Astor & Banks Fortitude, $525-$550
Yes — you've long been able to buy yourself a decent field watch for not too much money. But what about a decent field watch for not too much money and that has a whole lot of character? That's harder to come by. For that, you might want to look into buying American.
Case Diameter: 38.5mm
Case Depth: 11.9mm
Water Resistance: 200m
Movement: Miyota 9015 automatic
And no — we don't mean one hundred. percent. American. made. (There isn't really such thing in watches.) But we do mean American-owned, and American-designed, and American-assembled. We're talking about Astor & Banks out of Chicago, and their new Fortitude field watch. Available in four dial colors (plus a special edition for Chicago-based retailer BLVDier Custom Clothier), it's well-sized, handsome, automatic, and it comes on a great bracelet. Oh, and did we mention it's less than $600 at the moment?
Finding a watch that features the aesthetic sensibilities of a category of timepieces and yet doesn't feel particularly derivative of any one model can be a challenge. The Fortitude, though it takes cues from classic brands like Rolex and from significant, historical tool watches, is very much its own design. What's more, it's eminently affordable despite its premium features, which include anti-magnetic shielding, a sapphire crystal with anti-glare coating, an automatic movement adjusted in-house, 200m of water resistance, and a matching steel bracelet.
Who It's For
Whether you're looking for an everyday watch or a watch to specifically wear outdoors, the Fortitude is an appropriate choice. While devotees of blue chip brands will likely stick to their Rolexes, Omegas and IWCs, those newer to the watch hobby or operating on a tighter budget would be delighted by the Astor & Banks design sensibilities. Hell, even those seasoned watch guys (and gals — there's a mother-of-pearl dial available on the Fortitude) may find this watch to be the perfect travel watch, weekend "beater," or casual watch.
So many. This price range — the sub-$1,000 one — is ripe with interesting watches these days. You might try the newly released Merci X Hodinkee collaboration watch ($495), which features similar dimensions for similar money (though it's handwound and doesn't come with a bracelet). Hamilton's Khaki Field Mechanical ($495) is of course another great option, though again — no bracelet. If you want a bracelet, you might try the Seiko Alpinist SPB117 ($750), which, though a bit more money than the Fortitude, comes with the cachet of a large brand and has a useful inner compass bezel.
Andrew Perez, founder of Astor & Banks, sent over three Fortitudes for review: the blue dial, the white dial, and the mother-of-pearl dial. The 38.5mm, stainless steel case is fairly complex for a ~$500 watch, featuring a mix of brushed surfaces with a polished bevel on the lugs and a brushed bezel with vertical grain. Deep Watch Nerds will be delighted to hear that it features a punched case with lug holes for easy strap changing.
The case otherwise features a solid case back, a screw-down crown and a flat, sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating. Attached to the case is a cool, flat-link steel bracelet, somewhat of a mix between classic Omega and Rolex models. It features a folding clasp with micro-adjust and ships with extra links, and if I had one complaint, it's that it's actually a bit too tough to open — I found myself having to use the folded metal underside as leverage in order to release it when on my wrist. Hopefully this will ease up with wear.
The Fortitude's dial is where all the action is. Each color has its own draw — I personally love the blue's ambiguity, while the white is also handsome and slightly reminiscent of a Rolex Explorer II — but the dial features remain the same across each iteration: You've got applied, wedge-shaped indices, a recessed date window ay 6 o'clock (in place of an applied index), sword hands, an outer 1/5th-seconds track, simple branding executed in different colors depending upon the dial color, and that's largely it. The dial itself is split into an inner and outer circle by a faint recess, which gives it the illusion of some more depth.
It's a handsome, legible design, and given ample Super-LumiNova on the indices and hands, you should have no trouble seeing it at night in low-light conditions. My one quibble is that the date window is far enough recessed from the main dial that on the white model, it can be slightly difficult to read, depending on the viewing angle. (There's better contrast on the blue-dialed model, I think.) But this is hardly a deal-breaker for me, and other wearers may have no problem at all.
Given the cases's 38.5mm diameter, the Fortitude could be perfectly appropriate for female as well as male wearers, and Perez even offers the watch with a mother-of-pearl dial. While not something I personally gravitate to, it's well-executed and pretty — especially as it's offset with blued steel hands.
On-wrist, the Fortitude is super comfortable. I have to say, despite the watch's affordable price tag, the accompanying bracelet is among the more comfortable I've ever worn on a tool watch. The links articulate well and envelop your wrist, rather than protrude from it, all of which is helped along by a watch case that measures only 11.9mm tall, including the crystal. The size is just perfect, and the thing looks killer. What more could one ask for?
While I didn't wear the Fortitude on a strap, its 20mm lug width mean it should take comfortably to any type that you pair it with, from NATO to leather to rubber. (The watch actually ships with an extra leather strap, a strap-changing tool and a Horween leather pouch.) And while not a dive watch, 200m of water resistance and a screw-down crown mean you can absolutely take it in the pool or the ocean with you. (Just be sure to clean it properly afterward.)
The Fortitude is a great choice in mid-priced field watches. So long as the bracelet clasp loosens up a bit over time, it would make a perfect everyday watch, a perfect field-specific watch, a perfect vacation watch...I could go on. And multiple dial colors — including a fun, mint green — mean there's a Fortitude for every type of buyer. Our advice: buy one now at introductory pricing ($525-$550) before the MSRP increases a hair to $650-$695. Though even at those numbers, the Fortitude is a home run.