Steinhart watches and a word about homage timepieces

We all want a collection full of iconic and expensive timepieces, who doesn’t like the idea of a Milsub next to a Rolex GMT next to an IWC bit pilot?  Normally that watch box would cost you at least $30K (a lot more with a proper Milsub), but there is a way to put a similar box together for a fraction of the price.  Homage watches are a polarizing subject to be sure, but one small brand in Germany is, I believe, doing a more respectable job of it than anyone else on the market.  That brand is Steinhart Watches.

What is an homage watch?

There is no hard and fast rule for what constitutes and homage watch.  To me and homage watch is a piece that clearly recalls the design elements of a specific famous timepiece (most often the Rolex submariner).  There are then homage watches that may not capture the look of a single timepiece, but take on a clearly defined style most commonly associated with one brand.  The most common example here is the Fleiger, a dial design popularized by German pilots in WWII and now made most famous by IWC.  During the war many brands made flieger watches (including Patek and A Lange, which are now some of the rarest watches in the world) but today the flieger style is most directly associated with the IWC Mark XIII and IWC big pilot.  The most important factor in defining an homage vs. a replica in my mind is the branding.  A Sub is an iconic watch and hundreds of different dive watches have taken bits and pieces of its styling, but if you put Rolex on the dial of a watch that isn’t a Rolex it becomes a replica (and, from a production point of view, it becomes illegal as well).  Steinhart’s bread and butter is in this homage category.  Some of their models toe the line dangerously near a replica with their design, but every watch bears the Steinhart name.

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The Steinhart Ocean 1- A clear homage to the Rolex Submariner

 

Steinhart watches

Steinhart as a brand was founded in 2001 in Augsburg by Gunther Steinhart.  They have taken a fairly novel approach to the business of watchmaking, with all distribution done via there website and direct from Germany.  No dealers, no middle men, and minimal overhead (Gunther often answers customer emails himself).  There are pros and cons to this model certainly.  I wouldn’t think it would be conducive to warranties and ease of repair, but it speaks to Steinhart’s primary value proposition:  a lot of watch for a (relatively) small amount of money.

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The Steinhart Nav-B Uhr, an homage to a classic Flieger watch

I’ll start with the idea of “a lot of watch”.  All Steinhart watches come with Swiss movements.  Base models come with workhorse ETA movements, while you can upgrade to Soprod movements and now even an “in-house movement” that Steinhart is making (or more likely commissioning) themselves. Their diver models also offer impressive water resistance, with the base models offering a solid 300M/30ATM.  Now to the price, Steinhart has a wide range of offerings, but there base models with ETA movements run around $400 with shipping if you live in the US (slightly more if you have to pay VAT).  A similar piece from Hamilton or Tissot would cost you at least $200 more.

 

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The Steinhart Vintage Military.  Even the “1” on the dial emulates the “circle T” from a true Milsub.

Now for the less exciting news.  Steinhart generates a lot of this value through smart and simple supply chain management, but they also generate value from a less than impressive creative department.  They have a very broad set of offerings which includes some of their own designs, but most pieces are Rolex homage watches, some a little too close for comfort.  Personally I don’t want to where a watch that looks exactly like a Rolex unless its a Rolex.  The Ocean 1, and the GMT lineup clearly parallel the modern Rolex lineup, while the Vintage and Vintage military models parallel the big crown sub and the milsub respectively.  It is in my mind a concern that people will be drawn to Steinhart to by themselves a “cheap Rolex” rather than recognizing the value the watches can bring themselves and not looking for imitations.  That said, there are some places where Steinhart shines.  Some of their own designs like the Ocean Titanium and Ocean Bronze strike a great balance between classic styling cues and originality while offering strong bang for the buck.  Here’s hoping Steinhart continues to expand their original collections and can move away from some of the more dubious homage pieces.

Final Thoughts

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My latest edition, the Steinhart Ocean 1 Bronze

Steinhart puts any watch lover in a bind.  No one wants to own a “fake” watch, but these aren’t really fake watches.  They have quality European construction and are fitted with the same Swiss movements that Hamilton, Tissot, Tag Heuer, and even IWC pride themselves on.  Its hard to resist that kind of value in a good looking package, that’d why I didn’t.  Yours truly bought a Steinhart Ocean 1 Bronze (to arrive shortly I hope) and I will tell all of you more about it once I get it on the wrist for a bit.  Clearly then I believe in the brand and the quality they offer, but I chose the intermediate path.  I got myself a watch that looks similar to a Sub, but no one would mistake it for a sub.  I think that is the right approach with Steinhart and homage watches in general.  I don’t want people to think I am wearing a Rolex, that is disingenuous especially since there are lots of non-Rolex watches that I would rather be accused of wearing.  I wanted a good looking dive watch at a good price with a Swiss movement, and that is what Steinhart can offer.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bronze watches: Cases with character

With the Olympics sadly coming to an end and our focus on the medal count over for at least another 2 years, I thought I’d write a bit about the lesser medal, which is also the lesser metal in the world of watch cases: bronze.

The History

Bronze was never traditionally used in watch cases.  Bronze has the nasty habit of staining and irritating skin and discoloring in inconsistent ways, neither of which are characteristics a watchmaker would particularly like in their case material.  Leave it to the master watch designer Gerald Genta to take the leap of faith into the world of bronze watch cases in 1995.  To solve the first problem of bronze watches Genta simply put a stainless steel case back and slightly raised lugs on his case.  This ensured that the bronze wouldn’t contact the wearer’s skin, and the caseback was invisible when the watch was worn.  On the color of the case Genta took a gamble.  Bronze naturally patina’s when it comes in contact with the elements, and Genta believed this patina would add to, not detract from, the character of the watch.

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As ever, Genta was a visionary of consumer tastes and patina became the hallmark of a bronze watch, but bronze watches did not gain more broad market acceptance until 2011 when Panerai introduced their bronzo.  The was the first foray into bronze cases by a large established brand, and it was very successful.

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Bronze watches today

Today bronze cased watches are at an interesting inflection point.  Bronze is a fairly easy way to differentiate a lower end watch from the stainless steel crowd.  Bronze is not substantially more expensive than a stainless steel case and can become the focal point of a watch if its lacking a high end movement or brand name.  As such many micro-brands have embraced bronze and countless kickstarter watches set themselves apart with their bronze case.  At the same time, Panerai’s success has made other high end brands curious about bronze.  Most notably Tudor released a new Black Bay Bronze at Basel this year to extremely positive reviews while Zenith and IWC have released special editiion bronze watches in the last few years.

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The love-hate relationship

 

Bronze is certainly a polarizing aesthetic.  Some hate the dullness of a bronze patina or its inconsistency, but I think it adds uniqueness and character to a watch.  Patina makes a watch look old, like its been through the ringer a few times.  Some may find this disingenuous since a day relaxing on the beach can give a bronze watch patina, but the reality is it is the owner’s experience that gives the watch character.  And this character can change over time as you rub some patina off and build some more up.

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The Oris special edition bronze diver, with and without patina

What to watch for

If you are looking to buy a bronze watch there is one key watch-out (no punt intended); make sure the watch you are buying has an actual bronze case.  Obviously this isn’t an issue with a Panerai or Tudor, but there have been many kickstarter watches claiming to be bronze that were actually brass.  Both bronze and brass are copper alloys, but brass is considerably cheaper and will retain its shine.  This means a brass watch will never get the patina that is presumably the reason you bought a bronze watch in the first place.  For some brands this has been an honest mistake and they will send a proper bronze watch to you free of charge, but there are stories out there of kickstarters that went bankrupt buying brass cases and never returned a proper bronze watch to their backers.

All things considered a bronze watch is an interesting prospect for me.  I am rarely focused on the pure aesthetics of a watch and put more weight into the history of the brand and the movement (as we’ve discussed here) but the character of a bronze watch makes it very personal, and something I think is a fun part of a collection.

Movement Monday: FP Journe Chronometre Bleu

This Movement Monday brings the first appearance of the venerable independent FP Journe to the Amateur Horologist.  Journe’s status as one of the foremost independent watchmakers in the world and his brand’s unique style has made his eponymous brand one of the fastest rising (and already one of the largest) independent brands in watchmaking.  While his dials are fantastic and showcase his unique style, today we are focusing on the movement of his intro-level timepiece, the Chronometre Bleu.  The CB is in the same price bracket as intro level Pateks, Vacherons, and Langes, but offers a completely different style.  The finishing remains, however, on par with the best in the business and the end product is a unique and beautiful movement.

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Two things really jump out when l0ooking at the CB movement.  The first is the obviously unique coloration.  Journe is (I believe) the only watch brand that uses sold rose gold for the mainplate and all of the bridges in his movements.  Gold is generally avoided in favor of steel or German silver in watch movements given its softness.  Soft metals are much more difficult to work with when trying to get the prices edges needed in a high end watch movement, but Journe has taken on the challenge and the result is a unique soft glow that screams luxury and quality.  The second stand out feature of the CB is its symmetry.  Journe chose to hide the whole going between the mainplate and the dial, making it invisible, he then adopted a unique finish for the mainplate (as opposed to the more common perlage) given how much of it is visible from the back.  All that can be seen on the movement side is the balance and the two mainspring barrels.  This creates an extremely clean and visually appealing look that, when coupled with the rose gold tones, gives the movement a very sculptural quality.  Journe has adopted a style all his own that flows through his whole collection.  The CB is the simplest of the whole collection, but also the purest illustration of this style and definitely deserving of some attention all to itself.

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The Weekend Watch: Patek Philippe Aquanaut

We are going from one end of the spectrum to the other in the weekend watch.  Last weekend we talked a bit about the Orient Mako, the affordable dive alternative with some real value for money and enough character that it doesn’t feel like a Rolex copy.  This week we are going to the luxury end of the spectrum with the Patek Philippe Aquanaut, a watch Patek launched in 1997 and describes as the “perfect dress sports watch” (odd slogan for a company that sells the Nautilus).

The Watch

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The aquanaut is an interesting piece, and to be honest it has never been my favorite in the Patek line.  That said, it does offer a casual and sporty feel that isn’t present anywhere else in the Patek line, including the nautilus.  The case is a sort of slightly squared circle design, not unlike the Nautilus but with a bit more of a circular profile.  I don’t find it quite as visually appealing as a Nautilus, but that’s just a matter of opinion.  The dial itself is both the antithesis of Patek Philippe and at the same time demonstrates all the greatness of the company.  It combines simple arabic numerals as well as bold square hour indices, all with a healthy dose of lume.  The aquanaut furthers the boldly casual styling with broad lume-filled rectangular hands.  The most striking feature, though, of the dial is the addition of engraved meridian lines (not honestly sure what they should be called) that give the dial a 3 dimensional quality.  Beyond the case and dial the most unique feature of this watch is its rubber strap.  The strap incorporates a beautiful Patek deployment clasp, but frighteningly for some (though probably not Patek owners) it must be cut to the correct size for the owner and is not adjustable.  It continues the casual theme and is to my knowledge the only rubber strap available from Patek.  All these features come together to create undoubtedly the most casual watch in the Patek line, and yet the Patek Philippe quality is still there.  All the indicators are crisp and perfect, and the engraving on the dial is crisp and precise.  Little details like the engraving around the Patek Philippe name are what put Patek in a class above so many other watchmakers, and they didn’t skimp with the Aquanaut.

The Movement

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As ever with Patek Philippe the movement is excellent.  The in-house automatic movement is beautifully finished and can be seen, along with the 18 karat gold winding rotor, through a sapphire case back.  Normally with a “beach” watch you wouldn’t want a sapphire case back necessarily, but Patek uses a screw-down system which should ensure no water gets into the watch as you jet-ski along the French Riviera.  All told this is an interesting piece, a casual watch from a distinctly not casual watch brand that offers some interesting and unusual features for a Patek.  Not personally to my taste (especially for more than 20K in steel), but if you have the money and need a weekend watch you could do a lot worse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Release: Tissot PRS Triple Seconds

The weekend watch will be coming tomorrow, but I wanted to show you all quickly an interesting and affordable new watch release from Tissot; the PRS automatic triple second.  Tissot has never been a favorite of mine, I felt their styling was in-line with Hamilton and they offered similar value for money with essentially the same ETA movements while Hamilton had a more interesting brand history (just my opinion), but this new piece from Tissot offers a new “complication” in a fairly sporty case for around $1000.  An interesting value proposition and something you rarely see, an ETA movement sporting a new complication.

 

The Watch

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3 seconds dials, creating the illusion of retrograde seconds without the cost

This watch is at its base a classic time and date automatic watch with an ETA 2824 movement.  Tissot brings their sportier styling language to this particular case, with squared hands and rectangular hour markers.  They’ve also included an all ceramic bezel, which looks great in the initial press images, but I’d be curious to see it in some natural light before I passed judgement.  So for the most part its your run of the mill Swiss entry level watch, until you notice the 3 dials each showing 20 second segments.  each dial has a red seconds hand that runs through its arc and then “passes” to the next subdial. The effect created is not unlike that of a retrograde seconds hand, but in reality Tissot simply cloned the seconds geartrain in 3 places and recessed the subdials to only show a segment.  Each hand makes the regular 60 second revolution, but is only visible for its segment.

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The Vacheron Constantin Mercator watch, a gorgeous example of true retrograde hands.

Its an exceedingly clever trick from Tissot, and makes the retrograde hand visual accessible at a new price point.  Retrograde hands are not fundamentally a complication, nor are they necessarily the most difficult thing to develop, but taking a new approach to retrograde hands is really smart of Tissot.  It has allowed them to innovate at a pricepoint where there isn’t much variety for consumers, and I really think they will be rewarded for it.  The watch won’t be on sale in the US until the fall most likely, but I will be very tempted once the holidays roll around.

 

 

 

Brand History: Philippe Dufour

In this new series we will dive deep into the history and traditions of different watch brands, from big names like Patek Philippe to independent watchmakers, which is where we start today.

To kick off the Brand History series I thought we would start in a part of the watchmaking world where we haven’t yet ventured here on the Amateur Horologist; independent watchmaking.  The godfather of independent watchmaking today, and a man who many consider the greatest watchmaker alive today, is Philippe Dufour.  After gaining experience at a number of high end watch brands Dufour founded his eponymous brand in 1978, right in the middle of the quartz crisis.  Today a Dufour watch is considered the pinnacle of horological art.  His total production over 37 years has been less than 500 watches and each one is a perfect example of high end watch finishing and production at its finest.

The Man

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Any independent watch brand begins and ends with the watchmaker who was brave and brash enough to break away from the safety and security of an established brand and start selling watches with their own name plastered on the dial.  Reading interviews with Philippe Dufour there are certain things that jump off the page about his personality that have clearly driven him to success.  The first and most important is his immense respect for the history and artistry of watchmaking.  Dufour is an exceedingly humble seeming man (at least on the surface). He recognizes he is a part of the long story of watchmaking that began well before him and will continue on after him.  He is famous for having said there is nothing new in watchmaking, watchmakers only evolve on what the legends before them did.  He is also very happy working within his niche.  He recognizes that his watches cater to a special taste and he is more than satisfied with that.  The danger in independent watchmaking is a desire to grow beyond your capabilities and lose the character that makes independent watchmaking special.  Dufour could have opened an atelier with 100 watchmakers producing his watches, but chose to stay in his small shop in La Sentier, 15 minutes from his childhood home, because that is all he wanted.

Dufour’s reputation is also built upon his pursuit of perfection, perhaps unmatched in the watch-finishing world.  He cares more about his movements then his profits and frankly than his customers (hence the long waiting times).  He is known for working alone and has yet to find an apprentice the way George Daniels chose Roger Smith.  He says its because today’s watchmakers don’t showcase the passion for perfection that he needs when creating his watches. His passion is what ultimately drives him to create such perfectly finished timepieces.

Finally Dufour not only respects history but also modern developments in watchmaking.  Few realize he was among the first watchmakers to use CAD software to design parts for his watches.  He is able today to manufacture more than 90% of the parts for his watches in house because he has embraced technological developments that give him more independence rather than reliance on others.

The Watches

Gives that the entire Philippe Dufour line consists of only 3 watches it seems appropriate to give each a bit of time in the spotlight.  All three demonstrate exceptional finishing, revolutionary watch design, and what most would call the perfect execution of their purpose as watches.

Simplicity

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The Simplicity is Dufour’s “entry level” piece (if its possible to call any Dufour watch entry level).  It is a time only hand wound watch where the entire focus is on perfect movement hand finishing. Each dial is unique and customizeable to the buyer’s specifications, but if we are being honest the watch is not really about the dial side.  Flipping it over you see the dictionary definition of high end Swiss movement finishing. Dufour’s mastery of anglage and Geneva striping is unparalleled.  The famous “devil’s horns” that Dufour polishes by hand to a mirror finish are unlike anything offered in watches from even the greatest brands.  Dufour used this watch to show what a time-only watch could be and he succeeded.

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The back of the Dufour Simplicity, simply perfect

Duality

Dufour not only masters the art of watchmaking, but also looks to innovate with watches like the Duality.  Finished to the same unmatched degree, the Duality is the first wristwatch in history to include two escapements, using a differential to equalize the timing differences between the two and creating a more accurate time only watch.  The technological feat combined with the degree of finishing is incredible, but to me the best part of the Duality is the subtlety with with Dufour has executed this technological achievement.  On the dial side the Duality looks nearly identical to the Simplicity.  The only tell-tale difference is the off-center small seconds dial. Only someone very familiar with watches would know a Dufour watch was special, and only a watch lover familiar with Dufour’s work would even have a chance of knowing how special the movement under the Duality’s dial really is.

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Grande et Petite Sonnerie

Finally there is Dufour’s magnum opus, the first ever wristwatch with grande and petite sonnerie (we will discuss sonnerie watches in a future It’s complicated post).  For some unknown reason this watch was not popular when Dufour developed it.  As a result less than 10 were ever made and Dufour has said he will never make another.  Composed of over 400 parts all finished by Dufour’s hand to incredible standards this watch is the pinnacle of complication and the pinnacle of finishing.  To many this is as good as watchmaking gets and may ever get.

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What’s next?

Its an excellent question.  Dufour has stopped making the Simplicity (although he still makes the occasional special order for special customers).  Dufour’s most recent project has been working with Robert Gruebel and Stephen Forsey to pass on their collective watchmaking knowledge to a young watchmakers named Michael Boulanger as part of the Naissance de un montre project.  Boulanger finished the first timepiece for this project late last year and, finances permitting, there will be 9 more watches in the series

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The first watch in the Naissance de un Montre series

That said, its unclear what will happen to the Dufour brand going forward, and I would guess that Philippe is just fine with that.  Dufour is not in this for the money or for his legacy (although I think he is starting to embrace his legacy with projects like Naissance de un Montre) he wants to make exceptional watches on his own terms.  That is what makes him so independent.  If he wants to close up shop tomorrow that is his decision, if he wants to start work on a new sonnerie watch he could do that just as easily.  Dufour as a man is Dufour as a brand and we are just lucky he has made as many watches as he has to date.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Movement Monday: A. Lange & Sohne Double Split

In this new alliterative series we will be looking at some of the move spectacular movements in the world of watches today. Since Monday’s are never fun we will focus on pictures instead of words and let the movements do the talking (rest assured the watches that house these movements will no doubt get their day in the sun as well, whether as grail watches or, if I hit the lottery, owner reviews)

Much as I kicked off the Grail Watch series with a watch that few watch lovers wouldn’t consider a grail, we are kicking off the Movement Monday series with a watch movement that is unrivaled in its unique complexity, depth, and beauty; the movement of the A. Lange & Sohne Double Split.  Not many watch movements can claim a truly unique complication, but the Double Split is in fact the only mechanical wristwatch or pocketwatch with both a rattrapante second and rattrapante minute counter for its chronograph.  What this means is theory is that you time the difference between two events (think two racers finishing a race) to up to 30 minutes.  This is a feature easily attainable on an Iphone, so not necessarily that exciting, but in practice it results in an incredible complex chronograph movement often described as “a city under glass”.

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Lange is known for the unique depth they bring to their chronograph movements.  Traditionalists may not like this vertical movement design, but to me it creates layers of visual interest that add to the mechanical artwork of the movement.  Combine that with Lange’s use of gold chatons with blued steel screws, German silver bridges, and stainless steel levers and column wheels and you have a multi-dimensional and multi-toned horological masterpiece.  Lange’s meticulousness is on display in the finishing of every bridge and lever.  Even the balance cock, barely visible underneath the chronograph levers, is hand engraved as with all Lange watches.  When people ask me why I like mechanical watches and what makes then worth thousands of dollars this is always the first picture I show them.  Lange demonstrates the pinnacle of movement making beauty with the double split and in my opinion no one has knocked them off their perch yet.  Now just sit back and enjoy some more high qualities pictures of this German masterpiece.

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The Weekend Watch: Orient Mako

Keeping up with this week’s seem of talking about watches I actually own instead of Pateks I thought this week’s weekend watch would be my own personal beater; the Orient Mako II

The Watch

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The Mako dressed up a bit with a very patriotic NATO band

The idea behind the weekend watch series is to highlight casual watches that you could wear on the beach for the weekend and bang around a bit and not worry.  By the nature of that description these will often be dive watches and its hard not to talk about dive watches without comparing them to a Rolex Sub.  When I was looking for a dive watch I wanted something that didn’t look like a Sub copy, but still felt like a classic dive watch.  In my opinion Orient strikes this balance perfectly with the Mako. The overall styling is clearly Dive watch oriented, but the hands are not particularly similar to the classic Rolex hands, nor are the hour markers.  The separate day-setting crown also sets this apart form a Rolex, but by far my favorite feature of the model above (and the one I acquired) is the beautiful blue sunburst dial.  It is a deep blue (deeper that the blue on the dial of the Rolex two-tone subs) that, as illustrated in the picture above, really captures the sunlight and gleams wonderfully.  Combine this with the slightly blue-green color of the luminova in the hour markers and this watch screams ocean-bound.  The other great aspect of this watch that is hard to find in a non-Rolex sub is its versatility.  The lug width is a very standard 20mm which opens the watch up to the wonderful world of NATO straps.  As the picture above shows, the watch looks fantastic on a NATO strap.  At 13mm tall the NATO doesn’t make it sit too high on the wrist, and the blue dial makes any NATO strap with blue, red, white, or gray in it really pop.  I love wearing NATO straps, but it is hard to find watches that really look good on the nylon, this watch definitely meets the mark.

The Movement

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The in-house Hamilton automatic movement

Perhaps a rarely known/understood fact is that Orient is in fact an in-house movement manufacturer.  Many might assume that as a Japanese company they use Seiko or Miyota movements, but their movements are their own from design to construction.  Orient has a wide ranging line of automatic movements, but unfortunately the Mako uses there lower end movement.  I have found the movement to be impressively accurate, the one reason I wish Orient had put in one of their higher end movements is that the movement in the Mako can not be wound by hand.  The crown can set the time and the date, but cannot be used to wind the watch.  I personally have the watch on a winder, but if you didn’t keep it on a winder and it wound down you would have to shake it to wind it, something that always makes my skin crawl as I’ve seen what shock can do to a mechanical timepiece.  I also personally prefer a diver without the date (I’m an originalist that way), but that is much more a preference issue than a comment on the watch quality.  All told I think this watch delivers a huge amount of bang for the buck.  For only $180 you get an automatic dive watch with 200M of water resistance, very respectable fit and finish, and a beautiful and versatile blue dial.  For those of us not making 6+ figures this is as good as it gets for a weekend watch.

 

 

 

The Owner Experience: Shinola Runwell

I realized looking back at my recent posts that I have been living in the world of Pateks and Vacherons for a bit too long, so I wanted to bring myself and all of you back to Earth with a bit about a watch in my own collection, the Shinola Runwell.  I know what you are thinking, he bought a quartz watch?  What a traitor to the cause!  Well first of all, I didn’t buy my Shinola, it was a gift from my Grandmother, so back off! Haha.  While I did not really expect to like Shinola and I had thought of it a bit as a gimmick.  It is after all a style-oriented  watch “Made in Detroit” by a hip American company that people could feel good about wearing.  That said I have been pleasantly surprised by the Shinola over the past few years, let me tell you why.

The Watch

First off all, my personal Shinola is a 47mm Runwell, the first watch that Shinola produced.  Since they began with the Runwell they have developed over a dozen different watch types (all generally in the $500-800 range) with a variety of dial and band styles.  All told there are almost 1000 different combinations you could pick from. I really like that Shinola has chosen to offer such variety.  They recognized that their market is most concerned with the look of the watch they are buying, and so they made sure they could cater, at scale, to a variety of tastes.  The Runwell, at 47mm, is quite big and wears a bit bigger even because of the relatively thin bezel.  The arabic numerals on the dial are bold and coated with impressively bright superluminova.  The dial, combined with the wire lugs gives a retro almost railroad watch feel to the watch accentuated by the automotive feel of the Argonite-1069 and Detroit references on the watch face.  All told this is a statement watch, but not in the way a big Panerai would be.  It feels casual and stylish without coming off as opulent.  I imagine this is exactly what Shinola seeks to portray with their brand, so well done there.

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Just a few of the myriad styles in the Runwell series alone

The Movement

Its quartz.

 

Okay, there is a little more to it than that.  It is a Swiss Ronda quartz movement assembled in Shinola’s Detroit factory.  Given this I think its a little disingenuous to describe this as an “American” watch, but the reality of the watch industry is that it is nearly impossible to not source parts from either Japan, China, or Switzerland and if you have to choose one I’m glad Shinola chose the Swiss.

What I like about it

Like I said, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the Shinola in the time that I’ve owned it.  While at 47mm it is definitely larger than what I would normally wear it is quite thin and the down turned wire lugs do make it sit comfortably on the wrist.  Adding to that comfort level is the fact that the Shinola leather bands are absolutely fantastic.  One thing Shinola definitely can do is work with leather and the band was supple as soon as it came out of the box and feels great on the wrist. Also, as much as I am not a stylish person, I enjoy the overall look of the watch.  There are some classic wristwatch tropes that most brands fall into (the dive watch, the pilots watch, the dress watch) and its nice to see and own something that really is a bit different.  Finally, despite this being a quartz watch, I have been very impressed with the overall fit and finish. It has a screw down crown that feels very solid (often a weakness of quartz watches, among many) and the caseback is finished more nicely than many mechanical watches I’ve seen.  Overall, despite this being a quartz watch, its clear Shinola put some real effort into producing a product that felt like it was of the quality the price would dictate.

What I don’t really like

First of all, its quartz, lets just get that out of the way.  I, like most mechanical watch lovers I know, don’t really enjoy wearing quartz watches because you lose that mechanical history that is so fun to have on your wrist.  You can also get a fine quartz watch for $30, so it seems a bit out of place to buy one for $500 (that said, there are quartz watches that cost a great deal more, including some that may make it into this series in the future).  Other than that, this watch is big.  While it does wear comfortably for a big watch there are times when it gets in its own way.  Typing on a computer or holding a phone often makes the crown jab into your wrist which is not a new experience for anyone who has put a 47mm Radiomir on their wrist.

 

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Giving you an idea of just how big the Shinola is on the wrist

Conclusions

All in all I would characterize the Shinola as a pleasant surprise.  While its size and stylishness are outside the realm of what I would normally wear it is a fun change of pace for someone who rotates through a number of watches.  Would I spend $550 of my own money on it? Probably not, I would probably go out and by myself a Hamilton Intra-matic (which is basically the antithesis of this watch).  That said I truly enjoy having it as part of my collection.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Complicated: GMT/Dual Time/World Time

In this edition of “It’s Complicated” we are discussing what I think is one of the most useful watch complications, even in today’s smartphone-driven world; the ability to tell the time in two different places at once.  There are 3 different types of complications that fundamentally serve this purpose; the dual time, the GMT, and the World time.  I will get into all three shortly, but first a bit about why we need this complication in the first place.

A Brief History of Time(zones)

Today time zones seem like just a fact of life.  One that can irritate any watch lover driving through Indiana, but otherwise not something anyone thinks about too much.  However before the advent of modern time zones most towns set their clocks buy the sun, meaning that every place with a clock had a slightly different time (most closely aligned with solar mean time).  In the 1800s the US alone had over 300 different timezones.  This made any form of standardized travel challenging and risky (in a future post we will go into more detail on the effects this had on the railroads in the US).  What changed the timing game was the creation of the chronometer.  As highly accurate marine chronometers became more common on ships in the 1800s their accuracy made it possible to create a timing standard based on mechanics that would deviate very little (and thus be reliable for navigation and scheduling).  Timekeepers now needed to decide what that standard should be, so they held a conference.  In 1884 in Washington DC the International Meridian conference met to decide the fate of time itself (pause for dramatic effect).  They settled on the Royal Observatory in Greenwich England as their time standard because at the much of the worlds shipping passed through England and the Greenwich Observatory had a reputation for reliable timekeeping.  And thus Greenwich Mean Time was born.  Today, with atomic clocks accurate to 1 seconds every billion or so years there is a new time standard called UTC (Universal time coordinated), but GMT has stuck as a reference to the basis for time zones and in modern watchmaking language.  Looking back its pretty incredible to think about the implications of this decision made by a relatively small group of men 130 years ago.  Everything from the standard appearance of maps to the phrase “GMT” derives from this decision to set the Prime Meridian as passing through Greenwich. Okay, enough of a history lesson for now, back to the watches.

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An image of the Royal Observatory from 1898, you can see why they took Greenwich “mean” time, look at all those chronometers.

GMT Watches

Since we just got done discussing the birth of the concept of GMT, this seems like a good place to start.  GMT watches were originally developed for Pilots as a way to track both local (or home) time and GMT, which they used for all radio communications and flight tracking.  A GMT watch has standard hour and minute hands then has a third hand, usually part of the central hand stack but sometimes in a subdial, that rotates once around the face every 24 hours.  In older GMT watches the GMT hand was anchored to the hour hand so a rotating bezel was necessary to indicate GMT vs home time.  In most if not all modern GMT watches the GMT hand can now move independently of the other hands, allowing the wearer to set it to any alternate timezone.  A GMT watch is arguably the most pure expression of a second timezone and a complication with real roots in tool watches of the past.  It is also a very accessible complication, with Hamilton producing beautiful GMT watches right alongside Rolex and the other luxury brands.

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Dual Time Watches

The simplified version of a GMT watch is the dual time watch.  A dual time watch is very similar to a GMT watch except the additional hand goes around the dial once every 12 hours instead of every 24 hours (hence Dual time instead of GMT).  This is less traditional, but more practical for the everyday wearer.  Many dual time watches will also have a quick set button that allows the wearer to advance the hour hand in hour increments by just pressing a button.  This is extremely helpful for those who travel a lot or those, like me, who are clumsy with a watch crown and may accidentally change the time instead of adjusting the second hour hand.  For whatever reason these seem to be less common then traditional GMT watches, despite their practicality, but their are some great options out there.  Again the simplicity of this complication, both in appearance and in mechanical construction, makes it relatively accessible in the world of watches.  That said, its popularity with the jet-set class means that the Pateks and Langes of the world also offer beautifully made dual time watches. The simplicity of a dual time function also breeds creativity among watchmakers.  While adding a second hour hand of a slightly different style or color is an easy way of achieving a beautiful and effective dual time watch, many brands such as Breguet and Laurent Ferrier have chosen to use dial windows and other display methods to achieve the same function.  My favorite dual time display method, though, has to be Jaeger Le Coultre’s Reverso Duo.  Why adjust a single hand when you can flip your watch around and have a whole new watch?

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The JLC Reverso Duo- Two watches for the price of one, relatively speaking

World time watches

Finally we have what might be considered the haute horology version of the GMT watch, the world timer.  World timers usually use a disk with 24 hour markers along the outside of the home time dial.  Outside of that disk there is a fixed disk that indicates the names of cities in each of the different time zones around the world.  The hour disk rotates once every 24 hours such that you can see the current time in each of the listed cities at any time of day.  Still following?  It can be difficult to follow, but the result of actual use is much simpler.  Say you want to know the time in London, simply find London (or a nearby city) on the outer dial and then look at the 24 hour dial to see the time, simple.  The World timer has historically been the real of high end watchmakers.  The first serially produced world time watch was from Patek Philippe and it remains in production and one of the most recognizable (and in my opinion beautiful) world time watches being produced.  Today though brands like Longines and Brietling are producing beautiful World Timers at much more reasonable prices.  What would make you purchase a world time watch instead of the other more simple and often less expensive second time zone options?  The big advantage of a world timer is that at a glance you can see the time basically anywhere in the world (except those weird places with non-standard time zones).  If you have work colleagues around the world on one conference call I can see how this could be very useful, but for personal use a dual time watch remains the most practical option.

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Longines and Patek world time watches, the same, yet so different

Conclusions

A watch’s fundamental function is to tell the time, so its a pretty logical expansion of that purpose for a watch to be able to tell the time in more than one place.  Displaying two time zones at a glance may also be the one place a watch may still be able to beat the Iphone in your pocket (although I’m sure there is an app for that). A second time zone is a massively practical complication that is so simple it gives watchmakers the opportunity to be creative and take something basic and make it interesting. If I were building a watch collection from scratch a dual time watch would be right at the top of my list, and in fact I have the very Hamilton GMT above in my own collection (I’m sure it will make an appearance in the Owners Experience series soon). Watches tell the time, watches are tools, and the GMT/Dual time/World timer complication is a lasting vestige of that character.