Orient Watches: the Japanese brand with a cult following for sharp designs and extraordinary valueThor Svaboe
Orient is a strong value-based Japanese brand beloved of watch forum and vintage fanatics. The most well-known references are bold ’70s forays into the colourful world of degrade and multi-year calendar dials. While merging with Epson in the early 70s brought Orient watches under the strong wings of the Seiko corporation, they have stayed true to their own path of Japanese design and great value cementing their position in the Asian market. But in the west they remain something of a secret that’s well worth discovering.
Orient enjoyed an upsurge in the 2000s with the classic shape and mechanical calibers of the Bambino range, while the Mako divers are seen as a strong value alternative to the ubiquitous Seiko SKX’s in the US. Like Seiko, the brand’s calling-card is strong divers with solid mechanical movements. With a 70-year history under their belt, Orient Watches is a force to be reckoned with, and here are five strong cards of a winning hand, all with a distinct flavour of Japanese individuality.
The Kamasu is exactly what it seems, a great everyday tough diver’s watch with a classic dark blue dial and a grip-friendly bezel. Quite similar in look to the well-known Mako, this 41.8mm diver is a great Seiko alternative. A solid 200m depth rating still constitutes a mark of resilience, and at this price point we have a storied Japanese manufacturer delivering at microbrand level pricing. The case is a strong medium sized nugget of 316L steel, with a delicate bevel running the length of the case, a comfortably short lug to lug and that indefinable midnight blue, which is very much still the colour du jour in 2020. The dial is an excellent example of classic diver’s cues with Orient’s trademark sharp hands and a distinct needle second-hand with an intricate arrow tip in orange reaching the minute track. While the design of the Kamasu is more classic Swiss than Japanese, we still have the typical Japanese silver framed day-date window, while the quality of the delightful crested logo and swoopy text at six is enough to set this apart from a mainstream crowd of me-too diver’s tools. Price: $460 US
A stronger, slightly larger brother to the Kamasu perhaps? The Neptune (or Triton, depending on market) is a 43.4mm large case diver that also boasts a 200m depth rating and a more typical Japanese shape case (did I say Seiko-ish?) with the inclusion of a 4 o’clock crown. I cannot stress enough how important this is for comfort, and here it’s done by the book, a large crown snuck between muscular crown guards, in a soft case brush finish means that it will feel less than its 43.4mm on the wrist, and the large crown is easily accessible. The comfortable bracelet is the same as on the Kamasu and, while not solid steel, constitutes great value with solid end links and a dependable diver’s clasp (this would also rock one of our own ISOFRANE rubber straps you can find here). The Neptune is classified to the JIS (Japanese Industrial Standard) for a Class 1 diver, and powered by the same reliable automatic in-house caliber 40N5A as the Pro Saturation Diver. What sets the Neptune apart is its gold details, lending it a more glamorous tool watch vibe. The 40 hours of power reserve is marked by a half moon indicator at 1 o’clock, with a small golden lumed pointer underlining the superb detail work on what is an exemplary diver’s dial, with large applied indices, generously lumed up. The Orient Neptune is a classic tool, the golden details only serving to accentuate the feeling of value for a sub $800 US diver’s watch that’s tough enough to go with you into the depths. Price: $750 US
In addition to their diver’s range, this is an excellent example of what we typically associate with a German pilot’s watch, or Flieger. Resolutely a legible tool watch on a mission, the dial has a weapon-like grainy texture contrasted with the generous white lume in the Arabic numerals and large minutes on the outside, while the hours are inside an inner circle, where we would normally find a 24-hour scale on a field watch. With a few different colourways, this is by far the most battle-ready of the bunch, in a jet-black PVD steel case on a tough looking NATO. This Flieger is a remodelled version of an Orient favourite, this year with a new automatic caliber, the F6722, and looks well built and matched to a tee on its dark green NATO. Lock and load men, mission brief in zero five hours. Price: $355 US
Orient Star Outdoor
A field watch or a top tier pilot’s watch? No matter, we like this discretely sized 41mm reference without the usual Orient crest, as this is part of the top shelf Orient Star range, a more sophisticated take on the Orient Watches portfolio. We notice the sharper details such as a slightly twisted bevel on the brushed PVD case, slender lugs ensuring a comfortable fit and a flowing line in the balanced case shape. The enhanced 22 jewel F6N43 calibre in the Outdoor has a 50-hour power reserve shown in a useful indicator at 12 o’clock. At more than $1500US we expect standout details, and the Outdoor delivers, the classic large onion crown and brown hand stitched leather strap tick the vintage pilot style boxes. Meanwhile this version is elegantly coloured with a matte grey dial, and understated cream lume for the narrow minute track, large indices and quadrant numerals, plus a bold set of skeletonized black hands. An AR-coated sapphire crystal protects this consummate tool on your missions (you have a pilot’s licence, surely?), while the exhibition caseback shows off the new movement. Price: $1,685 US
Here we have a bona fide classic, the beloved Bambino. A great way to get into mechanical watchmaking in general, and especially if you’re of a vintage bent. The Bambino is a comprehensive range and is exceptional value at a tad more than $300 US. For that you get a classically styled wristwatch that could have come straight out of a vacuum-sealed package from the late sixties. With an automatic, hacking calibre in the 40 hour F6724 in-house movement, this is no microbrand and would easily be on my list for “best value mechanical classic men’s watch from a major brand in 2020”. We have applied indices, polished sword hands, a delicious red tipped seconds hand and a degrade dial. And that’s no Black Friday price. A domed crystal completes this package, which at 42mm with an 11mm thickness constitutes nothing short of a bargain. And that’s why the Bambino name is the most well known in the Orient range. Make a note of it. Did I mention the leather strap has a contrasting colour lining? You better believe it. Price: $310 US