Had trouble finding a mechanical chronograph that doesn’t cost as much as several months’ rent? You’re not alone. Mechanical chronograph movements are complicated objects to produce — far more complicated than a simple, three-handed wristwatch — which is why they’re often so pricey. But don’t despair, as there’s one movement in particular that always makes for a silly-affordable chronograph: namely, the Sea-Gull ST19.
Essentially a Chinese copy of an old Swiss Venus movement (Venus’s tooling was sold to Tianjin Watch Factory in the 1960s), the ST19 originally powered a Sea-Gull chronograph that was used by that country’s air force. Nowadays, it powers not only a modern remake of the Sea-Gull chronograph, but chronos from other (often micro-) brands around the world. Equipped with a column wheel and an integrated design, this inexpensive caliber features surprisingly smooth chronograph button action and a sophisticated design that belies its price.
One word of caution: the ST19 is not, at least in this author’s experience, the most reliable movement in the world, which isn’t a terrible surprise given its cost relative to its complexity. Sometimes an ST19-equipped watch will work perfectly out of the box, and sometimes it…won’t. But if you’re in the market for a truly affordable chronograph and you’re willing to take the chance, then look for one of the watches below, each of which is Sea-Gull equipped.
A modern, 42mm reproduction of the chronograph that Sea-Gull produced for the Chinese air force in the 1960s.
A 39mm chrono available in three dial colors that calls to mind the 1960s without referencing any specific model.
Quite simply one of the best-looking chronographs on the market today: 38mm in diameter, available in multiple colors, and beautiful.