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Mechanical Watches (and the slippery slope to a collecting addiction)

So you have got to the stage where you feel the need for a "real" watch. Yes your phone tells the time much better but that naked wrist could be deemed to be a touch Kidult. The deluge of so called designer watches in the high street seems a waste even if the prices are affordable. And you need to distance yourself from those footballer dishplate sized things. So what's a man to do ?

Well it's time to start thinking properly about mechanical watches. And when you do start to see what you're been missing out on , then the urge to collect might kick in so watch out (pun intended).....

It’s our highly bias view , but most of the very top stuff , especially current new stuff , is just a waste of your cash and not even nice looking. The 2 year warranty on to likes of top end PP and AP says a lot. Yes you maybe passing it to your next generation , but after you’ve coughed up for lots of expensive servicing. So unless you’re high in the Rap scene and like you’re watches “iced” or you have that first world problem of where to tax your private jet, don’t worry your not missing out on anything. There is plenty of way cooler stuff around affordable prices. Work on the basis that if it’s being advertised in any way you don’t want to go near it.

So where to start at a reasonable price ? For a new watch the best value mechanical is undoubtedly with Seiko. Try looking for the simpler stuff in their divers ranges to start off with and let's keep it only mechanical and none of the quartz stuff please. Ref's to look at include the Seiko Prospex SRPA21, SPB051, SPB053, and the series of different finishes and colours on the SRPB49K1, 51K, 53K and 55K. Most of these start at £500 ish and top out at around £1000. Sometimes the metal bracelets are not the last word in smoothness however they still look good and that’s a great excuse to get lost in the world of Nato straps.

Both Seiko and Citizen made lovely dial designs in the 70s and 80s that are still good value and available on eBay so try looking at their vintage stuff as well. Names and ref numbers to start you off on google are 6139, William Pogue, 6138, UFO , 8110, 8110A, 67-9038,67-9313, Bullhead, 6238 Panda, Speedtimer and Kakume.

At a mid level the vintage 80s Orfina and Bell & Ross Military chronos are worth a look and also the models they made for Porsche. Great designs and very cool looking watches. Try locating these on the chrono24 website and see if you can go see the dealer or shop to see it in person before buying.

At a higher level , it's the likes of Rolex and Omega that are the watches you can really use your whole life and then pass them on. Over the past five to ten years or so their designs have been getting larger and glitzier to pander to the wannabe footballer/ Asian market , so start the hunt for their watches from the 90s before this happened and most where still happy making that ideal size of 40mm. Yes the 70s stuff is great but that boat has sailed a while back and the prices are mad now.

So Rolex models to look for would be the stainless steel tool or sports watches as they are called. Please no gold and the bimetallic sometimes work in the GMTs but not in the Subs please as no diver would ever dive with a soft metal like gold in their wrist. Even if your diving is more in the bath, it’s a point of principle.

So the Submariner 16610, the no date Submariner 14060M, the Sea Dweller 16600 (especially mid to late 90s with the Tritium daily marked T<25),Explorer II 16570, and the GMT 16700 (again T<25). Currently the Explorer II is particularly good value so maybe the rarer white face “Polar” model is worth hunting down. There is also the original Rolex tool watch , the Explorer I. It has a distinctive 3,6,9 dial without a date and is very good value but the draw back for some is that it’s the only smaller size one at 36mm. Our top choice would be the Sea Dweller. It’s slightly thicker than a Sub and was originally designed for the COMEX saturation divers with its Helium escape valve. Yes that gives it a depth rating of 4000 feet when a nuclear submarine can only dive to around 2000 foot, but it’s more about the way it feels on the wrist and the clean look aided by the lack of a cyclops in the date window.


Most of these will have external lug holes so are easy to switch straps. Try a Sub on a leather Nato or a GMT on a striped Nato. What every you do just remember you are not 007 and Dr No style striped NATO’s have been completely done to death.


For Omega it's really only the Speedmaster and again look at 80s to get the best look and size we’re talking about as the same things has happened price wise to the the 60s / 70s models that “made it to the moon”. A basic Speedmaster Professional with its simple dull metal bracelet (the later models have polished metal inserts in the bracelet) is a lovely thing to wear on the wrist. Again no gold ones please but on an olive Nato would look very nice. Keep it simple and no fancy date/moon “complication” models and again please no gold or bimetallic. Yes the simple one is wind up and not automatic so take pleasure in simple things and wind it up every night - you wind up enough people so take time with your watch.

On a buying note with all these - boxes are nice but not essential but really an 80/90s watch should have its papers. Try smaller town jewellers where prices might be better than the big cities. Ask then to take the bracelet off and check the model number. Then try it on and see how it feels on you as they all have a different weights, heights, bracelets etc that change the feel. Buy what you like and welcome to the world of mechanical watches.

So some contacts to help start you off.....

A trusted UK dealer

If you can make it to Hong Kong then try these two. Alex is a true vintage dealer and Kuen Kee is just about the cheapest place to buy in HK but it’s in deepest darkest Sham She Po so man up and get down there.

For reading up (and dreaming) try these guys.

And for straps try these guys....