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.

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.

 

 

 

The President and Watches

With the State of the Union address just around the corner I thought it would be good to talk a bit about one thing the political pundits are sure to ignore while the president is speaking in the House chamber; his watch.  Full disclosure, I was a government major in college, so its likely no coincidence that my first content piece here is about the intersection of watches and politics.  That said, a watch says a lot about a person, including the watch worn by the most talked about man on the planet

The Watch

The watch the president will be wearing on the 12th is a Jorg Grey quartz chronograph.  You can certainly be forgiven if you have never heard of Jorg Grey, they are a small brand based in California, more of a “fashion” brand perhaps.  If you want your very own presidential watch it will cost you about $270 on Amazon (sure Obama’s has the seal of the secret service on it, but who would notice the difference). So what does this watch say about the man?  It says he is a politician.

Prior to becoming president Obama wore a Tag Heuer.  Obama is not the first President to compromise his horological interests for the sake of politics.  George W. Bush wore a timex indiglo throughout his presidency and Bill Clinton (now a rather serious watch enthusiast) was known for his rubber timex ironman.

Clinton and his Ironman watch

 

What’s so wrong with wearing a nice watch?

In a word, politics.  The President of the United States is the most scrutinized person in the world and one of the most polarizing figures in the country.  A nice watch to some is just a pleasant personal indulgence, something fun to look at and show to friends.  To CNN and Fox News and the rest of the political watchers a nice watch says things like “elitist” or “un-american” or “Part of the 1%”

As an example, Bill Clinton purchased 14 Shinola watches last year after a visit to their factory in Detroit.  Now, Shinola’s are not overly expensive, but the ~$7,000 total purchase drew quite a bit of negative media attention to him and his wife, who is certainly not looking for bad press these days.  Ironically, Bill Clinton owns a number of watches who’s MSRP is well over the price he paid for all 14 of the Shinola watches, but of course he bought those after he was president (and before his wife wanted his old job)

Obama’s watch has a few key characteristics that have proven central to the wrists of presidents since the beginnings of media punditry:

  1. Its affordable: Despite Obama’s considerable personal wealth (he made over $5 million from his book sales) a high end watch would not play well with middle america.
  2. Its American:While technically the movement, case, and dial are likely manufactured elsewhere, Jorg Grey is an American brand
  3. It was a gift from the secret service: The secret service presented this watch to Obama as a gift and it carries their seal.  Hard to criticize a man for showing appreciation for the gift of those protecting his life

I’m not one to say if the President is in fact an Amateur Horologist himself, but if he is he need only suppress his watch desires for 11 more months.  For now at least, regardless of his personal wealth, Obama will have to wear the watch the people would want him to wear, regardless of his.

It’s not all bad news for the President

As I alluded to when talking about Bill Clinton, its not all bad news for watch enthusiasts who also happen to be the President of the United States.  In fact, things get pretty good for former presidents in the timepiece department (and I imagine in most departments).  Bill Clinton is perhaps the most notable of the former presidents/horology enthusiasts.  Bill has amasses quite a collection, including Panerai, Jaeger le Coultre, and A Lange und Sohne (thought those might sadly see very little wrist time for a while).  George H.W. Bush wears a Patek Philippe perpetual calendar presented to him as a gift by the company.

Bill Clinton wearing a JLC master compressor during a Daily Show appearance

So what watch will Obama wear when he leaves office?  He may go back to the Tag he wore for almost a decade, or maybe he will stick with the Jorg Grey for sentimentality’s sake.  He may also take advantage of a gift given to a number of presidents and wear a Vulcain cricket president alarm (so named because Eisenhower wore it as president).  He has another 11 months to figure it out, I’m sure he doesn’t have too much else to think about.

But what about other world leaders?

Ah, for that you all will just have to wait for a future article…to be continued

 

Welcome

Welcome to the Amateur Horologist.  My name is Will, a 23 year old working in Washington DC and a 3rd generation lover of watches.  You may ask why someone with no industry connections and no journalistic experience (as my writing style will no doubt illustrate in coming blog posts) would want to create a watch blog in a world filled with excellent watch blogs already (if you doubt that, try visiting hodinkee.com or quillandpad.com).  I think the answer lies in the question asked.

Those sites are excellent and I spend an inordinate amount of time each day on them, but they offer a very specific perspective.  These are experts who have dedicated their lives (or much of their lives) to learning about watches, watchmakers, and watch brands.  They bring their readers in depth knowledge on every new release and every auction and they do so incredibly well.  They are the Roger Ebert’s of the watch world.  I, on the other hand, aspire to be the Rotten tomatoes of the watch world.

My goal with this blog is three-fold:

  1. I want to dumb down the mechanical world of horology so us amateurs can not only enjoy the mechanical watches we wear, but understand how they work.  I am no expert on the mechanics of watches, but I’m not looking to give an experts description.  I want to arm you all with the ability to answer the question “Why is the second hand on your watch not ticking” in a way that is sure to annoy all of your friends.
  2. I want to bring the perspective of someone who can’t buy a $10,000 to the world of mechanical watches.  We can all enjoy fantasizing about owning a case full of Patek Philippes, but I strongly believe there is great value in the world of accessible watches, and I want the blogosphere (note-I will never use that word again on this blog) to pay more attention to it.
  3. Finally, I’m not gonna take away all the fun of high end horology.  I want to indulge in the $100K watches as much as the next guy.  I want to do it differently though.  Where some folks lament the tiny issues like “pusher feel” and “dial cleanness” I want to take some time to marvel at the artistry that is brands like Breguet, Vacheron Constantin, and Patek Philippe.  Sure I may complain sometimes, I’m a millenial (again, you will never see that word used here again), but these are works of art that you can wear, and on top of that they actually do something!  That’s pretty cool

 

So, with that rant out of the way, welcome to The Amateur Horologist.  I hope you all enjoy.

 

-Will

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