Summer Special: Hands-On with the Orient Kamasu
Summer is here and that means divers are in; we take a look at the Orient Kamasu.
With the Orient Kamasu, we have a serious contender for best inexpensive automatic diver. It just so happens that this watch, like the Seiko SKX007 and Citizen NY0040, also hails from Japan, where making affordable bulletproof divers seems to be an everyday affair. Orient, up until very recently, was seen more as the oddball/insider’s choice when compared to its better known Japanese rivals, but better marketing and watches are changing that standing. So, does the Kamasu have what it takes to dethrone either of the two icons? We once looked at the SKX007 versus the NY0040 in this popular article, but it’s time to bring in the greenhorn. With this Summer Special, we take a look at the Orient on its own and then briefly position it against the old guard. Anything could happen!
The Orient Kamasu is the Mako III but not Officially
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know a whole lot about Orient’s last 10-15 years of making inexpensive dive watches. There are several that seem to come up on forums, but the word “Mako” was always a mainstay. I knew that this watch was an alternative to the aforementioned other divers from the Japanese “Big Two”, but it was priced lower and had a reputation for being a touch cheaper all the way around. But over the past decade, Orient updated and upgraded its Mako (a name that seemingly is and isn’t official depending on which market you’re in) with a second and now a third rendition. Today’s Orient Kamasu is the same as what fans refer to as the Mako III. To bring a little more confusion, Orient officially refers to this watch as Sports Diver Style (RA-AA0002L), but will recognize the “Mako” name from time to time. Orient USA operates on its own and has chosen the name “Kamasu”. Frankly, we see “Kamasu” everywhere, so we will stick with that name. Regarding the name itself, while Makos are fast and scary, a Kamasu is Japanese for “barracuda” – another scary looking fish that loves to follow snorkelers and divers around due to their curiosity. I remember my Dad telling me that Barracudas like shiny things and will sometimes take a powerful bite, so perhaps it’s best to keep your Orient away from these toothy characters!
Orient Isn’t Really Seiko
Before we get into the Orient Kamasu, let’s set the record straight. I had it in my head that Orient was heavily related to Seiko, but that just isn’t the case – kind of. In researching the Seiko Group, I found that there are three separate companies: Seiko Holdings Corporation (this includes the Seiko brand that we know), Seiko Instruments Inc. (it looks like oscillators are made within this group), and Seiko Epson Corporation (this includes the printer brand Epson as well as Orient Watch Co., Ltd.). Apparently, all 3 companies run separately and only share some common shareholders such as the Hattori family and a joint board. Aside from that, it does seem that the companies work together if it makes sense. The bottom line, though, is that Orient shouldn’t be viewed as Seiko’s “little brother” or as some sort of offshoot like I had thought. That was news to me and I guess one further piece of evidence that these brands are truly separate is the fact that watches such as the Orient Kamasu now contain “Epson” on their case backs. If you’re a child of the 80’s like me, it still causes a double take when I see the name of the company that I associate with big dot matrix printers on the back of a watch.
The Orient Kamasu – Making a Splash
We first saw the Orient Kamasu at Baselworld 2019 and the brand had rented a large conference room in a hotel near the fair. Each of their sub-lines had its own display area with just about every color scheme there for the handling. The Kamasu was present and I recall seeing models with both rubber straps and steel bracelets like we have here. There were multiple dial colors such as black, burgundy, dark green, and blue; all looked pretty good. The England-based Orient team mentioned that the brand was really making a push into the European (and Western, for that matter) market and, due to this, we were told to expect more points of sale. It also gave us the opportunity to ask for a review piece like we have today. Getting your hands on a watch at this price might not sound so difficult, but I can tell you that we really had no points of contact for Orient in the past aside from choosing to purchase a piece on Amazon directly.
I received the Orient Kamasu in its box, a simple affair that’s not so different from Seiko or Citizen. A warranty card and instructional manual were present along with the hang tag. That hang tag had the reference number, but nowhere does the paperwork refer to the Kamasu name…here again, perhaps that name is only official in certain markets. I pulled the watch out and what immediately struck me was how good it felt in hand. Now, that’s a really subjective comment and I can’t easily quantify it, but there’s just a feeling when a watch feels solid and well crafted. There were no sharp edges, but there were also no cheesy rounded edges. Plus, the steel bracelet felt smooth and looks good with its oyster-style links. But what about the details?
Orient Kamasu Specs…
The Orient Kamasu is an all stainless steel 200 meter diver with a 41.8mm diameter case. It’s a reasonable 46.8mm lug to lug, a relatively slim 12.8mm thick, and boasts a 22mm lug width. These measurements, by the way, are in the heart of the batting order when compared to its other typical foes from Japan. The aluminum inlay bezel is unidirectional with 120 clicks, the crown and case back are screw down affairs and, notably, the crystal is made of sapphire. Inside, we have the new-for-2016 in-house Japanese-made F6922 automatic movement: a runner that promises +25/- 15 seconds of accuracy per day, can be hand wound, hacks, and has a quick set day and date. Either a rubber strap or stainless bracelet is on offer. The bracelet has a flip lock clasp and buttons to release everything.
There’s oddly no wetsuit extension here, but there is room for micro adjusting with a toothpick and links can be removed via push pins. The 22mm end links are stamped – a nearly universal bone of contention for the faithful who were apparently treated to solid units on the Mako II – but they look nice to me. Overall, the specs are basically in line with the competition, but you’ve hopefully realized that the Kamasu sports some upgrades in the movement and crystal department.
…and the Looks
When it comes to looks, the Orient Kamasu leans on typical dive watch design tropes and that means legibility. Big, lume-filled indexes with chromed surrounds are present: they’re rectangular at 9/9/12 and trapezoidal elsewhere. The hands bring in a healthy dose of lume and are sharply pointed at the ends. The hours hand resembles an arrow, the minutes a dagger and the sweep hand an arrow in red. I don’t know what material is used by Orient for the lume, but in my eyeball comparison with both the Seiko and Citizen, this Orient feels just as bright if not more so. A bi-lingual day wheel (Spanish and English) sits alongside the date at 3:00. At this price level, few people bitch about the inclusion of this convenience. Perhaps they simply expect it and they should as it seems that the Japanese market likes a good day/date window. And besides, the display looks pretty good and almost matches the length of the index across the dial. There’s little font on the dial aside from the Orient name and logo along with some barely readable script telling us about the movement and water resistance. Regarding complaints, some do mention the ornateness of the Orient “crest”, but I kind of enjoy it. It’s different, reminds me of flashy Japanese things from the 60’s and 70’s, and adds a little spice to an otherwise all-business watch.
I should mention that the blue dial itself on the Orient Kamasu is actually a real looker. It has some depth to it and shimmers nicely in the light. Compared to the gloss on the NY0040 or the matte of the SKX007, the Orient is an absolute showboat! Plus, it pairs well with the anodized blue bezel insert. That insert is relatively straightforward in its design, but has some cutouts every 5 minutes that bring a little pep to the overall look. And while the flush-mounted sapphire crystal doesn’t really look any different than mineral glass, giving it a flick returns a nice reassuring sound.
Unlike the other Japanese divers in this segment (or at least when I bought my examples), Orient signs its crown and puts it in the customary 3:00 position. Using it is fine, but it is a bit wobbly when fully retracted.
The Orient Kamasu has a really nice case that alternates between matte and polished surfaces. You wouldn’t confuse it with a Submariner, but I’d put it ahead of its direct competition and would suggest that it could compete in the $500-750 realm where watches like the Seiko Sumo tend to rule. There’s no fine chamfering here, but the lugs somehow look better and more finished than those from its counterparts. Evidence of machine finishing on the top surface looks pretty convincing as well. If there’s a slight shortfall, it’s the backside of the Kamasu where things seem amiss. A lightly inscribed logo with two dolphins (??) picks up scratches easily and looks a bit cheesy. Still, if Orient needed to cut costs anywhere, I’d rather it be here than on the front side.
On the Wrist
I understand the concerns of those who wish for solid end links on the Orient Kamasu; it would add another level of class to an already classy diver. However, as a fan of clattery older bracelets, I wasn’t bothered in the least. I also found the bracelet links supple and easy to articulate. At no time did anything pinch the fur that calls my wrist home. The clasp is stamped, but it’s easily as good as anything in its weight class and was smooth to operate while providing the right level of security.
Plus, for slim wrists like mine, the deployant underneath is relatively short so that it doesn’t poke out from one side of my wrist. With a height under 13mm and modest lug to lug, it’s a good all-arounder. All in all, we aren’t talking about a watch that feels exactly like a multi-thousand Euro watch, but it feels a lot better than it should given its price.
Pricing, Thoughts and How It Stacks Up
Like all of the Japanese 200M divers, the Orient Kamasu carries a retail price of $380. Orient informed us that the USA sets pricing and retailers in other regions then set local pricing based on this. Orient does provide an official link showing where to buy and I also found that the Kamasu is available online at places like Amazon for a significant discount. As an example, a Prime seller had them listed for around 235 Euros. Much like the other watches we keep mentioning, that’s serious value for what’s included here and the others are also discounted similarly. For reference, the SKX007 (yes, we know it’s discontinued, but there are tons of new ones still available) sells for roughly 280 Euros and the NY0040 like mine is a killer deal at roughly 180 Euros. You can’t go wrong in any direction, but what would I choose if I had to choose one.
Call me a sucker for voting for the newest kid on the block, but I’d actually choose the Orient Kamasu over the Seiko SKX007 and Citizen NY0040. For sure, the SKX007 is the king commercially and it boasts a timeless face, but it’s outgunned technically here with its older movement that doesn’t hack or wind by hand. I also find the Seiko a bit tall and nugget like on the wrist. With the NY0040, it’s a classic all its own, but with a shiny dial, tinny 60 click bezel and a crystal that reminds me a little of bottle glass, it also feels a bit long in the tooth. As said, all of these will do the job perfectly well, but if you want the classiest of the bunch the Orient now wins the day. Enjoy your Summer and let the arguments begin!
For more information, visit the official Orient site.