Over the decade or so since this era of internet-driven microbrand watches began, a lot of things have changed: brands have certainly proliferated, OEM manufacturers have improved their capabilities, the list of movements available to microbrands has expanded, contracted, and expanded again, and competition for attention and customer dollars has become fierce. Two things that really haven’t changed much are that the mainstay of microbrands continues to be the “GADA” (Go Anywhere, Do Anything) diver-style watch, and that Kickstarter continues to be where a lot of these watches get their start.
Along those lines, the Pacific Explorer by Denmark-based Coast Watches is a GADA diver-style watch that launched on Kickstarter on April 16, 2021. The Pacific Explorer, however, does offer a feature set and design that set it apart from many more generic counterparts. For this review, I was able to get my hands on a grey-dialed variant with a steel 12-hour bezel, and true to the name, I took it for a little exploration of the Pacific Coast around the San Francisco Bay Area.
What’s in the Box:
The Pacific Explorer comes in a pretty wide array of configurations. Bezel options include ceramic unidrectional dive bezels, metal 12-hour bidirectional bezels, and plain fixed bezels. The buyer can also choose from a two-tone look done up with bronze bezels (full bronze for the 12-hour and fixed bezels and ceramic insert on a bronze bezel for the dive timer) and a matching brownish dial or stainless steel models with blue and grey dial options. The brand has also teased green and red dial options as potential stretch goals for the Kickstarter campaign.
The watch comes with a quick release 20mm jubilee-style bracelet and a leather pouch. Other purchase options include a rather nice three-watch case (I’d call it a “roll” but that would be kind of a lie – more on this later) and a few strap options. It’s a pretty comprehensive array, and help make this watch a nice gifting option for someone just getting into mechanical watches or even as a quirky “one watch collection” for those so inclined.
Watch Case, Movement, and Bezel: Standard Fare, With a Few Nice Details
The Pacific Explorer is one of the latest microbrand divers to embrace a sub-40mm world, coming in at 39mm in diameter with a 47mm lug-to-lug distance and 12mm thickness including a very slightly protruding flat sapphire crystal. The watch comes in at 154g with its full bracelet, and 72g head only. Despite the pretty modest specs, the watch felt like a bit of a chonk on the wrist, possibly due to a fairly plain brushed side profile and relatively beefy lugs.
One advantage to thicker lugs is that the watch comes with drilled lug holes; this feature, combined with the quick release bracelet that comes with every watch and the fact that the lug width is a very standard 20mm, should make for a piece that works well with all manner of straps, though I’d recommend a thicker leather strap in most cases and certainly for the rotating bezel variants. The case watch sits a bit high on the wrist, though it remains reasonably comfortable overall.
Speaking of the bezel, the variant I tested out had a 12-hour stainless steel bidirectional bezel. The bezel action was quite good, a nod to the ceramic ball bearings underlying the mechanism and to the fact that the 60-click rotation tends to give a bit more of a solid feel. Due to the watch being a prototype, the bezel mechanism did feel a little rough but the brand confirmed that this is a prototype issue that should be resolved when production models ship.
One detail about that bezel that impressed me was the lack of a visible “insert ring” in the steel bezel; whether or not this was actually the case, the bezel looked as though it was created from one solid piece of metal. This feature gives the watch a more minimalist, unified feel and indicates a thoughtful approach to finishing.
Indeed, the overall finishing on this watch was pretty good, and quite strong for this price point. The caseback is stamped with a compass rose design which is quite deep and nicely executed. The choice of brushed and polished finishes was quite tasteful, and I particularly enjoyed the wide polished bevels on the lugs that switch to brushed for a nice transition to the brushed bracelet.
This results in a twisted lug feel that adds depth and visual interest to what is otherwise a pretty plain case overall. The large screw down crown is stamped with an anchor motif and is unguarded, which adds to a vintage diver aesthetic that shines throughout the piece. Overall, the execution of the finishing was somewhat middle of the road; some of the transitions and finished felt slightly unrefined, but again Coast has committed to a much higher quality of finishing in the final production pieces.
The watch is powered by a Sellita SW200 movement, which carries a bit more prestige in some circles at a price point usually populated with Miyotas, but the downside is that use of an SW200 leaves a phantom date position when setting the watch. It’s not a huge deal, and is an issue shared by most other watches at this price point. I don’t think a dateless Miyota movement would have been out of place on this watch at all, and could probably have contributed to a slightly thinner profile as well as a slightly lower price, but the SW200 is definitely a great movement with a reputation for reliability and serviceability.
Bracelet and Accessories: Loaded with Features
The vintage vibe continues with the jubilee-style bracelet. It’s quite well executed, with a nice solid feel, sturdy endlinks, and screwed links that I much prefer to a pin-and-collar system. The clasp is a basic flip locker with a couple of microadjust holes; nothing to write home about for sure, but also a proven design that should keep things secure.
The quick release springbars on this bracelet will largely be embraced by customers, and certainly made the bracelet really easy to remove. One might question whether a quick release bracelet was strictly needed when the case already had drilled lugs, but it’s a nice convenience feature for most customers.
Quick note on the optional three-watch case: This thing is quite nice! It’s a hexagonal watch “roll” that doesn’t roll, ensconced in distressed leather panels with a nice soft finish within. The three watch cushions slotted and removable, and the whole thing was sturdy enough that the review unit was shipped just in this hex roll inside a bubble envelope.
The downside of this design versus a soft leather roll is that there isn’t an easy way to stick extra straps or tools into the case, but with quick release everything it’s not strictly needed with this watch. It also makes for a nice background for watch photos, for what it’s worth.
Dial: The Heart of the Ocean
Bad fumé dials can get really, really bad. An ugly gradient can turn an otherwise nicely done dial into a literal bad ombré. The Pacific Explorer, thankfully, boasts a fumé-style gradient that is done extremely well, especially for the price. Indeed, the dial of the Pacific Explorer is absolutely the crown jewel of the piece.
Combining a sandwich construction, really nice brushing, and the aforementioned fumé, this dial has a whole lot going on that would be really easy to mess up. The complexity of the dial is ambitious for an affordable watch, and fortunately, the quality of the execution delivers nicely on that ambition.
The subtle grey dial on the review unit absolutely shimmered in the light, providing an effect that is reminiscent of pieces from brands literally orders of magnitude higher in price. The C1X1 Superluminova was not particularly bright, but it did seem to last quite a long time. It glowed with a nice subtle blue hue and looked very good as part of the sandwich dial.
The open numerals, necessary on a sandwich dial layout like this, are maybe a touch thinner than I’d prefer, but overall the dial looks really nicely balanced and the combination of finishes provides a tremendous sense of depth. A sandwich dial rather than applied indices was the right choice for this watch and helps bring the very minimalist case design together, stepping back and making way for that brushed fumé.
All three hands on the watch boast arrowhead designs. The hour hand and minute hand don’t differ much in length, but the minute hand is segmented which adds some differentiation and looks nice in the dark. The seconds hand is tipped with a lumed arrowhead pointer. The hands offer nice legibility but don’t overwhelm the design in any way; the dial is clearly the star feature here, and everything else takes a utilitarian step back. It works nicely and serves not to overwhelm the wearer with zany “look at me” features.
When designing watches at these lower price points, tradeoffs certainly need to be made. Here, Coast has traded a plain-ish case profile and slightly-better-than-middle-of-the-road finish quality for myriad thoughtful convenience features. By and large, the brand seems to have made some good decisions in this regard. Although at first this watch seems to be just another copycat GADA diver, the thought that went into the mix of finishes, the convenience features littered throughout, and the really excellent dial that punches well above its price point help this watch to rise to the surface among an ocean of contenders.
Would I buy this watch? Absolutely I would; in fact, I’ve already preordered one.
The Coast Pacific Explorer is available on Kickstarter for around $560-600 USD (pricing is actually in Danish Kroner and there are a whole lot of tiers and bundles) for fifteen days beginning April 16, 2021. For more information, visit Coast Watches.
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Ever since his first watch, a talking Dick Tracy thing won in a local chicken impersonation contest at age five, Aggressive Timing Habits has been fascinated by all watches from Amphibias to Zeniths and the people who create and collect them. His contributions to TBWS represent a new outlet to discuss the miracle of drilled lugs and debate the virtues of balance bridges vs balance cocks, much to the relief of friends and loved ones.