Orient 3 Star Review (FAB00009N): Undiscovered Quality and Affordability

By: Andrew Gatto

If you are shopping for an affordable, fully in-house automatic watch, only a few manufacturers come to mind. Chances are Seiko is the first to pop into your head with their Seiko 5 line of automatic watches. But what about Orient, the Seiko Epson owned watch manufacturer? Orient’s direct competitor to the Seiko 5 is the Orient 3 Star (also referred to as Tri-Star or Standard) line of automatic watches. The 3 Star line is a basic dress style watch with simple automatic movements – many also feature unique dial colors not seen on other brands.

As with most information about Orient’s history, finding details about when the 3 Star line was introduced is difficult. The general consensus is that sometime in the 1970’s Orient wanted to produce a reliable watch that did not require battery changes but also did not need regular service like most automatic watches of the day.

Orient 3 Star FAB00009N Specs

  • Case Size: 37mm
  • Lug to Lug: 43mm
  • Thickness: 11mm
  • Lug Width: 19mm
  • Crystal: Mineral
  • Water Resistance: 30 meters
  • Movement: Orient 21-jewel automatic with day/date
  • Under $70 on Amazon

Their supposed target markets were less developed areas of the world that had no access to fresh watch batteries so a low cost yet dependable automatic watch would be popular. After being released, the rest of the world slowly began to appreciate the Orient 3 Star’s affordable quality and buyers from all around wanted one.

It appears the Orient 3 Star has a respectable history with providing developing countries an affordable timepiece that they could depend on, but does that make the watch worth buying? I have had the green dial reference FAB00009N for several weeks and have experienced both the positives and negatives of wearing a low cost watch in everyday situations.

Quality of the Orient 3 Star Case

The case is constructed of a stainless steel alloy to help ensure its durability and long life. It features a combination of polished and brushed surfaces (mostly brushed) which gives the watch a little personality (even though it’s Orient’s budget option). Orient could have easily made the entire case either polished or brushed to save time and money but they went a step above and gave it some character.

They chose to highlight the beautiful green dial with a thin polished steel bezel surrounding the crystal. This little pop of polished metal reflects the light and nicely compliments the shiny gold colored hour markers without being overly flashy or unsightly.

Moving to the top of the case, the Orient 3 Star FAB00009N features a brushed pattern that flows from one lug, around the bezel, to the other lug. In yet another example of Orient’s attention to detail, they added a thin polished bevel between the top and sides of the case. This polished bevel distinguishes the brushed case top from the brushed case sides without creating a sharp seam.

It gives the watch another pop of polish to break up the mostly brushed case without being overpowering. Finally, the case sides are done in a vertically brushed pattern to keep with the predominantly muted finish of this watch.

It’s obvious that Orient has focused on their case and finishing quality with this line since all of the brushing and polishing is done to a level that I feel is above its sub $100 price point. It’s certainly not Grand Seiko or Rolex quality but all of the brushing is consistent and has no noticeable waves or irregularities. Like the brushing, the limited polishing is nicely finished and has no real irregularities to mention. All of the case lines are smooth to the touch and have no sharp transitions from surface to surface.

Moving to the underside of the Orient 3 Star, the entire case bottom is polished along with the outer edge of the solid case back cover. The center of the case back cover is finished in a brushed circular pattern with the Orient Lion logo, “water resistant,” “stainless steel,” and some seemingly random model or manufacturing numbers laser etched into the stainless steel.

Even though nobody but the owner will ever notice it, Orient did a surprising good job at making the etching incredibly smooth and crisp for a watch at this price point. It should be noted that there is no significant amount of empty space available on the case back to have custom engraving done if you were looking at giving this watch as a gift.

Unlike some Orient 3 Star references that have both a crown and a day change pusher, the FAB00009N is operated solely through its 3 o’clock push/pull crown. The crown measures 5mm in diameter, which is small.

With its minimal knurling, it can be difficult to manipulate with your fingers. Especially when setting the time, the small crown can make fine adjustments a chore since it can be hard to grip. It is recessed into the case side but Orient intelligently designed the case to curve away from the bottom half of the crown to allow your fingernail a place to grip under it. The unsigned crown is a basic design with a polished end that helps breakup the brushed case sides. A signed crown would have been a nice added detail but at this price point I can’t blame Orient for deciding to pass on that.


 
 

Measuring a comfortable 37mm in diameter, the Orient 3 Star FAB00009N sits nicely on the wrist of both men and women. Its short lug to lug length of 43mm means it wears relatively small and the vast majority of people won’t have to worry about it overhanging their wrist. Its overall size is inoffensive and not too flashy, which makes it a great everyday watch for those who’d rather fly under the radar. To me, the case dimensions are spot on for a basic everyday watch. It’s nice to see Orient ignored the trend to “upgrade” the 3 Star by enlarging its case size like so many other watch brands.

Orient did us all a favor by making the FAB00009N’s lug width 19mm to fit a wide variety of aftermarket straps. Although 20mm lugs would’ve been even better, most 20mm nylon and other soft straps will compress to 19mm without much effort or unsightliness. I was able to put a 20mm perlon strap on it without any fuss or difficulty.

One change I’d like to see here is fully drilled lug holes to make strap changes a little easier. Although not too difficult as it is, drilled lugs would reduce the chances of scratching the lugs with the forked end of the spring bar tool.

Protecting the dial is a flat mineral crystal that sits ever so slightly above the polished metal bezel. At this price point, you might expect to get a scratch prone plastic acrylic crystal but Orient wanted the Orient 3 Star to be more durable and longer lasting so they chose the stronger mineral crystal.

What To Expect With The Dial:

Without a doubt, the green dial of the 3 Star FAB00009N is its most impressive attribute. Depending on the lighting conditions, the dial transitions from being a beautiful teal to being an equally beautiful light teal pastel. The dial appears to be made from a metallic material that has a slightly reflective finish that allows it to change shades of green in different light.

It features a very lightly brushed vertical pattern that gives this already unique dial an added touch of character. I really enjoy the fun dial Orient chose for this 3 Star model, it’s a nice splash of color that is in no way too loud for everyday wear or even for some dresser occasions.

To continue the uniqueness of the watch face, Orient has used a series of three applied markers at each hour location (except the 3 o’clock). Starting on the outside, each hour location has a square gold colored applied marker. This gold colored square is faceted on the edges to make it catch light and appear as if it were a precious gemstone. Next is a slightly smaller polished gold colored dot. Finally, an even smaller luminous pip is applied at each hour location closest to the center of the dial.


These three features at each hour location create an appearance of an arrow with all the hour markers pointing towards the center of the Orient 3 Star’s dial. The series of hour makers are certainly one of a kind feature unique to the 3 Star, but it can appear a bit too busy for my liking. It doesn’t hinder the reading of the time but it can be slightly distracting if you’re not used to such a nontraditional dial design.

 

 

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The day/date complication lives at the 3 o’clock position, surrounded by a nicely executed gold colored border. The border features a thin, flat top and sides that gently slope down to the white day/date wheel. As mentioned, the day/date wheels have a white background and black text, except for Sunday which is in red. The day wheel includes both English and Spanish abbreviations.

Towards the 12 o’clock portion of the dial is the applied Orient lion shield logo in gold. There is a nice contrast of color within this logo as the shield is actually painted red which separates the two lions.

Below the lion logo is “ORIENT” and below the center of the dial is the 3 star logo, all of which are applied and not simply printed. These applied logos were an unexpected surprise when I first looked at the watch in person.

I did not expect Orient to spend the extra time and money by stamping out a logo, painting the red shield, and applying it (when printing them directly on the dial would’ve been much faster and cheaper). It is yet another example of the Orient 3 Star giving us more value and craftsmanship for our money. Beneath the star logo towards the six o’clock position, is “Crystal” and “21 JEWELS” printed in a matte gold colored ink. The matte ink is just enough contrast to compliment the shiny gold hour markers and logos by toning down the entire dial by a small amount.

As one might imagine, the gold theme is also carried over to the FAB00009N’s handset. Orient went with basic baton style hour and minute hands and a thin second hand, all colored gold. The handset works wonderfully with the dial and is very easily read against the green color.

The hour hand reaches the lume pip and the minute hand reaches the middle of the gold square at each hour location. Watches with hands that are too short drive me nuts but I think Orient sized these ones perfectly. They even filled both the hour and minute hands with a thin strip of lume, it’s not much but it’s a welcome bonus if you will be wearing it in low light.

The Bracelet

Terrible. That’s honestly the best way I can describe the bracelet on the Orient 3 Star. I knew when I bought this piece the bracelet was nothing to write home about, but it’s even worse than I expected. The folded five link bracelet is made from stainless steel and has a stamped fold-over clasp.

Starting from the outside, the links alternate from brushed to polished back to brushed. The finishing is on par with the watch case with very similar brushing and polishing quality. The bracelet does have a slight taper from 19mm at the end links to 16mm at the clasp which makes it visually appealing.

Sizing this folded link bracelet was difficult to say the least. It took me several attempts to remove links and some I simply couldn’t get to come out. I had to remove more from one side than the other because of the difficulty I was having which meant the clasp was uneven under my wrist. Folded link bracelets are notoriously hard to resize so this isn’t a problem specific to Orient but it was very frustrating.

The Orient 3 Star’s stamped fold-over clasp is a disappointment and is very cheap feeling when using it. The metal is thin and every time I open or close it I feel like I’m going to bend it with minimal effort. When closing it, the only place it’s secured is a small metal post that holds one of the fold-over arms with friction alone.

It doesn’t take much force to open it which can be annoying and hazardous to the watch if it unexpectedly opens. The outer surface has a brushed finish that runs the length of the clasp along with the lion logo and “ORIENT” stamped on it. The fold-over arms are lightly polished.

One aspect of the clasp that I was happy to see was 9 micro adjustment holes to fine tune the fit of the bracelet. However, when I used these micro-adjust holes to give me a better fit, the end of the clasp that you use to open it sticks way out when on the wrist. The bracelet wraps around your wrist but the end of the clasp jets straight out, making it extremely easy to get it caught on something, which in turn opens it. Although a great concept, the micro adjustment holes are basically worthless in practice on this clasp design.

When on the wrist, the Orient 3 Star bracelet pulls my hair like crazy. It was so bad for me; I actually had to take the watch off throughout the day to have a break from the discomfort. It also rattles like a handful of coins every time you move your wrist which is annoying the wearer and anyone nearby.

Between the hair pulling and constant noise, I eventually took the bracelet off and replaced it with a black Perlon strap. Although not as visually appealing, the soft Perlon was a welcome relief and it let me appreciate the otherwise amazing watch. I always wear my watches on either rubber or Perlon so the fact Orient went with a budget bracelet and clasp is in no way a deal breaker for me.

Orient 3 Star Movement

The FAB00009N uses a variant of Orient’s in-house manufactured caliber 469 21-jewel automatic movement with a day/date complication. The movement does not offer hacking or hand-winding, which is common for movements to be missing in this price range. For example, the famous Seiko 7S26 movement which is commonly found in Seiko 5’s, also does not offer these features in order to reduce the cost to manufacture. Although hacking would be a nice feature to have so you can set the time more precisely, I don’t feel the added cost would justify it.


After wearing the Orient 3 Star watch for about a week straight, it was averaging about +13 seconds a day which I feel is reasonable for a budget automatic watch. It is certainly not within Swiss COSC standards, but when compared to other automatic watches in the same price range, it’s what you’d expect. I would be curious to see if a watchmaker could regulate this movement to get better results, but that would likely cost almost as much as the watch itself.

The worst part of the movement that I’ve noticed is the noise of the automatic winding rotor as your wrist moves. The rotor noise is obvious even when your wrist is down by your side and nowhere near your ears, that’s how loud it is. I assume it’s due to poor quality bearings or maybe even no bearings in the rotor system at all. Unlike replacing the poor quality bracelet, there is no easy fix for the loud rotor other than having a watchmaker take a look at it. Even then, the movement design may not allow a simple fix.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Orient has showed me that they can do good by creating an affordable line of reliable watches for developing countries while still making a visually appealing piece. Of course the Orient 3 Star FAB00009N has obvious signs of cost cutting, such as the bracelet and very basic movement, but those do not define this beautiful watch. The stunning green dial with unique hour markers along with the surprisingly well finished case are what people should focus on if they are on the fence about this piece.


It’s a fun watch to wear when you want to mix things up but still be taken serious. Sure it doesn’t have name recognition like other brands, but that’s one of the nice things about Orient. People on the street or in the office may never look twice at the 3 Star but you will know that this line of watches have been on the wrists of people all over the world for decades, many of whom relied on it for its simplicity, durability and affordability. Wearing this watch has made me take a second look at budget priced watches and made me appreciate the fact that low price doesn’t always mean poor quality.


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