Inside & Out: The Traveling Watch from Watches by Nick
How I got this watch: I contacted Nick Harris of Watches by Nick to request a review piece. and he offered me a chance to wear his example Travelling Watch for a week.
The field watch is one of the greatest contributions to watch design that America has given the watch world. Unlike the spontaneous and necessary alterations made to pocket watches to turn them into trench watches during World War I, the field watch was designed in war for war. Mass-produced on an enormous scale to design specifications A-11 and A-17, the most recognizable and desirable field watches were produced by Elgin, Bulova and Waltham.
They all follow the same guiding principles: Black dial, white hands, white numerals, a seconds/minute scale around the outside of the dial however there is some variance between models such as coin edged bezels, stop second movements, crown sizes etcs. These watches were produced for a purpose and pieces that have survived the sixty something years are usually pretty beat up. To some these cracked crystals, faded dials and scratched cases are all crucial to the story that a vintage watch can have however there are modern alternatives. Hamilton has been making a heritage field watch for some time now and Longines has several field/pilots watches that fit the description but today I'm focusing on an independent alternative from Watches by Nick.
This 'Traveling Watch' winds its way across the country and found it's way onto my wrist for a week and is a portable demonstration of what Watches by Nick is all about. The closest watch available for purchase is the Field S2: Engraved ( $675) which has the same style case engraving but in a larger case and a different movement. All Watches by Nick are modified Seikos that Nick and his friend Damon work together on; the engraving patterns are a collaboration between the two men, Nick handling the watchmaking and Damon performing the engraving. This joint passion is Watches by Nick greatest strength.
Nick purchases the various parts from different sources and amalgamates them together into the vision that he wants. Nick was very open with me by saying that all his watchmaking skills are self-taught and having recently been accepted into a watchmaking school he'll soon be able to formalize his training. The Seiko modding community is built upon this hobbyist approach and the straps, bezels, dials, hands and crystal Nick uses and customizes are all available on his site for those willing to take the first step. The attention to detail on the case engraving is phenomenal and I can't begin to fathom the patience needed to do it by hand.
"When modding a watch I kind of look at all the parts available and visualize what it looks like in my mind's eye, then I get the parts and put it together. Seikos are good for modding for a multitude of reasons, they're affordable; which makes learning a bit easier as they aren't prohibitively expensive. There's also a good community around Seiko modding which means there are available parts-the Seiko 5 line and some other lines all have standardized dial and hands sizes which makes compatibility for said parts available to a huge range of potential base watches" - Nick Harris
For my reviews I like to focus on the two things that really matter about a watch, the inside and out. However with the Travelling Watch there frankly isn't much to discuss when it comes to the movement. It's a Seiko NH35A, a standard automatic movement beating at 28,800pbh with stop seconds (I find hacking seconds such an ugly term) with a 40 hour power reserve. It has no decoration or flash but when it comes to affordable and reliable movements you can't go far wrong with a Seiko.
Whilst the inclusion of an exhibition case back is nice I think a stainless steel back would have fit the field watch aesthetic more and would have hidden the plain movement. A faux military style engraving on the back listing the different parts used or production number of the watch would have been great. I think it's important to say that the movement is not what you're buying a Watch by Nick for, it's the personal attention and unique design that Nick can give every watch that should be the deciding factor.
Out of all the watches I've had the opportunity to have some real hands on time with, the Traveling Watch was the most wearable and the one I looked forward to putting on every morning. The Kent Wang Bauhaus opened my eyes to small watches and whilst at times I found the Traveling Watch a little small, I truly enjoyed wearing it despite it's smaller case. I'm still not acclimated to the temperature down south so having something light to wear was much appreciated.
All the key elements of an A-11 or A-17 Field watch are present with the crisp black dial being instantly legible with perfectly sized hands allowing for ease of reading even at a glance. The domed sapphire crystal does distorts the dial when looked at from a certain angle which adds to the look and feel of a true vintage field watch. The white numerals are big and pillowy and can be seen from a distance however I would have preferred a more distinct yet smaller font for the inner twenty-four hour scale. I understand the significance of their placement and why they need to be legible but that effect could have been achieved with less rounded numbers. Despite having the watch in bright sunlight throughout the week, I would only get around thirty minutes of bright lume before it would fade away and by the time I went to bed the watch wasn't visible. To get this lume shot I had to flash my phone torch at the dial for a few seconds.
Believe me when I say that I'm being really really picky about this and aside from a few minor nitpicks I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Traveling Watch.
The watch comes on a genuine leather strap in black with white stitching running along the length of it. The deployment clasp was very smooth and whilst it's slightly anachronistic to the idea of a field watch I quickly got into the routine of quickly slipping the watch on in the mornings with ease. There is space on the buckle for some additional engraving but seeing as this part of the watch sees the most wear, perhaps it's better to leave it empty. Given the history of the field watch and it's military connections a leather NATO or canvas one-piece or NATO would look really splendid against the black dial but straps are a matter of preference so you're open to customize that as much as you like on your own.
The knowledge that all the engravings were done by hand give this watch a personal touch and somehow the engravings reminded me of a history that never happened. An American soldier idly spending his downtime engraving his military issue watch. The repeating floral pattern is intricate enough to garner compliments but is subtle enough not to detract from the functional aesthetic of the watch. With just the tops of the lugs and bezel engraved with the sides of the case and lugs left blank, the embellishments have just the right balance. I would like to see the Watches by Nick personal touch extend to a crown engraving, reminding us that this is a Watch By Nick, not just a standard field watch.
"If someone were to get into modding I'd say be patient and do your research. The information is all out there, but the knowledge that will stick with you will come from experience. Being told how to mount a seconds hand is completely different than actually doing it. It's also a little intimidating at first, which is why, in my opinion, experience trumps theory in the world of watches. You can read and learn about them all day but when it comes to taking one apart you need to have technique-which only comes from doing the work. And I'd also say don't skimp on tools, a lot of cheap tools will actually damage or make it more likely to damage the watch you're working on. Nicer tools are really worth the extra money." - Nick Harris
That personal touch is continued on his website with only a short story about inheriting his great-grandfather's Omega Constellation and that sparking off his desire to learn more about watches being anything related to "brand history". It's a refreshing change of pace from the sometimes overly expository and self indulgent histories that more recent brands can create. Throughout all of the communication, website design and of course his products it's clear you are dealing with someone who is passionate and dedicated enough about modding watches to sell his own creations. I still can't get over the fact that everything is done by hand, a partial return to the days of watchmaking when it was a cottage industry run by friends and family.
With a Kickstarter and brand in the works it will be interesting to see whether this personal touch follows as Watches by Nick expands. I'll be keeping a lookout to see what Nick brings as if it's half as interesting and unique as the Traveling Watch then we're in for a real winner.