As the watch collecting world is still in a frenzy, with speculators inflating prices left, right and centre, it has been very difficult to find pleasure in the hobby. Anyone selling something defined as "vintage" seems to require unreasonable returns while mainstream brands are jumping on the vintage bandwagon, offering vintage inspired pieces at inflated prices to uneducated consumers.
Thankfully, it is not all dark and gloomy. There are a number of microbrands out there offering quality timepieces that easily rival and surely surpass offerings from well known, established players.
One such brand is Seaholm Automatics, a US, Austin TX, based that was set-up in 2015 by former Yeti executives, aiming to offer watches that easily surpass industry standards. As a chronograph collector, I became aware of them in 2016 and instantly fell in love with their Flats, a chronograph with a desired 3-6-9 subdial layout and a bold colourway. The 41mm diameter and the less than 14mm total height further fuelled my desire. Despite my fascination with the watch, I never found the courage to pull the trigger. This summer, this changed and I welcomed the Flats to the stable, after contacting Todd, the brand's founder.
A brief detour before jumping in; Back in 2016, shortly after finding out about the Flatts, I came across a "vintage", NOS Jacques Monnat chronograph, of similar arrangement and colourway for a fraction of the Seaholm's price. I felt blessed and immediately pulled the trigger. As soon as the Jacques Monat arrived, I was underwhelmed; the case was smaller than expected, the bezel was so loose that it spinned freely and it only took a couple of months before the movement started playing up and the dial's feet became completely dislodged resulting in a complete mess. After putting everything right, I was very glad to see the back of it. I always regretted not opting for the Seaholm to start with. As a side note; it is worth mentioning that several people through various internet resources have questioned the validity of the NOS claims for these watches - so be very careful if you are on the hunt for one.
Since the Jacques Monnat's departure I kept coming back to Seaholm's website to admire the Flats, the gorgeous photography and learn more about the brand. The watches have been designed in collaboration with Switzerland's White Brand, winner of numerous red dot awards, and they boast a number of impressive technologies such as enhanced water resistance, enhanced antimagnetic capabilities through the use of a Faraday Cage, and most impressively enhanced anti-shock properties, by leveraging the properties of a viscous elastic material which is used as the movement's mount. The combination of these three technologies make any Seaholm watch the ideal full time companion for anyone leading an active lifestyle while appreciating the feeling and satisfaction that a mechanical, automatic timepiece has to offer.
As soon as the Flats arrived, I was immediately very pleasantly surprised by the packaging. The watch arrived in a simple white box that contained a nice print of the watch, the warranty card, a thread locker and a very nice metallic tube. As soon as I unscrewed its cap, I was welcomed by another nice surprise, a luminous compass with Seaholm's emblem was incorporated in the cap assembly - talk about attention to detail and setting expectations. The tube contained a nice leathery watch roll that housed the watch mounted on it's oyster, solid endlink type bracelet, a nice vivid orangey-yellow, seatbelt nato strap with high quality, milled hardware and a nice strap changing tool.
After sizing the bracelet I put the watch around my wrist and I was impressed by the fit. As I have relatively thin wrists, I always struggle to find the right fit on a bracelet. The female type endlinks really help with this but unfortunately only a small fraction of bracelets have this feature. My only criticism would be that the clasp only has three microadjustment positions and with the absence of half links some wearers might have a hard time finding the right fit. A solution with a sliding microdjustmet in the clasp would have been a welcome update.
Anyway, habits die hard so I mounted the nato strap on and started enjoying the watch. Everything about the timepiece oozes quality. The bezel slightly overhangs the case and is nicely milled offering amazing grip, while the 120-click, unidirectional action is smooth and precise with minimal backplay. The aluminium blue insert is what we call a MH - minute-hour - bezel, enabling a multitude of uses such as diving timer, second time tracking etc. The blue shade of the insert is just right and nicely matches the rest of the watch.
The dial is basically of a sandwich construction introducing visually engaging depth, with the top layer being black and vertically brushed, resulting in amazing effects when it catches the light just right. The indices are painted, further enhancing the vintage feel, while they utilise amazingly bright super luminova, making the watch functional even under circumstances of reduced visibility. The outer track is graduated to 1/4th of the second, enabling precise timing when the chronograph is engaged. The top dial layer is cut out on the 3-6-9 positions, essentially exposing the bottom layer which serves as the canvas for the chronograph subdials. The subdials are grey painted and radially milled, introducing further texture. The colour scheme results in what I could only describe as a discreet reverse panda chronograph, reminiscent of the vintage Heuer Autavia 11063v. A splash of colour can be found in the chronograph minute counter subdial with the first five minutes painted in red, another vintage nod. The dial also boasts a well executed date window, with a black date wheel underneath, which is completely unobtrusive, making the date functionality a welcome addition.
All hands are luminous with the subdial hands being of the needle type. The hour and minute hands are clearly inspired from vintage military watches such as the Omega Seamaster 300 and the Rolex Milsub. The increased footprint allows for more luminous material and greatly improves legibility making time telling a breeze. The highlight of the watch is by far the pink chronograph seconds hand which extends all the way to the chapter ring resulting in accurate reading of the chronograph results.
The chapter ring is mate black and features a telemeter scale, calibrated in miles. As a petrolhead and an engineer I would have preferred a units per hour / tachymeter scale but the watch is clearly addressed to adventurers and outdoursy types so the choice makes sense.
The case is resembling Rolex's sport oyster case without the crown guards. In this execution it is fully brushed to eliminate reflections, further enhancing its tool like character. The oversized, screw down crown is nicely textured and operates smoothly. It is signed with "SEAHOLM" in radial writing, although I think I would have preferred the use of Seaholm's symbol. The screw down pushers are very tactile and a breeze to use and are clearly inspired by Rolex's early screw down pusher Daytonas, resembling the "Millerighe" pattern, I have to admit that I just love this detail.
The vintage feel continues with the crystal which is of a boxed sapphire type in order to withstand everyday use, while still communicating that vintage vibe. The solid caseback further enhances the toolwatch character of the watch, only citing the brand name and the three elements that make set the watch apart "anti-shock", "anti-magnetic" and "diver's 200m", brief and to the point.
The watch is powered by an ETA 2894 movement that has been used by brands such as Omega, Tudor, Heuer, Breitling, Bulgari and others in the past. It is essentially the well known, high quality ETA 2892 with a chronograph module on top. A number of people mention that they prefer integrated chronographs due to ease of servicing but there are limitations in regards to the subdial arrangement and the functionalities they offer. It is worth highlighting the fact that the 2894 has been around for sometime now and it has proven to be a very robust and reliable movement that can be serviced by most competent watchmakers. The 2894 is also one the thinnest modular chronograph movements designed, clocking in at 6.1mm when compared to a valjoux 7750 that comes in at 7.9mm, which would probably have been another option. The movement thickness is of paramount importance since it helps retain the height of the watch to a very reasonable level.
This brings us to the main point, price; at $3,495 it surely is an expensive timepiece by any means for most people. The important question here though is whether it offers value for money? My honest opinion is that it surely does. At this price-point it faces stiff competition from some mainstream brands, but I really feel that it surpasses them in robustness and functionality. It also faces competition from Bremont which offers similar technologies but pitches its products at a much higher pricepoints. Factor in the 3 year warranty and the 5 year complimentary service and the Flats suddenly becomes a much more attractive options, especially when considering that both the warranty and the service are transferable in case of ownership change.
You will struggle to find any of the lifestyle brands accompanying adventurers in their endeavours, furthermore you will struggle to find any of these brands on the United States Military Academy West Point Cadet Store, adventure outfitters such as Sportsman's Finest or even niche stores such as Revival Cycles. Surely these outfits only stock products that are up to the task, a credit to Seaholm's quality offering. When taking all of these into account it surely feels that Seaholm is today what Heuer used to be in the past through the Ambercrombie & Fitch engagement.
If you are in the market for a robust, vintage inspired, colourful chronograph, look no further, the Seaholm will be able to accompany you anywhere you decide to go without missing a beat. Hopefully it will carry your marks for years to come...