In 1953, Rolex introduced the Explorer to celebrate the ascent of Mt. Everest.* It was a lovely watch with a 36mm case, domed crystal, and a black dial with lumed numerals at 3/6/9 and an inverted triangle at 12 o'clock. It was simple, cool, and embodied a spirit of adventure in a way that a hideous blue/gold submariner could never achieve. The original ref. 6610 Explorer was slightly revised and rechristened ref. 1016 in 1959, after which it remained in production through the 1980's when Rolex, in its wisdom, completely ruined it. The 1016 Explorers typically sell for around $7,000. The watch is on The Time Bum's ever-expanding list of Grail watches, but it is not something I am likely to pick up soon. The Tudor Heritage Ranger strikes a similar chord for only $2,825. This is comparatively cheap, but still slightly beyond my preferred price range.
Wanting a classic Explorer style watch that I could wear every day without worry, and without stretching my budget, I did what any rational Bum would do. I bought a $399 Armida A6. Hong Kong watchmaker Armida is best known for producing quality affordable diver's watches, so at first blush, the more buttoned-up A6 seems like a bit of a departure, but as you will see, that assumption is incorrect. This watch is in fact a tough little bastard that can weather the trials of adventure and still look perfectly dapper with a suit.
The A6 wears the unmistakable Explorer dial. The markers are crisply printed in C3 SuperLuminova for an off-white appearance in daylight, and a strong green glow at night. The "Mercedes" squelette hands and lollipop second hand are polished brass and their gold color is repeated in the chapter index and dial text. A brushed stainless rehault rings the dial. The markers pop, but all else is just a subtle glint against the black background. My watch has no date, but Armida makes a variant with a 4:30 date window, color matched to the gold-on-black dial. Pale orange lume is also an option. It is all rather elegant, but the substance of the dial text tells the rest of the story: Automatic, 200M / 660ft, Anti-magnetic.
The round case is 40mm wide and 50mm long, with drilled 22mm lugs, and a deeply grooved, 7mm screw-down crown. A tall, double domed acrylic crystal raises the height to 14.5mm. Its top surface and bezel are brushed, the slightly bowed sides are polished. As mentioned above, it is rated for 20ATM/200M water resistance and shielded against magnetic fields up to 70,000 A/m (amperes per meter). This far exceeds the 4,800 A/m resistance required by ISO 6425 diver's watch standards, but short of the 80,000 A/m of the Rolex Milgauss. Automatic movements are highly susceptible to magnetism, so while it is unlikely that many of us will encounter strong fields in daily life, it is still a nice feature. On the flip side, you will find an solid, screw down case back with a decorative engraving of.... I have no idea. A buckyball, perhaps? Whatever it is, it looks cool, but I cannot decipher its connection to the watch or the brand
The sturdy case protects a Miyota 9015 24 jewel automatic movement, a hacking, hand winding unit with a smooth 28.8 bph sweep, and 40 hour power reserve. This high beat ETA 2824-2 alternative is becoming so common in independent and micro brand watches that it is easy to take it for granted, but it is undeniably a high quality movement at a very attainable price.
Armida supplies the A6 with both a bracelet and rubber strap. The bracelet is brushed with polished sides, just like the case. Individual links are secured with screws, which makes initial adjustment kind of a pain. I was more than happy to pay my local jeweler to deal with it. It has solid end links and a signed, flip lock diver's clasp. The rubber strap is very good quality, soft with a pleasant vanilla scent. With its angular buckle, broad tang, and rectangular holes, it resembles the iconic ISOfrane dive strap. Both bracelet and strap are perfectly nice on their own, but neither really did it for me on the watch. The "Armida-frane" is a great strap, and will likely see service on one of my other dive watches, but it was out of place when paired with the A6. The bracelet fared much better, and makes for a rather handsome watch, but it did not speak to me. I tried a selection of nylon and leather NATOs, but the dial didn't really light up for me until I fitted a leather strap. The light brown Crown & Buckle Habitue brought out the gold in the dial, and its matte finish had just the right weathered look for this "explorer's" timepiece.
I found I was able to wear the A6 quite comfortably. It is on the tall side for a dress watch, but then again, this is not strictly a dress watch. It straddles the line between dress and tool and somehow manages to pull off both looks. The widely spaced lugs, stout crown, brushed bezel, and matching rehault give the watch a broad shouldered and distinctly masculine appearance. The polish and curvature of the sides softens the case just enough to prevent it from slipping too far into tool watch territory. It all adds up to wrist presence that belies its mid-sized case. This is a 40mm watch that wears like a 42mm while still occupying minimal real estate, a big bonus for my 6.5" wrist. Despite its height, it fit under all but the tightest shirt cuffs, and it looked damn sharp with a suit.
Finally, the watch's box deserves some attention. Regular readers know I almost never mention packaging unless it is something particularly cool. The Armida ships in an orange plastic tube, the watch and accessories securely nestled inside a dense foam cylinder. When I unscrewed the top of the canister, I noticed a gasket. Could this actually be water tight? After submerging it to the terrifying depths of my kitchen sink, I determined that it was indeed. Kudos to Armida for exceptionally clever and functional packaging.
I am truly enjoying the A6. Is it a 1016 Explorer? No. Is it an Explorer homage? Sort of. It is not an homage in the sense that we tend to use the word in the watch hobby, which is to say a copy of another manufacturer's product in every way but the (trademark protected) label. Rather, it is a homage in the sense that it was inspired by another another watch from which it borrows certain design cues. The A6 clearly wears an Explorer style dial, but the watch is far too bulky to mimic the original, although curiously, the Rolex's 36mm case would have been considered "mid-size" back in its day, just as the 40mm A6 is today.
It is a satisfying watch with a classic design? Absolutely.
Pro: Versatile and handsome. Like George Clooney.**
Con: Requires some effort to find the right match. Like George Clooney.
Sum: An outstanding value. The Time Bum approves.
* Interesting note: Sir Edmund Hillary actually wore a Smiths to the top of Everest. Tenzing Norgay wore the Rolex. (For more Rolex Explorer info, check out this excellent article, http://rolex.watchprosite.com/show-nblog.post/ti-558176/)
** Yes, I know he is an Omega brand ambassador. Sheesh...