Last week I took a trip to the East Coast for a visit with family and friends. Instead of taking one of my roller bags, which I’d typically use for a week away, I decided to carry everything on my back1. That meant careful packing, and judicious choice of electronics—especially those which require additional chargers and cables.
The first leg of the trip was to my in-law’s cottage on the James River, in Southern Virginia. That meant lots of time in the water, and sand. I didn’t take my Apple Watch, and instead bought a fun summer watch—a beater—built for sun, sand, and waves. I had pulled the trigger on my first dive watch.
The watch I purchased was the Orient Ray (second edition), and I really like it.
At $395 MSRP, the Ray is considered a budget model—quite inexpensive for a mechanical watch. I paid even less—$150 (at the time) on Amazon with free shipping. This is a watch I expected to fare well in the water, but wouldn’t panic if it got scratched or sank to the bottom of the James.
Some reading might think $150 is a lot of money for a beater watch, especially when a waterproof Timex or Casio could be purchased for $30 from any local store. It’s a fair point, but also why I think the Ray is such a fantastic value. It is an excellent budget model for a collector who wants a beach watch, but well built enough to perform as a nice watch for someone who isn’t a watch enthusiast.
As a Budget Diver
For an avid watch collector who has purchased bands that cost more, the Ray is a watch that arrives with little expectation. I’m hardly an avid collector myself, with all but one of my watches sitting in the $500-$1000 range. I have no stomach for testing the waterproof capabilities of my beloved Hamilton Aviator, and it’s the only water resistant mechanical I own which is meant to be submerged in water.
Dive watches are the most common type of dress watch, epitomized by the Rolex Submariner. A classic style that pairs well with a dress suit. But they are made for divers, designed to withstand the pressure of the ocean depths. They are completely waterproof. I’ve long wanted a dive watch for my collection, but $6,000 for a Submariner was out of reach—especially as a watch I would take swimming.
For $150, I could get a solid introduction to the dive watch style, since the Ray shares much in common with the Submariner shape, dial, and coloring. And critically, it’s rated for 200m—easily the most waterproof of my collection. It pales to the 600m rating of the Submariner, nor is it ISO certified like the Rolex. The higher rating didn’t practically matter to me, since I’d only be swimming in—at most—20 ft of river water.
Even in the murky water of the James River, the dials on the Ray were very legible, as I look upon them through the water. The bezel was convenient for timing jet ski rides, so I didn’t worry others by staying out too long.
It’s hard to tell how much you will enjoy a watch style, until you spend a few weeks with it on your wrist. The Ray is a practical entry to the style. I tend to prefer a larger watch—between 42 and 44mm—since my wrists are larger than average. The typical dive watch sits at 40mm, which I find too small. At 41.5mm, the Ray was right on the edge.
As a Dress Watch
On paper, the Ray presented good value as a tool watch when compared to its more expensive contemporaries. And it lived up to its rating in practice. Where the Ray surprises most is in its looks and feel.
In the under $500 category, there were two other watches I considered for my first diver: the Seiko SXK007, and the Steinhart Ocean Vintage Military (OVM). Both are inexpensive mechanicals, with incredibly good movements for the price, and sharp looks. However, both have painted markings on their face, instead of applied markings, common on more expensive watches.
It might seem small, and barely noticeable in pictures, but in person it’s immediately obvious to anyone with a critical eye. Applied markings have a raised, three dimensional quality that adds detail and intricacy to the watch face. The Ray, despite retailing for less, has its numeral markings applied on top of steel, and then painted with lume.
The face is spare, and gorgeous. There are many understated details, like the subtle pop of red color on the end of the second hand. The hour and minute hands use a vintage “sword style”, similar to the OVM—which are themselves an homage to the Milspec Rolex made for the British Navy in the 1950s.
On a nylon Zulu strap2 or a NATO strap, the Ray looks like a vintage military diver. Add a metal bracelet or leather strap, and the Ray works equally well as a dress watch. Given a proper strap, the fine details of the face, along with the smooth sweep of the movement, and the classic style of the case will fool many eyes into thinking the Ray is a much more expensive watch.
I wanted a watch I could wear swimming, but came away with another option to wear on date nights.
Mechanical watches are not mass produced, which is why their prices remain high even though they are less accurate than a $30 Quartz digital watch. A watch, such as the Ray, can not retail for as low as it does without some compromises. In my opinion, Orient made great decisions but others—more particular than I—will take umbrage with the shortcomings.
First, the Ray has an inferior mineral crystal protective glass, not sapphire crystal like most premium mechanicals. This should mean the watch will be less durable over time, since the mineral crystal will chip, and crack more easily. The watch showed little signs of wear during the week I swam with it, despite frequent contact with sand and water. Only time will tell, regarding the endurance of the crystal.
While the movement is smooth and performs well (gains 8-10 seconds a day, on average), the knob and rotor is frustrating to operate. The first version of the Ray had a second push button for adjusting the date. The version I bought uses a two position pull-out, which is difficult to set in the middle position.
Since this is the position used to set the date and day of the week, it should only see use every other month. However, it’s one of the first things you do after pulling the watch out of the box. Higher quality watches will have a larger knob, with hand-carved knurled edges. The knob on the Ray is too small, and difficult to screw back onto the case. It mars an otherwise positive first impression.
Finally, I wish Orient made a slightly larger edition. A 43mm variant would be the perfect size for my (> 8”) wrist. I recognize that many watch lovers feel contemporary watches are too large as it is, but they all seem to have comically small wrists. Rolex makes the Deep Sea, which is 44mm version of the Submariner rated for even more insane depths.
The Orient Mako XL appears to be a 44mm version of the Ray, but it uses an older movement, same as the first version of the Mako and Ray. This movement requires the second dial to set the date, and does not have a hacking second hand. Poop.
Who is it for?
The Ray offers something for the collector, and non-enthusiast. Perhaps you’re curious about mechanical watches, and why so many are enthralled with them in 2017.
The Ray is a good beach watch for a collector who owns several nice watches, but doesn’t want to sully them in the water. Perhaps you appreciate finer details in a watch, and would prefer a solid movement on your wrist while you swim. The Ray fits the bill, for little money.
The Ray is also a versatile dress watch for someone who normally wears an Apple Watch, and for whom the Apple Watch was the most expensive watch they’d ever purchased. The Ray will look better tucked under the cuff of a nice shirt and suit, but it won’t break the bank. As an added bonus, it won’t pepper you with taps, sounds, and bullshit notifications when you’d rather stare longingly into your lover’s eyes.
For the watch curious, the Ray is perfect as your first mechanical. It’s simple, versatile, and beautiful. An excellent introduction to the beauty, and intricacy of mechanical watches. Pair it with a nylon strap, and you’re ready for a casual outing, a hike, or the beach. After a quick rinse in the sink—to wash off the grit—add a nice leather strap or steel bracelet for a nice evening of dress-up.
Because they’re so versatile, a dive watch can be your only watch, and thus perfect watches to travel light. On my recent trip I packed only the Ray, with two nylon straps, and a suede leather strap. I was ready for every situation.
I recommend you buy the Ray on Amazon, with free Prime Shipping.