Exploring the world of watches on a budget

Centric Instruments Lightwell

Why are there so few solar microbrand watches? I’m sure some of the relative scarcity can be chalked up to the anti-quartz bias in our hobby, but there is no shortage of conventional battery-driven quartz models out there, and I know many a hardened mechanical watch Luddite who has nonetheless succumbed to the charms of a Citizen Eco-Drive. I puzzled this mystery as I tested the Centric Instruments Lightwell Chronograph, a Seiko-powered solar field watch now up on Kickstarter.

Centric Instruments Lightwell Chronograph

There is a lot to be said for solar watches. Most obviously, they are rechargeable and their batteries last far longer than those in a conventional quartz movement. And just in case there is any confusion about how solar power works, I can assure you that your solar watch won’t stop every time the sun sets. A full charge will keep it running for six months so it won’t miss a beat even if you wear it exclusively outdoors through an arctic winter. The chronograph uses a Seiko VS75 with a 4:30 date, and 24-hour, 60-minute, and small seconds subdials. I tend to prefer my quartz watches with small seconds so that the jumping tick is less obvious. The VS75 chronograph has the added benefit of 1/5th-second sweep hand, which makes its electric operation less apparent. 

Centric Instruments Lightwell Chronograph

The Lightwell Chronograph’s dial is rendered in a traditional military style with white printing on a matte black surface, baton hands, and an angled chapter index. It is handsome and legible even in the dark when the BGW9 SuperLuminova lights up the hands, indicators, and markers. Centric also offers the Chronograph (as well its 3-hand Field Watch Mark II sibling) in more distinctive gray and white dial variants. 

Centric Instruments Lightwell Chronograph wrist shot

While I like the dial, it is the Lightwell’s substantial stainless steel case that really makes the watch for me. It is an eminently sensible 38.5mm wide, 46mm long, and 10mm thick from the case back to the nearly flush, flat sapphire crystal. This makes for an excellent fit on my 6.75” wrist but also presents as rather stout, even though one would normally consider 10mm on the slim side. Flat sides, a fixed and beveled bezel, and a comparatively small diameter dial all contribute to that perception. Piston-style chronograph buttons flank a stout, slightly bun-shaped crown. It is unsigned but deeply grooved and feels right when you screw it down. That last bit might be overkill on a watch rated for 100m, but it does grant a bit more confidence if you are taking the Lightwell underwater. 

Centric Instruments Lightwell Chronograph

The case back is engraved with the company name and basic specifications but is otherwise unadorned. Drilled lugs are always a nice feature and with the spring perches set far to the tops, there is ample room for a variety of straps. The review sample came on a 20mm elastic “Marine Nationale” style NATO with flat brushed hardware and a signed buckle. I liked the comfort afforded by that fabric’s give as well as its low profile, even with the tail tucked back through the keepers.  A stainless steel engineer bracelet with a flip-lock clasp is available as an option.

Centric Instruments Lightwell Chronograph case back

Which of course, brings us to the price. The Lightwell is currently in the waning hours of its Kickstarter campaign (ends Friday, August 16, 2019 at 2:59 PM EDT). Early birds can still get on board for as low as $225 (retail $300) for a Lightwell Chronograph on a nylon strap, or $240 on a bracelet. The three-hand Field Watch II is just $199 (retail $250). The project has already fully funded and I am not all surprised, as I think the practical and attractive Centric is well worth a look. Head over to their Kickstarter page for more. ⬩

Centric Instruments Lightwell Chronograph buckle

Centric Instruments Lightwell Chronograph lume

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