TC-9 Watches began as a full-service watchmaker's shop in Basel and has only recently branched out into volume production. Their website is remarkably spare, even for a microbrand. There is no inspiring backstory, no company philosophy, no "disrupting the luxury market", just the essential information. It's kind of refreshing. They do not pretend to be producing Swiss Made watches (like much of the industry, their watches are made in China) but they do all final quality control and preparation in the Basel shop. Browsing their inventory, you will discover a trio of plainly named watches: the bronze 1970's Diver, the brass 1950's Diver, and the brass/titanium Pilot. Does this bare-bones upstart make stripped-down watches, or did they put their efforts where it counts? They sent me a 1970's Diver and a Pilot to find out.
The 1970's Diver is almost exactly what its name describes. Almost. You see, the watch borrows heavily from the iconic Seiko 6150-8810, appropriating its flattened cushion shape with asymmetrical flared guards encompassing a 4 o'clock crown. The dial echoes the 6150's blocky markers, baton hands, and paddle tipped second hand. It even runs a Seiko mechanical movement, the hacking and hand winding NH35a automatic. You might call it an homage watch but for the fact that the 6150 wasn't made of bronze.
That throwback case has been recreated by a few micros in recent years, but always in stainless steel. To my knowledge, TC-9 is the first to offer this style case in bronze and it is a particularly attractive red alloy at that. This is a substantial watch, measuring over 44mm wide, 48mm long, and 13mm thick. The rich red-gold color of the brushed surface complements its unusual shape and should take on an even more rugged character as it develops its dark patina. Large as it is, the arc in its length, tapering at the perimeter, and reasonable length makes it wear smaller than you might imagine. I found it quite comfortable on my 6.5" wrist and I even managed to wear it with a buttoned cuff without much fuss.
Sapphire crystals grace both the front and back. The latter is an unusual choice for a dive watch, particularly one fitted a relatively unassuming movement like the Seiko. Personally, I'd rather they'd spared the expense and gone with a solid back instead. The signed, screw-down crown operates smoothly and is gasketed for 300m water resistance. Unlike the crowns of many recent bronze or brass alloyed watches, it is stainless steel. Because normal oxidation can fuse these alloys, it has been common practice to use stainless steel for the moving parts. For example, my old brass Magrette Regattare has the same arrangement. On the other hand, microbrand rivals like Zelos and Makara have engineered ways to avoid bronze-to-bronze contact and offered matching crowns on their bronze or brass cases for quite some time now. As a result, the steel crown on the 1970's Diver looks a little dated. This seems like an odd criticism to levy on a retro-inspired watch, but it is much easier to pull off an element that is decades old than it is for something only recently overtaken.
As noted above, the dial is remarkably similar to the iconic Seiko, and this is not a bad thing. It is a clear, handsome layout, the date window at 4 o'clock blends seamlessly with the hour markers, and the SuperLuminova burns bright. Like the Seiko, the polished markers are framed, not raised. Buyers may choose blue, black, or green. The unidirectional bezel moves crisply through its 120 clicks and without any back play. TC-9 offers three different styles for the aluminum insert: decompression, minute counter, and GMT. All three are black.
The review sample came with two 22mm straps, an olive nylon Zulu with brass hardware, and a DiModell perforated leather rally strap with a polished dual-tang buckle. I felt the Zulu better suited the Diver, even though the yellow brass did not match the case. The DiModell is an excellent quality strap, but a touch out of place on this big tool watch, and the buckle really does not coordinate with any aspect of the watch. I'd be very happy to have it, but I'd most likely use it on a different watch. TC-9 recognized these issues and have now switched things up. The new package drops both in favor of a DiModell rubber and a handmade oxblood leather. I have not had either in hand, but they would appear to be better suited to the color and character of the watch. My only wish is that TC-9 would make a matching bronze buckle as these are not exactly plentiful in the aftermarket.
TC-9's pilot watch hews closely to flieger orthodoxy. It is a traditional Type-A dial with a small seconds counter at 9 o'clock and polished, dagger shaped hands. White lume lights up the hands and markers while a red logo provides some subtle contrast. Its overall proportions are equally conventional, measuring 43.5 across, 48.5mm long, 14mm thick, and 20mm between the lugs. The surface is brushed except for the slender, polished edge of the bezel. A double domed, anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal completes the look. The real departure for this watch is in the choice of case materials: marine grade brass up front, and blasted titanium for the onion crown and case back.
The yellow and gray combination is offbeat, but not unattractive. I think it could be a good choice for those who want to try a "living" oxidizing metal like brass, but who have trouble with skin irritation or discoloration. On this watch, the parts most likely to make direct contact with you are made from naturally hypoallergenic titanium. (If it's safe enough for grandma's hip replacement, it's safe enough for your wrist.) A sapphire exhibition case back shows off a hand wound SeaGull ST3600 movement. It is neatly decorated, if not overly ornate, and each has been given a thorough lubrication, regulation, and tune-up in Basel.
Typical of pilot watches, the broad dial and narrow strap make it wear a bit large, but the overall footprint was squarely within my wrist bones so I did not find it overwhelming. I was even able to tuck it under my shirt cuff without any fuss. It is perfectly suitable for weekend wear and 50m water resistance should provide ample protection for most casual uses.
Like the Diver, the Pilot's Achilles heel is its strap. The black leather is stiff and overly processed although it does have a nice 18mm signed titanium buckle. My preference would have been for brass, but this watch is all about mixed metals and the matte gray does tie into the crown and case back. If you prefer the buckle to match the case, brass hardware is not too difficult to find. TC-9 has acknowledged the straps shortcomings, and will now provide a nylon NATO with each Pilot.
Both of these watches would make a fine addition to your collection. The review samples could do with some new straps, but with luck, that problem will be remedied by the time you read this. Even so, the current straps are hardly a deal breaker. The 1970's Diver sells for £300 (@ $373 USD) and the Pilot for £200 (@ $248 USD). The prices are reasonable enough on their own but the real bargain comes when you order both watches as a set for £350 (@ $435 USD). It is hard to beat $217 USD each, even if you choose to swap straps later.
Check out the TC-9 collection at tc-9watches.mysimplestore.com.