Walter Shillington is an avid collector of mechanical watches. His reviews focus on inexpensive but often intriguing Chinese timepieces.
Lists online denoting the best timepieces generally concentrate on expensive Swiss brands. There is a good reason for this tendency; Swiss watches are well designed, accurate and built to last.
I work a little differently. I consider only timepieces that I have reviewed over the last year, and these inhabit the inexpensive to the medium-priced range. While not the best watches available, these are excellent products and at a price point most people can afford.
Ranking of 2018 Watches
- Best Watch of 2018
- Best Automatic
- Best Mechanical
- Best Value
- Best Replica
Best Watch of 2018: One Eleven CMP0002 Solar Powered Watch
About a year ago I joined Watch Gang. I pay a monthly subscription and every month they send me a new watch. I didn’t think much of the first timepiece I received but the next month they sent the solar-powered CMP0002 manufactured by One Eleven. One Eleven was trademarked by The Fossil Group in 2016.
This watch weighs in at 61 grams (2.15 ounces). It is 42 millimeters across and 10 millimeters thick.
A brushed stainless-steel case is wedged between the bezel and its caseback, both of which are highly polished. Simulated wire lugs and a large crown provide an effect that greatly enhances the appeal of this timepiece.
A black, sandwich-type dial fits beneath a flat sheet of hardened mineral crystal. The bottom layer accommodates an array of photovoltaic solar cells. The upper layer, which rims the outside edge of the dial, is marked with hour and minute indications.
One Eleven deliberately suggests wear and tear by incorporating a distressed dial. Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I find this technique confusing. Of course, everyone has different tastes. In my opinion, the Itronix GoBook 3 is the coolest laptop ever produced. However, when I enthusiastically introduce this wonderful device to my friends, they laugh and shake their heads in amusement.
The CMP0002 is powered by a Japanese manufactured, solar-powered movement and includes a 22-millimeter band composed of thick, brown leather. The strap is both visually pleasing and comfortable.
Water resistance, at 5ATM, is higher than many competing watch brands. This timepiece is coupled to a Japanese solar-powered movement. The battery, according to the One Eleven, should last for approximately 10 years and, during this time, is expected to maintain at least 70% of its original capability. When adjusting the time, there was noticeable resistance and the pointers’ movement proved consistent. These are traits you would expect in a quality movement.
Despite my initial confusion with One Eleven’s distressed dial styling technique, I really like this watch. The CMP0002 is well designed, light-weight and extremely durable. This solar-powered timepiece wins the Dunn award for the best overall watch.
Best Automatic: William Gregor BWG30090-203
William Gregor is trademarked by KIN AB of Upplands Vasby, Sweden. This watch is one of my more expensive timepieces but as is often the case, a higher price indicates superior quality.
My new automatic arrived enclosed within a large watch box composed of a flexible plastic-like material.
This William Gregor timepiece features a design that is both traditional and simplistic. Silver studs, positioned atop a black dial, are used as hour markers. At the three o’clock position a larger than normal window displays the date. Silver hands sweep around the dial.
The case and caseback are composed of shiny stainless-steel. Like a Corgeut that I have recently tested, shifting the watch in light will often cause the dial to appear blue. This effect, I assume, is produced by a filter or protective coating applied to the watch’s crystal.
A steel mesh strap came attached to this timepiece. This band is easily adjusted and quite comfortable. A crocodile patterned leather strap of medium quality is also provided.
This watch utilizes a Seiko 24 jewel, NH35A automatic movement. Time can be easily set because the second-hand ceases rotation when the crown is fully extended. Seiko holds a well-earned reputation for quality control.
During a one-week test period, the William Gregor automatic gained an average of sixteen seconds per day. Throughout this period, the date indicator reported accurately. After being removed from my wrist, the watch continued to keep time for an additional thirty-five hours.
While not appropriate for scuba diving, the William Gregor’s water-resistance of 100 meters ensures it can be worn whilst swimming or snorkeling.
The William Gregor BWG30090-203 automatic is a medium-priced timepiece that is well built, conservatively styled and should function effectively for many years.
Best Mechanical Watch: Unbranded Parnis Mechanical Watch
While this example is unbranded, it is very similar to Parnis’s Classic St3600. It is equipped with a Seagull 6497 movement and priced in the fifty to the one-hundred-dollar range.
Parnis designs their own timepieces and assembles them at their manufacturing facility at Tong De Wei, Guangzhou. The various components are contracted out from companies such as Seagull, Miyota, and Dixmount. Fu Yuan Xin manufacturers their cases.
This pilot watch is quite large, spanning 45.5 millimeters, but weighs only 75 grams (2.66 ounces). It is 11 millimeters thick.
The case is composed of brushed 316L stainless steel. A large onion-shaped crown juts from the watch’s right edge.
This timepiece features a black dial with white indicators and hands. It includes a subdial to keep track of passing seconds. All hands and indicators are coated with a white material that emits a bluish glow in darkness.
Except for a narrow stainless-steel rim, held in place by screws, the entire caseback is composed of hardened mineral glass. This allows a completely unobstructed view of the timepiece’s well engraved Seagull 6497 movement.
This pilot watch is equipped with a thick brown leather strap with white stitching and a brushed stainless steel buckle.
The heart of this timepiece is its Seagull mechanical movement. It is a first-rate version of the ETA 6497 pocket watch movement and should last for many years. During its test period, this watch gained an average of 2.7 seconds per day. This is a level of accuracy expected in far more expensive timepieces.
Reserve power is a respectable 58.5 hours.
Parnis equipped this watch with a decent leather strap. Water resistance, the timepiece’s weakest characteristic, is rated 3ATM.
If you are searching for a quality mechanical watch at a decent price, this unbranded Parnis and its sibling, the Parnis Classic St3600, are worthy of serious consideration.
Best Value: Benyar BY-5103M Quartz Chronograph
I have reviewed three watches that were worthy of consideration for the Dunn award representing the best value. While they came up short, both the Chenxi Businessman’s Rectangular Watch and Tevis’s Perpetual Datejust Automatic provide excellent value.
The Benyar By-5103M, which is trademarked by Ye Yingbin of Guangdong, China, can be purchased for about $35.
The case of the Benyar chronograph is composed of black painted alloy metal. A crown and two pushbuttons jut from its right edge. The top button starts and stops the chronograph function. The bottom switch resets it to zero.
This watch features a black dial with orange hour and minute indicators. All but one of the hands are colored to match.
A tiny window at the 4:30 position displays the date. The subdial directly above this function serves as a twenty-four-hour clock.
Three subdials are used in conjunction with the chronograph feature. One hand rotates once every hour, and one completes a full cycle every minute. The indicator of the uppermost dial circles every two seconds. If your hand and eye coordination are up to it, you can time an event to within one-tenth of a second!
This watch’s strap is composed of a napped leather; perhaps suede. The band looks great but the fine hair coating its surface tends to pick up oil from your skin. This results in a strap which is darker where it is handled. I consider the effect to be one of building the timepiece’s character. Others will feel the strap is covered with filth.
The Benyar BY-5103M came enclosed within a solid cardboard and plastic presentation box. They also included a tag, guarantee card, polishing cloth, and a professionally produced user’s manual. If my intention were to purchase a timepiece as a gift, this presentation box would provide an incentive to choose the Benyar chronograph.
While I prefer stainless steel, this watch’s metal alloy case appears to be reasonably sturdy.
The pushbuttons jut out from the edge of the case, and at times I have unintentionally initiated the stopwatch function. If unnoticed, this will reduce battery life.
The Benyar chronometer includes a genuine Japanese movement. All pushbuttons function correctly, and both the time and date can be easily set. These are the hallmarks of a quality movement.
While I have no use for the chronograph function, it is sort of cool, and the watch looks good on my wrist. If you are looking for an inexpensive but attractive timepiece, the Benyar BY-5103M should be on the top of your list.
Best Replica: Replica Panerai Pam 563 Luminor Marina
Although I disapprove of replicas, they represent a healthy portion of the total sales of Chinese manufactured watches. Since I specialize in reviews of Chinese timepieces, I buy and test several replica’s each year.
2018 proved to be a bad year. I purchased four replicas. Two lasted less than a month, and one was so cheaply built I could not force myself to strap it around my wrist.
I obtained the replica Panerai 563 on eBay under the understanding that it was a used but genuine timepiece. Imagine my surprise when it shipped from Hong Kong.
When I received the watch, I discovered it was powered by an automatic movement rather than the expected hand-wound movement. This timepiece was a fake.
I contacted eBay and; within two weeks, my purchase price and shipping fee had been returned. The seller, not willing to pay to ship the replica back to Hong Kong, did not bother to ask for its return.
Inside what appeared to be legitimate Panerai packaging, I found a wooden watch box. It measures eighteen centimeters by eighteen centimeters (6.80 inches) and is ten centimeters (3.80 inches) deep. This box weighs 862 grams (30.4 ounces) and is covered with a light-brown veneer. The hardware consists of a pair of stainless-steel hinges. The bottom is covered with a protective layer of felt.
The inside of the box is well appointed with a felt-like material. Accessories include a jeweler’s screwdriver, and a rubber strap labeled Officine Panerai Italy. The timepiece was secured around a soft black cushion; it's face obscured by a form-fitting silicone cover.
Strangely, the metal tag attached to the inside of the box misidentified the watch as an Officine Panerai Firenze.
I removed the timepiece, slipped off its silicone cover and, out of habit, gave it a shake. To my surprise, the replica began to tick.
Quickly, I pulled the watch free from its cushion and examined its back. An Officine Panerai labeled rotor slid into view behind the glass observation window. Someone has slipped an automatic movement into a manual winding watch!
The replica Panerai Luminor Marina is a heavy timepiece, weighing in at 134 grams (4.74 ounces). Its diameter reaches 51.7 millimeters, and this timepiece is 18 millimeters thick.
The brushed stainless steel case is topped by a bezel which is either polished stainless-steel or plastic.
While most Panerai timepieces utilize a sandwich-style dial, the Pam 563 employs a simpler design. It is white with Arabic numbering to identify the hours. The subdial, located at the nine o’clock position, functions as the second hand. A generous dollop of luminous paint marks each hour, and a thick layer covers all three pointers.
This watch features a crown protector which appears identical to those used on Panerai timepieces.
Its band is composed of thick black leather and includes a brushed metal buckle labeled Panerai.
I timed this replica over a ten-day period. It gained 1.8 seconds per day which I consider incredibly accurate for a mechanical watch in this price category. Measured power reserve tested to forty-six hours.
A lever attached to the crown protector is used to push and hold the crown fully closed. The tiny roller which presses firmly against the crown ensures this mechanism will enjoy a long life.
About three weeks after I received this replica, the rattle of gears whirling far faster than normal drove my eyes toward the face of the watch. I expected to see the second and minute hands revolving at helicopter blade speed and detaching from their pinions. This was not the case.
I removed the watch and gave it a shake. The mainspring unraveled further, and the rotor circled around in a counter-clockwise motion.
This is not good. Some part of the automatic winding assembly is malfunctioning, allowing the mainspring to unwind. This action could wear down the gears within this assembly and degrade the replica’s ability to self-wind. Furthermore, if these components deteriorate, fine bits of metal dust could spread throughout the watch, affecting the timepiece’s accuracy and shortening its lifespan.
The leather strap is quite durable but, during assembly, a shorter than necessary pin was used to attach its buckle. I simply replaced the pin but, for many customers, this repair would include an expensive trip to the jeweler.
The replica Panerai is a beautiful watch. However, it appears to have been assembled from whatever parts were available and while the timepiece proved to be extremely accurate, I am dubious of the quality of its movement. This type of replica normally sells in the three to the four-hundred-dollar range. At that price, there are better and more legitimate, options.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Walter Shillington