straps and also happens to offer some of my favorite third-party straps around. The California XL watch comes with three strap options but I’ve actually been wearing it on a blue texture strap that also comes from MAT. Style-wise, I like the combination of the 42.5mm-wide case with the 24mm-wide straps, as it helps further the bold “XL” theme that the California XL watch is going for. In the package with the MAT California XL watch is a tan leather strap, a black rubber strap with a folding deployant clasp, and a quirky black texture strap with a velcro attachment system. This latter strap is an interesting but niche choice for the watch and among the included straps, the tan leather strap is easily my favorite. A good value and well-designed with a fair number of accessories, the price for the MAT California XL reference AG7 XL A1 watch is $1,550 USD. To learn more, visit matwatches.com.
>Brand: MAT (Mer – Air – Terre)
>Model: California XL reference AG7 XL A1
>Price: $1,550 USD
>Size: 42.5mm-wide, 13.5mm-thick, and approx. 50mm lug-to-lug distance.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a fashionable sport-style watch when MAT’s take on the California-style dial helps up my game in a crowd of generic timepieces.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Anyone who has been interested in California dial watches but wants a cool, niche sport watchmaker’s own take on the theme in a modern-sized daily wear.
>Best characteristic of watch: Excellent price to quality ration and, overall, very cohesive design. Watch proportions aren’t for everyone, but it is a good modern take on the petite classic timepieces (or vastly more expensive contemporary Panerai watches) with such a dial style. Appreciate included extra straps and changing tool.
>Worst characteristic of watch: The theme of the watch is obscure enough that mostly just watch collectors and other hobbyists will know what a California dial is. Case proportions are a bit large for some tastes. Not all of the included straps seem to make perfect style sense with the California XL watch, but MAT does have a range of excellent strap options available.