Tsao Baltimore

Once a month, I get together with a group of local watch nerds to hang out, eat dinner, and pass around some samples from our collections. It's always a good time and you never know what will end up on the table. It was at one of these dinners that I first met Alan Tsao, who was then waiting on a batch of prototypes for Tsao Baltimore, his new microbrand watch. This was a treat for us. First of all, because Alan is a genuinely nice fellow and a good sport who was willing to schlep all the way down from Charm City to hang with us. Second, because we got to chat with him about his trials and tribulations as the watch progressed from pre-production rendering, to initial prototypes, to today's Kickstarter launch.

The Tsao Baltimore's polished stainless steel case measures 42mm wide and 14mm thick from its rear display window to its double domed and triple anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal. I'd classify it as dress to dress/casual owing to its refined dial, large case, and practical 100m water resistance rating. The movement is the 24 jewel Miyota 9015, a hacking, hand winding automatic with a smooth 28.8k bph vibration rate and 42-hour power reserve. Kickstarter backers can opt for the Founders Edition with custom winged logo rotor or the Limited Edition whose rotor is emblazoned with the Maryland flag.


I relied on Alan for today's photographs, but I have had plenty of time with the watch in person. The Tsao makes little effort to mask its size. Indeed, the comparatively narrow 20mm lug width and vertical sides accentuate its stout proportions, but I am pleased to report that the Tsao makes good use of its girth. Three horizontal channels, in addition to a fourth formed where the smooth bezel meets the barrel, decorate and break up the case profile. Short lugs keep it from overhanging my wrist. While the domed crystal raises the Tsao's overall height, it also softens its lines.


A steeply angled railroad track index leads down to the deep set dial. Applied, polished numbers with larger primary hours add dimension while their antique typeface with its tiny serifs and rounded ends give the watch an early 20th century feels, as do the tapered minute and hour hands and red-tipped, spear head second hand. All hands and markers are luminous. I know traditional dress watches don't use lume, but I really wish more of them would because in addition to the obvious benefit at night, the white fill also greatly improves daytime visibility, particularly on dark color dials. The Tsao has plenty of surface area on its lumed parts and delivers a healthy glow. There is ample room for text on this dial but Alan didn't over do it. The winged logo is large, but not disproportionately so, and the three lines of text at the bottom of the dial leave adequate room for the 6 o'clock date window. It strikes the right balance, filling the space without appearing too busy or crowded.


There are three colors from which to choose: steel and white, steel and blue, and rose gold PVD and black. All three are attractive, but I'd suggest you take a good look at the blue. After the prototype's blue left him cold, Alan agonized over a better, more interesting color. Of course, our dinner crew was happy to assist, offering our invaluable opinions in between glasses of wine while squinting at a Pantone deck in a dimly lit restaurant. Come to think of it, we probably "helped" him in much the same way my cat helps me write this blog. Regardless, Alan settled on a deep blue with just the slightest hint of green and it is lovely.


Straps come courtesy of Clockwork Synergy. The fellow Marylanders worked up three neatly trimmed and heavily padded calf leather straps. They are 6mm thick at the lugs to balance the Tsao's chunky case, and are equipped with quick release spring pins, obviating the need for removal tools. Backers may choose from black, dark brown, or saddle. Those who want a more casual look can purchase the optional $10 two-piece RAF NATO, made from double layer nylon and also fitted with quick release pins.


On my 6.5" wrist, the Tsao was undoubtedly large, although not unmanageable as its short lugs kept it in check. Given its size - and mine - I would find it hard to carry off with a suit and would most likely wear it for weekend nights out; however, all things are relative. It may have an athletic build, but its pretty face and tailored leather straps are undoubtedly dressy and on the taller guys in our group with bigger arms, the watch looked right at home. If you find that most dress watches are lost on your wrist, you may want to give the generously proportioned Tsao a try.


The Tsao Baltimore Kickstarter campaign starts today. After the campaign, full retail will be $399 for the Founders Edition and $450 for the Maryland flag Limited Edition, but Early Bird pricing starts at just $250, which is an excellent price for a quality piece with a 9015. In case that wasn't sufficiently tempting, Tsao is also including a programmable watch winder with each purchase. I can't think of any other microbrand that offered a bonus winder, let alone at that price.

For more information or to place an order, visit the Tsao Baltimore Kickstarter Page.

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