Seals Watches Review:
The Model C Field Watch
By: Kaz Mirza
Flashback to October 2017 at Wind^Up NYC in Chelsea Market. We’re surrounded by screaming watch nerds and people buying $25 baguettes. Mike (my better half in Broke Watch Snobbery) and I are standing off in a corner trying to have a conversation by yelling in each other’s faces about a brand we just met. Then my phone vibrates with a text. It’s a TBWS Podcast listener explaining to me that there is another brand owner whose looking for us because we “have to see his watch!” I know it sounds weird but Mike and I hear that a lot, and I’ve become a little jaded to it. But due diligence is always appropriate and I check out the brand’s Instagram page to see what the watch looks like. After about 2 minutes of having my nose buried in my phone I slowly crane my head up towards Mike and say “Dude, we need to see this watch.”
The watch we saw was the Seals Watches Model C Field Explorer and that brand owner was Michael Seals. We caught up with Michael, chatted about watches, New York City, the podcast, and eventually agreed to work together towards a review for his watch closer to production. Well that time has come, so here we are.
The Seals Watches Model C takes heavy design styling from the stalwart but reliable designs of WW2 Tanks. And in general, the whole ethos of the piece is WW2 inspired from the markers, lume, wired lugs – everything. But does the design work? Is there really anything special here that’s noteworthy or is it just another microbrand piece? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out.
All good product design relies on a “hook” – something especially noteworthy that will bring a whole piece together in a relatively balanced way. For the Seals Watches Model C, it’s the case. As I mentioned before, the design impetus for the Model C is derived from WW2 tanks – specifically noted in the case design. However it would have been way too easy for the case to feel heavy-handed and kitschy – more of a novelty than an authentic expression.
But that’s not what’s happening here. Upon first handling the piece it feels very forthright and not at all inauthentic. It’s an approach that immediately draws you into the watch. That was the reaction I had when I first handled the piece in person back up Wind^Up NYC 2017. After about 2 min of being really drawn in, I was told that the inspiration for the watch was WW2 tanks. I sort re-examined the watch and had a “huh – yea I can totally see that” moment. But what’s important to note is that I gravitated towards the design first because of its particular, objective vibe in my hands. The whole tank thing didn’t factor in – it was just an interesting note about the watch.
It’s like eating an incredibly delicious and substantial cheese burger – achieving that zen-like moment of culinary utopia where nothing else exists except you, the burger, and your heartbeat. Then the waiter comes around and says “by the way, all our beef comes from grass-fed cows.” I liked the burger before even knowing it was grass-fed or whatever. I liked the Seals Watches Model C before I learned about all the Tank inspiration. For me that speaks very highly of how the watch is designed – you shouldn’t need the story of labor to sell you on a product so much as a the result of the effort.
After receiving the watch for this review (about 8 months removed from my original experience) I can safely say that I still enjoy the case very much. The dimensions of the Seals Watches Model C are 40.5 MM (not with the crown), 48.5 MM lug to lug, and 11.4 MM thick. The bezel and case’s superstructure are stacked on top of each other in the same fashion that a tank’s pivoting gun turret and tracked hull would be. But the design is subdued enough to not be cheesy (and like I said before, you probably wouldn’t even noticed the whole tank inspiration until someone pointed it out). The fixed bezel features a really fine, high polish detail along the outer perimeter while the top has a brushed detailing. The brushed detailing is also used on the rest of the watch.
The brushing of the entire watch is actually a really fun nod to the industrialization of mechanized warfare that tanks represented. And its utilization here helps the watch feel like a reliable and robust tool. Truth be told, with 200m water resistance, screw down crown, and tight fit & finish, the watch truly does have a robust, almost tank-like feeling on the wrist. Plus I love the faux wire lugs – they really add to the appeal of the overall piece.
Less successful of an execution on the Seals Watches Model C is the crown. Visually it fits extremely well into the design ethos of the entire piece – it also photographs very well. However, actually using the crown can be difficult. If you’re like me and you like manually winding your watches, you may have a bit of a difficult time working the crown on the Model C. The shape of the crown itself can be difficult to fully grip and achieve purchase on – plus the sharp angles make the act of rotating the crown a bit awkward.
Obviously though since the watch is powered by the STP1-11 automatic movement, you technically don’t need to wind it. Just shake that sucker up. But for me I always enjoy the feeling of manually winding a piece, so if you’re like me then this is something that should be taken into account. Perhaps if the crown was a bit thicker or possibly wider it’d be easier to maneuver.
You know its funny, the case is the attention-grabber here; there’s no denying that. But where does that leave the dial? What I think is done particularly well here is that if the case for the Model C made the slam dunk, then it was the dial that set it up for success. The general design leanings of the dial aren’t focused on tanks (like the case). Rather, the dial is simply WW1/WW2 vintage inspired. This brings balance to the entire piece by making it feel authentically and holistically vintage inspired as opposed to “everything-needs-to-remind-people-of-tanksssssss vroooooom.” Take the dial and put it in a traditional watch case and it becomes unremarkable. But pair it here in the Seals Watches Model C case and it’s perfect.
The outter most perimeter features a raised chapter ring that displays the minute and hour ticks. A step down from there are a mix of arabic numerals and geometic shapes. Further in from that point the Model C displays military time indicators – a must-have for a field watch. The font of the Arabic numerals is classic and reminds me of vintage trench watches, which can be considered in-line with the aesthetic that the Seals Watches is going for. The hands are very simple batons that actually support the Seal Watches’ legibility.
The interesting design choice here is the use of faux-patina lume. This is a pretty polemic and dividing topic in the #watchfam. I’ve been on record before as stating that I’m not really in favor or opposed to it. Rather, if it’s done well and utilized in a way that’s authentic to the piece, then that’s all that matters. In my opinion the faux patina lume works for the Seals Watches Model C. If the lume was white or looked brand new it would be so odd on a watch with this design perspective. The lume is also Super-Luminova and has a green charge to it.
Featuring italian leather, the crafting of the Seals Watches Model C strap feels as equally robust as the case. The site indicates that straps will be manufactured in either Spain, Italy, Singapore, or the USA. For me the nicest features of the strap are the buckle and the stitching.
The stitching is tight and the quality seems solid. A particularly fun nuance is the fact that the thread color matches the faux patina lume. It’s a design choice that shows you Seals Watches wanted to create a holistic design perspective. The attention to detail is always appreicated.
The buckle is something I didn’t think I would like but it works perfectly for the model C. It’s a wide, oversized buckle very similar to what you see on a Panerai strap. For me I always thought the buckle style was overkill. But when wearing it on the Seals Watches Model C I totally get it. The width of the clasp balances the weight of the case and the thickness of the leather strap. Overall the fit is comfortable and really adds to a positive wearing experience.
The Seals Type C dial is the third watch I’ve inspected that features the STP1-11 Swiss Movement. And I can say it’s becoming quite clear that the movement manufacturer still needs to iron out some quirks. The basic specs of the movement look great: manual wind, hacking, 44 hour power reserve, 26 jewels. However in practice there is just still some aspects left to be desired.
The winding mechanism is my biggest issue with the movement. The winding action feels slightly clunky and as opposed to facilitating the manual action of charging the main spring – one gets the sense that the action is fighting against you. With the Seals Model C this is especially noticeable in light of the ergonomic crown issues I noted above. In addition, the STP.1-11 features a date wheel. However as I’m sure you’ve noticed, the Seals Watches Model C doesn’t have a date window. This can result in that weird phantom date wheel issue when you’re setting the time or manually winding the watch.
However, these issues with the STP1-11 don’t necessarily inhibit it’s function. So far with the Model C the movement has kept accuracy just fine in my opinion. Also, please note that the brand’s website indicates that a 3rd party service with a close relationship with the movement manufacture will allow Seals Watches to receive STP1-11 movements that are regulated to “COSC type standards” with a proposed accuracy rating of -4/+6 seconds in 5 positions. This is not an official certification from COSC. For me that’s really not a deal breaker.
For me this is actually reassuring, because some of the negative experiences I’ve had with the STP1-11 have been a result of mishandled QC off the assembly line. Knowing that Seals Watches will be going that extra step to ensure appropriate regulation standards is worth noting and should go a long way in ensuring the reliability and longevity of the movement.
The Seals Watches Model C is wearable and fun – I mean, that’s headline. The design is a result of someone’s personal passion and expression, and what results is something that is pretty distinct and unique, but still tasteful. That’s a combination of factors that doesn’t really happen very often in microbrands (let along horology in general).
But with microbrands I’m always left asking the question: who is the target audience for this watch? Is it something that’s meant to be someone’s “forever” watch? Or maybe someone’s “nice” watch? It’s clear that the Seals Watches Model C is built with high quality and pretty damn precise machining. But I can’t really see this being a piece that someone’s inspired to buy because they’re going on a diving trip and they want a watch specifically for a function (I mean with 200M WR you obviously could).
The person that I see buying this watch is someone that’s as passionate about horology as Michael Seals is – it’s a passion piece and an expression of a design cue that honestly could have been fumbled. But it wasn’t. And in this Broke Watch Snob’s opinion, the ideal collector for this piece would be anyone with the ability and perspective to appreciate it for what it is: a methodically designed, well crafted, fun piece of wearable horology.
The Seals Watches Model C Field Explorer is currently available for Pre-order at $550 – full retail will be $675.
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Kaz has been collecting watches since 2015, but he’s been fascinated by product design, the Collector’s psychology, and brand marketing his whole life. While sharing the same strong fondness for all things horologically-affordable as Mike (his TBWS partner in crime), Kaz’s collection niche is also focused on vintage Soviet watches as well as watches that feature a unique, but well-designed quirk or visual hook.