The mechanical chronograph isn’t anything new. Once upon a time, it was the only way a chronograph could be had. Then came the Automatic Caliber 12, for the elite among us, and finally the quartz powered Seiko 7a28 brought the analog chronograph back into the hands of regular folk, and since then, if you wanted an analog chronograph under $1000, quartz was what you had to have. That’s just how things were for about 20 years, and finally, Seiko came out with the Mecha-quartz that mimicked an old school mechanical.
That movement exploded appearing in just about ever microbrand chronograph for a few years. But did it actually quench the thirst of affordable mechanical chronograph? Or did it just leave its users yearning for the real thing? For me it was a little bit of the latter. The Seagull ST1901 isn’t new either, but the stigma of Chinese made movements seems to be waning a bit in the last few years as more and more microbrands seem to be taking a chance with it. Some people still turn their nose up at it, but brands have seen the opportunity to capitalize on what some people want while still keeping prices low. The Heitis Watch Company is one of the latest to take the plunge, and I’m lucky enough to be able to bring to you their new Chronograph. The V2.
To be honest, I’d never heard of the Heitis Chronograph and had to look it up. First off, I can tell you that the new V2 (above right) is a vast improvement over the V1 (above left) just by looking at it. Their current chrono suffers from “big case, small movement” syndrome making it look like Little Face from the Dick Tracy comics. Their new chronograph steps in a different direction. In fact, it’s something completely different. Rather than be your run-of-the-mill fashion chrono, the new Heitis is set to be your “go anywhere, do anything” watch with a touch of class. Now, usually if you try to jam to many characters into one movie, you end up with a jumbled mess that rarely achieves anything it sets out to do. Will a watch be the same?
The Case and Bezel
Let’s start with the size of the case. At 42mm wide, it’s a downsize from the previous chronograph, but the trade off is in the thickness. Because of the mechanical chronograph this time around, thickness is up. I measured it at 14.5mm from crystal to crystal, which can be thick compared to a quartz, but it’s almost 2mm smaller compared to an affordable auto chrono like the 7750. The case is brushed all around with the exception of polished chamfers to break it up, giving it that tool watch look and feel that tries to dress itself up a bit.
The brushing is ok; however, this watch seems to have the same guy who works for Bulova at the helm. Particularly on the left side, the brushing looks like it was done with low grit sandpaper in one swipe as the watch was heading out the door. I fully understand that this is a really affordable watch but there are better examples of brushing out there.
One thing the watch does really well is the finish on the bezel and the knurling on the crown. Both are exceptionally sharp and offer a high level of grip and feel solidly made. Luckily, due partly to the thickness of the case, the crown and pushers never seemed to dig into my wrist even when it was strapped to my wrist tighter than a boa constrictor. While easy to grip and wind, my complaint is that the pushers aren’t actually screw down. And that’s fine, as there really isn’t a point in screw down pushers on a watch that isn’t intended to be a diver, but the faux screw down look is not appealing and presented me with a functional issue.
The ST1901, for a mechanical movement, has one of the most “dead fish handshake” clicks when the pushers are pushed of any mechanical chronograph. Sometimes there is no report from the pusher other than the watch begins to work or doesn’t. Also, it takes most of the distance of the pusher to activate the chronograph. On something like the Sea-Gull 1963, there is no issue, but on the Heitis, the faux screw down pusher actually made it difficult to activate and de-activate the chronograph quickly as the button almost has to be pushed beyond it to work. I actually thought the chrono function was broken when I got it. I can only hope it’s an isolated issue because I’ve had cheap quartz that worked better. But it’s definitely a case, rather than movement, issue.
The bezel insert is ceramic with an hour scale. The markers are nice and sharp and have luminous paint in them which actually shines pretty nicely. It doesn’t stay bright quite as long as the dial and hands but it does show up brightly when you walk in from having been out in the sun. It’s unidirectional, which may be counter-intuitive to the hour bezel. I guess you could use it as a countdown bezel, but my brain has trouble with numbers if it’s not spelled out for me. The ceramic will shine like a diamond along with the sapphire crystal, that doesn’t appear to have any AR coating of any kind, and will be scratch resistant and keep the face clean even if taken on an actual adventure.
The see-through case back also has a sapphire crystal which gives you a glance at the ST1901 and its artificially blued screws. Sitting face down on a table, the back of the watch actually has a strong look. However, I felt that on a watch like this, it wasn’t really necessary. I feel like see-through would be better suited on a dressier watch, but that may just be my opinion. I feel like there’s no reason for this type of watch to need to show off what it’s got under the hood, but then again, there’s always that flex.
The only information I could find on the dial was that it was a “sandwich,” and unlike the Archon I wrote about last year, it is! There is a clear recess at the 5-minute indices and they are all packed with the same C3 lume that is on the rest of the watch. If the watch does anything well, it does have a strong lume for the price. I’ve seen worse from watches that cost way more. We all have. The dial has the same high gloss as the ceramic bezel with two silver record pattern sub dials for the running seconds and chronograph elapsed minutes. All of the colorways will have the black dial, and silver sword hands with the only difference being the color of the chapter ring and the markers around the sub dials.
The one I have is a maroon tone, the others will be yellow and what appears to be blue. The chapter ring on this watch is interesting in that it’s a scale that isn’t used much anymore. It breaks a minute, or an hour, down into hundredths or tenths, something I’ve only seen on old Omegas and a few other European models from olden days. From what I’ve been able to find, this scale was somewhat used in old racing applications or in Europe, but mostly failed to gain acceptance in the United States as we don’t need no stinkin’ tenths. It’s different, and cool looking, but as for it’s practical use, I’m just going to leave that to the wearer. I mean, I like Tachymeter and Telemeter scales myself, and use them for nothing.
Finally, we get to the strap. Premium canvas with quick release (which is always nice), as the website puts it. If you like canvas straps, it is nice, thick, and feels like you’re wearing a converse Chuck Taylor on your wrist. They’ll also take about any beating you put on them, as will the military inspired tang clasp. The downside is that it has the flexibility of a 2×4 which can sometimes be problematic depending on your wrist size, but it comes off fast if canvas isn’t your thing. This canvas is meant for business though, coming in at 22mm all the way down. The maroon comes with a dark brown, while the yellow appears to come with a strap that is closer to khaki. From what I can tell, leather may also be available as a choice or sold separately.
We discussed the ST1901 movements inability to report clicks a little already, and this movement divides watch enthusiasts all over the world and even amongst our TBWS constituents. While I believe that it probably isn’t the most robust chronograph ever made (as evident by a Sea Gull 1963 I recently had to repair that was either dropped or malfunctioned due to user error), let me defend it somewhat. If you’re lucky or fortunate enough to have been able to graduate into chronographs like the Omega Speedmaster or other similar models, there’s probably not going to be much that you find here.
This movement is simple, based on a chronograph movement of yore, it’s probably not super accurate or very shock proof. Nor is it very decorated. It’s like walking into a suit and tie event with a t-shirt of a suit and tie. But having said that, if you’re still like I am, a working-class stiff that doesn’t have the disposable income to graduate to a high-class movement yet, this movement gives you the chance to test drive a lesser version of what you could, or might, have someday down the road. Everyone had to have the non Vtec Civic sedan before we bought that rip roaring Integra Type-R, right? To me, that’s not a bad thing. It might not be for everyone.
Quartz chronographs are definitely easier to keep up with, maintain, and they do more stuff most of the time. They’re also way more accurate all of the time. Sea-Gull puts accuracy at -10 to +40 a day. But, if you were interested in mechanical chronographs, this is where you start. The ST1901 is the kind of thing you can expect from affordable vintage chronographs. It’s a good jumping off point, and does wonders for affordable watches. We all love Mecha-quartz, but it’s just trying to be what this is. It was made to imitate what this does. And it wears that god awful, and totally worthless, 24hr sub dial, which this does not. It’s a good choice, and I figure we’ll see more of this as time goes on.
To be honest, Heitis has built a pretty nice little watch. The case is done nicely, all of the finishes (with the exception of some brushing) is all very well done. The dial and hands are all easily readable, even if the time scales on the bezel and chapter ring are slightly confusing or impractical, and the lume is very good.
Heitis puts a price of $479 on this watch, putting it in competition with other ST1901 chronograph watches in the microbrand world. But Heitis falls into the microbrand pitfall of trying to give you several different watches in one. And sadly, none of them ever really take off. I consulted with our contributor Damon about my inability to be inspired to write about this watch, and he suggested that I mention it. It’s the truth, I had a hard time trying to sit down and write about it because nothing really stood out to me.
It’s not a bad watch at all, but it’s got a log going on that isn’t really all that practical, nor all that dressy. I feel like maybe this should have tried to be more one or the other. I think overall it wants to be a tool watch or an outdoors watch, but it’s got too much going on to succeed at being purely one thing or another. Maybe if the scales were something more useful, and maybe they are to some, but I found them to be cumbersome. And if I had $500 burning a hole in my pocket, well, there’s always that other brand with a ST1901 under the hood. Queue transition of a Lorier Gemini soaring past the Hietis on a racetrack.
Baird is an avid motoring enthusiast and a self taught hobbyist watchmaker from Bristol, TN. He has a love for all things mechanical and has an affinity for the style late 60s and 70s Chronographs and Dive watches. Baird views watches as engineering marvels and tools for everyday life rather than just jewelry. His writing style is inspired by certain “British automotive journalists” and his own experiences growing up and living in a blue-collar society.