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.
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.
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.
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.
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.