Usually, when it comes to these lists, we see the same watches. Like for example under top 5 best automatic watches under 500$, you will always see a Hamilton Khaki or some kind of Seiko, but no one tries to include something different, or a microbrand even. It seems that microbrands don’t get any attention at all. Also, most of the Youtube “reviewers” and bloggers haven’t even owned some of the watches that they suggest. But I’m here to change this. The three watches that we will take a look at today are all microbrands, they all are automotive inspired ones and they all have been worn and tested for more than 5 months, and even one of them I own for more than 2 years. So you won’t just get a basic overview of the watches, but also you will know that I have been wearing them for a long time and they all have been tested in real life situations. Also, these three are in my opinion much better priced and better looking than the popular Autodromo watches that Hodinkee, Worn & Wound like to praise so much.
So the three watches I chose are the Helgray Silverstone, MHD CR1 and the Roue CHR-1. What ties them together is they all have quartz chronograph movement, they all have that smooth “sliding” seconds hands, they all are automotive inspired and all three are available under 350$. So let’s dive in:
Let’s start with the cheapest one, the Helgray Silverstone. Right now it is on discount on Helgray website and costs 199$, although only the white dial version is available. Don’t know if they will restock them, but there are a lot of them on the used market on forums and facebook groups. Helgray Silverstone has a solid package, it has the Seiko VK64 meca-quartz movement inside, sapphire crystal with AR coating, very nice 40mm size, solid end links and solid link bracelet and overall nice design. This one I have been wearing for more than 2 years and it never let’s down. The chronograph function has been used a lot, the VK64 movement works perfectly and still is running on its original battery. The bracelet it comes with is very comfortable, it is flimsy, but it sits nicely on the wrist. The watch for the first 1,5 years was used on a bracelet, but then I decided to swap the bracelet for a nice yellow leather rally strap which I think fits with the overall design of the watch and makes the dial pop more. The watch has some scratches over the two years, mainly on the polished bezel of the case and the case back, but on the case itself where it has brushed finishing you won’t see any scratches that much.
The watch also comes with a lot of stuff. When you buy it you get a nice leather pouch and a second leather strap to swap if you don’t like the stainless steel bracelet. What are the drawbacks? Well, it kind of hasn’t had any, at least for me the watch is perfect for what it is. But professionally I think that the lack of running seconds hand will be an issue for some. You only see the watch running when the chronograph is activated, but when not, there is no movement on the hands, at least not visible. Another thing is the mention polished edge and polished case back which will scratch a lot if you use it on a bracelet. So if you want a cool automotive design with bright colours that has a nice Japan made meca-quartz movement inside, sapphire crystal and good quality for under 200$?… well….. then pull the trigger, because this is it!
Here you can read the full review of the Helgray Silverstone:
The second one is the Roue CHR-1. This is a pretty new brand, they launched their watches later last year and I think they made a pretty damn good watch. The CHR-1 right now can be bought for only 230$ at their website. And it comes in three different colour variations, but in my opinion, this one is the best-looking one. And for a price so low you get a really cool package. You get a cool 1970s racing era inspired design, sapphire glass, nice Japan made quartz with a 1/10th of a second dial, nice leather strap and overall good quality timepiece. When I got the timepiece I was actually surprised about the size, I didn’t expect it to be on a bigger side, the diameter is 41,5mm and due to that case design, it wears a bit bigger, but still a very comfortable watch. I have been using the CHR-1 for some time now, for about 6 months and it is solid as a rock. I really like that it comes with two strap options, you get that super cool tropical style black leather rally strap and a rubber strap. Both straps have a quick release spring bars fitted so that is a plus when it comes to fast strap swap. The two strap options also are useful when it comes to winter and summer. In the winter season, you can wear it on a leather strap and in the summer on a rubber strap. Another surprise for me was to discover that the chronograph function has a 1/10th of the second subdial at 12 o’clock. That is a pretty cool show-off feature and a pretty useful one if you want to time something more precisely. You also get that smooth sliding seconds hand for the chronograph.
So what are the drawbacks you would ask? Well, I don’t like that it is so big, at 40mm it would be just perfect. Most of my readers will also know that I don’t like PVD coated cases, although this one seems to have a pretty durable coating as I knocked it more than dozen times on doorknobs and other things, and there is not a single mark or scratch. But you have to remember that after 5 or 10 years the stainless steel colour will show through because if you use the watch as it was meant to be used, it will get scratched and get that wear. But again those are my personal preferences, for most of the people, this isn’t a serious issue to not buy the watch. Anycase this is a great vintage inspired timepiece that you should seriously consider adding to your collection. If you are a petrol head like me and you like the 1970s car/racing era, you will like this no doubt.
Here you can read the full review of the Roue CHR-1:
The last one will be the most expensive at 350$, the MHD CR1. Yes, it costs a lot more than the other two, but this one has a cool backstory. So the guy who makes these watches Matthew Humphries is the former designer for the Morgan Motor Company, he designed one of my most favourite cars, the Morgan Aero 8 and some other cars for the Morgan Motor Company. So after leaving the Morgan Motor Company, he decided to start making watches. The dial of the CR1 is actually inspired by the gauges of Porsche 911 from the 70s. And in general, the CR1 was designed to capture the style of the 60s and 70s motoring watches and cars. And damn, the watch looks so good.
For the price that you pay, you get a Miyota 6S21 chronograph movement with that sliding second’s hand, cool design, limited edition (only 500 made) and well-machined case. The CR1 has only two dial options, the black and white, and they both look good. But you get a lot of rally strap colours from to choose. The strap is pretty well made. So this is the priciest, but also the biggest one at 42mm, but still a very daily usable size. The watch is actually very simple with the styling, the case and the dial is pretty minimal, but done so well and the attention to detail is amazing. That sharp curved mineral glass, the outer minute counter that only some know that it is there, the knurled crown, all the fonts used on the dial. You really can see that the watch was designed by a true petrolhead.
So what are the drawbacks, well, first of all, the price, I think it is a bit too much, at 300$ it would be just perfect. Second would be the mineral crystal, at this price I would like to see a sapphire one, but I would guess they could not get one with that sharp curve, as the price would be much bigger. This is the watch that I own for the longest time, it has been more than 2 years since I got it and so far I’m pleased. Also, this is one of the couple watches that I won’t sell under any circumstances. For me personally, the connection to Morgan cars is something special as it is one of my favourite brands and owning a watch that the same designer of one of my favourite cars has designed is super cool. I think this is another great vintage car-inspired watch for true petrolheads and you should check it out as only 500 watches are made.
Here you can read the full review of the MHD CR1:
So we looked at three very cool automotive-inspired design watches. I really like all of them, all the designs are original, they don’t try to copy other brands and you don’t see much of them on other wrists. Usually, the ones that other watch Youtubers or bloggers suggest, you can buy at almost any watch shop at your local mall and can see on many wrists. Yes, the watches they suggest are pretty good ones, not denying that, but they lack the exclusivity, rarity. With one of these, the chances that you will meet a person with the same watch on their wrist are pretty slim to none. I hope I introduced some of my readers to new brands and maybe for some I showed their future watch. If you like these type of articles, be sure to let me know as I liked writing this and would love to introduce you to more cool brands that deserve much more attention!