The Watches Watch Experts Own & Wear

The Speedmaster CK2998 is usually a crowd favorite. photo: Greg Bedrosian

Did you ever notice the same watches popping up in your Instagram feed? What about during “wrist check” on a YouTube channel or across different Watch Podcasts? It’s not a complex algorithm and it’s not a coincidence. 

Watch experts, from journalists’ to podcasters, handle a tremendous number of watches from various brands. Think about it. The expert’s job is to critically analyze watches and report on them. A review is a review. But what watches do we see these experts owning and wearing? 

Omega Speedmaster (non-Moonwatch)

This “Ed White” Speedmaster (available at Analog/Shift) is a fan favorite. photo Analog/Shift

Moonwatch. Moonwatch. Moonwatch. It must be Tuesday as I scroll through Instagram. The modern Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch is a staple and an icon for good reasons. It’s one of the more recognizable watches thanks to its history with NASA and the sheer number of them produced. It’s a great watch. I’d recommend it to almost anyone. However, the modern Professional version, considered to be vanilla, is not what we see from the experts; expertlike to stay on the variant side.

Speedmasters can rapidly become the focal point in a nerd contest. Some of the subtleties that are often seen with vintage Speedmaster Professionals include: stepped dials, faded dials, faded bezel inserts, DON (dot over 90) bezel inserts, disintegrated tritium markers and hands (orange patina), and JB Champion style bracelets. These nuances make certain, mostly vintage, Speedmaster Professionals stand out against the modern examples. The Speedmaster becomes a way to passively communicate the perceived legitimacy of the “Expert”.

Then there are the non-Moonwatch Speedmaster variants. These Speedmaster variants are almost limitless. Still, we see the same variants continually pop-up on the wrists of experts. The most common variants that we see often are the “Day-Date” (Ref ST 375.0084) and the “FIOS /CK2998”. 

The “Mark 40” Speedmaster is steadily gaining momentum. photo: The Dan Henry Collection

The Day-date, referred to as “the automatic or Mark 40” offers a lot of value. It’s hard to imagine stuffing more information onto a dial and the information still being legible. They come in two versions, the monochromatic white/ black, and the more colorful “Mark 40” version (pictured). Look for the price of these once thought “sub-par” Speedmasters to steadily climb as they gain traction.

A more modern interpretation, that some might argue is truer to the original Speedmaster, is the FOiS “First Omega In Space”. Alpha hands and polished straight lugs scream throwback. This vibe translated to the CK2998. The CK2998 also features a “Panda” dial (white dial with three blue or black subdials). Pay attention and you’ll notice many FOiSs and CK2998s on the wrists of contributors for various horological outlets. 

Josh Gull recently made the switch from a modern “Speedy Pro” to the “FOiS”. photo: Josh Gull

Variants to the Speedmaster can allow an expert to have something recognizable as well as back up their authority. Make sure the Speedmaster is on your resume or be shunned. Everyone seems to have a Speedmaster story. Yes, Speedmasters are easily recognizable and have great historical significance. Humans love symbols. The Daytona has become a symbol of wealth. The Speedmaster continues to be a symbol of knowledge. 

Doxa Sub 300

Allen Farmelo’s Doxa in its natural environment. photo: Allen Farmelo

Most people don’t stumble on Doxa or buy one on a whim. If two Doxa owners meet by chance, the unspoken code is initiated with a secret Doxa handshake (or so the legend goes). It is assumed that if they’re into Doxa, they must be cool. The Doxa Sub 300T is a very recognizable choice of the super-enthusiast professional. 

The appropriately undersized dial is hard to miss. Every Doxa Sub 300T has a stainless steel cushion case, an oversized minute hand, and a no-decompression table integrated on the rotating bezel. The even more insider choice is the “no T” or the Sub 300 Aqua Lung Edition. It’s characterized by the US Diver’s Co. logo and the missing “T” next to the 300 on the dial. The watch is deemed so cool that it’s blasphemy to knock the ETA 2824-2 movement.

The color orange disappears below 20 meters. photo: Allen Farmelo

One of the most iconic Doxa pictures is from the 1971 book “Blue Meridian: The Search for the Great White Shark”, by Peter Matthiessen. In the photo, diver Stan Waterman’s orange Doxa is clearly visible. There is certainly no shortage of orange on Doxas. This is by design for legibility. Underwater, the color with the longest wavelengths are absorbed first. Orange fades quickly and is filtered out at 60 feet. All of the orange wasn’t just a “marketing” color. The orange was for originally for legibility.

Michael Peñate’s Doxa SUB 300 gets some serious wrist time. photo: Michael Peñate

In many ways, the Doxa Sub 300 is arguably more badass than a Rolex Submariner. They were both designed for the same purpose, but Rolex turned towards luxury and the Doxa remained a tool watch of choice for legendary diver Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Today the legend continues and the Doxa Sub 300 is a symbol that you are ready for adventure; anywhere – anytime. It’s an expert level dive watch pick. To be a Doxpert you must know the names of their classic dial colors. Master those and you’ll be proud to call yourself a “professional sea-rambling shark hunter”.

Rolex Explorer II Ref. 16570

Black hands over a white dial is not typical Rolex. photo: H.Q. Milton

The Rolex Explorer II Ref. 16570 is one of the best values in both modern and vintage steel sport model Rolexes. There is so much to like that the “16570” is a layup for a GADA (go anywhere, do anything) watch. They are abundantly available because Rolex produced the five-digit reference from 1988-2011. 22 years of producing the same reference is a lot of pre-owned Rolex watches on the market! 

They all look the same, sort of. The most common dial colors are white and black. Case styles vary only by drilled and solid lugs, depending on the generation within the model. They can easily be identified by small texts on the bottoms of the dial, “Swiss – T < 25”, “Swiss”, and “Swiss Made”. Early versions of the 16570 with creamy aging tritium and later models with Cal 3186 (parachrom hairspring) command premium prices. Look for a value someplace in the middle.

Great watches aren’t defined to one gender. photo: Kat Shoulders

The stark contrast between the black outlined hands and the white dial distinguishes the “Polar Explorer” from most other Rolex sport models. The fact that it’s a Rolex automatically makes the Explorer II appropriate if you prefer a DTW (dressy tool watch). The cyclops magnifier above the date and Oyster case drive the brand identity home. The classic five-digit Rolexes are preferred by many over the six-digit models with chunkier cases.

Note the drilled lugs and tritium lume on this 1993 Explorer II. photo H.Q. Milton

You don’t get a rotating bezel or the prestigious GMT Master namesake, but functionally the Explorer II is ready to fly thanks to a 24-hour fixed steel bezel and a movement with a jumping local hour hand. Considering that the Ref 16570 Explorer II is about 60% of the price of the same vintage GMT Master, the relative value proposition is obvious. The secret is out. It’s been out. The difference is now people are listening and finding their way to the 16570.

At Least One Seiko

The four-o’clock crown is a Seiko calling-card. Photo: Greg Bedrosian

Seiko, the gateway drug. The value is hard to beat. The accessibility is easy for most compared to Swiss luxury automatic watches. You can get a Seiko SNK from Amazon for under $80. If you want to hang some serious Seiko-dong there is the $6,800 SLA039. Most experts tend to gravitate toward the $250-800 price range for Seikos. 

Kaz Mirza wrote a review of his Seiko “Sumo” in hiaku format. photo: Kaz Mirza

The experts refer to those Seikos as “beaters”. Seiko Beater is such a term of endearment that many times a ding or dent is cause for a combination of angst and woe. These modern Seiko sport watches come in many varieties, but all share similar traits. The most popular models are better identified by their nicknames. For instance saying, “SKX”, could easily mean an SKX007, SKX009, SKX013, or SKX007j1. It doesn’t stop there, to simply say a “Turtle” could mean a 6309-7290 from the 1980s or a modern SRP777 from Seiko’s Prospex line.

The mighty Seiko SKX007. photo: Greg Bedrosian

Other fun nicknames for Seikos include; “Sea Urchin”, “Sumo”, “Bluemo”, “Willard”, “Baby Marine Master”, “Ripley”, “Monster”, Pogue”, “Darth Tuna”, “Arnie”, and “Samurai” to name just a few. To a civilian it’s like listening to Joe Dirt rattling off types of fireworks. Seiko gets confusing. Confusing listings on Amazon and certain models being discounted at department stores makes Seiko’s brand identity a bit of a mess. But dig deeper: do you think there would be all those nicknames if Seikos sucked? Everyone starts somewhere and it’s often with Seiko.

The Fraternal Tudor Twins

Two watches for one expert pick? Yes. The writer can bend their own rules if they can properly support the argument. Tudor’s 2018 Baselworld Watch Fair release story may never be duplicated again. Not only because of the pre-Post-Baselworld environment, but because of the large and lasting impact of the Black Bay GMT and 58. It was almost as if Tudor conducted an enthusiast survey and then delivered accordingly. Experts gravitated toward one or the other. Many would argue that Tudor upstaged Rolex with those two 2018 Baselworld releases.

It was a double-Cinderella story. Tudor borrowed a well-rehearsed strategy from Rolex’s playbook. This was the first time that there was a waitlist for a Tudor watch. The buzz was real and the hype didn’t start to flicker until nearly two years after the 2018 release. Journalists, podcasters, and enthusiasts flocked to their Tudor ADs (authorized dealers) to kiss ass their way to the top of the waitlist for both models. Why do we see so many experts choosing these fraternal twins?

The Tudor Black Bay GMT is unquestionably a “flyer”. photo: Greg Bedrosian

The Black Bay GMT was the “Pepsi” for the people. As Rolex almost simultaneously released a ceramic blue and red GMT Master in steel, Tudor literally stole the show with something special at a much lower price point. Tudor’s GMT has an in-house movement with a jumping local hour hand and a “Pepsi” (red/blue) aluminum insert. Every watch in a similar price range gets compared to the Tudor GMT. You don’t have to say four thousand dollars: instead, the experts just say, “for as much as a Tudor GMT…”. That should tell you something. 

Cole’s Tudor Black Bay 58 lacks little in the charm department. photo: Cole Pennington

The Black Bay 58 is a different animal. It was big news, but not as big as the GMT at launch. As the first few 58s started to be delivered to ADs and the few press samples got passed around, it started to sink in. Tudor gave us a reissue of the legendary ref. 5510 Rolex Submariner. Not on did they give it to us, they served it up on a platter with an in-house movement sporting a 70-hour power reserve and a price point of $3,700. Suddenly experts could get the dopamine of such an iconic vibe, while still having the confidence to wear the “58” to the beach carefree. The value proposition of yesteryear soon eclipsed the waitlist for the GMT. Experts anxiously waited for “the call” from the AD that their Black bay 58 was in, just like everyone else.

Conclusion

When you see the same, or similar watches repeatedly, ask yourself: What am I am looking at? You will start to gain your bearings and will be able to then ask yourself the more important question, “Why?” Why am I seeing trends from these influential experts? These subjective reference points are the basis of expert opinion. The experts understand how to make better decisions in the goat-rodeo of steel sports watches. Look a little deeper and you can too.