MVMT Quietly Released Its First Automatic Watch

So How Is It?

The internet’s favorite watch company, MVMT, has quietly released its first automatic watch, the Arc Automatic. 5-year-old fashion watch brand MVMT was recently bought by Movado, and MVMT seems to be putting its newfound access to money and resources to some use, putting out an automatic watch in four different color and strap combinations. Each build is a stainless steel case, coming in at $300.

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MVMT’s new Arc Automatic, in one of 4 colorways.

Recently, I warned against buying MVMT and Daniel Wellington watches, instead directing you towards a number of microbrands that have used ecommerce and social media to find success. This move shows MVMT may be taking a step into “real” watch making, now that is has introduced millennials to the idea of wearing something on the wrist (Apple Watches and Fitbits have also done a great job of this). It’s a classic story of disruption — start at the low end of an industry and eventually move upmarket, undercutting your competitors’ prices in the process — and it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out in the watch industry. Watches are so unlike many other industries where true disruption has occurred: brands have built up equity over centuries, and there is certainly no shortage of demand for luxury timepieces right now. In fact, it’s almost hard to contemplate a world in which Wall Street bros aren’t blowing their first bonus on Rolex Submariners or Panerais that are way too big for their wrists. Indeed, the true luxury market for watches in the U.S. has thrived over the past few years (over $6,000), even as the under-$3,000 market has struggled.

The MVMT Arc Automatic: What We Know

Microbrand watch companies have flourished in part because of their transparency: they leave no doubt about where they source their movements from, where manufacturing and assembly takes place, and how many watches they’re producing in a series. You’ll find no such transparency on MVMT’s website. There’s no discussion of the movement inside their Arc Automatics. However, from the looks of a 30-second unlisted YouTube hype video they posted, it looks as though they’re using a Miyota 8215 caliber in the watches (Miyota is a part of Citizen Group). It’s a common movement used in accessibly-priced automatic watches, and while it won’t win any awards for beauty or accuracy, it’s certainly a passable movement. I more so begrudge the company for not being transparent in what’s inside their watches.

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A 30-second YouTube clip hints that MVMT has put an entry-level Miyota movement in their new automatic timepieces.

The watch is also fairly large, measuring in at 41mm in diameter and 13.25mm thick. It surely wears large as well, since MVMT has brought over their trademark minimalist approach to the dial, meaning there is little bezel and the dial reaches nearly to the edge of the watch.

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Conclusion

In short, I’ve got mixed feelings about the watch, and MVMT’s approach in general. I applaud the company for introducing a new generation to wearing something on the wrist, even if they did so by selling cheap, battery powered gadgets that were made in China for a few dollars. They were never a watch company, but always just a social media marketing company that happened to sell watches. I have much the same feeling now that they’ve begun selling automatic timepieces: they’re upselling an entry-level watch movement with a trendy dial design. But if it gets more people into mechanical timepieces, then what is there really to complain about? I’ll sit around hoping their next purchase is a true timepiece with minimalist inspiration, perhaps Nomos’ Tangente or Junghans’ Max Bill.

For now though, I’ll continue to refer to the Seiko 5 line as the ideal entry-level mechanical watch. Still the only place you can find true in-house, workhorse movements at sub-$300 prices. So before you click purchase on that MVMT Instagram ad, do a little research.

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This Automatic Seiko is Just $65, and the Internet Loves It

The best automatic watch under $100

GQ’s “Best Stuff” loves it. There are YouTube videos after YouTube videos declaring it the “best automatic watch under $100.” There’s even a subreddit dedicated to shitposting about it. But I can’t seem to find a single Hodinkee post about it, which made me want to write about it even more.

I’m talking about the Seiko 5, specifically the SNK805, SNK807 and SNK809 (Seiko 5 is a broad line of budget watches from Seiko; for example, the SNZG series has a similar pilot/military inspiration, but in a 42mm case. This article focuses on the SNK because it’s perhaps the cheapest and most popular in the Seiko 5 line). Like many budding watch enthusiasts, the SNK807 (the blue reference) was my first foray into mechanical watches and I haven’t looked back since. The field- and pilot-watch inspired dial never really goes out of style and has an immediate appeal even to those without intimate knowledge of watches and their history

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The Seiko SNK805, SNK807, and SNK809, respectively.

In the mechanical watch world, there’s an unfortunate tendency to assume that “you get what you pay for,” and that, for example, a nearly $200,000 Patek 5270 is by default a more lustworthy than a simple watch at an attainable price.

The Seiko 5 line was launched by Seiko in the 1960s as the market increasingly demanded do-it-all tool watches. While vintage Seiko 5s from this era obviously don’t fetch the sky high prices that Rolex tool watches do, you can still spot fun, vintage Seiko 5s on Chrono24.com or eBay, usually under a couple hundred bucks. They’re called Seiko 5 are named such because the brand demanded that all watches under the moniker carried five key attributes: (1) automatic winding, (2) day and date display in a single window, (3) water resistance, (4) recessed crown at 4 o’clock, (5) durable steel case.

The SNK line has all these: it’s got a 7S26 movement with 40 hours of power reserve that drives a day and date window at 3 p.m. It’s got Seiko’s “Magic Lever” winding system inside, which means the watch’s rotor winds the movement extremely efficiently. It’s not the prettiest movement, but most Seiko 5s came with a skeleton case back which allows new enthusiasts a glimpse of how entrancing a mechanical movement can be. These movements have been known to run for decades without service, and when you do need service, it’s easy to find because it’s such a ubiquitous caliber. Some complain that there’s no manual winding of the movement, but give the watch a few shakes before you strap it on your wrist, and it’s off and ticking.

The stainless steel case is water resistant to 100 feet (and Seiko is known for underestimating the water resistance of their timepieces), with 37mm diameter and 11m thickness.

The only real complaint I have is the canvas strap the watch comes with: it’s a cheap canvas that just doesn’t feel comfortable or look good. I swapped it out for a seatbelt NATO of the same color, and the watch instantly felt and looked better on the wrist.

When we write about watches, true value propositions like this are too often overlooked. For some reason, finding a good horological value isn’t respected the same way it is in other consumer categories. And while other large brands and microbrands offer value propositions in the $1,000-$2,000 category, Seiko is perhaps the only brand offering a true piece of watchmaking under $100.

Where to Find It

You can find the Seiko 5 SNK in all its iterations on Amazon, JomaShop, and other online retailers. You shouldn’t pay more than $65 for the watch, though you’ll see prices vary, especially on Amazon.

The Micro-Brand Watches You Need to Know

Check out these watch brands before you buy that Daniel Wellington or MVMT

As I began to fall deeper into the watch wormhole and looked to drop some real cash on my first time piece, my natural inclination was to find the best direct-to-consumer internet-first brand out there. Hey, if it works for my favorite cashmere sweater, fresh pair of white sneakers, and other wardrobe staples, why not watches? Of course, watches are a little different; many watch manufacturers have built up brand equity over centuries. Consumers connect to vintage pieces in a company’s collection and identify with the story their branding tells. And over those centuries, these brands have cultivated manufacturing expertise allowing them to craft beautiful in-house movements. But, more than one microbrand has managed to break through, often acquiring a cult-like following who devoutly snaps up their favorite brand’s new release minutes after it’s released. While distribution channels for major brands like Rolex or Patek Phillipe are often difficult for consumers to navigate, these microbrands leverage the internet to cultivate consumer relationships and brand loyalty.

Some websites do wonderful work covering microbrands (Worn & Wound and Gear Patrol among them), but they often don’t gather information about these brands into one easy-to-access resource, forcing you to search their archives for holistic information. I wanted to take some time to consolidate information about some of the best microbrands I’ve seen out there, what they’re about, and why they might be for you.

First, an attempt to define the term “microbrand”. It’s a term ambiguous almost by its very nature, but what these brands generally have in common is a direct-to-consumer model driven by ecommerce. Wikipedia defines microbrand watch companies as those selling 300-2000 pieces a year, which sounds good enough to me. They’re typically priced much lower than luxury watches (think a few thousand dollars, at lost), and leverage global manufacturing to source movements from ETA or Miyota, which also provide movements for some of the most well-known watch companies in the world (ETA is owned by Swatch Group, Miyota by Citizen Group). The brands – which are typically operated by just a few proprietors – then do the dial and case design or outsource the work to a shop. If you dig into their stories, you’ll also often find these brands got their start from a successful Kickstarter campaign.

In other words, check these brands out before you purchase that new Daniel Wellington or MVMT watch. Enough housekeeping, let’s get to the watches!

Christopher Ward

Christopher Ward is something of a pioneer in the online-only microbrand space, launching from Maidenhead, England in 2004. Three English buddies, all with a common passion for watches, decided to start a company selling watches with Swiss movements at a fraction of the price you might see from a legacy Swiss brand. The company got its start by packing Swiss ETA movements into clean, well-designed dials, but has since begun building its own in-house movements. They supposedly caused a bit of a firestorm on watch forums when they released their first watch (leading to user bans when forum moderators thought the users were posting paid Christopher Ward content). In true Barbara Streisand-effect irony, the brand only grew from there. Their in-house caliber is actually the result of Christopher Ward’s 2014 merger with their Swiss manufacturing partner  Their automatic SH21 contains an impressive 120-hour power reserve, and is now available in a variety of watches from the brand, including the Grand Malvern Power Reserve, their best-selling watch. It’s priced at $1,900, about the sweet spot for most of Christopher Ward’s collection.

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Christopher Ward’s Grand Malvern Power Reserve with in-house caliber

Now, the company has a comprehensive line of watches, including dress, dive or sport, aviation, motorsport, often with fun and subtle design quirks. For example, watches in their new Trident line contain a seconds hand with trident spear counter balance.

Instagram (25k followers)

Oak & Oscar

Oak & Oscar was founded in 2015 by Chase Fancher (full disclosure: I’m biased towards this company because they’re based in my hometown of Chicago). They’ve been hard at work ever since, releasing three models over the preceding years: the Burnham Date, the Sandford GMT, and the Jackson Chronograph. Every design is beautifully executed, something you’d expect from a company that named its first model after Daniel Burnham, the architect behind the Flatiron Building and many of Chicago’s greatest buildings. Previous models have sold out, but the Jackson Chronograph is still available for purchase on their website. Often, they’ll post on Instagram about their Oak & Oscar owner retreats, and it’s honestly pretty cool to have created a passionate community of watch collectors who also want to hang out together. Midwest nice.

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Oak & Oscar’s latest model, the Jackson Chronograph

The Jackson comes in three variations: a stainless steel case with either a navy or grey dial, or a PVD case with darker grey dial. All went through limited production runs put remain available on Oak & Oscar’s website (though the warning “Low Stock!” sits on each version’s page). It’s a powered by a manually-wound Eterna movement (Swiss) that beats at 28,800 vibrations per minute, with a 60 hour power reserve. The case is 40mm in diameter and slightly thick at 14.5mm, giving the watch a nice presence on the wrist. One can also see through the sapphire caseback that the 25-jewel movement is nicely decorated, with four stars cutout of a bridge, referencing the city of Chicago’s flag. The stainless steel Jackson is $2,850, while the PVD-coated version is $3,150.

Oak & Oscar (rightly) claims that watch boxes have little utility and end up buried in a closet, so instead they send the watch with a nicely crafted leather watch wallet which holds three watches and has enough room to hold the spare straps they also send with the watch. Their leather is sourced from Chicago’s Horween Leather Company. Personally I’ve been scouring the forums and Ebay for a Sandford GMT, but to no avail yet, which is probably a testament to the fact that the original purchasers keep these watches.

Instagram (24k followers)

Autodromo

“Instruments for motoring” is the tagline of New York City-based Autodromo. The brand was launched in 2011 by a a vintage car fanatic, for vintage car fanatics. Its collection ranges from distinctive quartz chronographs to more simple automatic pieces. The last couple of years, Autodromo’s collection has been defined by its partnering with Ford to produce the Ford GT Endurance Chronographs, commemorating the Ford GT’s first win at Le Mans in 1966. If you’re into racing at all, you’ll immediately recognize this colorway:

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Autodromo Ford GT Endurance Chronograph with Le Mans commemorative dial

The worlds of vintage car and vintage watch enthusiasts seem to naturally overlap, and Autodromo has leveraged this to its advantage, carving out a nice niche in the sub-$1,000 space.

Instagram (37k followers)

Martenero

Brooklyn-based Martenero launched in 2014 with two models, the Founder and the Ace. They’ve added five watches to their collection since, each with a distinct and customizable style. The founders started the brand to create contemporary, yet classic time pieces; at a time when so many brands just re-release takes on their vintage models, it’s refreshing to see a brand with distinctively 21st-century design, with clear inspiration from classic watch motifs. Their most recent release, the Kerrison, comes packed with an automatic Miyota 9015 movement – the Citizen-built movement that’s a favorite of upstart brands the world over (that I just realized you can purchase on Amazon for about a hundred bucks). The designs are simple with a certain whimsy and punch of color that really makes the dials and hands stand out.

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The Martenero Kerrison, a 42mm watch packed with an automatic Miyota movement.

Instagram (13k followers)

Halios

Halios and its flagship Seaforth diver watch are something of a darling to the internet watch world. Halios is essentially a one-man operation run by founder Jason Lim out of Vancouver. Halios is very much a passion project of Lim’s, but luckily his taste is impeccable; he’s inspired by 60s sport watches that are built to do anything and everything. He keeps his watches priced under $1,000, sourcing production out of Asia. Its Seaforth contains the ever-popular ETA 2824-2 automatic movement, so you know its built to last. It’s got a classic dive-watch build and a steel GMT bezel. Go to any watch forum and you’ll find a passionate base of Halios owners.

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The tough-as-nails Halios Seaforth.

Instagram (23k followers)

Weiss

Weiss Watch Company is one of the few companies that has a legitimate claim to the mantle “made in America”. Weiss Watch Company was started by Cameron Weiss, a California native who learned all his watch making skills in Switzerland – first in watchmaking school, before stints at Audemar Piguet and Vacheron Constantin. He’s truly passionate about bringing fine watchmaking back to the states, and if you flip over one of his watches, you’ll see he’s not messing around. All his watches feature Weiss’ own beautifully finished CAL 1003 movement. Its military-inspired field watch will inspire mid-century nostalgia in even the coldest of souls.Screen Shot 2018-10-13 at 4.35.49 PM.png

Instagram (16k followers)

Farer

“British Design x Swiss Made” is the moniker of popular micro-brand Farer. Their increasingly robust collection contains chronographs, GMTs, and simple three-hand designs. The company emphasizes the use of color, detail, and contrasting textures on their dials, leaving the internal movement to the Swiss experts. This means contrasting sub-dials on its chronographs and fun seconds hands, but to me, its GMT is perhaps best served by the inclusion of different colors. The GMT will set you back about $1,500, making it another viable option in the sub-$2,000 price range.

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A Farer GMT. What’s not to like about that green hand?

Instagram (22k followers)

Unimatic

Italian brand Unimatic is all about no-nonsense dive watches. They produce watches in small runs – usually less than 1,000 watches – and its hard to beat the prices too. For example, its Modello Unos will run you about $600. And they contain Seiko movements inside, which some of the most honest, durable (and well-priced) movements you’ll find anywhere.

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Unimatic’s minimalist dive watch | Instagram

Instagram (28k followers)

Raven

Raven has been quietly building classic-looking dive watches out of Overland Park, Kansas since 2008. Many of them have a Submariner feel, with case sizes varying from 40mm (Trekker, a classic dive watch) to 47mm (Titanium Deep, a monster of a watch). Most models come in at around $1,000, and all use the Swiss workhorse ETA 2824 automatic movement. It’s a movement also used by many Hamilton and Tissot watches in the $500-$1,000 price range, so you know you’re getting a quality Swiss movement inside the well-built stainless steel cases.

Instagram (6k followers)

Ochs Und Junior

Okay, this one’s a little different than those previously mentioned, but come on. Ochs Und Junior produces about 130 watches a year, most of which are custom made. Its perpetual calendar might just be the perfect watch: the perpetual calendar movement takes only nine additional parts, displaying what (in my opinion) is a modern horological wonder. The minimal, brutalist design might turn some off, but I keep coming back to the company’s video illustrating the build of the perpetual calendar. They’ll set you back about $30,000 though, so start saving your francs.

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