It’s always fun to find a brand you’ve never heard of, though for us, it happens less and less these days. So, when I stumbled upon Ancon watches a few weeks ago, I was extremely excited. A quick glance revealed over-sized, over-built tool watches with looks akin to war machines, not your average desk diver. A deeper inspection revealed that the watches were a mix of familiar elements, well-tuned colors and interesting detailing that when combined created watches that were simultaneously charming and fierce. Like an antique weapon, there is something sculptural and entrancing about them, but underneath, the aggressive intentions are still apparent.
The inspiration for the watches is the USS Ancon AGC-4, which was a modified commercial passenger-cargo ship meant for carrying troops that saw a lot of use in WWII. The watches themselves, of which there are 3 distinct models and many variations currently available, are a strange mix of huge modern cases with classic dials. Those who are familiar will quickly see elements of Rolexs, Panerais, Benrus, etc… though these are far from homage watches. The dials, though mostly originating post WWII, simply work with the aesthetic they are going for. But to my eyes, the watches are really about material. Bronze, PVD, steel, gun metal, drab-color gilt dials, bronze hands, oily-leather straps, creamy lume… the Ancons have a rawness to them that speaks to vintage military equipment.
Ancon offers many variations, from dial to bezel so you can really choose the model that suits you. For this hands-on, I couldn’t help but be a bit selfish and choose the model that, for reasons unknown, really called out to me. The Sea Shadow California 1943 – AGC-4 / SSC008 features a steel case with a gun-metal bezel and a brown California dial. The mix of colors really struck me, I’m a sucker for Cali dials and the robust case design of the Sea Shadow was something I just had to see. Coming in at $523 shipped, the Sea Shadow packs a Miyota 8215 automatic movement, 3.5mm thick sapphire crystal and an Italian leather strap. While the price isn’t too high, it’s at about the upper limit for what it is…so let’s see if it lives up to expectations.
Case: St Steel
Movement: Miyota 8215
Water Res.: 200M
Dimensions: 45 x 56mm
Thickness: 15 mm
Lug Width: 24 mm
Crown: 8.5 x 5 mm
Warranty: 1 year
Price: $523 (as shown)
Perhaps case is the wrong word here… fuselage? armored exterior?… you get the point. No matter what you call it, the case of the Sea Shadow is massive, measuring 45 x 56 x 15.5mm. Thick, tall, long lugs dominate the profile, while the view from above is all bezel. What makes the case though isn’t its size or massiveness; it’s a handful of cool details.
On the right side of the case are two of the most brutal crown guards you’ve ever seen. They are large, have interesting geometry and are actually screwed into the case, rather than part of the case itself. The little elements here, like the gap where the guard meets the case, support strut shape and the screw itself grant the overall design a very industrial feel. The watch actually comes with a small screwdriver that one can use to unscrew the guard. Unfortunately, I was unable to pull the guard out once the screw was removed, even with pliers… I didn’t want to pull too hard, and managed to put some marks on it anyway, so not sure if the screw is functional or not.
Another nice detail, albeit less exciting than the guards, is the beveling around the entire case edge. It’s subtle, but gives the case a bit of needed refinement. The lugs also feature screw-bars, with seemingly over-sized flat head screws, which is again an industrial detail. The bezel is also very cool and well executed. It’s quite tall with slab sides and deep cut teeth all around. The gunmetal PVD insert contrasts the brushed steel case, adding even more aggressive elements to the already brutal looking watch.
Now…those with a keen eye might be looking at the case on this watch and think…hmmm, that seems awfully familiar. And, that’s because it seems to be a modified version of the case that Helson uses on their Shark Diver 45mm. This leads me to believe the case is actually a generic design that is offered by a Chinese manufacturer that brands can take and utilize as they see fit. While this takes away from the originality of the watch, I think they did a good job of mixing things up to get their own aesthetic out of it.
The Sea Shadow comes in two flavors, California and Submariner/Benrus Type 1 style. Since the watch is inspired by WWII Naval equipment, the California seems more appropriate. The face of the dial is a dark chocolate brown that when combined with the cream color lume gives the watch a “tropical” or patina look. The index, as with all California dial watches, is a mix of Roman and Arabic numerals, with horizontal rectangles for 3, 6,9 and a triangle for 12. Around the edge of the dial is a faux-gilt railroad track index that completes the dial nicely.
One thing I quite liked about this version of the Sea Shadow over others is that it lacks most text on the dial. Other models feature larger written out logos, depth ratings, etc… While standard fare, there is something nice about simply having the Ancon A above 6…it’s cryptic and abstract, which reminds me of some military symbols, like the broad arrow. Otherwise, the only other non-time element is a small date window between 4 and 5. While not really necessary on this watch, it is very discreet.
The hour and minute hands on the Sea Shadow are simple fence post style, made likely out of brass and closely resemble those found on the Benrus Type 1. The second hand is a thin stick with a small circle of lume towards the tip. The yellow metal plays well with the warm tones of the dial and lume. The design of the hour and minute also is a tad different than expected. Up close, it looks as though there is a channel in the center that has been stamped down, creating a bit of texture. It’s subtle, but I like it.
One last note, the lume on the watch looks great during the day, but isn’t the brightest glowing on earth. It’s not awful either, but don’t expect to be able to read it in the middle of the night.
Straps and Wearability
Unexpectedly, the Ancon Sea Shadow comes on one of the nicer leather straps I’ve come across recently. Made of Italian leather, the 24mm strap has a rugged look that works perfectly with the watch. It’s a very oily dark brown that changes color as it flexes to be lighter and redder. This is referred to as a “pull-up” leather, and the color changing is from oils moving around the leather itself. It’s also totally matte and picks up scratches and wear quickly, adding to the overall character of the watch.
Contrasting the deep chocolate brown of the leather is cream stitching done with a very heavy thread that might be waxed. Lastly, there is a heavy-duty pre-v buckle made of brushed steel. All in all, it’s one of the best-paired straps I’ve seen in sometime. The Sea Shadow also comes with black nylon NATO, but conversely, it’s super flimsy and not really worth talking about.
On the wrist, the Sea Shadow looks as massive as the ships that inspired it. 45 x 56mm is huge, so I didn’t find the watch all to wearable on my 7″ wrist. That said, it looks fantastic. Every element comes together to create a really well styled whole. It’s bold and masculine, but not flashy as everything is muted and dark. The mix of steel, gun metal, brown, cream and brass is genuinely gorgeous. Often, the materials a watch is made of seem incidental to the design. Here, they make the watch.
Having recently spent sometime around WWII aircrafts, I can see the Sea Shadow fitting in with the simple, raw aesthetic of vintage military equipment. There is a lack of the unnecessary and emphasis on toughness that both share. Similarly, the watch goes well with understated and rugged clothing. Jeans, brown leather boots, plaid… you get the picture. It’s not a watch you wear to the Opera. Rather take this guy to a beer hall, order a 1.5L pilsner, an oversized pretzel and it will seem at home.
One last thing worth mentioning is that the Ancon Sea Shadow comes packed in a surprisingly nice wooden box. It’s larger than your average watch box holding the watch itself, as well as a screwdriver for the lugs and a smaller one presumably for the crown guards. The exterior is a dark mahogany colored wood with a matte finish and inside is a light cream soft interior. I was surprised to see such attention paid to the packaging.
The Ancon Sea Shadow is a very satisfying, albeit fairly unoriginal, watch. I really like how it looks, it’s built like a rock and it has a handful of cool details that give it a unique character. That said, it more or less seems like everything came out of a catalog and was just very well chosen. At $523, it’s in a tough territory along side the watch it shares a case with, as that watch goes for $599, has a better movement and a water resistance of 2000M. With that said, I don’t think the Sea Shadow is trying to be a serious diver, and it might win in the overall style department.
So, if you’re looking for a more vintage, military version of the overbuilt tool diver, the Sea Shadow is a viable watch. It would be more tempting at $400 and yet even more tempting if they had a smaller version for those of us with thinner wrists, but it’s not bad as is. Ancon has some other models that might be a bit more unique as well. Namely, the Magnus, which is a bronze and features some curious Milgauss inspired elements. Or the newly released M26 Tank, which has a different (and liekly unique) case, a Miyota 9015 auto and looks like it is actually a part of tank. Hopefully, we’ll get our hands on that one soon, so stay tuned.
By Zach Weiss
Sample unit supplied by Ancon Watches