Five Watches I’d Buy Right The Heck Now

Hamilton Intra-Matic Auto Chrono
The Hamilton Intra-Matic Auto Chrono draws from 1970s style cues with a modern case and movement. That panda dial? Gorgeous. Pic from HamiltonWatch.com.

My (Early) 2019 Watch Wishlist

You can usually tell when the waves of life have capsized me by the lapses in my blogging.

When the tides are calm and things are in a healthy balance, I find time to float a few thoughts this way.

When the storm surge hits hard and fast — and lately, it’s been constant — weeks can fly by in its wake and things get a bit quiet here.

2019 has definitely seen a storm surge. But here I am on a Saturday in February — February???!!! — with a morning and an afternoon to myself to pick up where I left off. Around the first week of January that was watches.

(INSERT GIANT-SIZE WIFE YAWN HERE.)

Yeah, watches.

As has been explained — justified? rationalized? — a few times earlier, lately, in my search for things that are beautiful, and well-made, and worth acquiring in a world full of disposable commodities, I’ve developed an appreciation for timepieces with a story, that last, that bring a bit of color and pleasure to my day while fulfilling a function, no matter where I am.

In the year since I started seeking a more elegant replacement — OK, replacements — to my crusty, battery-sucking Fitbit, my idle hours have been spent perusing posts at Hodinkee, and ABlogToWatch; scrolling through wrist shots and quips on Reddit; and gradually drawing firm lines between attainable, admired pieces, watches I want but could never afford, watches that just don’t do it for me, and watches that just flat-out scam people.

Around about Christmastime — no watches for me, thanks, since I’m still paying off “my precious” — and shortly after, I couldn’t help noticing the crazy low prices on some pieces I’ve had my eye on. These five, more or less, top my list for (early) 2019.

Seiko SRPB55
Seiko “Samurai” SRPB55. I dig the colors on this and the knurled crown, and prefer the Samurai hands and look to the “Turtle.” But there are tradeoffs. And I’ve already got a black matte diver in my collection with a Seiko movement.

Taking a Dive into Seiko

Most watch collectors, inevitably, take a turn and several stops along the Seiko path. The value and craftsmanship, not to mention sheer variety from Seiko 5 automatics at around $100 up through Grand Seiko mindblowers in the thousands, are just irresistible.

But I wasn’t buying the hype. Until after I’d picked up a couple inexpensive, but nice, quartz fashion watches, and sprung for my first couple pricey automatics, and that value proposition really hit home.

Of course, it helped that everywhere I looked after Christmas Seiko divers were discounted hundreds of dollars. Even on the official site, which is decidedly not the case right now.

Although I’d had no problem ordering my first few watches from Amazon, and I eye Jomashop constantly, there’s something about getting your watch brand new, from the official source, with full warranty, that’s a big part of the experience for me. The consensus, even among devotees to haute horology who’ve been bit by the Seiko bug, is that picking up a budget Seiko on the gray market is nearly always the way to go.

Well, Jomashop didn’t have these babies, but they’re on my Amazon wishlist now. Being a man of a certain age, and certain means, I can afford to skip over the (vaunted) Seiko 5 tier and dip right into Prospex, but both are great value for the dollar.

After poring over product pages and articles, I find I prefer the Samurai style over the Turtle, with the sword hands and the more angular case. I love the knurled dial — looks like a knob on a fine, vintage camera. And I’m torn between the black, blasted Samurai with gold accents and picking up one with a “Pepsi” blue and red bezel. The one on the metal bracelet is hard to pass up, but the rubber strap seems plenty versatile for the beach or pool.

The Turtle has its charms. I especially like the crown at 4 o’clock, and don’t mind the rounded case. I just prefer the knurled crown and sword hands of the Samurai. Maybe this is a “both” situation instead of either/or?

Maybe as a summer birthday pickup. Though it’s hard to justify a genuine Seiko diver when last birthday I threw down for a custom Undone Aqua diver that looks a lot like the matte black Samurai and has a Seiko-made NH35A movement inside. I don’t know that a both-both-both situation is a reasonable one, but a boy can dream of filling his watch case with budget divers.

To GMT or not to GMT?

That’s a good question.

Early on, I mapped out styles and functionality of watches I had my eye on. And as noted above, I’m well covered for divers of the pool and ocean variety as well as the office desk and night out.

But I travel a lot for work. And I don’t have a GMT — eminently useful for its ability to tell the time in two, even three parts of the world simultaneously.

Closest I have is the snazzy design of the Mr. Jones Time Traveler, a fun pickup during a trip to London, though a bit small for my wrist at 37 mm, in retrospect, and not accurate when it’s not Daylight Savings Time in the US (much of the rest of the world gets out of sync).

So a strong candidate for my next watch is a trusty GMT model. Tudor has captured the most headlines in the last year with its issue of a Rolex-emulating Pepsi-dialed GMT — all for under $4,000 (compare that to Rolex’s GMT-Master II, which is listed at $9K, but good luck finding for less than $18K, if you can find it at all). Unfortunately, being a hot item, the Tudor GMT is equally scarce right now. And I keep getting drawn to the standard Black Bay on bracelet. Probably not ready for either.

Which leads me to a good budget buy for an automatic GMT, from a brand, Hamilton, that is squarely on my “next” radar.

Hamilton offers a black GMT, but I like the look of the silver GMT on brown leather strap, with the globe dial and city names arrayed along the edge. Unique, but nowhere near as legible as the Tudor. Still, at less than $1,000 it’s a strong contender. There were great discounts to be had on Jomashop over the holiday, and they’re OK now. I like it but don’t love it. And that’s a good reason to wait.

Hamilton Jazzmaster GMT Auto
Hamilton Jazzmaster GMT Auto

It’s Easy Liking Green

Also in the category of strong like, but don’t love, is another renowned Seiko model, the SARB017. Better known as the Alpinist, the watch’s most striking feature is its shimmering green dial.

Developed in the 1960s for Japanese hikers, it’s meant as a great weekend watch to take out on the trail, complete with adjustable compass points on an inner rotating bezel. Cool! And unlike anything else I have in my collection.

The price on this around Christmas (Long Island Watch Shop is a good source) was also low enough to be tempting, especially with rumors of its discontinuation. It’s easily found on Amazon, with a regular price under $600. It’s on my list, but also on hold.

Seiko SARB017 Alpinist
Seiko SARB017 Alpinist
Hamilton Intra Matic Auto Chrono Close
Hamilton Intra-Matic Auto Chrono, one classy chrono with a panda dial to drool over.

One Classy Chrono

As noted, I’ve only been bit hard by the watch bug in the last year. So a lot of the pieces that make my list are ones that I’ve come to find out about by combing through the back catalog of industry-standard sources.

But I was privy to the news of a Hamilton re-release of a classic 1970s chronograph right when that watch dropped late last year. And eagerly signed up on Hodinkee’s shop to be notified when it hit the e-commerce shelves. I rode out the temptation to immediately throw it on the credit card the moment I got the email that it was available, but it’s remained a favorite ever since.

There’s just so much to love about its looks. The polished steel, the big pushers, that crisp, black square outlining the date window, the entire vintage vibe. And in a panda dial.

As someone only casually noticing watches a decade or so back, when monster-size cases were very much the thing, I just assumed a blinged-out chrono from Breitling was standard issue for any serious watch nut. I’m seasoned enough to recognize, now, the wide range of styles and tastes the world of watches caters to, and to understand my own.

Chronos aren’t really my thing. Although I’ve got two: a cool, Bulova high-beat quartz moonwatch that dresses up pretty well, and a trusty Timex Expedition on canvas strap for scout campouts and soccer games. This Hamilton punches up several notches above those two, and could be the, you know, last chrono I ever own, blah-blah-blah, drool the cold drool of remorse into the flat pillow of regret.

It’s been steadily available everywhere since that initial panting release. And hopefully won’t go away soon. A panda dial is definitely something I’d love to see in the box someday. But for now, I can pass on the $2,200 price tag and be content with the options I’ve already acquired.

Oris – the Workingman’s Diver

Part of the fun of being into watches is the endless opportunities to research, and learn, and come to admire pieces from hundreds of brands. And as you acquire that knowledge, you do so knowing there’s never “world enough and time” — or budget — to get every one of them on your wrist.

So, by the time you do pick a piece to spring the dough for, a lot of though has gone into it. And the moment when it goes from a collection of blogs and specs you’ve memorized, to a favorite in your bookmarks bar, to a package that is at your door, to a regular watch in rotation on your wrist, is a culmination to savor.

It’s been several weeks, after all, since the beginning of the year, and my latest taking stock of favorites. I ended up pulling the trigger on a watch that’s been on my list almost from the beginning and fills the niche for a hard-wearing, versatile diver on metal bracelet.

The Oris Aquis date, with its shimmering blue dial and working aesthetic, is a great blend of good looks and sturdy functionality. The perfect size for me, at 43.5 mm, it’s well-known in the watch world for delivering finishing and value above its price point.

I’d had a chance to finally see one “in the metal” during a work trip to Los Angeles. I called that shop back first, but ended up getting a great deal from The Watchmaker, the official service center for Oris in the USA, part of the Boston Watch Company.

For me, it’s a big enough investment that I don’t see myself taking it into the ocean or anything. On my budget, the Seiko divers would do that job nicely. But it’s not a watch I’m going to be afraid to wear as a daily driver. And it blends well, I think, with weekend jeans or conference suits.

It fits me, and that’s the whole point of the search, the taking stock. To wear it well, until the next considered addition to the collection.

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