I came across the Stella Ellis GMT a while ago now when I was looking into linen dials. For those of you that haven’t delved too much into this particularly funky subset of vintage watches (predominantly Rolex), it just means a textured dial that sort of looks like textile linen. It’s awesome, rare and something that modern watchmakers don’t really use. Other, that is, than New York-based watch brand Stella.
Stella cut their teeth with the Felix, a 40mm casual dress watch that was defined by its linen dial. It’s cool, versatile and a solid all-round piece. But rather than run on repeat, for their new collection Stella used that same dial-stamping method to create a much different texture. And as soon as I saw it, I wanted to get hands-on with the Ellis to see whether that texture is as gorgeous in the metal as I hoped it would be. Long story short, it is.
The Stella is a GMT, designed for travel, but the dial is more similar to space travel. The series of interlocking waves give off the effect of free-framing lightspeed in Star Wars, just as the stars begin to blur. It’s a fun twist for a piece inextricably linked to where you are on terra firma to have a spacey dial like this, plus it’s a nice play on the brand name, but more importantly the dial itself is gorgeous. It’s not subtle in any way, but has as much intricate detail as you’d expect from any Grand Seiko, and the icy blue – arguably the zeitgeistiest colour in watches in a post Tiffany world – is eye-catching in all the right ways.
Quite rightly, Stella have made that dial the focal point but, to me, perhaps overemphasised it a bit. The central GMT 24-hour indicator is clean and easy to read as it sits on a plain silver disc, but I found my eyes slipping over the applied numerals and indexes, which could be a bit bigger. I get not wanting to hide the signature finish, but readability should be all-important. The GMT hand too is really small and has me wondering if the whole thing would work better with a peripheral GMT ring and larger numerals.
That said, the concentric rings of texture and numbers definitely make the Ellis unique. For something with a more classical, field-watch style case, both the dial and that oddly faceted crown set it apart from the crowd in the best possible way. If you were after something a bit more subtle, there is a black alternative to the blue, still with the same texture and with a black GMT ring instead of silver. I find the overall look a lot cleaner and more readable thanks to the higher contrast and red GMT hand… but that blue is too lovely to think about anything else.
The caseback is pretty cool too. As I mentioned, Stella are based in New York and the name ‘Ellis’ comes from Ellis Island, the home of the Statue of Liberty. So, you have a superb image of Lady Liberty herself on the reverse, along with the near-mythical phrase written on her base: “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
On the wrist, the 41.5mm case feels good. It’s solid, and that 0.5mm downsize from the more standard 42mm makes a surprising difference. The lugs aren’t too long either so it wears as you’d expect from its specs. That said, I never forgot I was wearing it; I kept getting flashes of pale blue out of the corner of my eye every few minutes. Which I’m completely ok with.
Inside is the Sellita SW-330, a step above the usual SW200 that’s become a relatively uninspired microbrand staple over the years. The upgraded calibre has the benchmark 42-hour power reserve we’ve come to expect while keeping the standard Sellita staples: reliability, accuracy and accessibility.
Speaking of accessibility, the Stella Ellis GMT will set you back $1,285, around-about £1,000. Even with a plain dial, it would be priced to move – even by its spec sheet, the Ellis is a lot of watch. But with this dial, it’s a wonder that I’ve not seen any in the wild yet. Though I am still holding out hope we see a linen dial version at some point. Sure, it might not fit the theme quite as well, but I’ll take that compromise.
Price and Specs:
More details at Stella.