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These Affordable Watches Are Loaded With Vintage-Inspired Details

This is an edition of the newsletter Box + Papers, Cam Wolf’s weekly deep dive into the world of watches. Sign up here.


When people ask me for watch advice, they’re most often looking for affordable pieces. Although the community of serious collectors is growing, most folks still just want a single timepiece—preferably one that’s reasonably priced and high quality. So, my antenna was sparking earlier this year when Nick Ferrell of DC Vintage Watches announced he was launching his own line of watches, dubbed the Sycamore Collection. As a dealer who specializes in vintage Seiko, few people in the watch world better understand the characteristics that can help an affordable timepiece punch well above its weight. Now, he’s using that knowledge to design an assortment of modern pieces.

Ferrell is famous for his attention to detail, and clients often come to him asking him to hunt down pieces with obscure features or watches they spotted in shoddy old photos. His talent made him a resource for folks like Daniel Dae-Kim and Ronny Chieng, both of whom were in search of rare vintage Seikos. With the Sycamore Collection, Ferrell is bringing the very attributes his clients are after into new timepieces. The line launched with just two models: the Wolf GMT diver and Hunter dress watch, both priced below $800. “I just hadn't come across any modern watch that combined these trends,” Ferrell said over email.

The initial Sycamore offerings represent the two sides of the collecting coin. The Wolf GMT is Ferrell’s contribution to the sport watch category: a sleek, matte-black, PVD-coated piece with the ability to track two different time zones. The watch borrows design elements from several different popular pieces, including a Seiko with Arabic-language numerals. You can also imagine that Rolex’s Explorer II helped inspire that outsized, playful orange hand. The Hunter, meanwhile, is slightly more subtle, even if the matte black case and standout orange hand remain. “1960s Rolex Datejust dress watches—with their ability to easily pair with anything from a tuxedo to a button-down and jeans—played a role [in informing the Hunter’s design],” Ferrell explained.

Ferrell wasn’t merely drawing from trends when concocting these watches, however. His winding path to watch dealing—which included stints at the Department of Defense and Department of State—also inspired the Sycamore line, with each watch reflecting a different aspect of politicking: The Hunter represents the side of diplomacy, while the Hunter is meant to symbolize espionage and the military.

This evolution from retailer to designer is common in the fashion world—where multi-brand stores like Mr Porter soak up data on customers’ purchasing habits and then churn out corresponding in-house lines—but much less so in the watch world. Yet Ferrell’s plunge into this new venture couldn’t feel more natural. His network enabled him to find suppliers and manufacturers. For the dial design, he referenced a variety of beloved Seiko models, like the Arabic-language dial Seiko SNKP21J1 and a pair of Seiko 6139 chronographs. Ferrell even used the Japanese brand’s movements inside the Sycamore pieces.

Sycamore is already a success, according to Ferrell. “Both [watches] have sold better than expected, in particular the Hunter, which has only a handful of the initial run of 100 remaining,” Ferrell said. “We've recently restocked the Wolf GMT after it ran out briefly.” Ferrell is already designing a third piece inspired by yachting timers from the 1970s. We here at GQ have often called Seiko the greatest cheat code in watches: a maker that consistently produces watches that look and feel far more valuable than their sub-$500 price tag—and in recent years, the market has agreed, with a handful of Seiko references now regularly selling for multiples of their retail prices. It seems Ferrell is taking advantage of his unparalleled familiarity with this cheat code—and using it to jump forward a few levels.

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Originally Appeared on GQ