What is the perfect watch for someone who really doesn't care about watches?
My friend Geoff is not a watch guy. He owns a watch - one watch. It is a tool for telling time and nothing more. He is not enamoured with Swiss manufacture or interesting complications. Sapphire crystals and fly back chronographs mean nothing to him. He reads this blog, but I suspect it less for the watches than for a window into my bizarre and nonsensical hobby. After I had posted four reviews, he asked me, "Do you really own all those watches?" He does not want a watch that makes a statement, except possibly "Geoff knows what time it is." He described his watch buying process as this: 1) go to department store, 2) look at watches, 3) buy one, 4) wear it for as many years as possible can before it breaks, 5) repeat. In other words, he is not like us. He is a normal person.
Given this background, you can imagine my surprise when he told me he was looking for a new watch, and really wanted a white HMT Janata. He had read my review and loved the look of it, but it was sold out. Since I was a self-proclaimed watch expert, he turned to me for help. You would think this would be a walk in the park, after all, what watch nerd can resist the opportunity to blather on about watches? "Why, you want my opinion on which watch you should buy? Of course I can help! Put on a pot of coffee, this could take awhile..." It would be perfect, except that he didn't care. He just wanted a new watch.
He was replacing a 10 year old Kenneth Cole with a 38mm round case, stainless steel bracelet, unidentified quartz movement, and a vaguely Movado-esque minimalist dark grey dial. It also had developed an oily fog under the crystal that rendered it nearly unreadable. He had told me that some of the straps I reviewed cost more than he would ever spend on a watch, so I knew the price had to be kept low. The next time we got together, I made him look at my collection so he could check out the Janata in person, and I could get a better idea of what he wanted. The Janata was nixed due to its highly suspect water resistance and the inconvenience of hand winding, but its small size and clean looks had it in the ballpark. Watches over 40mm were out, as was any form of tool watch. Finally, we boiled his needs down to these:
1) Versitile - one watch for all occasions,
3) No more than $100,
4) No larger than 38mm, and
5) at least splash safe water resistance.
I set about my search in earnest. After all, if I could not find a quality, inexpensive watch for my friend, how could I possibly call myself The Time Bum? The winner was the Seiko SNK789. In retrospect, the choice was obvious.
The SNK789 is part of the Seiko 5 line, which means right off the bat you get an automatic movement, day/date complication, recessed crown, and water resistance, in a durable case. The 789 had the right look, with the white dial and polished, applied markers that Geoff had admired on the HMT. The hands are baton shaped and filled with Seiko's excellent proprietary lume. While the dial is not as elegant as the diminutive Janata, it strikes a similar chord. The case is polished stainless steel, 38mm wide and 11mm thick. It is a proper size for a man with an average sized wrist, but not so large that it draws undue attention to itself. It is supplied on a bracelet, which is a bit on the light side, but perfectly serviceable and secured with a bifold push-button clasp. It is an attractive watch, but quietly so. The conservative white dial and stainless bracelet make it a chameleon of sorts, blending seamlessly with just about any set of clothes you like. Geoff does not swim with a watch, so water resistance was desirable, but not to diver depths. The 30m rating on the SNK was more than enough to ensure it would survive the occasional foray under the kitchen faucet.
The SNK is powered by the the workhorse 7s26 automatic movement, so I knew it would have a long, accurate, trouble free life ahead of it. The crown is positioned at 4:00. Seiko Hardex crystals grace the front and back. The automatic movement and display window were part of my secret plot to turn Geoff into a watch guy. Like most non-watch nerds, he was unfamiliar with automatic movements and intrigued by the idea of a battery-free existence once I explained it. The fact that he could see it operating was the last morsel of bait. Owning an interesting watch is one thing, understanding what makes its operation different is another, but actually watching it work it the last piece of the puzzle. After that, he was sure to be hooked. At $67 on Amazon, this was a sure thing. All I would have to do is wait for this one to win him over, and he would be back for another.
He loved the watch. It met all his needs and the display window was a hit, as were the illuminated hands. His kids got a kick out of the bilingual day wheel (apparently it lends Dad a tiny bit of continental clout). Now Geoff has a quality watch that will serve for daily wear with a suit, or jeans on the weekends. I keep waiting for him to ask me to recommend a good dive watch, but so far, no luck. The Seiko has yet to turn him, but I remain hopeful.
Pro: Solid, versitile, and cheap.
Con: Low water resistance.
Sum: The gateway drug to watch nerdery.