Ugh… Here we go again. Sitting in front of me is a watch I really like. It’s well made, nice looking, mechanical, a touch different but familiar nonetheless and more over, very affordable. Is it perfect? Nah, what watch is? Do I even want a perfect watch? If I found one wouldn’t the hunt be over? It’s not perfect at all, but it’s great and its shortcomings are over ruled by its remarkable price. So, inevitably this is going to be another fairly positive review, sorry to those of you who think I’m too positive. I just love watches and the Orient Sparta, the subject of this review, is simply another great affordable watch.
The Sparta is a hybrid of vintage military styles that come together to make something new. There are clear elements of field and pilot’s styles that are mixed up with the addition of a non-lumed steel bezel, slightly modern case design and an oversized day window. What you have in the end is a surprisingly unique watch for one that closely plays off of well-known styles. And as is the case with most Orients, this is an in-house automatic that comes in at a very affordable price. The Sparta lists for $284 (with bracelet), but with coupon code “wornandwound” you can get it for %30 off, or $196. For those of you who are looking for something a bit different that still hits those classic military notes, the Sparta is a viable and affordable option.
Case: Stainless Steel
Movement: Orient Caliber 46E40
Strap: Steel Bracelet
Water Res.: 50m
Dimensions: 42.5 x 48mm
Thickness: 12 mm
Lug Width: 22 mm
Crown: 6 x 3 mm screw down
Warranty: 1 year
Price: $280 ($196 after coupon)
In true mil-fashion, the Sparta has a very simple no-fuss case design. Measuring 42.5 x 48 x 12mm with 22mm lug width, the all steel case is a healthy medium to large size. The shape is basic, but not without attention to detail. The center area is a cylinder with slab sides and straight lugs. In some ways, the design is reminiscent of some more modern tactical watches, such as that of Kobold, though it’s not nearly so extreme. At 3 is a screw-down crown that measures 6 x 3mm. It is a touch small for the watch, though not dramatically so. It is screw-down, however, as the watch boasts a 100m water resistance, which is plenty high for normal use.
The finishing on the case is fairly plain an unexceptional. The central case has a lightly brushed finished and the case back is polished. Things do get more interesting though at the bezel, which adds most if not all of the style points. The bezel is solid steel with etched out and painted in markings. The top surface has an even brushing, and though it appears flat it actually is slightly angled to be lower on the outer edge.
Around the flat outside edge of the bezel is a crisscross diamond pattern that adds grip and some needed visual texture to the case. Though subtle, there is a fine bevel where the top and the side of the bezel meet that is polished. This tiny bit of polished steel adds a drop of elegance to the overall design that works well. The bezel mechanism is precise, clicking on the mark and not moving unintentionally, but it does have a sort of “gooey” feeling when being turned. This isn’t a functional issue, but I prefer bezels with a crisp snap.
One clever bit of design that makes the watch wear easier than a 12mm is the shape of the case back. Rather than coming straight off of the case, the back has a very wide chamfer that gives is a truncated cone shape. On the wrist, this makes the watch sit lower and feel more like a 9mm watch (the combined thickness of the bezel and central case).
The dial of the Sparta has all of the trappings of a military watch with a couple of different elements that really make it shine. First off, on the version we received the dial is a matte charcoal grey. It’s a great color that you don’t see used as the primary dial color often. By nature, it’s less harsh than black and though not a faux-patina, it does have a faded look to it.
The dial then consists of two main indexes, a large minute/second index on the periphery and a smaller hour index towards the center. Between each hour are also hash marks of various thicknesses. All of the markings on the dial are white and all of the numerals are lumed, making them contrast the grey background well. The lume glows a pale green and is of average quality.
The other real standout element is the distinct day window design. Spanning from just past nine to just before three is an arcing aperture that displays in unabbreviated form the current as well as the preceding and following day. That alone is fairly different, but to make things a bit stranger, there are yellow transparent screens that hover over the preceding and following days to sort of block them out.
Before seeing the watch in person, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about that design, but I actually quite like it. It adds something decorative that is also functional. The yellow screens then add drop of color that livens up the dial, as well adds personality to the watch as a whole. The shape of the aperture follows the circumference of the inner hour index, making it flow well with what is around it. The date is then presented through a small window at 6. By keeping the day and date in a vertical line, they kept the natural symmetry of the dial, which I believe makes it more aesthetically appealing.
The hand design is very retro, with a flared “syringe” style for the minute and hour and a straight stick with counter weight and a triangular tip for the seconds. All of the hands are white with lume filling. Up until the hands, I think the general design of the case and dial could have gone either way, being retro or modern, but the hand choice makes it the latter. Emphasizing this is the use of some white script towards the center of the dial.
One odd thing I noticed not when wearing the watch, but when editing photos for this review is that there appears to be some burn marks around the date window. While they are very subtle to the eye, I do think that it is worth acknowledging. This is likely something that is not common to the line, so much as the specific watch we were sent, as it certainly hasn’t been present on other Orients we have reviewed.
The Orient in-house 46E40 21-jewel automatic movement with date and “wide” day function powers the Sparta. As with other Orients we have reviewed, the movement has a frequency of 21,600 BPH. The movement functions well and seems to keep good time, though there are a couple of things I would have liked to have had in this movement. First, the movement does not hack or hand wind, which while not crucial to the use of the watch, would have fit with the military styling. Second, and more importantly, a quick set day.
The date sets as it would on most modern watches, pull the crown out one stop and turn counter-clockwise to adjust. Typically on day/dates, you would turn the other way to change the day, but that’s not the case here. Instead, you have to rotate the hour hand between 12 and 3 (am) to switch it. Though it’s a minor nuisance, if you change your watches often and let your watches wind down between usage, you will find yourself having to deal with this often.
Straps and Wearability
The Sparta we tested came mounted on a nicely made steel bracelet with hollow end links. Though solid end links would have been preferred, considering the overall price of the watch, the fact that the bracelet has a sturdy build and decent finishing is more than enough. The bracelet design is very basic, with a sort of “Oyster” style that is 22mm at the lugs and tapers to 20 at the clasp. It’s a common design, but frankly it works aesthetically with the case and dial design, as nothing is fussy or over done. One very nice aspect of the bracelet is the clasp design, which is double locking and well put together.
Part of what makes the Sparta a great watch is the versatility of its styling, making it work with many strap types as well as clothing choices. It looks great on the supplied bracelet, which while not particularly formal does add some maturity to the look. But that’s just one option. A rugged brown leather strap will give it a more earthy and masculine feel that would lend itself to casual attire. A rubber strap would make it more sleek and sporty, and a NATO strap would emphasize the military design, giving it a more aggressive edge. I tried it out on a brown Maratac nylon NATO, and it really made the dial pop. The softness of the grey worked very well with the brown nylon, and the contrast against the case emphasized the more modern elements of its design. If it were my watch, this is likely how I’d wear it all the time.
On the wrist, the Sparta wears very well. It’s a very comfortable size that does not feel too large on my 7″ wrist, though I tend to not wear larger watches. As I mentioned in the case portion of this review, the watch wears thinner than it measures do to the smart case back design. In turn, it feels smaller than it actually is, and also has no issue fitting under a shirtsleeve. That is not say the watch looks small, on the contrary it has great presence due to the interesting bezel design, bright white markers and interesting charcoal coloring. In the end, the Sparta is a very easy to wear masculine watch with classic, but slightly different military looks that could definitely be a daily wear.
There is a lot to like about the Orient Sparta. It’s a genuinely handsome watch with good build that is just unique enough to stand out. There are many brands that make military watches with the same basic DNA, from Hamilton to Victorinox to Seiko to Longines; there is no shortage of options. Yet, the look of the Sparta is really its own thanks to its well-implemented design features and its amazing price of $196. I think this watch will be of particular interest to those who are familiar with the Seiko 5 SNK and SNZG watches, but want something different and a touch larger. Sure, there were a couple of issues, most notably the non-quickset day function, but none that ruin the watch by a long shot. So, if you are in the market for a military inspired watch, definitely keep the Sparta in mind.
By Zach Weiss