Astor+Banks is a new boutique brand based out of Chicago that has really hit the ground running. I had the pleasure of getting brunch with the founders a couple of months ago, and I found their approach both honest and compelling. They’re not setting out to change the world one watch at a time, they’re not trying to convince you that other watches are inferior…they simply want to make good watches with great style at approachable prices. They also didn’t jump in headfirst, hastily making something to get their brand out there. No, they’ve been careful and cautious, making sure that their watches, the components and the story all work.
One particularly important element of their story is that the watches are all assembled in their offices in Chicago. The components, which are largely Asian made, come in, are inspected and put together by trained watch makers locally to ensure quality control. While this step isn’t truly necessary, it’s not like every watch assembled in China falls apart, I like that they want to take the extra time and become a larger part of the process. I think this also speaks to their future plans, as they expand their breadth and manufacturing capabilities.
For now, they essentially have two watches, a small run manual wind called the AB1405 and a large run quartz chronograph, simply titled “Chrono”. Aesthetically, the two watches are apples and pears, my preference running much more towards the Chrono models. With these models, they created a very sporty, aggressive riff on German military chronographs. While one can point a finger and say it looks like this or it looks like that, in the end, it is its own watch based on a style that I, and I know many of you, find very agreeable. The Chrono models range in price from $550 – $595 depending on strap and finish options, the most expensive being the Chrono S, which has a PVD coating. All feature 316L steel, Sapphire crystals and Swiss made Ronda 5050.B quartz chronograph movements. At the 500-600 range, these are on the upper level for a quartz, so let’s see if they live up to expectations.
Astor+Banks Chrono Review
Case: 316L Steel/PVD
Movement: Ronda 5050.B
Water Res.: 100M
Dimensions: 44 x 50.9 mm
Thickness: 12.6 mm
Lug Width: 20 mm
Crown: 7.8 x 4 mm
Price: $550 – 595
The Chrono has a modern, aggressive and large case that has some interesting details and smart proportioning. Measuring 44 x 50.9 x 12.6, it’s certainly big, but thanks to a restrained lug-to-lug length, not unwearable. It also features 20mm lugs, which provide some nice contours to the case and a lighter overall look on the wrist. While on the topic of lugs, it’s worth jumping straight to one of the stranger design features of the watch; the huge screw bars.
Slightly Frankenstein’s monster-esque, there are big bolts sticking out of both sides of each lug. These are the functioning screw-heads for the screw bar that holds the strap in place. A bold and somewhat a divisive design choice, they are unwaveringly aggressive. While I think they might conflict a bit with the otherwise sleek curves of the central case, they add an undeniable toughness.
Balancing them out are the oversized chrono-pushers and crown. These I have no uncertainty about; I simply love the look. The plunger style chrono-pushers measures a whopping 6.5mm in diameter and the knurled screw-down crown about 7.8mm. The look and especially the feel, work very well with the sporty overall styling, beckoning to be pushed. This feels like a chronograph that really wants to be used as a stop watch.
Sitting on top of the case is a uni-directional 120-click bezel. It’s all black metal, save the index, with a fine coin edged side. It’s looks great on top of the case, adding an immediate nod to military pilot’s watches and chronographs, like the Type 20 or Heuer Bund. To that end though, I think it could have been bi-directional. Regardless, the mechanism is very decent, with a satisfying light click and a secure stiffness when not in use.
The central case design is pretty straightforward save a detail or two. Mostly, it’s overshadowed by details like the screw-bars and pushers/crown. The geometry is fairly fluid, the central area smoothly transitioning to the lugs. The most interesting element is the finishing. The top and sides are brushed to a satin sheen, while along the top edge is a polished bevel, adding a touch of refinement and a subtle play with light.
Naturally, the Chrono S version, with its black PVD is much more stealth and sinister looking. The coating makes it loose the effect of the polished beveled edge a bit, but it also makes the big screw-bars feel less shocking. Not sure if I have a preference between the two as they both work well. The steel version is a touch more elegant and has a nice play of contrast between the case and the bezel. The PVD version is more subtle overall and puts more emphasis on the dial.
Most of the Chrono’s personality comes from the dial, which is unabashedly German military in looks. Whether it be Sinn, Tutima, Orfina, etc… you’ve seen similar, blunt and aggressive dial designs before, dating back to the 70’s. The thing is, they always look awesome, and I’m happy to see this style in a less esoteric and more accessible watch. The main surface of the dial is a medium gloss black, not as matte as one might expect, nor full gloss. On which there is a primary index of large, lumed rectangles with an inverted “V” marker at 12.
Between these marker are long, thin white lines for the individual minutes and chrono main seconds. There are also 1/5th second markers, though these are purely decoration as there is no sweep seconds (makes me wish this had a mecha-quartz). There are dense sub-dials at 2.5, 6 and 9.5 for the various other functions. 2.5 is the active seconds, 6 is a 1/10 second register, and 9.5 is a double register for the chrono hours and minutes. All have distinct indexes that easily distinguish their function. They also all have concentric circle graining, adding some texture to the dial.
At 6 is a big-date double window, showing a black on white date. Big dates are cool and fairly uncommon on the watches we’ve seen, especially on mechanicals. The implementation on the Chrono is curious as it cuts into the 1/10 second counter, and has inverted colors from the dial. I often harp on dates that don’t integrate, but here it doesn’t bother me. The black on white double window feels technical, like it’s part of an instrument rather than an accessory.
The hands are very straightforward and legible. The hour and minute hands are straight swords in gloss white with thin lines of lume. The lengths are very different, making identifying them on the fly quite easy. The chronograph seconds hand is a very thin, like wispy thin, white stick. This could have had a touch more mass to it, as it feels underweight for the dial. The sub-dials all have white stick hands. On the sub-seconds and 1/10th seconds, they are very thing. On the stacked hour and minute sub-dial, the hands are a bit more bold. I think there is a missed opportunity for a touch of color in the hands. Perhaps the chrono seconds and 1/10th seconds could have been red or the like.
Inside of the Chrono is a Swiss made Ronda 5050.b movement. This quartz movement has a metal construction, a battery life of 54 months and various features. As noted, it’s a chronograph with 1/10th second precision, add/split functions and big date. It’s operated in the typical fashion, start/stop is the pusher at 2, reset at 4. While running, if you hit the pusher at 4, it will pause but keep count internally. Hit the pusher at 4 again and it will resume.
While the added features like the 1/10th second counter and big date are cool, I think a mecha-quartz movement would be more enjoyable in this design. The instant reset, feel of the pushers and even the positioning of the sub-dials at 3 and 9, would give the watch a more substantial feel. They also would speak more to the Bundeswehr watches that I see as having inspired the design. Also, on quartz movements with stacked hour/minute dials, once sometime has elapsed and the minute counter has moved a bit, the reset requires the hands to spin around until the hour truly resets. This takes several to many seconds (about 24 seconds for the full cycle) making a quick restart impossible.
Straps and Wearability
The two models we tested came on very different straps. The Chrono S came on a tapering black leather strap with padding, black stitching and a deployant clasp. It’s a very nicely made strap that goes well with the watch. The black leather and black stitch look great against the PVD steel, not overtaking the case, but adding some nice texture. The black deployant clasp is a nice touch as well, though I found it dug into my wrist a bit.
The steel Chrono model, which usually comes on either a similar strap as the Chrono S, but with white stitching, or a brown Horween Chromexcel leather strap for an additional price, was fitted with a Hadley Roma Cordura strap in army green. This is an option I believe they will be offering soon, but either way is easy to get yourself. It’s a very cool strap that works well with the military undertones of the design. The green Cordura, which has a nice texture to it, brings out the details of the watch and offers some more contrast to the steel.
On the wrist, the Chronos wear very well for large watches. 44mm is big, but the watch looks balanced and, as I said before, the 50mm lug-to-lug makes it sit alright on smaller wrists. Despite the size, there’s enough going on between the dial and bezel, that no space on the watch feels wasted. This also makes it feel a bit more compact. Style-wise, the watch really nails it. It’s aggressive and masculine, but not loud or ostentatious. There are a lot of details to look at and get lost it, but it’s also easy to read a glance. Given the aesthetic, the Chronos are best worn with rugged clothing. Denim, leather, canvas… you get the gist.
The Chrono and Chrono S from Astor+Banks are a couple of really strong offerings for a new brand. They are cool looking, solid, stylish and have just enough unique twists to be memorable. I particularly like the dial, which has a well-balanced layout that reminds me of some of my favorite watches, and the oversized chrono-pushers, which just beckon to be pressed. The movement isn’t bad, it just has some quirks I don’t love, but I think with this aesthetic, they have a lot of room to play, where they can try different things if they want to. In the end of the day, the Ronda 5050.B is totally competent movement that keeps great time, so that’s the most important thing.
As far as price goes, $550-$595 is definitely the cap, but I think these watches offer a lot for the price as is. While there might be a bit of a premium for Chicago assembly, which I think is fine, the watch is built like a rock and uses few if any stock parts which. The case is their design, the bezel is theirs, the crown, etc… Design is worth paying for every time. All in all, I’m a fan, and I’m very excited about this brand and am looking forward to what they do next.
by Zach Weiss