Monday, November 17, 2014

Watch Review: Seiko SARB035

The Seiko SARB series is well-known among watch aficionados as one of the greatest value propositions among entry-level mechanical wristwatches.  It offers a handsome range of watches with a classic, subtly Japanese-influenced aesthetic, and automatic, in-house (thanks to Seiko's vertical integration) movements roughly at the $500 price point.  Only the SARB series' limited availability as a JDM - Japanese Domestic Model - limits its global position as one of the most attractive entry points into mechanical watch collecting.

The SARB035 is a cream-dialed offering that tips the scales at a little over $300, depending on currency conversion rate at the time of purchase.  Its 38mm diameter positions it well between the dress watch and everyday watch categories, as it looks just as at home when paired with a t-shirt and jeans as it does sliding under the cuff of a dress shirt.  The front crystal is sapphire, while the display back is Seiko's proprietary hardlex, meaning that the crystals are unlikely to suffer scratches from daily wear, unless you tend to be rough on your watches while they're off your wrist.

While the SARB035 comes with the dependable, solid-end-link bracelet that defines the SARB line, its 20mm lug width means that you have the widest possible options when it comes to aftermarket straps.  (Contrasted with the extremely hard to find 19mm width you'd have to deal with on most modern Grand Seikos, the SARB035 only looks like an even better choice.)  I opted for a shiny aftermarket cordovan strap that I got at the same Yodobashi Camera where I picked up the SARB035.

The the slightly iridescent cream dial and intricate fraction-of-a-second painted indices really play up a strongly appealing vintage vibe, as does Seiko's font, hands, and applied indices selection.  The watch looks on par with automatics in the several thousand dollar range, and offers similar performance with its 6R15C movement, which offers an impressive 50-hour power reserve and usually performs far more accurately than its rating of +25/-15 secs/day.

Image courtesy WatchUSeek Forums.
 The only thing that might give some buyers pause about the SARB035 or the SARB series in general is the lackluster fine adjustment for the included bracelet.  With only two fine adjustment positions in the clasp and one-size links, I've found myself in the unfortunate position of being in between adjustment sizes for both the SARB035 and SARB045's bracelets.  Too tight is never an option, and I can't abide bracelets that shift up and down the wrist like a bangle, which is why I opted for the aftermarket strap.  A minor annoyance for those who intend to wear this watch with a fine leather strap to complement its vintage vibe, but a potential deal breaker for those who intend to use the bracelet and find themselves stuck between adjustment sizes.

With only that small caveat, the SARB035 is a solid value proposition and great entry point into mechanical watches for those who can gain access to this Japan-only beauty.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Watch Review: Affordable Mechanicals: sub-$300 Range: Hamilton Field Khaki Hand Wind H69419363 Officer Handwinding

With the entry point of Swiss-made mechanical watches approaching - and often well exceeding - the $1000, many newcomers to realm of the watch enthusiasts must limit themselves to Asian-made or vintage Swiss models if their budget only goes as high as a few hundred dollars.  For those individuals, the entry-level brands of the Swatch Group, such as Tissot and Hamilton, offer some of the best value propositions on the market today.

The watch on review today is perhaps the finest and least expensive example in Hamilton's present collection:  the Field Khaki Hand Wind (currently listed as the Officer Handwinding on Hamilton's website), reference number H69419363.  Its simple three-hand design reflects a functionalist and spartan outlook that meshes well with its military aesthetic.  At 38mm in diameter, it is well positioned as an understated timepiece that could be easily dressed up with a leather strap or matching bracelet (more on the latter below).  Its 20mm lug width ensures that it is compatible with a wide range of aftermarket straps, and the drilled lug holes are an increasingly rarefied feature that makes strap changes a breeze and further cements the watch's function-first aesthetic.  The watch comes in a black dial and an olive drab dial, the latter of which can appear black or grey depending on the light and surroundings.  

Notable at this price point is the watch's domed sapphire crystal, whose charming lack of anti-reflective coating makes it evoke the vintage charm of actual military watches that used plastic or plexiglass crystals, while offering the modern scratch resistance of sapphire.  Its movement is an ETA 2804-2, which is the most recent manual-wind version of ETA's workhorse 28XX lines of movements.  For those looking to understand the anachronistic appeal of a mechanical watch in a world where every cellphone can tell you the time, the combination of sweeping seconds hand and daily ritual of winding the watch to maintain its 38-hour power reserve offers the full experience at perhaps the lowest price attainable for a Swiss mechanical watch.

As pictured above, I opted to dress up the watch with its matching bracelet (reference number H605.694.101, available direct from Hamilton for $114 plus shipping at the time of writing).  I found that the solid-end-link bracelet really completes the watch by matching seamlessly with its satin metal finish, and as versatile as the watch is with a wide range of straps, uniting the watch with its bracelet makes it feel suddenly whole.

The Hamilton Field Khaki Hand Wind H69419363 (aka Officer Handwinding) is available on Amazon for less than $300.

Diameter: 38mm
Lug Width: 20mm
Dial Color: Olive Drab
Crystal: Sapphire
Movement: ETA 2804-2 (manual wind, approximately 38-hour power reserve)
Bracelet: H605.694.101 ($114 + shipping direct from Hamilton)

Recommendation:  If you're a fan of minimalism, military aesthetics, handwound movements, and perhaps the best bang-for-buck current production Swiss timepiece on the market today, do yourself a favor and pick up the H69419363.