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The world of affordable watches can be difficult to navigate. In a category almost entirely dominated by Japanese brands like Seiko, Orient, and Citizen, it’s easy to overlook the host of Chinese-made boutique watch brands that have emerged in the last couple of decades to offer affordable watches for dive enthusiasts.
Enter Armida: a boutique brand based in Austria with manufacturing out of Hong Kong that focuses on the production of high quality dive watches in the style of vintage and modern Rolex.
Armida utilizes a company called “Full-Swing” to produce their cases and assemble their homage style dive watches. Stop me if youve heard of Full-Swing manufacturing before. Utilizing Chinese manufacturing is actually rather common for smaller boutique watch brands, as most don’t have the capital or means to manufacture and assemble their watches in-house.
Other brands that utilize this same manufacturing company include Helson, Raven, Obris Morgan, Benarus, and Deep Blue. Between these brands, you may notice a lot of similarities. Some of the models share the same “catalog” case, and many of them are shipped in a very similar looking “dive tube” packaging. The homogenous nature of these watches is just one of the downsides to this shared manufacturing practice.
Does Chinese outsourcing cheapen the watch? In my opinion, yes – it does make the watch a lot less unique. However, based on my experience with these brands, the build quality is very good for the price and many of the models use authentic Swiss movements, real sapphire crystals, and other high-end components otherwise reserved for high-end luxury watches.
While you’re not getting the prestige or history of a Swiss-made brand, you’re typically getting a great value on-par with some of the entry-level Swiss brands like Tissot or Hamilton. These watches are actually built to last, and are a superior alternative to the cheaper made homages from companies like Invicta and Alpha.
Lets take a closer look.
Thoughts on the Design
Much like the Steinhart Ocean Vintage Military, the Armida A2 is an homage to the iconic Rolex 5513 Mil-Sub. While it does retain many of the characteristics of the Rolex, it has enough differences to set it apart and make it unique.
The first difference is the bezel, while the Rolex Milsub has a demarcated bezel sweeping 360 degrees around the entire dial, the Armida stops at 15, similar to most modern dive watches. The second primary difference is the dial – although it shares the same shapes as the watch it is emulating, the markers are applied in a “maxi” configuration, appearing much larger than the classic rolex. And it’s not just the markers on the dial that are larger, the entire case measures in at 42mm, making it slightly larger than the 40mm proportions of the original.
The A2 is also available in several different dial configurations and colors. The primary configuration has the simple sword hands of the 5513 Mil-Sub, while several other configurations take on the dial configuration of the rare Explorer style submariner with the mercedes hands and 3/6/9 dial. Additionally, the watch is available with black, blue, or sunburst dials and a choice of brushed stainless steel, PVD, and gold two-tone cases.
There are also date and no-date configurations available, with the date window being placed between 3 and 4 o’clock. This is actually one of my biggest pet peeves in dial design, as I feel that the date window placement throws off the symmetry of the entire dial. If I were choosing between the two, I’d go with the no-date dial – it’s more faithful to the original and just looks a lot more balanced.
Unlike the Steinhart OVM, which features a smooth domed crystal, the Armida A2 features a box crystal which juts up from the inside of the bezel before flattening out across the watch face. It’s an interesting detail, but also adds quite a bit to the thickness of the watch. It’s already pretty beefy on the wrist at 13.8mm, and the added thickness of the crustal makes it wear even larger.
For those looking for something a lot smaller, the Armida A11 offers a similar style at a much wrist-friendlier size of 36mm. I’d love to see Armida provide something sized in the middle here, like the Helson Sharkdiver, as I feel a 40mm case would be more wearable for a larger range of buyers.
The bracelet and case are both machined with a nice brushed steel finish, lending to the overall utilitarian look of the watch. For a watch in this price range, the bracelet actually contains many features usually reserved for higher-end watches. A dive-lock clasp with a wet-suit extension means you could actually use this watch for diving, and the solid screw-in links make sizing the bracelet particularly easy to do at home. The clasp has several micro-adjustments as well, allowing the wearer to find the perfect fit. Overall it’s a very nice package not usually seen on watches in this price range.
In addition to the stainless steel bracelet that comes fitted to the A2, it also ships with a nice two-piece black rubber tropic strap. This is a great change of pace for the watch, giving it a more casual look and also providing more comfort for swimming and watersports.
The C3 Superluminova is quite bright and glows for hours. Lume freaks will not be dissapointed. One interesting detail here is that the pip in the bezel is actually lumed with a blue color, which contrasts nicely with the standard green glow of the C3 on the dial.
Inside the Watch
The Armida A2 is available with both a Swiss ETA 2824, and the more affordable Japanese Calibre NH35. The ETA 2824 is a well-known work-horse movement found in nearly every entry level swiss three-handed watch. It’s accurate, reliable, and easy to service – an easy choice for those looking to get a swiss powered watch at a great value.
The NH35 is an unbranded module created by Seiko and utilized in their own line under the name “4R35”. It’s a step up from Seiko’s base automatic movement (7S), featuring both hacking and hand-winding. It’s not quite as accurate as the ETA 2824 though, advertising an accuracy rate of around +20-40s per day. This same movement can be found in a plethora of Seiko’s entry level watches, including brand favorites like the Monster and the Samurai.
When choosing between the two, it’s going to come down to personal preference, as both movements are completely adequate timekeepers. For the average buyer, there won’t be a noticeable performance difference between them. For the value-oriented collector, the Japanese powered version is definitely worth a look – it’s nearly $200 cheaper than it’s Swiss powered counterpart and provides comparable accuracy.
One last thing to mention about the movement – these watches feature a Sapphire display caseback, allowing you to see the movement through the backside of the watch. This is a unique feature, especially amongst the other Rolex 5513 homages which tend to use a solid caseback. While the movement itself contains a very basic level of fit and finishing, it’s still a neat feature, and one thing to consider when choosing between the two.
Overall, the Armida A2 is a solid watch for value-oriented buyers looking to get a real Swiss-powered dive watch for not a lot of coin. While many collector’s are turned off by the homage aspect of these watches, a Rolex 5513 Mil-Sub is not exactly attainable, even for the ultra rich. That makes the Armida A2 a practical way to obtain a Rolex styled dive watch that can actually perform underwater.
Armida is not a fancy brand (just take a look at their website…), however, the prices for their models reflect the fact they are solely focused on the product. You won’t see upcharges for marketing, research and development, or a high-end brand name reflected in their costs. That means you’re getting a great value for a high-performance watch that will last a lot longer than your average Chinese replica. For new collectors, it’s a great way to get a taste for high-quality dive watches, and for many will likely be a gateway into much more expensive pieces.
Check out the entire line of Armida Dive watches here.