Lifestyle

This Quartz Chronograph Made A Fine Watch Buff Change His Tune

[Editor's Note: We’re pleased to feature the work of Tom Mulraney, Founder and Editor of The Watch Lounge, Aussie national, British transplant, and all around watch fanatic.]

I consider myself something of a watch connoisseur, which is why I haven’t owned a quartz watch since I was 14.

Okay, that came out sounding a lot more arrogant than I intended. Thing is, I inherited my grandfather’s classic Omega Seamaster automatic that year, and all of a sudden quartz and batteries just didn’t do it for me anymore.

Polarizing as my anti-quartz attitude may be — a common one in the watch community — I’ve held it steady for 15 years, until a chance meeting with the founders of Chicago-based start-up Astor + Banks caused me to question everything I had come to believe in.

Sitting in front of me were two obviously passionate watch lovers, creating compelling watches using — *gasp* — quartz. And somehow, I wanted one.

Unlike many apathetic people who wear quartz, these guys were coming from a completely intentional position with a proud and educated understanding of what they were doing. They had credibility and they were vouching for something I had written off.

These were not a couple of recent MBA graduates looking to make a quick buck, but rather two friends from similar backgrounds who had spent endless hours talking and dreaming about how cool it would be to create their own watch brand, what their products would look like, and so on.

But unlike most dreamy discussions, these guys proceeded forward, and after a solid two years of research and development, Astor + Banks was born — an unpretentious start-up run by a couple of guys who simply want to make cool products that they themselves would wear.

Built in the U.S.A.

Named after a pair of cross streets in one of the founders’ Chicago neighborhood, Astor + Banks is decidedly proud of its American heritage, despite playing a game dominated by Swiss and German brands.

Designed and assembled in Chicago, the watches source their movements from Switzerland. Although Astor + Banks has a mechanical offering, their focus is on quartz, given the impact mechanical movements have on price. While every piece isn’t currently manufactured in the U.S., the brand aims to build and assemble everything stateside, which is an admirable if not ambitious goal.

Three of the four models on offer are quartz powered chronographs with similar designs, while the fourth is a classic Pilots watch powered by a hand-wound mechanical movement, proudly on display through the sapphire exhibition caseback.

Surprisingly though, the drawcard for me is the quartz watches. They simply look and feel spectacular on the wrist, they’re easy to read, and they’re well-suited to most occasions and outfits. This isn’t that suprising, given the construction. The cases are made from 316L grade stainless steel — the same material used in watches that cost 10 to 20 times as much — and all models feature scratch resistant sapphire crystals with anti-reflective coating on both sides, something of a luxury at this price point.

Though the spec sheet says the case is 44 millimeters, I felt that the watch wears more like 42 millimeters on the wrist, which I think is a perfect size. Save for a splash of red on the dial for “Chicago,” the watch has a very subdued black and white design. There’s also a full black option – the Chrono S – which sees the steel case receive the full black PVD treatment.

A wide range of available straps further build the watches’ credibility, a feature any true watch lover will tell you is critical to “making” a watch. The basic Chrono model comes with a standard black leather strap and stainless steel butterfly deployment buckle that runs you $550, but for an extra $25, you can upgrade this to a gorgeous Horween Chromexcel leather strap, hand-crafted in the U.S.A.

Of course, should you want more than one strap with your watch — and let’s face it, who doesn’t? — you can also buy them independently from Astor + Banks’ online range, which includes Cordura, Horween Chromexcel, and Kevlar style options.

The Future

It’s still early days for Astor + Banks (the company only officially launched in April 2014) but they certainly seem to be on the right track, offering quality products at reasonable prices. And while these guys’ focus remains primarily on quartz, they plan to introduce several more mechanical watches in the future.

All models are available online direct from Astor + Banks as well as in-store at Apartment Number 9 in Chicago. Even if you’re a die-hard mechanical fan like me, they’re definitely worth checking out.


Tom Mulraney is the Founder and Editor of The Watch Lounge, an online magazine dedicated to lovers of luxury watches. When he’s not waxing lyrical about the latest new release on his own site he can normally be found roaming the streets of New York looking for cool wrists and watches to photograph.