I’m on quite the roll of watch buying. For years, I generally only had one watch at a time. Then my comical attempts at watch maintenance earlier this year necessitated a new watch. After some pondering, I asked for an automatic mechanical watch for my birthday, a Timex Waterbury. This is the nicest watch I’ve ever owned. A month later I end up with another Timex, a Weekender model. And another month goes by and another watch?
Hear me out.
I really like the Timex Waterbury, and am happy that Emee got it for me. But there’s a few drawbacks: the luminosity is mediocre (Timex isn’t known for that, that’s why they have Indiglo instead) so low-light reading is hard. And while it’s not a big-big watch, it’s still fairly big and I can feel that weight after a long day. But the biggest reason is that it’s almost a little too nice for me. Yes, I know that watch fiends that own pieces in the four to five figure range would laugh at this, as my watch retails for less than $300 and it’s “just” a Timex. But I am not a watch fiend. This compelled me to buy the Weekender. At $35 it fulfills the “cheap and cheerful” designation. It’s nice to look at and has Indiglo, but it’s definitely a low-end watch.
I wanted to find a watch that could split the difference between the two. Something automatic/mechanical but less expensive than the Waterbury. Something with better luminescence and lighter weight. Something that I wouldn’t feel self-conscious about, a watch I could wear as a daily driver without stressing out.
After a bit of a search and a few good reviews, I decided on a Seiko 5 SNK807 watch. Seiko! I’ve never owned one before, but I remember my dad having one at one point, one of those very 70’s-ish ones with a metal bracelet. And while Seiko is best known for its watches, it also made camera shutters. In fact, both of my rangefinders, the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s and the Olympus 35RD have Seiko shutters! How cool would it be to own a watch from a maker that also made parts for my favorite cameras?
The Seiko 5 SNK807 1 is a military-inspired field watch with day/date window. I like how the face is different than my other watches: While the Waterbury has dashes instead of numbers and the Weekender has 12 hour time in the outer ring with hours 13-24 on the inside, the Seiko has the minutes (in five minute intervals) displayed on the outside ring and 12 hour time on the inside. It has fat hour and minute hands painted with Lumi Brite, Seiko’s proprietary luminescence. It’s definitely brighter and longer lasting than what’s on the Waterbury but can’t match Indiglo. 2 And its a nice light and small watch, about the same size as the Weekender.
I’ve worn the Seiko for a week and like it a lot. I like the fact that it’s only 37mm wide, about the same size as my Weekender, but looks a bit smaller as the bezel on the Seiko is wider. The luminosity is good but not as good as something with a radioactive substance. I’ve found this watch and the Waterbury useful for my darkroom class–you don’t want the bright light of Indiglo in a dark, light-sensitive environment. 3 And interestingly enough, the Seiko is pretty accurate. Over the course of a week the time is maybe (maybe) off by a minute at most. This is not only good for a mechanical watch that cost just $100, but it’s better than my more expensive Waterbury! True, the styling and build of the Waterbury is noticeably more refined than the Seiko, but I’d expect that to be.
So without thinking, I’ve got a watch collection. The Seiko will be the everyday watch, the Weekender the hack-around, and the Waterbury the “dress-up”. I don’t think I’m going to keep on adding to the collection any time soon, though. Watches can get expensive, and I got other priorities. But there are a lot of pretty ones out there. Maybe some day in the future when I’m more cash rich, I’ll think about getting a watch with tritium lume, or one that has a UTC function. But for now, I think I can stay happy with a three watch stable.
And how I built my watch collection reflects how I built my other collections. I was pretty happy with one, perhaps two bikes at a time until the late aughts, when I got into things like touring bikes, vintage mountain bikes, and three speeds. And I’ve gone through a lot of cameras over the past three years, until stabilizing to “about eight”. I’m no minimalist, but I’m not a maximalist, either. Let’s keep it that way!
1 This model number is only used on the blue dial version of the watch. The SNK809 has a black dial, the SNK805 a green dial, and SNK803 a beige dial. They all have the same styling and mechanical innards.
2 Watch luminescence is its own fascinating story. Originally watch hands and dials were painted with radium-enhanced pigments. It was very bright, but literally killed many of the women who painted the dials, and is a general radiation hazard. Radium was phased out and replaced with tritium, which glows pretty good but is still radioactive (but nowhere near as bad as radium.) There are modern watches that use tritium but the substance is housed within glass tubes inside the watch. All other watches that don’t use a backlight use fluorescent luminous paints which glow in the dark by releasing light-energy stored from the surrounding light.
3 And even if you don’t intend to, it’s easy to accidentally activate the Indiglo light, I’ve done it many times with these watches. Timex should take a cue from Seiko and position the crown in the four o’clock position, this will cut down on accidental triggering due to hand pressing against a three o’clock crown.
Congratulations! I have had my SNK809 for about 5 years now, and it has been a wonderful watch. It is the only “nice” watch I have ever owned. I enjoy the fact that it is a machine that is powered by my daily movements and doesn’t require batteries. And as a smaller wristed/handed person, I truly appreciate the comfort of the 4 o’clock crown and the 37 mm dial. But alas, I think I have asked too much of it. I have worn it swimming several times, in the pool and in the Gulf of Mexico, and it now loses about 5 minutes a day. I know, I know, Seiko explicitly states that the watch is not rated for swimming, but I had read several things online where people said they had experienced no trouble after swimming with theirs, and liked the idea of not having to remove my watch to swim (I end up swimming a lot). Before these ill advised experiments, it only lost 1-2 minutes a week during 5 years of heavy use. Just wanted to warn you, Shawn, so you can keep yours happily ticking away for many years. As for me, while I would love to have a Seiko automatic dive watch to swim with, for now I think I may need to get another SNK automatic. That beige dial does look pretty nice…
Cool! I’m guessing all that salt water corrodes the insides, something fresh water might not do. Time for a dive watch!