Worse than Gig Young with a Tommy gun? Maybe so!
With this new chapter into the morass of low-priced mechanical watches for a cheap price, I stepped out of the box a bit and broke my own rules. A fellow member of an unnamed forum sent me a piece on loan to review--and since the quest for a decent mechanical watch for $100 seems to inexorably lead to China, I thought I'd toss this new one into the mix--even though it's street price is well over a hundred bucks. It's from the ETA of the Far East, Sea-Gull!:
Named, rather prosaically, the 816.345, this is a manual-wind mechanical chronograph based on the ST-19 Sea-Gull movement. It's apparently well above my old benchmark of $100, but how much so is rather opaque--USA Seagull doesn't have prices listed, and the only places I found them for sale are websites that call for Google-Translate for me to read them. One place had the price at a whopping $799, while another had it listed for a patently absurd $1700. I seem to recall USA Seagull listing their ST-19-based chronos for around $400, which still seems quite high. We'll come back the the price later.
The watch is a big, chunky stainless steel number that vaguely looks a little Chopard and a little Invicta. It's 43mm across, 46.5mm with the crown, 14.6mm thick. The bracelet is 20mm at the lug and tapers to 18mm at the clasp. The links are almost 4mm thick. The watch looks and wears bigger than it is, more like a 45mm. It's quite heavy, at least as heavy as my Seiko Sumo.
It's got a pretty dial:
...With big numbers and big subdials (the three o'clock dial is the 30 minute totalizer for the chrono, the nine o'clock dial is the small seconds) and the name SEA-GULL listed twice, once on the dial and another on an inner chapter ring under the crystal. The hands are nicely finished, with some lume that doesn't glow very much:
And, like the nameplate, it wears its country of origin proudly:
The dial is nicely made as well, with deep (I'm guessing machine-pressed) tuxedo stripes, and the numerals and markers are mounted. As I said, it has a Chopard look to it.
The bracelet is also nicely made, with an alternating polished and brushed oyster look:
It appears to use friction pins; the lender and I have exactly the same sized wrist, so I didn't have to mess with sizing it. The links are actual multi-piece, too, not three pieces soldered together. It reminds me very much of the Invicta Pro-diver bracelet, although the end links are solid. The clasp is stamped metal, with a single side-mounted trigger to release it:
The movement inside is the ST-19, which some web-surfing tells me, is based on the Swiss Venus 175. It's a 19 jewel column-wheel chronograph, which is very much a rarity at anything near this price range (the Valjoux 7750, for instance, is a cam and lever chronograph, which is supposedly much cheaper to make than a column wheel; the column wheel needs to be finely machined as opposed to the 7750's stamped cams and levers.):
A detail of the hair-spring:
And of the column wheel:
As you might see from my very poor photographs, the decorations made to the movement look like most other Chinese movements--i.e., really quite awful. They look poorly stamped into the metal, with faked-blued screws and rough edges all around. I honestly don't know why the Chinese feel the urge to do something this poorly--it's like looking at a Xeroxed picture of a fine Swiss-decorated movement. The ST-19 doesn't hack, so it's tiresome to try to accurately time it against an atomic clock, and I'm basically lazy, so I didn't bother. It seemed to hold time over a couple of days, so I'd guess it's OK in the accuracy department. As you might also see from my pics (I removed the half-window caseback) Sea-Gull uses a plastic retaining ring to hold the movement--another cost-cutting measure.
The handwinding of the Sea-Gull is also crappy, with a lot of backlash of the crown. It winds very stiffly. The pushers are also terrible, really, with the top start-stop button very stiff indeed, almost as stiff as a 7750's. (I owned an Android with this same movement, and it had a beautiful wind and pusher-action; the start-stop button actually felt like a quartz chrono, the press was so light and exact.)
On the wrist, the watch actually wears pretty well:
It's comfortable, unlike so many Chinese watches with steel bracelets. It's very heavy, however, and after eight or nine hours it becomes fatiguing, as if you're fighting the weight.
Another plus is the crystal, which is sapphire--or so it says on the caseback, which is itself nicely finished and machined:
So it's not, really, a terrible watch. It's not bad at all, really, as opposed to Gig Young's frighteningly dreadful performance in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. It's OK. It's not my style at all, but it's kinda blingy and well machined and, knowing how good the ST-19 movement really seems to be, it'll probably last longer than, say, an Invicta--although this isn't setting the bar very high.
So, what's it worth? If it was somewhat more sedate and smaller, I suppose I might pay $200 for it on a lark. Granted, there's not too many hand-wind chronos out there for cheap, apart from the ST-19 or the Poljot 3133--which is, I think, a vastly better movement. The Poljot, which is the AK-47 of watch movements, will last forever, while I don't think the ST-19 will. And, with the Poljot, you at least get a date wheel--albeit a non-quick-set one.
At four hundred bucks, I'd not even give the Sea-Gull a second look. Anything more than this, you could get a 7750 from one of those NOS deal-a-day sites, although you might have to hunt around for one.
All this begs the question, who the hell is going to buy this watch? From all the reports we've seen, the Chinese themselves are too busy buying up every Swiss tourbillon they can right now, so I doubt they'll want one. There are some well-regarded collectors here in the West who love Sea-Gull, but let's face it, they're pretty thin on the ground.
In one way, one has to admire the Chinese in general and Sea-Gull in particular for even bothering to make "China Made" something they can put on a dial, instead of, say, "Rolecks" or "Brightling." The Sea-Gull 816.345 is OK as a watch, but not worth the money. It's nowhere as bad as the truly unspeakably appalling Stuhrling Original or Stauer, both of which should be buried in a Superfund site. But there's really not much at all going for it, either, and that's the entire issue with it. If you want to spend $400 and want a Far East chrono, buy a Citizen or a Seiko and put $200 into a really nice night out.