Say what you want about Chinese watch brands, they offer a lot of spec for the money compared to watches from Japan or Switzerland. Started in 2016, San Martin Watches offers affordable watches with some unique options.
Many of the models are "homages" to Seiko or other popular watches, offered at much lower prices. Usually with homage watches, I'd recommend to spend the extra money to get the real deal, but they also offer their own unique models. According to their website, they hold a number of design and practical patents.
So why did I choose to purchase a San Martin? Bronze! They offer unique materials such as bronze, titanium, and damascus steel that you can't get from Seiko or other brands after which they model some of their designs.
I had been searching for a bronze watch for some time, but was hesitant to spend big bucks on a material that might end up being a novelty. Also, since the excitement of bronze is in developing the patina, I wanted something that I could abuse without worrying about taking a big financial hit.
Selecting the Watch
My first inclination was to go with their SN003-Q, which is an obvious homage to the Seiko Tuna. I love the shroud, and I might as well go big and bold when choosing bronze, right?
I ended up going with the Bronze Water Ghost SN040-Q model in the end though, for a few reasons: First, since I plan to wear this watch while doing a lot of activities, so I wanted something that would not be so top-heavy. Second, I the SN040-Q is a unique design, rather than a homage (let me know in the comments if I'm wrong). Finally, I'm hoping that the raised bronze numbers on the bezel will look interesting as patina develops.
I chose the green dial variant, mainly because I already have blue and black divers in my collection, but also I think the green will look nice against aged bronze. They gave me a discount, but this model currently sells for $199 plus shipping on their website. They tell me that the pricing is better if you buy direct from their website.
The SN040-Q arrived in a black plastic box, not unlike a famous type of case named after a nautical bird.
It included a strap change tool (which is especially considerate since the included strap is quick-release) and the typical paperwork and two year warranty card. The entire watch was wrapped in bubble wrap, plus the watch head (but not buckle) was tightly wrapped in plastic, I assume to minimize discoloration of the bronze before delivery.
Please note, the photos in this review were taken immediately after opening the watch. My goal was to show, if you buy one, what it will look like the day you receive it. I handled the watch with gloves for all of the white background photos (obviously before I shot the on-wrist shots). I will later post a follow-up review to show how it ages over time.
Once I took the plastic off, the details of the watch started to show. the polished numbers on the bezel reflect light, and the crisp edges of the case stood out. I did also notice a few spots of discoloration where patina had already started. How did it look upon further inspection? Keep reading!
As mentioned, the edges of the case lugs are quite sharp. the entire main body of the case has a brushed finish. Polished bronze might be too bright, plus I expect that a brushed finish will patina faster since it has more surface area to pick up chemicals and moisture.
The tops of the lugs have radial brushing, and the sides of the case and area between the lugs have vertical brushing. The lugs slope downward, and I haven't had any comfort issues yet.
The case has classic dive watch size and proportions. The case is 40mm wide, 13mm thick (with crystal), 47mm lug to lug, and has 20mm lug width. The lugs are not drilled. For my preference, it is the perfect size. I'm not opposed to bigger watches, but since it is a flashier metal, I like it being a more average size (plus bronze is heavy - mine weighed in at 113g with strap). Water resistance is rated at 200m.
The case features small, squared off crown guards which still allow easy gripping of the crown.
The case-back (as is typical of bronze watches) is stainless steel. This is preferred to be against your skin. I was surprised at how nice the engraving is for a sub-$200 watch. It has a very three-dimensional shark, and a mixture of polished, brushed, and sand-blasted finishes.
The bezel also has different pleasing finishes. The main surface has a matte, or sand-blasted finish, but the raised numbers (at 15 minute increments), and 5 minute markers are mirror polished. The polished surfaces "pop" in the light more than the photos indicated. Each minute in between also has a small recessed hash mark.
The edges are also matte finished, and have ridges for extra grip. The bezel hangs ever to slightly off the edge of the case, making it easy to turn. There is also a polished ring inside of the bezel that does not turn.
The bezel has just the right amount of friction to be easy to use, but not turn accidentally. The clicks are very positive, and have a precision feel. Note that it is a 60 click, rather than 120 click bezel. One benefit of this is that there is enough play between the clicks to always have your lume pip line up perfectly. The bezel fitment to the case is also extremely tight.
And what a lume pip it is! At nearly 3mm in diameter, you'll never miss it during the day, or at night when it is brightly glowing.
The crown is bigger than a lot of dive watches (it actually rises above the bezel a bit) , but not what I'd call over-sized.
It has the same shark logo on the face, and ridges on the edge to make it easier to grip.
The crown is steel for durability reasons, with a polished bronze cover.
The dial is a pleasing matte forest green. It has minimal white text (brand, "Automatic," and water resistance), which I like. My one complaint is that the "San Martin" font is basic looking, as if it is a standard font from Microsoft. Some of their other models feature an applied logo, which I'd love to see on this model.
It has a cream colored rail minute track around the edge (that appears almost yellow against the green). Speaking of rails, the font used for the Arabic hour markers looks to be something from a vintage railroad watch. It gives a unique look to the dial, and makes obviously not a submariner homage. The watch also does not have a date, which allows all twelve numbers to stand out.
The numerals use Superluminova C3 lume that looks cream colored in the light, and glows a very bright green at night. Even though it appears to be a thinner application of paint, the brightness and duration seems to be on par with any Seiko diver I've owned.
The hour and minute hands are pencil-shaped. They have a gold perimeter to match the bronze case, and are filled with the same bright C3 lume. The seconds hand has a lumed arrow tip, and a counter -balance.
The hands reach nearly to the edge of the minute track, and are very legible.
In addition to the case materials, the crystal is an area where San Martin steps above similar Japanese dive watches. Most or all of their models come with sapphire, rather than mineral crystals, which is great at this price.
The crystal has AR coating on the underside. It sits just slightly above the bezel. Because it is completely flat, there is no visible distortion at any angle.
The SN040-Q models all come with straps that match the dial color. The strap has a raised center, and is thicker around the lug area (I assume for durability, but it also make the strap look more interesting). Lug width is 20mm.
The 18mm pin buckle is also made of bronze, which I think is a must to make sure that it continues to match the case as it ages.
I was surprised at how nice the strap is considering the price of the watch. The description of the watch on the website didn't say what it was made of, so I expected a basic silicone strap. The strap is actually made of fluorine rubber, and has quick release spring bars. It has just enough stretch to be comfortable if you prefer wearing it on a tighter hole.
It has two rubber keepers, one of which has little tabs to hold it in place.
If you've ever handled an Everest band, it feels quite similar (which is funny because an Everest band costs more than this whole watch). It does not have a vanilla scent as some rubber dive straps do.
San Martin sells the straps separately on their website starting at $45.
The $199 Water Ghost SN040-Q is uses a PT5000 movement. You can also upgrade to a Sellita SW200 for an extra $120. Both movements have the same specifications, as they are respectively Chinese, and Swiss clones of the ETA2824. I chose the PT5000 version, as it was cheaper, and I was interested to see how the Chinese version performs.
All versions are hacking and hand-winding and beat at 28,800 vph (8 beats per second). The power reserve is rated at 38 hours. This version does not have a date. The crown still pulls out to an extra date click, but if you turn it, it does not feel like a date mechanism is present under the dial. For the few days that I've worn it so far, it has been keeping better than +1s/day. I will report back more on this later.
For $199 plus shipping, the Water Ghost SN040-Q is a fantastic value. It has a strong spec list, and finishing and details to match.
I often try to buy my watches used to save money on the purchase, but in the case of a bronze watch, there is a strong argument to pay a little extra to get a brand new one. Then you can create your own story as the bronze develops character over time.
Long Term Review Plan
My plan is to wear the watch as much as possible in the upcoming weeks or months, including while doing rough or dirty activities such as mountain biking, and doing yard work. I don't plan to chemically accelerate the patina development, but I'm also impatient, so I want to see how quickly it develops.
I'll report back with photos if and when the watch starts to look interesting (or if it seems to stabilize and stop changing). I'll also report how well the watch holds up to the abuse.
What do you think San Martin, and bronze watches in general? Is there anything you'd like to hear from a long term review? Let us know in the comments!