February 11, 2006

Review of the Alpha GMT

Cheap Chinese Rolex tributeCheap Chinese Rolex tribute

Background info

One of these days I really should write a very long post on Rolex. It’s the 900lb gorilla of mechanical watches, with a long history of overpricing and conservative design. I’m more a cheap bastard so, barring crime or a relative winning a lottery, I’m not going to buy one. I’m not averse, however, to buying a lookalike.

I consider a fake to be anything that claims to be a Rolex - imitation logo, etc. There’s plenty of those out there. There’s also what could charitably be called tributes’ or knockoffs’, that have the same appearance but different logo and perhaps text. This Alpha is in the second category; it’s a lookalike of the Explorer II.

I bought this one from a seller known as collector_898 on ebay. He also sells the same watches a bit cheaper on the watchuseek forums. I found this one on a SCWF thread about affordable GMTs.

(Note that watchuseek just had a drive failure, so all links there are 404 until they restore from backups.)

Reading on the forums (Watchuseek and SCWF) I found some more information. The watch is made by the Tianjin Seagull Watch Group Company, and distributed by TSINLIEN SEA-GULL Co.,LTD. The same watch is sold with different grades of movement, so yours might be of greater or lesser quality; I can only vouch for the one I have.

This guy actually took one to his watchmaker for detailed testing. Well worth a read!

Mine cost $26 + $20S&H.; They can be had for 10-20 less by emailing him directly.

General notes and impressions

The appearance in general is well-finished and very attractive. The mercedes-style hands and face are quite readable, with good contrast. The red GMT hand takes a bit of getting used to, but becomes readable quite rapidly.

The bezel is fixed, tapered and doesn’t rotate. I’m not fond of the cyclops magnifier, but it does work well, about 2x magnification. The crystal appears to be acrylic, and will probably scratch easily.

The band is solid-end-link, oyster style, with fliplock and diver’s extension. Sized with screwed links, which is very nice. 20mm at the case, tapers. The clasp is stamped. Both it and the case are stainless steel. It’s not as comfortable as my Orient, but not bad. The screwed links make it easy to adjust at home, which is preferred. There are a few squeeks and rattles in the bracelet, which are probably fixable with a bit of TLC and lubricant.

The crown is signed, and has a few rough edges that scratch the forearm. Fixable with some sanding.

The GMT hand is independly set, but couples to the main hand once set. (Fixed offset). I was thinking that I could set GMT, and change the main hands to local time when traveling; that won’t work. If you change the main time, the GMT moves too. The offset between them is fixed, so this is not very good for cross-timezone travel.

Date is quickset and quickchange.

Lume is decent, lasts 3-5 hours.

Case is about 37mm, sits very nicely on the wrist. It’s an elegant design, I can see why the real version is perenially popular. It makes a nice dress watch, and unlike my diver slides underneath a cuff easily.

The case and back claim 3atm (30m) water resist; I’d be very apprehensive of actually diving with it. For me it’s an inexpensive dress watch.


Shot of movement (Link is to where I got the image)

21,600 vph, hacks, handwind, automatic, 27 jewels.

Which is bloody amazing given the cost. Mine has been keeping superb time, less than 5 seconds/day fast when worn. It’s fast or slow if left sitting, which is normal. The handwind is smooth, and the quickset date is also quick-change, flipping over quickly at midnight.

Other than being more cheaply made, this beats my Seiko all hollow.

Drawbacks and dislikes

There are two, really. First off, it’s a Rolex tribute. That’s a mixed bag, given the connotations society has on that brand. It could be seen as fronting (if you’re in that environment, thankfully I’m not) or mildly dishonest. I suppose that, if you traveled somewhere where the thieves knew watches, they might mistake this for the real thing and mug you.

Secondly, given the hit-or-miss quality of the brand at present, you’d probably be better off with a higher grade of tribute. Orient, Seiko, Sandoz, and many others all make Explorer look-alikes with better grades of movement, crystal and warranty. The Sandoz is 100-250, depending on if you buy Singapore or HK, and has the ETA 2824 movement. Then again, that’s a lot more money.

Bottom line

It’s cheap. (You may sense a theme here.Or maybe here.) Cheap is good. Cheap enables us to try things we couldn’t otherwise afford. Cheap means that if it dies after a year or two it’s just irritating, and not maddening.

It looks great. It runs superbly. It has GMT. Heck, it even winds and hacks. What’s not to like?

Strongly recommended.

I got the internals image from this review from H. Clitheroe. The masthead image is from a thread on SCWF and was posted by Ron Gallant.

The company page is at http://www.alpha-watch.com/

The Ebay store where I got mine.

The best source of info overall is the Chinese mechanical watch forum on Watchuseek.

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