William L. 1985 Automatic Chronograph: The perfect budget chronograph?
As you probably know we sometimes have guest writers on Fratello Watches. They either have a great story to tell, an awesome watch to introduce or an angle, which we find interesting to look at a watch from. This article is a result of the latter case.
Frieder, the writer of this piece, is not only a friend and colleague of Balazs but also a watch geek. He brought William L. to our attention and we thought the project was worth a review to the Fratello audience. What could be a better angle to introduce an interesting Kickstarter project than by someone who is a passionate watch lover and a true fan of this project? We believe he has a great eye for details. Also not “spoiled” by the huge number of watches that come his way daily like we do. Let’s see what he has to say about the watch;
When I first stumbled upon the William L. 1985 Kickstarter campaign, I could hardly believe my eyes: An automatic, vintage-inspired chronograph featuring a movement with column-wheel and a vertical clutch for around €500 (preorder). Wait, what? I was intrigued, presented the discovery to my friends at Fratello, and we swiftly contacted the brand to ask for a review piece. Without hesitation, they sent us a prototype (thanks for that!). The big question: Does the watch keep its promise or is it all too good to be true? Let’s find out.
Named after its founder Guillaume (the French version of William), William L. 1985 launched its first Kickstarter campaign in 2016, obliterating its original goal of €36,000 by collecting a whopping €191,000 from “the crowd”. With a lineup of vintage-inspired quartz watches, the brand has since expanded to offer their timepieces in more than 600 retail locations worldwide. Quite a success story in the highly competitive watch market, if you ask me. After receiving many requests to produce an automatic watch, William L. 1985 decided to return to the Kickstarter community to gather steam for the next big step. This brings us to the William L. 1985 Automatic Chronograph on display here.
By its own admission, William L. 1985 seeks to produce “quality timepieces with classic designs for a very attractive price point”. The Automatic Chronograph reflects just that: A familiar dial layout with classic, applied indexes surrounded by telemeter and tachymeter scales. The brand’s logo sits comfortably below 12 o’clock without being overly imposing. The subdials feature a circular pattern, providing some pleasant textural contrast. Although the numeral indexes have no lume, small dots above them glow alongside the sharply cut dauphine hands.
While our review prototype features a black dial with beige indexes, the Automatic Chronograph is available in six different dial variations ranging from blue with red details to reverse panda – assuring that just about anyone will find something to their liking. The date has found a home between 4 and 5 o’clock and is perfectly centered within its window. If dates aren’t your thing, however, all dial variations are also available without a date.
At a 41mm diameter, the 316L stainless steel case has modern dimensions and seems perfect for William L. 1985’s presumed target group: People who enjoy classic design but want a modern, reliable, and fashionable watch. The pump pushers and unobtrusive crown match the vintage flair, and the overall build quality is impressive at this price point. The sides of the case are finely brushed, while the bezel is polished. Along with the distinct ridges, the interplay between brushed and polished finishing on the case creates an appealing visual contrast. All edges are crisp, and we couldn’t make out any obvious imperfections. It shines, it looks tough, and it’s well-crafted.
An additional treat can be found on the lugs. Sloping away gradually from the case with a brushed finish in line with the sides of the case, the lugs abruptly cut down at about ¾ of their length. This final lug-bit is polished, creating a fine alternation of finishes not regularly found on watches in the budget segment. And by the way: For two dial variations – the black with red details and white with red details – you may also choose an ion-plated black or rose-gold colored case respectively.
The Automatic Chronograph houses Seiko’s caliber NE88A, an automatic chronograph movement first introduced in 2014. Time will tell how well this movement performs over the years, but Seiko has a long history of producing movements that run reliably with long service intervals. The movement is visible through the sapphire crystal case back. While the rotor displays some modest finishing, the movement resides below in all its industrial simplicity. But then again, we didn’t and shouldn’t expect to find an elaborative decorated movement at this price point. And, after all, it really is the caliber’s technical design that is most intriguing.
With the Swatch Group limiting the distribution of ETA movements, Seiko (but distributed via their TMI company) seeks to position the NE88A as a reliable alternative to the ETA 7750. Impressively, the NE88A is not only smaller than the ETA 7750, but also employs a column-wheel and vertical clutch mechanism to activate the chronograph. Compared to cam-activated chronograph mechanisms as in the ETA 7750, this construction is more complicated to produce and more elegant in its form. A column-wheel provides a finer click when using the pushers, and the vertical clutch allows the chronograph’s seconds hand to start more smoothly and reduces wear in the mechanism at the same time. As a result, the pusher on the William L. 1985 Automatic Chronograph delivers a satisfying click followed by a seamless start of the chronograph’s second hand.
When setting the watch, everything works as expected, including the hacking seconds and quick setting of the date. You can also wound the movement manually. All in all, the movement functioned smoothly during our review period, and we expect that it will be difficult to find better mechanics at a comparable price. One slight letdown: The column-wheel is not visible through the open case back.
So what’s the catch?
To be honest: There isn’t one if you can live with the fact that this watch isn’t Swiss or German made. The Automatic Chronograph is worth every penny of its astonishingly low price. Some things, however, deserve mention. For one, the thickness. At a total height of around 15mm, the watch sits high on the wrist and hesitates to hide below a sleeve. If your wrist is on the smaller side and you prefer sleek watches, this is something to keep in mind.
Furthermore, the distance between the dial and crystal appears disproportionally deep, which is reinforced by the latter’s domed shape. I couldn’t help but feel that I was looking “into the watch” instead of “at the dial”. This, of course, is only a minor nuisance, but it is noticeable. In my opinion, a raised chapter ring featuring the telemeter and/or tachymeter scale would have resulted in a more balanced appearance. Finally, although the domed crystal has an antireflective coating on the in- and outside, it still mirrors the surroundings more than it should.
Should You Buy This Watch?
This depends on what you’re looking for of course. If you want a vintage watch and have a certain model or brand in mind, the William L. 1985 Automatic Chronograph likely won’t quench your thirst for “the real deal”. If, however, you enjoy classic design and are looking for a modern, no-nonsense chronograph that punches well above its weight class, then it is difficult to imagine having much alternatives over this little beauty. It can be dressed up or dressed down for any occasion and mechanically is as good as it gets in its category.
For more information or to order your own, visit the William L. 1985 Kickstarter page here.