A recent podcast (Scottish Watches, with Adam Craniotes) there was a nice side discussion of the nature of men’s watches. “Metal Barbie dolls,” to paraphrase, and it did inspire a thought or two.
This is the watch on my wrist now – Seiko SBGX117, a Grand Seiko quartz diver made between 2014 and 2017. 42mm, steel, titanium hands, thermocompensated quartz movement accurate to ten seconds per year. List price was about 4k USD new, I got it used in a trade for about about 2500.
For men in the western culture milieu, the only socially acceptable forms of jewelry are the watch and wedding band. There are few exceptions, of course; I’m speaking in generalities here for cishet.
And we’re not allowed to ever, ever call them ‘pretty.’ It has to be masculine, engineering-focused, etc. All gendered language. Yet all the while, we’re always looking for beauty, even if we call it proportion, ratio, finishing and craftwork.
We are, however, allowed to Seek Truth, and for that quartz is king. There’s a wonderful well of difficult problems, interesting physics and obsessive engineering required to make a really accurate timekeeper, and these Seiko 9F movements are among the finest ever made. For that matter, I have a lot of meetings these days, often over video with remote participants, so it is super useful to know the precise time.
So watches are how we thread the needle of societal expectations. We can enjoy manly bonding over our shiny jewelry while still performing masculinity. And hey, it really does come in handy to know what time it is with a watch that can get wet, handle rough treatment, lasts a decade or more and doesn’t require charging every day or two and setting every week.
It’s sold at cost and you literally and actually cannot buy a more legit dive watch. $268 at your door.
Framing the narrative
Back when diving was dangerous and new, companies like Comex and militaries like the French navy commissioned then-new watches to be used for measuring elapsed dive time. Advances in materials and design produced watches durable and legible enough, which combined with the cool factor of diving, led in short order to them being style icons. Back then, a professional diver could and often did buy a Rolex Sea-Dweller and actually use it as intended.
Rolexes and Blancpain and even Seiko have become luxury now, Veblen goods recast in gold and silver as high-status male jewelry. Behold the latest incarnation of the pro-diver Sea-Dweller:
Though diving is now unglamorous blue collar work, there are still divers who need watches and can’t afford sixteen thousand USD. One of them is named Paul Scurfield, and he spends 28 days at a time in a diving vessel, over a hundred meters below the surface of the North Sea:
Having first been made for divers and support staff who were left without a watch when the value of their vintage Rolex diving watches exploded leaving them the option of a large windfall or too self conscious of wearing such a valuable item in a hostile workplace, Paul Scurfield watch enthusiast and saturation diver tried to fill the void with a few affordable watches built to a high standard using the best materials.
Divers working in the North Sea are made up in teams of three and on any working dive you have a diver 1, diver 2 and the bellman, diver 1 controls the dive and this is where the name for the watches come from, diver 2 is there to make his job easier, the bellman tends the divers from the diving bell and the divers work in the water for a maximum six hours, a normal saturation diving system will house four teams of three divers covering the full twenty four hours of the working day stopping only for bad weather or crew changes, the work period for the divers is 28 days including decompression.
So we have a day-job pro diver who designed a watch for himself and his co-workers. This was his first one:
I learned about the brand from Jason Heaton’s review on Gear Patrol. At the time, I was intrigued but not enough to buy. Of late, however, I’ve rediscovered the virtues of a good quartz watch, so I was open to the idea, and then via WatchUSeek I saw this:
That yellow… I like it a lot. My first mechanical watch was a Seiko SKXA035, and I’ve missed the yellow since I sold it.
Model: Diver One DI-500 Yellow
Case 40mm by 47.7mm by 14.4mm, 20mm drilled lugs
7mm threaded crown, 120-click steel bezel with aluminum insert. His earlier models had ceramic bezels, but he found that he, co-workers and customers were breaking them, so he’s gone to more resilient aluminum bezels.
Water resistant to 500m
Spring-based helium escape valve at nine, tested by Paul Scurfield down to 154m with multiple gases mixes. How’s that for legit? Usually escape valves are poseur…
Domed sapphire crystal with inner anti-reflective coating.
Ronda 715 movement, in the Swiss made grade, gold plated, 5 jewels, 60 month battery life with stutter-second end of life indicator. Rated -10/+20s per month. The movement has a cheaper version (non Swiss made), which you can see torn down here.
Normally I talk price at the end of a writeup, but this watch is extraordinary. Talk about burying the lede – in the middle of their history page is this bombshell:
I would like to thank all the customers of Scurfa Watches for helping us grow and be able to invest in new models, We have taken no money for ourselves and we are not looking to sell tens of thousands of watches only as many as Alison and I can handle, we turn down shops and outlets on a daily basis and think it’s too early for magazines so we turn them down as well.
Yeah, these are sold at cost. Buy one while you can, because sooner or later they’ll want or need to turn a profit; until then their prices are astonishingly low. Shipped 2-day DHL prices are:
230UKP in the UK
242UKP in Europe
So mine in April 2019 was $267.22 delivered. Holy crap that’s a great deal!
It wears quite well; 40mm is a great size and 20mm drilled lugs mean a plethora of strap options. There’s no bracelet yet, but one is promised and until then I’m enjoying trying it on a variety of straps that I’ve already got.
The yellow makes me smile. If you don’t agree, there are several other dial and hand color combinations for sale at the same price.
Lume is, of course, excellent, in BGW9 white/blue.
Timekeeping is well within spec, though mine doesn’t hit all of the seconds marks between about 35 to 50 seconds. Ahh well. It’s a solid movement, and I like the 5 year battery and that the EOL feature will stutter the second hand a few months before it dies, so that I’m not left with a surprise dead watch.
And for the price I’m fine thrashing it hard – that’s less than my recent Seiko diver cost. I love my OWC but this is so much cheaper I’ll keep both. If you want mechanical, he makes the Bell Diver with a Miyota 9015 for a bit more, see a review on ABtW here.
So there you are. This is a watch with a best-ever story, a non-profit price and superb functionality. You’ll probably never see anyone else wearing one either, so it’s super hipster in that sense and the antithesis of a luxury good too.
I adore a great rant and this one is right up there. Here’s the setup: WPAC, the Watch Purchasing Abstinence Club, is a group of watch addicts trying to help each other wasting money. One of the recurring conversations is that a member posts a prospective watch and the others ritually insult it. This is my favorite so far.
For context, a cyclops is a piece of watch crystal shaped to magnify the date. Rolex pioneered and still uses them, but many dislike a cyclops due to the distorting effects and occlusion of the dial.
Sometimes the bashing is good, and sometimes it’s this good.
My customers, I have decided to get out of the watch strap business for good. I must liquidate my inventory before I close. In order to do this, I am having a closing sale. Effective now, all my inventory is 50% off, no exceptions. All straps, tools, spring bars, etc. are included in this clearance. Everything is first come first served and everything is final sale. To get this discount please use the coupon code “Closing” at checkout. Please note the shipping is not subject to the 50% discount. Regards, Frank Bame Owner F and E BnB