Would you like an Eterna KonTiki for less than $50? Of course you would. Who wouldn't? But unless you are that guy who found a LeCoulture Deep Sea at Goodwill, that is highly unlikely. Let's try a different question. How would you like a really cheap mechanical watch that looks like a vintage Eterna KonTiki and has its own weird charm? Well, I certainly did, so when I saw this funky little Shanghai 8120 Reissue for $49.99 at Times International, I had to buy it for a review.
The 8120 is labeled as a reissue, but I have yet to find the Shanghai original. Regardless, it is clearly an homage to Eterna's 1958 classic. It borrows the triangular frames, arrow-shaped hour markers, dauphine hands, even the wood grain* texture in the center of the dial. Of course, it does not try to pass itself off as the genuine article. The dial is clearly emblazoned with the Shanghai brand and if that is not enough, the other text is in Chinese hanzi, which should tip off all but slowest witted and least observant that this is not a Swiss timepiece.
When Eterna launched the dart dialed KonTiki in 1958, it was about 36.5 mm wide. Current KonTiki models are 42mm or larger, but the Shanghai's proportions are more faithful to the original, measuring only 35mm. Like its vintage inspiration, has a round, polished case with slim bombé lugs, but the edges are soft, not clearly defined. It is listed on the Times website as having a stainless steel case back. This would seem to imply that the case itself is composed of a different metal, but it appears to be the same case as used for other Shanghai watches that are listed as being all stainless steel. The crown holds a pleasant surprise; it is decorated with a cast Shanghai symbol. This is not a detail you expect from a watch that costs less than a tank of gas.
As described above, the dial is straight up KonTiki, but it is only a superficial resemblance. Upon closer inspection, you will notice the markers are not applied, but actually molded into the dial and painted. Close inspection shows rounded edges and corners, not the sharply defined angles you would see with applied markers or better molding. This is my biggest issue with the watch, but remember that we are talking about an absurdly inexpensive piece. The dial looks fine at a comfortable distance, just keep your jewelers loupe in your pocket. In its defense, the silver paint is tidy and even. The arrow markers are a pinch thicker than those of the Eterna, but not so much that they detract from the overall design.
The hands and the four triangular markers are treated with lume, sort of. The luminous paint is really more symbolic a practical. Even with the aid of a UV light I struggled to snap a picture before it faded to nothing. Look at it this way, if you had a 57-year-old KonTiki, it probably wouldn't glow too much either. Similarly, I wouldn't trust either watch in the water. An antique 1958 would be too old, and the new Shanghai does not have a water rating at all.
A domed acrylic crystal caps it off. I am a sucker for domed acrylic. I love the bubble effect, the easy maintenance, and the authentic vintage feel. The small case, long lugs, and a tall crystal create the perfect proportions for a watch like this. The Shanghai reminds me in many ways of the hand wound HMTs, now sadly going out of production.
The strap is a padded matte black crocodile print leather, 18mm at the lugs, tapering to a signed 16mm buckle. It is not a bad strap and far nicer than what you might get from HMT, but the Shanghai cries out for a strap swap. Cracked leather goes well with this watch, and NATOs are a good fit with those long lugs.
The 8120 (Shanghai B) movement is a 17 jewel hand winding unit. Information is not abundant, but the fine fellows on the Watchuseek Chinese Mechanical Watch Forum say it is accurate and reliable. My own timing runs indicate a loss of about 25 seconds in 24 hours, which is about what I would expect and more than sufficient for daily use.
All said and done, would I recommend the Shanghai 8120 Reissue? Yes, but with two important caveats. First, you are buying an homage to an iconic watch, so even though it does not represent itself as the genuine item, you might take some heat from the purists. Second, the watch is cheap – dirt cheap – and its price is betrayed by the overall lack of definition in the case and dial. Still, this was a fun impulse buy that has made me curious about Shanghai's other offerings.
Pro: Super cheap and vintage vibe.
Con: A little soft around the edges.
Sum: A cool hand wound for a dime store price.
* Actually, it's a topographic map of the atoll on which Thor Heyerdahl's KonTiki landed at the conclusion of his 1947 journey. Many thanks to Okapi001 for the correction. Might I offer a humble "D'oh!"