Body Buzz: Heitis Watches Go Mechanical
Whether a watch has a battery-powered quartz movement inside or a mechanical one may be of little concern to the uninitiated, but horological nerds often make this distinction their very first act of snobbery. The correct opinion is to prefer mechanical movements, and only to conceded to quartz in very special cases.
Quartz movements keep better time than mechanical ones, but by tapping into the ultra-consistent oscillations of a crystal to keep time these electrical mechanisms bypass the old-world challenges that face the mechanical watchmaker. Quartz watches also lack soul, according to us watch nerds. The seconds hand jumps from point to point on a quartz watch while mechanical watches “beat” at a certain frequency, sending their seconds hands across the dial in an oddly jagged but consistent rotation called the “sweep.” Anyone who’s watched 60 Minutes knows what a sweep looks like. Deep nerds can tell you how many beats per second there are by observing the seconds hand, and these nerds will endlessly debate the merits of various methods for deriving hi-beat (i.e., fast oscillating) movements whose springs take many days to wind down. Most mechnical watches can run for around 38 hours before stopping, but many mechanical movements can run for 8 to 10 days on a single wind. Some six-figure marvels can store months of mechanical power across multiple springs. Unfathomably clever people have sorted these things out, which is part of the magic of the mechanical watch.
However, it’s the soul of a mechanical watch that truly fascinates those who drink the horological Kool-Aid. No one seems able to objectively pin down what exactly gives a watch soul, but all agree it’s there, that it matters a lot, and that it’s mechanical, not quartz.
All of this is why Buffalo’s own Heitis Watches is so delighted to release their first mechanical watch. In a previous Body Buzz I had gone through Heitis’s three quartz offerings, all fine watches ticking away accurately, if a little soulessly. As a “micro-brand” founded and run by just one really nice guy named D. J. Heider, it’s hard to fault Heitis for launching quartz watches at first because the initial investment is far more realistic for start up. Now, however, D.J. has proven that Heitis Watches has staying power, and he’s on to the big leagues by launching the Okeanos Explorer, a mechanical dive watch.
Named after the mythological God of Freshwater, the Okeanos Explorer dive watch finds its inspiration deep beneath the wind-blown rollers of Lake Erie. A good watch needs a good story, and the name Okeanos, along with the Buffalo origins, tells just enough story without clobbering us with some elaborate narrative. It’s very Buffalo in that way—no illusions, an understated manner, a quiet pride.
For those not familiar with dive watches, these are anachronistic mechanical devices that SCUBA divers used to wear in order to time various aspects of their dives. Until dive computers took over in the late 1980s, a dive watch was essential to the survival of divers. Today they’re more of a lifestyle accessory, but dive watches are also some of the most rugged timepieces available. Qualifying as a dive watch requires meeting technical specifications set up in the International Standards Organization’s description 6425— commonly just called ISO-6425. A dive watch must be legible in total darkness, water resistant to at least 100m depth, accurate to within +/- 30 seconds a day, and it has to meet requirements for resistance to shock, magnetism, and corrosion.
The most distinctive requirement for a dive watch is the rotating bezel, which is that ring around the watch face with a 60-minute timer on it. By setting the “pip” (the zero-marker) to the minute hand, you simply read elapsed minutes off the bezel. This bezel must be unidirectional because if you were to bump it in the wrong direction, you might stay underwater too long and get hurt or die. By rotating in only counterclockwise, the bezel can only move in the direction that would make you ascend early, which is never a problem. Dive bezels are a big topic among watch nerds, and they offer up a fascinating set of design choices for watch designers.
One final note on dive watches: If they’re quartz, they need to have a battery life indicator on their face because, if it were to die mid-dive, you’d be in trouble. In the case of dive watches, mechanical ones remain highly popular because the risk of a batter failure wasn’t there, and today mechanical dive watches make for reliable backups to dive computers. I wear one when I dive; thankfully I’ve never had to use it.
Like most dive watches, the Heitis Okeanos Explorer is a beefy piece of metal with serious heft to it. That weight may bother some people, for for folks like me it’s a welcome reminder of the watch on my wrist. At 42mm across, the Okeanos wears large, but not huge. watch. The winding crown is set at four o’clock instead of the traditional three o’clock position, and this affords a bit more comfort and sleekness. Other than the position of the crown, the case leans toward the shape of renown Omega and Rolex divers.
The Okeanos’s numerical font is uniquely square, and the 6 and 9 use what’s called in typesetting an “open counter,” meaning that the numbers don’t connect back onto themselves. If you were to isolate the 6, for example, you’d read it as a G. This is a bold deviation from most numerical fonts, and it gives the Okeanos a retro-futuristic vibe. There are two colorways available for the face of the watch: black, red and white like so many classic dive watches, and another that I call the Sabres Combo for its unique blue face with white and yellow accents. If you were shopping for something unique to Buffalo, or for a hockey fan, go for the Sabres Combo.
The date window is located at an angle at four o’clock, a position that many watch nerds despise, but which I always think works fine when the winding crown is also at four. My personal preference would have been to eliminate the date window because it would clean up the face and offer more symmetry. Maybe down the road.
The solid steel case back is noteworthy, as it holds a rather lovely embossed image of an anchor, a compass rose, and some ropes, not unlike a sailor’s tattoo—very nautical, very retro, very cool. To derive that case back, Heitis went with 316L surgical steel has been “deep pressed” to achieve the design. This process is somewhere between stamping and cutting, and is no joke coming from a micro-brand.
Last but very much not least is the movement inside, a hi-beat 9015 automatic winding unit from Miyota. Don’t balk at the Japanese manufacturer, as Japan builds some of the world’s very best watch movements. You’ll find the Miyota 9015 in myriad mechanical watches—some quite expensive. It’s highly regarded for durability, accuracy, and ease of maintenance. Remember you’ll need to wind and set this watch from time to time, but the power reserve is a hefty 48 hours on this one, so you can take if off for a couple days and likely find it still running.
In order to back this ambitious venture, Heitis Watches began offering the Okeanos via Kickstarter starting on March 1. “Early bird” discounts are very deep, bringing the cost of the watch down from the $529 retail to just $329 for those looking to help D. J. get this one launched. You can find Heitis Watches at heitiswatch.com, and links to the Kickstarter for the Okeanos Explorer will be there as well.
From watches to whisky, Allen Farmelo’ s writing celebrates luxury as a pathway to health, sustainability, and joy. He lives in a one-room schoolhouse in the Hudson Valley with two big orange cats. Learn more at allenfarmelo.com and body-buzz.com.