This Affordable Mechanical Chronograph Watch Costs Just $500
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The clean and classic Gemini from boutique American brand Lorier is the company’s first chronograph watch, and it’s priced to get your attention. How many modern mechanical watches with the stopwatch function can you think of that cost under $500? Probably not that many, and the Gemini is one of the best-looking, with a retro design that catches the eye. This, along with several dial options and a cool steel bracelet, make the Lorier Gemini a great option for vintage fans and mechanical watch snobs on a budget. (Just make sure to monitor the brand’s website closely, as they sell out frequently.)
Case Diameter: 39mm
Case Depth: 10mm (plus crystal)
Water Resistance: 50m
Movement: Sea-Gull ST19 hand-wound mechanical
Notable: The Lorier Gemini offers the experience of a handsome, retro-styled chronograph watch with a mechanical movement for not a ton of money. Elements like its inexpensive, manually wound movement and plexiglass help keep it affordable, but the overall impression is that of a charming watch for its price. While vintage-styled, it’s not an off-the-shelf design or knockoff of a specific vintage model. The steel bracelet, in particular, gives it a welcome sporty, contemporary touch.
Who It’s For: It can be tough being a watch enthusiast on a budget while also being snobby about quartz movements — but at these prices, quartz watches are the majority of your chronograph options. If you must have a mechanical chronograph, you could do a lot worse in terms of looks than the Gemini. Those drawn to sporty vintage chronographs — and who among us isn’t? — will appreciate the Gemini’s throwback style. At 39mm wide, it’ll also be attractive for those with a taste for vintage sizes and understated watches, as well as wearable for those with smaller wrists.
Alternatives: If it’s the sporty, 1960s chrono style you crave, and the quartz vs mechanical distinction isn’t a sticking point for you, you have affordable quartz options. Try the descriptively named 1962 or 1963 chronograph watches from Dan Henry.
With the same basic mechanical movement (though here, it could be considered in-house), the Sea-Gull 1963 chronograph is a well-known classic among affordable watches. A remake of a vintage model produced for the Chinese air force priced around $329, it offers a unique vintage look and wearing experience, as well as add-on options like sapphire crystal and a display case back.
At slightly above the Gemini’s price is the French brand Baltic’s Bicompax 001 chronograph, which offers retro looks that aren’t an homage to any specific vintage model. It, too, uses the Sea-Gull ST19 and costs around $595.
While the Maen Skymaster feels a bit more derivative in its design and is a couple hundred bucks up the price scale, it offers vintage looks and sizing — but with more premium features. With sapphire crystal and a Swiss automatic chronograph movement inside, it starts at around $760 and is about the most affordable watch you’ll find with this combination of features.
The New York-based husband-and-wife team behind Lorier are watch lovers, and it shows in their products. They’ve adopted the laudable mission to “make a watch affordable enough that you wouldn’t be afraid to wear it every day and everywhere, and handsome enough you’d want to.” Until now, this mantra has materialized in automatic watches in three collections that range from more formal or sporty but feature the same basic specs. As a chronograph, the new Gemini required more substantial changes, but it remains consistent with the brand’s approach.
A chronograph essentially adds a stopwatch to the simple time-telling functionality of a watch. While the ability to time events on a chronograph can be genuinely useful in daily life, its appeal in 2020 is largely aesthetic and technical. The pushers used to activate it and the sub-dials that display the timing information result in a sporty, technical look that also recalls some of the historic roles chronographs played in the 20th century.
The Gemini appears to have the same basic 39mm-wide case (and the same handset) as Lorier’s other watches, but the brand says it was specially developed to fit the chronograph movement. It’s a well well-made case with brushed finishing offset by polished elements such as a bevel along its sides. While Lorier’s previous watches were all water-resistant to 200m, it’s surely the chronograph pushers in the case side that resulted in a rating of 50m — more than enough for daily activities and above a dress watch’s typical 30m, but don’t take the Gemini swimming.
There are a myriad options for basic automatic time-and-date watches at this price level, but chronographs are notoriously complicated and expensive — it’s typical for a Swiss chronograph to cost nearly double its otherwise equal time-only counterpart. So when you see a mechanical chronograph watch at under $500, there’s a good chance that it’s powered by the same ST19 movement that’s in the Gemini. The ST19 is made by the Chinese company Tianjin Sea-Gull, and it’s often been found to serve its users well — but quality control issues have sometimes been reported and problems are statistically more common than with more expensive movements.
The ST19 is a clone of the Swiss Venus 175 movement, apparently made by Tianjin Sea-Gull using Venus’s original tooling and blueprints after the Swiss company went bust. This is an integrated chronograph caliber (meaning it was designed as a chronograph rather than later fitted with a chronograph module), and it’s interesting to note that the ST19 uses a column wheel — a feature typically only found in higher-end chronograph watches that tends to be valued by enthusiasts for its smooth articulation and feel. The ST19 is manually wound with a power reserve of 51 hours, so users will need to regularly wind the movement by hand. Unfortunately the Gemini doesn’t feature a display case back, since the ST19 is a cool movement to look at.
It’s the aesthetics and affordability that are the Lorier Gemini’s primary selling points. The contrasting sub-dials are extremely popular vintage cues — black on white being dubbed “panda” while the opposite is “reverse panda,” in ultra-nerdy watch enthusiast culture. The three current models on offer include black, white, or blue dials, each with glossy finish. The highly domed plexiglass is another nod to those bygone decades that, conveniently, is not only the inexpensive option (compared to scratch-proof sapphire) but also happens to be appreciated by many vintage lovers for its distinctive texture.
Verdict: The Lorier Gemini is a good way for budding watch lovers to experience a mechanical chronograph without spending the considerable cash that even the next comparable model up the ladder will cost. The main draw, however, is its classic and restrained styling. Expect a nod from seasoned vintage watch enthusiasts for its design cues, but the Gemini has its own personality in spades.
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