Written by contributing writer, Cameron Lazanich
Twice a year watch nerds rejoice as Worn & Wound organizes the Wind Up Watch Fair in New York City in the Fall and San Fransico in the Spring, bringing together small independent watch companies from around the world into one room. This past weekend, the second annual Wind Up SF took place in the Chandran Gallery in downtown San Francisco. Featuring exhibitors ranging from small one-man operations local to San Francisco, to large independents from Switzerland & Germany, this year’s fair was a blast to be at. While the main attraction for fairs such as these is the exhibitors, you are also in an environment full of like-minded WIS whom all share this passion. You don’t get strange looks for staring at someone’s wrist and commenting on their watch. Talking in reference numbers, movements, and mm of diameter are not foreign languages. One can let go of normal societal faux-pas (to a degree, of course) and talk openly of our obsessions, and only receive looks of comprehension and compassion.
For those who were not able to attend, there were some really stellar pieces this year to highlight, both from exhibitors and from the wrists of various attendees.
Let’s start with arguably the most anticipated release of the show, the Fairwind, Universa, and Seaforth Bronze, from one of the godfathers of Micro-Brands, Jason Lim of Halios Watches.
While the new Seaforth is a further iteration of Jason’s blockbuster release, the bronze case really speaks to the versatility of the Seaforth design, with a dial updated with a triangle at the 12 o’clock position, and stunning deep sunburst effects.
The Fairwind and Universa further evolve on the design language Jason has developed over his 10-year tenure. The cases evoke Grand Seiko’s Grammar of Design while maintaining originality and evolving the Seaforth profile. The lugs look flat and long when viewed straight on, but actually angle sideways and downward sleekly contouring to the wrist, much as the 44GS case and lugs angle downwards. The three-link bracelet is excellent and matches the case perfectly.
The Universa features a hand-wound Sellita SW210-1 no-date movement, with either blue or grey dials with square markers and Arabic 12,3,6,9.
The Fairwind utilizes the same case as the Universa but has an automatic Sellita SW200-1 no-date movement, a bi-directional 12hr bezel, and baton indices replacing the arabics at the cardinal points.
Both models are 38mm in diameter and 48mm lug-to-lug. The Universa is 11mm thick to the top of the crystal, and the Fairwind is 12.4mm. The Fairwind also features a screw-down crown, whereas the hand-wound Universa is a push-pull as to prevent accidental over-winding.
Right next to Halios was Astor+Banks, a Chicago based company, who unveiled the new Sea Ranger. Featuring an asymmetrical 40mm case, 12hr bezel with a sapphire insert, nice colorful dials with a unique handset, they’re sure to be popular.
A favorite of the show was the Retrograph by Brew Watches with two new dial options. The Technicolor is a black dial with blue hour & minute hands, red seconds and subdial hands, and a nice orange. The use of color is further emphasized by a section of the second’s track between 30 & 35 printed in orange, as the prime extraction zone when brewing coffee. The copper dial features a heavy sunburst pattern that captures and plays with the light magnificently. Inside is the trustworthy Seiko VK-64 mecha-quartz.
Pelton watches, one of my more controversial brands currently, exhibited some very strong offerings. Pelton has built its name on its in-house machined cases and bracelets. It becomes evident to anyone who handles their pieces that they’re truly some of the best build quality and finishing anywhere remotely near their price segment. Deni Mesanovic, the brand owner/operator, programs and machines all of the cases and bracelets in his shop in Detroit from raw bar stock. Deni got his start making and building custom microphones for the audiophile community and transferred that knowledge over to watches. For the Perseus, a Royal Oak inspired sports watch, every component, barring the dial, hands, sapphire, and movement, are machined, sanded, and finished by him. The screws that hold the bezel in place are made by him and black polished. Deni even made his own screwdriver to fit the abnormally wide 2mm long flat slot for a perfect fit.
The Pelton Sector is reminiscent of past sector dial dress watches, specifically the JLC Master Control Date Sector. The Sector has a very sharp case with impeccable brushing and gorgeous dials. Pictured is the limited edition german silver (aka nickel silver which is an alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc) dial. Deni made these dial in-house by first laser engraving the relief, followed by bead blasting to remove any discoloration, then vertical sanding on the raised portions for contrast.
One of many Worn & Wound edition watches on display was Autodromo’s second version of the Group B. A watch inspired by the most innovative era in rally racing, the Group B is unique and original, now sporting a bar-link steel bracelet that complements the design nicely. The W&W edition features blue dial printing and hands, and a very finely bead blasted case for a sleek and subtle sports watch.
Representing the United Kingdom at WindUp was Farer Universal. They had nearly all of their models represented at the show, but the star for me was their relatively new quartz chronographs: Ainsdale and Pendine. The latter of which has a gorgeous white dial. These watches use the ETA 251.294 FK, which is a split second and flyback movement. The controls are very intuitive and the movement uses ETA’s Powerdrive technology which can reset the hand near instantaneously. The pusher action has a sharp click, not like less expensive, more mass produced movements which often feel mushy. I would go so far to say the pushers felt better than many mechanical chronograph movements. Farer has built its name on high-quality watches with exceptional uses of color.
Based out of Sacramento, CA, is Seals Watches. The proprietor, Michael Seals, has built his company on utilitarian, military-inspired watches. While many other companies making military inspired watches draw upon historical references, Michael took inspiration from 1940’s tanks for his Model A and Model C Field Explorer. The latter is my preferred model.
Next up is a newcomer to WindUp, Nodus Watches, which celebrated its second anniversary at the beginning of April. (In the interest of full disclosure, the writer is a friend of the company and helped man the booth during the show. In return for his service, is receiving a watch free of charge). Nodus is a Los Angeles based company where they design, inspect, assemble, and regulate all of their watches. It is a two-man operation, with Wes Kwok doing the marketing, PR, and brand management, and Cullen Chen inspecting, assembling, and regulating the watches. They both design and handle manufacturing relationships.
Nodus unveiled their latest model, the Contrail SS. It is an evolution of the Contrail design, now featuring a single-piece stainless steel bezel, bi-directional 12hr bezel. The watch was inspired by pilot’s and traveler’s watches, and tested to 200m of water resistance, is the perfect “GADA” (Go Anywhere, Do Anything) watch for the traveler or adventurer. The bi-directional bezel uses 3 spring-loaded ball bearings as the retention system, providing a very positive and assured action. The single-piece steel bezel has a slimmer profile than the sapphire insert variety while maintaing the utility of referencing other timezones. With a case diameter of 39mm and a bezel diameter of 40.5mm providing additional grip, it wears comfortably on all wrist sizes.
Photo by @ikemadethis
Vero Watch Company is a Portland, OR based company who’ve built their business around manufacturing as many components in-house as they can. They machine and finish their own cases, including crown and crown tube to insure exacting tolerances. They also manufacture and pad-print their own dials. This process allows for rapid prototyping and quick production adjustments in order to maintain the highest quality possible. Vero was displaying several of their new watches, including the SW, their newest sports watch. It exhibits an unusual case construction being a monocoque top-loading case. Usually, this construction is to provide additional water resistance, eliminating one gasket which could potentially fail. Vero took advantage of the lack of caseback protruding to curve the entire case and lugs to sleekly fit the wrist.
Vero was also showing their Century Series, three-handers with a traditional case construction. They come in 36mm (perfect size for these) and a new 41mm. Sporting pastel dials with colorful rings around the dial perimeter, they are perfect everyday watches.
The last exhibitor I’d like to cover is StockX, who was the main sponsor of the show. They are a marketplace for many products, not just watches, but act as an intermediary between buyer and seller, authenticating product and managing the transaction. For the show, they had a very nice collection of rare and sought after watches ranging from stainless steel Rolexes to various Hodinkee LEs, to Audemars Piguet Royal Oaks, and an A. Lange & Sӧhne 1815.
Now time for probably my favorite part, the watches attendees were wearing. This is a pure expression of each individual’s tastes and passion. When asked about their watch, you see their face light up because they’re wearing their grandfathers Vostok, or an uncommon limited edition, or just a Seiko SKX, everyone was more than excited to share about what they wore.
With WindUpSF all wrapped up, let us wind down and reflect upon this little niche of the greater horology community. With more exhibitors and attendees each year, the micro and independent watch world is thriving. Against all of the odds of running an online business selling physical objects, WindUp offers the special occasion to handle these watches, try them on, and compare right next to each other. It’s uplifting to see the various brands growing and evolving.
How we enthusiasts practice our obsession is a pure expression of who we are, and having such variety gives us the chance to find the perfect watch. This is a community of enthusiasts, for enthusiasts, by enthusiasts. Each brand owner has the watches they enjoy collecting (and often completely different from the watches the produce). For example, Jason from Halios collects vintage calculator digital watches (pictures above). Andrew from Astor+Banks had an incredible Seiko Helmet, vintage Tissot chronograph, and Seiko Panda. Some even collect the watches of their so called competitors.
A rising tide lifts all ships, and the tide is nowhere near the crest. There is still so much room for everyone to grow, and the market is definitely not saturated, even though it feel like there’s infinite options sometimes. Shows like this only further strengthen the bond brands form with their customers, but also the other brands.