Exploring the world of watches on a budget

Brathwait Classic Slim Wrist Watch

"Your $500 watch costs 9 times what it costs to make." Proclaims the Brathwait website. "See how we create $500 watches and sell them for $150." Well now, that caught my attention. After all, The Time Bum's mission in life is to find quality watches for a bargain price. Still, I have seen micro brands make this pronouncement before, some more convincingly than others. Does the Brathwait measure up? For the benefit of you, my dear readers, I had to find out. 

Right off the bat, the Brathwait Classic Slim has the correct foundation. It is powered by a Swiss made, 6 jewel Ronda quartz. The case is 316L stainless steel and 40mm wide, dressed up with a 6 uM thick, mirror polished rose gold plating, and topped with a domed, anti reflective sapphire crystal. The sides are bowed in a shallow angle from the small case back to meet the edge of the broad bezel. In profile, the arc of the case and the dome of the crystal create a saucer shape that further diminishes the watch's already svelte 7.5mm profile. There is so little flat area on the sides that the crown stem must be housed in small protuberance off the underside of the case. Its slim lugs do not taper, but curve downwards and their corners and edges are rounded. Taken together, it is a soft, yet structured design. The size and proportions are well suited for either dress or casual wear.
Brathwait describes the large white dial as minimalist, and unlike many who toss that term around, they got it right. According to their site, the design was created using the golden ratio, which as we all surely know, is when the ratio of two quantities is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities, and something about irrational numbers and, er... the Fibonacci spiral.... Uh, look, The Time Bum is not good with math, that is why I studied law (we attorneys just make up numbers and put them in your bill). Let's just say the dial is symmetrical and pleasing to the eye. It is a clean layout, but not Spartan. The applied baton markers are long enough to balance the open space at the dial's center, and tall enough to stand proud of the dial's surface. A printed index rings the outer edge. The hands and markers are rose gold plated and polished, except for a bright red second hand. The dauphine hands are peaked, adding yet another subtle dimension. The only text is the Brathwait brand printed in an unobtrusive, sans serif typeface. The rose gold metal and red accent mellows what might otherwise have been a cold, white dial. The result is contemporary and sleek, but also warm and inviting.
Strap width is 20mm, and Brathwait offers several to choose from, including a light brown Italian calf two piece with white stitching, and three NATOs in Azure, Verdant, and Bordeaux, each with a fine red center stripe. The NATOs have the secondary strap and squared hardware, but also a broad nylon keeper like an RAF design. Overall length is only 240mm, so even on my small wrist there is no need to tuck back any excess, making for a neater appearance. All straps have rose gold hardware, and all look fantastic. These jewel tones work exceptionally well, but my personal favorite is the Bordeaux, a decadent deep purple. In concert with the red and gold, it recalls images of smoking jackets, single malt Scotch, and the sumptuous air of a Victorian drawing room. The tan leather strap is equally attractive with contrasting stitching and a rose gold deployant clasp. It is a natural choice for a suit, winter months, or other situations where a nylon NATO may not be appropriate. This is an easy watch to pair with both business and casual outfits, making it an easy every choice. The fact that it boasts 100 meters water resistance - an uncommon trait for a dress watch - makes that prospect even even more appealing.
In what I would consider a rather novel approach, Brathwait tells you up front what their watch costs to make, and that it is marked up to sell for $150. They lay out their costs: $14.50 crystal, $10.00 movement, $9.70 case, $11.25 plating, $3.75 dial, $5.80 strap. All adding up to $55. I would not take these numbers as gospel, nor would I assume that all of their competitors share the same costs, but from what I know of the industry, they are in the right ballpark. Ringing up these figures, can the Brathwait compete with $500 watches? It depends on where you look.

The most direct competition comes from fellow micro brands who have taken a similar direct sale approach. Mainstream brands just don't offer the same features for the price. You will not find sapphire crystal on a $150 Seiko or Citizen. Smaller independents come closer. For example, Tsovet will sell you their gold SVT-CN38 for $225. This gets you a Swiss Ronda movement but no sapphire and only 50 meters water resistance. The Christopher Ward C5 Malvern Quartz MkII matches this and adds the sapphire crystal, but costs $275. If you look at better known fashion brands, the difference is glaring. Detroit's Shinola offers nothing in the slim dress variety, but their closest in size and spec is the 41mm Runwell, which for $550 still doesn't match the Brathwait's water resistance. Finally, the gold plated Movado Thin Classic is remarkably close the Brathwait in both spirit and specifications but costs a staggering $1,195, and only manages 30 meters. All things considered, the Brathwait acquits itself quite well for $150 on a NATO, or $185 on leather. Could it be a $500 watch? If you slapped a designer label on it, absolutely. The watch buying public seems to agree, as each batch of Brathwaits has sold out quickly.

So far, I was pleased, but there was one last perspective to consider. The watch is named for Richard Brathwait, a minor poet and author also known as "Dapper Dick." His book on proper social conduct, The English Gentleman, was published in 1631. "A Gentleman is a Man of himselfe," he wrote,  "without the addition of either Taylor, Millener, Seamster or Haberdasher... A Crest displays his house, but his own actions expresse himselfe." I believe old Richard would approve of the watch that bears his name. Clearly, anyone nicknamed "Dapper Dick" must have had an eye for fashion, yet he warned that a true gentleman is not defined by it. I would like to believe that Henry would not have judged the watch by its designer label or lack of same, but appreciated it for its style, quality, and value.

Pro: Lovely slim case and warm color.
Con: You may need to wait for one.
Sum: Beautiful and Bum-friendly. The Time Bum and Dapper Dick approve.

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