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Review for Arbutus watch AR503-TRWF

ARBUTUS is a a highly sought off Far Eastern watches brand. Although it is quite unknown in North America and Europe, this brand crafts some excellent automatic watches in the €250-500 range. Wearing an ARBUTUS is quite common in some Asiatic countries such as China, Thailand or Singapore.

I love watches. Unfortunately, I’m not a Rotschild, and that’s why I will never afford a Patek Philippe or even a Panerai. I know very well my … limitations.

However, I am the little middle guy that affords once a year to buy a 2-300 euros watch. I prefer in general Swiss made watches. Of course, in this range one can buy only a quartz watch and very rarely an automatic. Swiss made automatic watches are almost impossible to find at such price.  Hamilton, Candino, Tissot automatic watches usualy start at 4-500 €. Swatch has a cheap automatic, a Swatch Irony, that is sold for only about 120 €, but the movement inside it is – I think – from Japan, not Switzerland. Beside this, I already own a Swatch and I don’t particularly like it. It’s biggest quality stands in the reliability: it works perfectly after more than 10 years of service.

So, being a little bit fed up with all the Swiss quartz watches, and not particularly attracted by Japanese (Seiko?) or Russian watches, I noticed some months ago the existence of mushroom brands. Mushroom brands are some fancy-named watch brands that are sold almost exclusively online, on websites such as Ebay or Amazon, and that are spreading like termits from website to website. Almost invariably the price is displayed as a sensational bargain, aside a cut price, much higher than the real retail price. The watches are usually built on cheap chinese movement mechanisms and aside the fancy name – such as Graf von Monte Wehro, Eichmuller, Graf von Sponheim etc. – they usually feature a complicated design that one can usually find only in big brands. In fact many watches are clear copies of some big name’s succesful model and many “features” are only dummy (not functional) imitations.

Because most of this mushroom brands are based in Germany, they are called “germasian” too (based in Germany, crafted in Asia). However, reading and keeping an eye on the domain of fancy “germasian” watches for more than 1 year, I discovered that some brands aren’t in fact so bad. And other (such as Breytenbach, Yves Camani, Burgmeister and many more) really try to establish themselves as respectable brands. And knowing that these brands use Chinese movements I finaly decided to take my chance and to buy a Chinese automatic. I decided to buy an Arbutus watch, model AR503TRWF which I found on Amazon for just £51 (RRP £295). Although the name of the company is Arbutus New York, the watch maker is from, I think, Singapore. There is no doubt that they are using some Chinese movements.

And here are my findings regarding this watch after one month of wearing it on a daily basis:

- First of all, about unboxing: the box looked exactly like the one from this review from youtube: Just watch the begining of the movie and that’s it. Black box, guarantee certificate etc. Nothing spectacular. 3/5 stars.

- The clasp system (with push button) is very fragile, I manage to dismembered it since the very first touch. Hopefully I own some fine screwdrivers and I was able to repair it. Just 2/5 stars.

- The watch is a little bit oversized (45 mm in diameter, with crown) for my taste but it is incredibly light; this is why it is also very handy to wear it… it is quite a pleasure to wear it, at least for me. I have a Tissot quartz which is 8mm height and 35mm diameter, and it has the same weight with this Arbutus. 4/5 stars

- It is a very beautiful watch, nicely crafted, classic style, no fancy elements. I really like its simplicity. The dial is very easy to read, including the date. 5/5 stars.

- I weared it, on purpose, several times while washing my hands. It didn’t kept any trace of moisture. 5/5 stars.

- They say that its power reserve lasts 40 hours. I can’t confirm this assesment, but for 24 hours yes, I can confirm. Enough, from my point of view, for 5/5 stars

- And most important, how is this watch keeping the time? Well, I was, in fact I am, jaw-dropped: using as benchmark two Swiss quartz watches – a Tissot and a Swatch - this automatic only gained 15 seconds in a week. Far, very far from the horror stories and reviews about Chinese powered watches! I don’t know what kind of Chinese movement lays inside this Arbutus, but it is definitely one damn good! 5/5 stars

Question is, would I buy such a watch for its RRP of £295 instead of the “deal” price? This is a very tough question. First and foremost I still have to find out how reliable in the long run this watch really is. But, taking into account that this brand is quite common in China or Thailand, I think it is very reliable. Secondly, at £295 chances are big to get a deal somewhere on a decent Swiss automatic. I think that at £295 the watch is a little bit overpriced (faulty clasp, not so tiny…), but I definitely would pay £200 on this particular model. Anyway, Arbutus seems to work hardly in order to become a succesful watch producer. They earned my respect!