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Feature: 5 must-have enthusiast watches

You might have noticed a trend for collectors talking about a specific set of watches and wondered why exactly those ones get all the love. Well today I’ve picked out five enthusiast favourites and I’m going to attempt to explain why each one is so stand-out.

Casio F-91W

Can a watch that costs as much—or as little—as a McDonalds meal for two really be any good? Made from resin, the same material used in plastic bags, the Casio F-91W has very little to nothing about that would suggest it’s any good. Just look at it. It looks exactly like the cheap, plastic watch you had as a kid. And that’s because it is. That’s reason number one why this plucky little ticker is held so dear, because it’s a childhood memory, captured in resin, like somehow it can perhaps be used to reverse aging.

It's no fountain of youth, but its power to evoke is almost as impressive. There are probably about three people in the whole world who didn’t have one of these as a kid, and those were probably the kids with the bigger, better, more expensive calculator watch. One of them might have even had the TV remote watch. Even these words are probably reviving memories for the first time in decades, and that’s the power of the Casio F-91W. Well, one of its powers, anyway.

The other is the ability to outlive almost everything. A thousand years from now, when humanity has long since wiped itself out, all that will remain will be cockroaches, tardigrades and the Casio F-91W. Even with its seven-year battery life it probably won’t still be running by then, but it could. And if by some miraculous circumstance there’s a single human left to replace that battery, they’ll get to enjoy the F-91W’s final feature: it’s features.

Watch people are used to the idea of complications being a commodity. You want your watch to do more than barely tell the time and you’ve got to pay for it. Not so with the F-91W. It’s got everything. A chronograph. A perpetual calendar. An alarm. And all of those functions have a bazillion different sub-features that make them even more useful, and not just the “useful” we convince ourselves of to justify a watch purchase. This is the watch you wear when you actually need a watch. It’s not just a watch, it’s the watch.

Christopher Ward The Twelve

If anyone’s guilty of talking up this next watch, it’s me. And I know how that seems. I’m this close to going door-to-door handing out leaflets about it and outstaying my welcome. But it’s for a reason, and that reason is that the Christopher Ward Twelve just might be the best value-for-money watch on the market today.

It’s a bit of a melting pot. There’s Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak in there, Zenith’s Defy Skyline, Czapek’s Antarctique. This is very much by design, and were it not for the Twelve’s ace in the hole, it would probably be sailing a bit too close to the wind. So what is this secret weapon that has collectors swooning over this one-of-many integrated sports watch? Quality.

Quality is usually expressed in a relative way. That McDonalds from earlier, if the fries are warm and the interior of the burger roughly between the two slices of bun, we’re looking at a good quality McDonalds. Is it good quality cuisine though? Do bears gentrify the woods? What the Twelve does is bring not just good quality for its price, but good quality for any price into the equation. I have seen a tray of watches containing a Royal Oak, Nautilus, Antarctique and the Twelve placed in front some very well-to-do collectors without the Twelve being rumbled as the odd one out. It’s only when the price is mentioned do voices start getting high-pitched.

Never mind the PRX. Never mind even the Defy. This watch sits in familiar company with the very pinnacle of this horological genre, because Christopher Ward have taken the time to think this watch through. The way it usually works is that watch brands will have suppliers execute different parts of each watch and leave them to figure out how. Christopher Ward gets involved in every last detail, bringing the efficiency of every part to peak. It’s as optimised as watchmaking can get, and with scant margins by industry standards too, it means that just £850 can buy a watch that’ll leave even the most experienced collector second guessing.

Omega Speedmaster Silver Snoopy Award 310.

If the Omega Speedmaster is the absolute darling of collector circles, the Silver Snoopy Award series takes that affection to the absolute max. It’s the watch equivalent of the “how did you know?” moment of a well thought-out gift, bringing all the sweetest bits of the Moonwatch story together in a single model.

The Speedmaster is of course already legendary for its part in multiple key moments in space exploration. The first American space walk, the moon landings, the recovery of Apollo 13—these were all moments Omega shared with the inclusion—and even active participation—of the Speedmaster Professional.

It wasn’t there just as a sponsor. Neil Armstrong famously made his first steps watchless because his Speedmaster was doing duty as a backup mission timer after the lunar module’s main timer broke. After those momentous words that we all have etched into our brains, Armstrong was also thought to have remarked, “It feels weird not have a watch on. I feel naked.”

When the Apollo 13 crew, guided by the legions on the planet below, recovered their mission to return home safely, the Speedmaster was used to time critical moments that could have spelt life or death. For that role, Omega was awarded a Silver Snoopy, NASAs gong for mission excellence. It’s an unbelievable honour, which of course Omega wants to milk drier than the Atacama.

Except with this one they’ve actually been very restrained. There have only been three Snoopy watches, which is very good for Omega, and the latest is the best yet. On the front, a silver—as in the precious metal, not just the colour—dial is accented in blue, and features the award itself depicted in the running seconds sub-dial, so you, the owner, too get a silver snoopy award. The matte texture of the silver and metallic sheen of the blue elevates this Speedmaster to another level.

That’s nothing compared to the back though. A view of the hand wound chronograph calibre 3861 would have been impressive enough, but instead we get a depiction of the Earth from the vantage point of the moon, a view few people have ever seen. The moon is applied to the inside of the crystal and the stars are set back, with the Earth settling somewhere in between for a sense of depth to the scene. You’ll even see Snoopy skirting around the moon in the command module.

Oh yeah, and the whole thing is animated. The Earth, connected to the running seconds, spins once per minute. And Snoopy, he starts his lunar excursion whenever the chronograph is activated. I defy anyone to look at that and not smile.

Studio Underd0g Series01 Watermel0n

I know there’s a lot of people who think the Studio Underd0g Series01 Watermel0n is a gimmick, and I can understand why that thought might occur. It’s a straightforward chronograph watch with a Chinese movement that looks to be straight from the mind of The Very Hungry Caterpillar author Eric Carle. In the vain of modern art, I can imagine and have indeed heard the sentiment, “It’s just green and pink. Anyone could do that.”

But that’s the thing. They didn’t. No one did. Bravery in watchmaking was a rubber strap or a rose gold case. Watch collecting was quickly becoming a serious pursuit with no room for childish antics like fun. It all felt a bit like when you start reading books so you can tell other people you’re reading them rather than because you actually want to read them. And like Andy Weir allowed us to like schlocky sci-fi once again, Richard Benc has opened up the door to watches that make you smile.

The reason I call out Richard specifically is because Studio Underd0g is not a corporation. It’s not a steel and glass building with a heritage wing and a three-storey foyer. It’s the work of one guy who saw an opportunity to be happy and make others happy too, who took a punt on doing something different and daring—and it actually paid off.

No one else had ever made a watch that looked like a watermelon because why would anyone make a watch that looked like a watermelon? Watches look like watches, not fruit. And I think if anyone else had tried, it would have ended up a soggy mess, because actually, beneath the bright colours is a watch that’s very well designed indeed. The subtler colours reveal more of that story, balancing proportions with asymmetry and texture in all the right places to make it more than just a gimmick.

How can I say that with such confidence? Because it’s not just changed the way Richard does things, but the industry as well. He’s set the benchmark, and that means other brands can follow suit without taking the risk of being the first. We’re seeing an influx of much-needed colour into the game—and we’ve got Richard to thank for it.

Grand Seiko Snowflake SBGA211G

The watch industry is so fiercely competitive. Outside of the biggest brands, it’s surprisingly niche and that means every company that has aspirations to becoming the next big thing finds themselves facing a wall of opposition. It’s hard going to sell outdated, antiquated luxury trinkets to a fast-moving audience. And that’s if you’re Swiss. Imagine if you’re Japanese.

Consumer electronics, sure. Cars, why not. Even at the luxury end. Japanese hi-fi is revered around the world and there’s not a car person on the planet that wouldn’t sell their own hamster to blip the throttle of an LFA, just once. But watches? Japan may not have hammered the first nails in the Swiss watchmaking coffin back in the 1970s, but it hit the last and largest nail very, very hard indeed. As punishment, Japanese watchmaking has been cast out as the cheap, inferior alternative to a now-recovered Swiss ideal—that is, until the Grand Seiko Snowflake changed even the hardest hearts.

Japan is colloquially known for a few things: an incredible landscape, a meticulous culture and impeccable timekeeping. Put these three ingredients together and you get one of the finest watchmakers on the planet, debuted with one of the finest watches.

Not only is the Snowflake a mastery of technical achievement, housing the impossibly smooth Spring Drive within its titanium case, but it’s also a master of artistic interpretation as well, the roughly textured dial drawing inspiration from the snowfields surrounding the Grand Seiko studios. It’s the way that scene has been rendered that makes the Snowflake so special.

To me, art is something that communicates a feeling in an unexpected way, and not only does the Snowflake’s dial look like snow, it somehow also imparts the same sense of quiet isolation of the real thing. Between the texture and gentle sweep of the blued second hand, that strange sense of uneasy, unfamiliar peace is brought front of mind immediately. It’s the first of its kind, and it very much put Japan on the watchmaking map.

What enthusiast favourites do you like best and why? And which do you think miss the mark for you?

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