Astor & Banks is another of the crop of young American microbrands that has popped up in recent years, valiantly striving to bring watchmaking back to the United states. In Andrew Perez’s case, the impetus for founding Astor & Banks lay more in the search to do something he truly loved following his military service, but the fact that his products are designed and assembled in Chicago makes the brand all the more notable, and constitutes a further step in the revival of American watchmaking.
We recently got to spend some time with the Sea Ranger, which comes in four different variants and will be available for pre-order on Kickstarter soon.
The Good: The Sea Ranger is a unique diver-field watch combination that offers roughly 300m of water resistance and a 12-hour bezel on which the first 15 minutes are individually demarcated. What this effectively means is that you can take the Sea Ranger diving and use it to time a decompression stop, but you can also use the bezel to track a second time zone while top-side. (This is pretty cool, and something I wish was incorporated onto more watch bezels.) The 40mm case is well sized, the bracelet isn’t yet another Oyster ripoff, and the watch comes in fun colors — all pluses in my book. Overall, the Sea Ranger has a unique look and a genuinely useful function set.
Who It’s For: If you’re a diver, the Sea Ranger has more than enough water resistance and technical sophistication to see you through your dives. If you’re a traveller, the Sea Ranger can help you track a second time zone without the need for a GMT complication. If this is your first mechanical watch, $850 is a pretty good price for something unique that won’t find on every guy’s wrist while walking down the street in NYC. The Sea Ranger, in short, has a large pool of possible clientele.
Watch Out For: There’s not a whole lot to complain about, here. Are there less expensive microbrand offerings with similar feature sets? Sure. (See below). However, considering that you’re buying an original design from a one-man brand, the value seems pretty damn good. I could conceivably imagine the diver’s extension release getting snagged on something and opening up accidentally, but didn’t experience this problem myself. Overall, this is a solid, well made watch, and problems with it are probably going to boil down to personal aesthetic preferences.
Alternatives: There are quite a few alternative in the sub-$1,000 diver/tool watch world, most of them from boutique brands. The Contrail from Nodus Watches (12-hour bezel variant) offers very similar functionality for $600, albeit without the 15-minute demarcations. The Humbolt from Chicago-based Oak & Oscar is another tool/diver in the same vein, but costs roughly twice as much as the Sea Ranger at $1,650. Finally, the MKII Paradive is a tough-as-nails diver/field watch based on the famed Benrus Type I/II that retails for $895 and features 200m of water resistance.
Review: Based around the automatic Swiss Sellita SW-200, the Sea Ranger is an amalgam of modern tech and vintage-inspired aesthetics. The case, for example, is a 40mm asymmetric stainless steel type with drilled lugs and polished chamfers, giving it a profile that resembles somewhat the asymmetric military chronographs of the 1970s. A signed, screw-down crown provides the aforementioned 300m or so of water resistance, and the matching steel bracelet vaguely resembles a vintage Omega 1039 type, though there are significant differences.
The bracelet clasp is not a fold-over, and features two push-buttons either side of it for release. As mentioned earlier, the diver extension also deploys with push-buttons (there’s no need to open the bracelet, as there is on an Oyster, in order to extend it), which makes for more potential surfaces on which the watch could snag. In practice, however, I haven’t experienced this being a problem, and the bracelet is also comfortable and easy-wearing.
The case’s screw-down case back is simple and adorned with basic information, and doesn’t warrant much analysis. The dial and bezel of the Sea Ranger, however, are its biggest selling points to me, and are worthy of a deeper dive, so to speak.
I received the Sea Ranger variant with a beautiful marine blue dial and matching bezel. (I’ve handled all four variants, including the black DLC-coated “S” model, and each has identical fit and finish. Personally, I gravitate to the fun color scheme of the blue model, but this is a personal preference.) The dial itself is split into multiple “sections,” and includes an outer section with applied, Super-LumiNova-coated indices and a 1/5th-second track executed in white.
The next concentric section takes the form of a recessed track with a 24-hour scale, also executed in white. Finally, there’s the inner section of the dial, which contains the watch’s branding in white and red. The watch’s hour and minute hands are triangular and coated with SLN luminous material, and the seconds hand is orange and straight out of the 1970s sports watch world in shape and design.
Taken together, the recessed 24-hour track, outer 1/5th-second track and handset make for an incredibly engaging dial. A double-domed, anti-reflective sapphire crystal makes viewing the dial a simple affair, and the slight dome is hardly noticeable but provides a subtle, premium touch.
The Sea Ranger’s bezel is fully lumed with SLN and features minute demarcations for the first 15 minutes — a useful feature for diving. Otherwise, its aesthetics and dimensions are representative aesthetically of the Bakelite bezels of the 1960s, and make for a cool look. For some unexplainable reason, I don’t particularly like the way the minute demarcations bump up against the triangular 12 o’clock marker on the bezel — I think it makes the entire thing look crowded — but I do otherwise like the font used for the numerals.
Verdict: Given the build quality, most of the Sea Ranger detractors will likely be objecting on aesthetic grounds. While alternatives can certainly be had for less money, the Sea Ranger provides plenty of value for $850, packing a unique design, utility and a workhorse movement into a 40mm package.
What Others Are Saying:
• “Regardless of dial choice, the Sea Ranger represents an attractive value for anyone after a nicely detailed tool watch with a unique type of military heritage.” — Zach Kazan, Worn & Wound
• “Functionality profile aside, aesthetically, I think the Sea Ranger is a blast. Very fun to wear and a great visual look.” — Kaz Mirza, Two Broke Watch Snobs
Case Diameter: 40mm
Case Depth: ~13mm (including crystal)
Water Resistance: 30 atm (~300m)
Movement: Sellita SW200
Astor & Banks provided this product for review.
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