The Rotary Watch Company has produced Swiss made watches since 1895 and offers a wide range of quartz and mechanical timepieces, including a great many that fall comfortably into The Time Bum's preferred affordable price range. Today's review subject is one such example. The Les Originales Tradition is one of Rotary's top-end models. It is an attractive, mid-sized, men's dress watch with a Stelita SW200 automatic movement, and a retail price starting at £495 (approximately $724 USD).
Nearly every aspect of the Rotary Tradition is conservative. The polished stainless steel case is a modest 40.5mm wide and 12mm tall; large enough for modern tastes, but still small enough to sit unobtrusively on all but the smallest wrists and slide comfortably under all but the tightest shirt cuffs. The strap is glossy black alligator embossed leather, 20mm at the lugs, tapering to a signed 18mm buckle. Again, like other aspects of the Tradition, it is a sensible, well-executed selection.
The dial is a discrete champagne color with polished and beveled baton markers and hands. There is no lume on this dress watch. The text is tasteful and unobtrusive, balanced by a 6 o'clock date window. The most distinctive element on the dial is the looped tail on the second hand and that is hardly a radical departure. This is not to say that the watch is dull or uninspired, only that it is restrained.
You see, what the Tradition lacks in flash, it more than makes up for in polish and attention to detail. For starters, the watch is replete with enticing curves. The bowl shaped case meets the twin curved rings of the bezel, which is then capped off by a double domed sapphire crystal. Interestingly, it is not the crystal that gives the face its curvature, but its domed dial – a subtle and satisfying touch that I wish was more common at this end of the market. It is a quietly distinguished, thoroughly handsome watch. I hate to use the word "timeless" because few things really are and because it sounds absurd to apply to a timepiece, but nonetheless, that is what springs to mind when examining the Tradition. If it were just a couple of millimeters smaller, this watch would have looked right at home on the wrist of a smart-dressed gentleman at any point after 1960.
The Tradition's signature feature is its recessed crown. It sits flush to the case, leaving only its domed face and the barest bit of its coin edge protruding beyond the perimeter. This kind of streamlining makes perfect sense; after all, why would you want a prominent crown on a dress watch? Big crowns are for tool watches. The dress watches should be sleek, unobtrusive, and free of unsightly appendages. The problem is that the crown hides just a little too well. A notch on the underside makes is easy enough to pull out, but it does not pop very far, and there is almost no access from the front of the case so you must operate the crown from behind. As a result, I found it difficult to grip, awkward to set the time or wind the mechanism, and absolutely maddening to set the date as I managed to slip it out of second position with every other turn. If you keep your automatics in frequent rotation or store them on a winder, this won't be much of a problem, but if you set them every time you wear them, it will take some getting used to.
Peering through the sapphire window of the screw down case back you will see a beautifully finished Stelita SW200 movement and engraved rotor. Stelita is a Swiss manufacturer that for years made ETA movements under contract, and the SW200 automatic is essentially an ETA 2824-2 with two additional jewels (26 instead of the original 24). It hacks, hand winds, has a buttery 28.8k bph vibration rate, and a power reserve of more than 38 hours. I've encountered it in Christopher Ward C60 Trident watches, including my personal first-generation model, and have been quite satisfied with its accuracy and reliability.
Rotary describes the Tradition's water resistance as "dolphin standard, swim and dive all day." I have no idea how that translates into a conventional depth rating but if it's good enough for dolphins, it's likely good enough for human recreational use and more than sufficient for a dress watch. Obviously, the Tradition would not be your first choice for a scuba adventure, but it is comforting to know that it will take a good dunking without complaint.
The Rotary Les Originales Tradition is a very appealing piece for the money. It has a versatile design, uses high-quality components, and its fit and finish are superb. It would make a fine addition to a professional business wardrobe and has all the right specifications to be an everyday, all-purpose watch.
European readers will have no problem finding a Rotary dealer but North Americans may have to hunt. Their website lists Govberg Watch Repair in Philadelphia. You can also find them for sale through Amazon. For more information or to find a retailer near you, visit RotaryWatches.com.
While you are at it, why not try to get this one for free in this month's Time Bum giveaway? See the entry box below for details. (Problems loading entry box? Try this link.)
Con: Can be tricky to set
Sum: A distinguished watch and a solid value.