Exploring the world of watches on a budget

Albany Watches AMA Diver

Review and photos by Mike Razak

Note: Albany has put orders of the AMA diver on hold. We'll let you know if and when that changes. 

UPDATE: 10/9/20 - It changed! The AMA Diver will launch on Kickstarter Tuesday, October 13. 

The ama divers of Japan may only number in the high double digits these days, but less than 100 years ago, over 6000 of these skin divers—almost exclusively women—could be seen plying their trade, diving off the coast of Japan for pearls. Rarely diving with any gear—often only clad in a loincloth—these legendary “sea women” would dive to the bottom of the waters and collect abalone. While today their numbers have dwindled significantly, Albany Watches’ AMA Diver seeks to pay tribute to them. While the brand name pays tribute to the owner’s father’s roots in Western Australia, the skin diver-style watch salutes the history and continued feats of the Japanese pearl divers.

While influenced by a league of women, the watch is decidedly sized for more masculine wrists (though current trends may call this into question). At 41.5mm wide, 12.8mm thick, and 48mm lug-to-lug, the watch wears well on my 7-inch wrist. As is true of the skin diver style, the watch itself features minimal curvature to accommodate the wrist, and so lies rather flat; the moderate lug-to-lug, however, means little to no overhang, which can be an issue on ill-proportioned watches of this type.

The real stars of the brushed case are the screw-down crown and the 120-click bezel. Both are deep-grooved and exceptionally easy to operate. The bezel features a sapphire insert with lumed numbers and pip, while the crown features the Albany cormorant logo on a white background and allows for 300M of water resistance. The skin diver style is intentionally simple with little room for flair, and it’s executed here to near perfection, with clean, crisp edges and great operability.

An anti-reflection domed sapphire crystal shields the wonderful fumé dial. (The crystal causes some very slight distortion around the edge, but nothing that affects legibility.) I’ll actually call this dial fauxmé, as it’s simply colored--the blue is printed, the black is applied by hand--to achieve a fumé-like effect. While it’s absolutely charming, there’s no variation in different light, as you’d see with true fumé, like on a Moser or even the Hamilton Intra-Matic. I still like it. A lot. The gradient is perfect for a dive watch, with the slow fade from blue to black resembling the view from the depths looking up, as an ama might see while resurfacing. Just as the bezel and crown are easy to operate, so too is the dial easy to read. Stark white indices plot out the hours, with sharp white hands and a fun harpoon-shaped seconds hand that traces the periphery of the dial; the chunky hour hand is reminiscent of old plongeur-style divers, like the Omega Ploprof.

All the white you see is BGW9 Super-LumiNova, and it sucks in the light and spits it back out with good effect; I’d say overall the lume is average or slightly above, though the bezel lume and seconds hand could stand to be brighter. The cardinal hours, minute, and a portion of the second hand feature teal accents that match the minute hashes on the dial and the bezel and complement the blue fauxmé. On the dial is the Albany name and logo, as well as the stylized AMA model name and depth rating (I’m a fan of the dial font, by the way). At the edge of the dial, in the same teal, is a thin band that bisects the indices. I love when hands are well proportioned, and that’s the case here: the seconds hand reaches to the point of bisection, the minute to the inner edge of the thin band, and the hour to the inner edge of the cardinal hour markers. Top work.

Rolling the watch over, the caseback features a wonderful representation of a traditional ama diver: basket slung over the shoulder, with goggles and bottoms, this is how an ama would have worked until more puritanical forces led to them, in the 20th century, to wear sheer white coveralls. The etching is crisp and artistic, without causing any roughness on the wrist. Obligatory SpecsText™ surrounds the depiction.

Unscrew the caseback and you’ll find a reliable Miyota 9039. Released in 2018, it fast became a microbrand and watchnerd favorite, finally providing a no-date alternative, meaning no dead position on the crown. The movement features 24 jewels—which are shiny—hacking, handwinding, and a 42-hour power reserve. And it’s easily serviced by any competent watchmaker.

Let’s move on to straps, shall we? The AMA features 20mm drilled lugs and is available on either a beads of rice bracelet with fitted end-links and a branded clasp or a two-stitch grey leather strap. [10/9/20 Update: the watch will no come with an Eco-weave NATO strap standard and the BOR will be fully brushed.] Both are of good quality and provided little in the way of ranting or raving. My review piece also included a green NATO of exceptional quality. While not one of the much-loved seatbelt style NATOs, it was rugged, albeit stiff. While at first, I expected the strap to be uncomfortable, the sturdiness made sure it sat in place with little shifting, as can happen with more supple bands. With three strap options included (all orders will come with the NATO and the leather strap), I didn’t have much need to try out my own straps, so I only strapped on a burgundy Perlon, and with great success.

The thing about skin divers is, if done well, they are utterly unremarkable. As I mentioned above, they are flat, simple watches. There’s a beauty in simplicity and the good execution of basic ideas—and it’s that beauty that the AMA achieves. The bezel and the crown are just superb, and the dial, coloring, and caseback art add a bit of playfulness. In addition to the navy fumé dial, the watch is also available in a black and “black pearl;” I’d skip the black and go for the pearl, which is real mother of pearl from the sea.

With a preorder price of $375 ($420 on BOR bracelet) [10/9/20 Update: preorder prices will start at $299 and top out at $350. For $50 extra, you can get the Signature Edition, which includes the BOR as well as a Nubuck strap and strap tool.], you get more than your money’s worth—especially if you get the pearl dial (can you tell I wish I’d had that for review?). If you’re in the market for a no-nonsense diver with the perfect dash of flair, you’ll be quite satisfied with the Albany Watches AMA diver. It’s available for preorder now on the brand’s site for delivery in July (coronavirus permitting). And if all of the above wasn’t enough, a portion of the proceeds will go to the Sea Change Project, a South African non-profit dedicated to preserving the country’s marine environment. You get to buy a watch and feel good about it, too!

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