THE CRYSTAL


We’re clearly in the minority when it comes to the choice of crystal we use in our watches. While many prefer sapphire, we’ve opted for old-school plexiglass (or acrylic, or hesalite). Why do we love it? In short, it's more visually pleasing (clearer, warmer, less reflective), harder to break/shatter (more tool-ish), and more authentic to the spirit of a mid-century sports watch.  


Regardless, we do get a lot of inquiries, so read on for our responses to the most common questions we’ve gotten on the topic:

 

Why would I buy a watch with a plastic crystal, when I could get sapphire for the same price or less?


Believe it or not, it’s not about cost. It’s about recreating a certain magic that vintage watches had. As the very lens through which one views the dial and hands, the crystal is essential to this. The optical quality of plexi allows a watch to "pop" more, because it has much less glare than sapphire's cold, mirror-like finish. 


To even come close to re-creating the bubble-like look of plexi, sapphire would need antireflective coating on both the inside and outside surfaces of the crystal, which would defeat the purpose of its scratch resistance.


But isn’t sapphire an upgrade? I want something with vintage looks, but with tougher, modern materials.


We’ve always thought that plexi gets a bad rap on its toughness, and this may have to do with how we view watches. In today’s context, they’re mostly used as accessories/jewelry, so of course, the priority would be to keep them looking pristine.


But back then, they were used as tools, so the focus was different. For instance, look at these icons with plastic crystals.*

Photo credit: Hodinkee





While sapphire is harder, it’s also more brittle. Plexi’s flexible nature makes it easier to scratch, but harder to break. If it does, it cracks rather than shatters, so there won’t be loose shards that could harm the dial and movement. Besides, if you do scratch plexi, it’s extremely easy to polish—it's the only material for a crystal where scratches don't have to be permanent. 


It's that easy: scratches before and after a quick application of Polywatch.





I feel like you’re just saying all this as a way to cut costs and maximize profit.


That’s OK! We've gotten this comment before, and even though plexi does cost us more, just stating that fact hasn't proven convincing to most people.


At this point, our goal isn’t to convince you, but to explain why we do what we do as best we can. Not many of us have access to vintage sports watches, so it's always difficult to translate what makes them special. There’s a reason why Omega still makes the  Speedmaster with a plastic crystal, and Sinn their Flieger chronographs (103 and 356)—and these are watches that cost much more.


With every manufacturer we went to, a flat sapphire cost less than a truly vintage-style dome plexi, especially in small-batch, specialized manufacturing (for instance, here’s one that costs $250). Modern “double dome” sapphire crystals are affordable, but barely curved, as you can see below:


A modern double dome sapphire.

Photo credit: Two Broke Watch Snobs




A vintage plexi dome.

Photo credit: Phillips





We know some will actually prefer the more modern profile. In fact, the very first Neptune prototype had a similar sapphire crystal, but we felt like it just didn’t capture the vintage magic we were going for.


But you’d sell more if you used sapphire! I’d buy one!


While we do aim to be a profitable business, not everything is about money. It's important for us to be proud of what we're making, and we're quite passionate about this (if you couldn't tell already)!


I still like sapphire, couldn’t you just offer the option?


It’s easier said than done. In order to feature a high water resistance rating, the case mounting method between plexi and sapphire are different. Sapphire only needs a plastic I-ring to hold it in place. Plexi is much harder to work with because of its flexibility, so it needs an additional steel ring to retain tension.


What this basically means is we can’t re-use the same cases, and would have to double case production. As a small, self-financed brand, this simply isn’t feasible, especially since our hearts wouldn't really be in it. Besides, sapphire is already the default option for the plethora of other brands (micro or otherwise) making fantastic watches.


Don't just take our word for it:


"As my interest in watches expanded, I came back around to it and realized that, despite its occasional bad rap (stemming almost exclusively from a fear of scratches), it is far and away my favorite, if given the choice."


-Danny Milton, HODINKEE


"If you know the look of a big bubble on an old dive watch, that's what you get with hesalite (which is acrylic)...even box section sapphires that try to emulate that look, they don't quite achieve the same look. You've either got thermoplastic, or you don't."


-Tim Mosso, WatchBox


"Given the choice between acrylic or sapphire, I’ll always choose acrylic for its warmth..."


- Jason Heaton, HODINKEE




In sum, we love plexi because it allows us to time travel a little bit. But it's not only for the sake of nostalgia, not just to call back to an era of watches as instruments. On its own, plexi still looks fantastic and is still extremely practical. Turns out it's just as good now as it was back then.


*Historical note: 

Rolex’s use of acrylic vs. sapphire is a good example of this. As they shifted from tool watches to the high luxury market in the 1970s and 80s, they transitioned to using sapphire instead of acrylic crystals. They still had stragglers though: their most toolish models, the no-date Submariner and the Rolex Explorer, had acrylic crystals until 1989.