Listener Article: Why The Seiko Flightmaster is the World’s Best Pilot Watch for a 21-Year Old Woman

Listener Article by Elodie Townsend

I like my watches how I like my cars–Japanese and overly complicated. But it’s time to face facts: I’m 21, in college, and have no money. That car is not going to happen. My watch on the other hand, is a Seiko Flightmaster. It is made for the Japanese market, way overly complicated and I absolutely love it.

I always liked watches when I was a kid. Of course, my exposure to them was simple; the glass counter hiding Casio timepieces at Big 5, the forbidden Macy’s jewelry area. My sticky little child fingers were all over the glass, much to the disdain of the employees. But there was a problem. Little girls weren’t supposed to like big, chunky G-Shocks. The only kids in my sixth grade class who wore watches were the sons of lawyers and advertising moguls. Their watches, at the tender age of 11, looked more expensive than my whole suite of Target school supplies. I was jealous, envious beyond articulation. I was devastated that in order to tell time, I had to look at the big clock on the wall behind me, or take out the little flip phone that my sister and I shared and risk getting in trouble.

Then, in seventh grade, my dad bought me my first watch. It came from behind that holy
Big 5 glass and boasted a skeleton case and wonky automatic movement. Suddenly, I was the one with a cool watch. It may have been a cheap Chinese knock-off, but my love of watches was in full flight.

The watches I have today still largely reflect that same boisterous, untamed little girl, the “tomboy” who played basketball and was on the robotics team. The crown jewel of my collection is, of course, the “Flighty.” The SNA411 is the Civic Type R of watches; a powerhouse of Japanese quartz mechanics and superfluousness. You can do calculus with its smooth-as-butter bezel or check the time in Paris or Cairo. It’s a watch for watch nerds on a budget. But it has an air of sophistication that doesn’t feel forced or tacky. It’s solid and serious, and its sunken black face contrasts the white and yellow markings and hands so well that it feels like a tool more than a time-telling device. It’s a watch you can wear to a job interview, on a long hike, or at a baseball game. And, it will cost less than a semester’s worth of textbooks, even with its price rising because of high demand.

Fittingly, my dad got me my Flighty for my 21st birthday. It’s by far my favorite watch, but that doesn’t mean it detracts from the others. The next most-worn timepiece I own is in direct contrast with the weighty, complicated Seiko; an old, classic Timex Weekender, with a white face and that chubby sans serif typeface that oozes friendliness. Its silver case is slim and simple, and the dark brown leather strap that I keep it on is worn so perfectly that to remove it would be criminal. It belonged to my late grandfather who was, like the Timex, a man of substance over style. He spoke little and wrote a lot. His words were full of wisdom and a little bit of snark. Like the Weekender, he was small and practical. The strap was also his, and I don’t think he ever took the watch off of it. My grandmother gave it to me instead of donating it with all his other watches. It’s far from a family heirloom–a new one costs about sixty dollars, the same as a new video game or pair of Levi jeans. But it represents a lot of what I find endearing about watches, namely their sentimental value. Like a necklace, brooch, or pair of pearl earrings, watches can be passed down and loved, and come to represent the person they once belonged to. Their monetary worth has no bearing on the value they hold in the hearts of the people who wear them, and my little white Timex is a stalwart example of the profound emotional continuity of owning an object that someone you loved once wore.

The next watch is less of a tear-jerker, and more of a cool story, largely because I met the man who made it at the Windup Watch Fair in San Francisco. The Bronson Chronograph in black from Collins Watches–an upstart company inspired by music and the studios in which artists record–is, in one word, satisfying.

The numbers are an off-white, as are the hands, and the typeface is in a style more often seen on musical recording equipment. But its design is far from kitschy; the matte black face and case paired with the thick leather strap make for a handsome, rugged watch, fit for an overland adventurer or an aspiring music mogul. Jimmy Collins sold me the watch himself, and his affable, unintimidating personality made it easy for me, a young woman with marginal expertise in the subject, to talk with him about his watches. For me, the Bronson is a daring watch, a symbol of the capability of young people in every facet of the modern world. It’s mean and soft at the same time, and holds an air of mystique that is captivating and charming. It is, like the average college student in America, getting by with determination and style.

Though I have a Baby G and a beautiful little Orient moon-phase watch, the last piece that I feel obliged to share is my cheapest watch. It was the first that I bought as an adult, and the only one I feel comfortable wearing to any event, be it rugby practice, a punk show, or a college party. It is the little Casio Illuminator that could, and always will.

I am a firm believer that every person should own a twenty dollar Casio watch. Silver, gold, black, whatever color–they all look fantastic. The timeless square shape so shamelessly ripped by Apple, the unbelievable charm of the tiny, digital world map in the upper right corner. The delicious freedom of knowing that with the push of a button, I can check the time in Glasgow or Tokyo. The classic Casio is everything a watch should be. Everyone from multi-millionaire pop stars to the gas station attendant looks good in a Casio and, like the Timex, it has the benefit of name recognition without the added cost. People with Rolexes and Omegas will still like your little Illuminator, as will your always-drunk cousin who has never once owned a watch. There is no situation in which a Casio is inappropriate, and the sheer ubiquity of the brand speaks volumes about its legitimacy in the world of ever more eye-catching watches. It’s almost like the world’s most polite “f*ck you”; knowing you spent seventeen dollars on your watch and people will still give you compliments on it as long as it’s ticking away on your wrist. The silent satisfaction of being cheap and stylish at the same time, as only a Casio can provide. Ten years on, your little digital square will still be showing you time zones and lap times, regardless of how many times you’ve banged it on the kitchen counter or scraped it on a brick wall.

This has been a long-winded look at the most important watches in my small collection, but the ideology that I held as an aggressively anti-establishment seventh grader still holds strong. It’s not the cost of the watch, or cool factor of it that makes it important (though having a nice, flashy watch is a joy in of itself). It is your own connection to it. It sounds like a tired cliché, and it probably is, but the ultimate joy of watches is that they are uniquely yours . There’s not really a “right” way to buy a watch. Whatever piece makes you feel good is a good watch.

Sure, it could be a piece of crap mechanically, or ten years older than you are, or maybe it could be worth tens of thousands of dollars–either way, it’s your watch. And while I may never own a Toyota MR2 Supercharged or an Omega Speedmaster, I do own a Seiko Flightmaster and that’s pretty damn cool. Taking pride in what you have is a big step towards fulfillment, so wear that Casio with a little swagger in your step, and start saving up for that grail watch.

Elodie Townsend

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10 thoughts on “Listener Article: Why The Seiko Flightmaster is the World’s Best Pilot Watch for a 21-Year Old Woman

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  1. I’m so happy to hear your enthusiasm for watches. It used to be everyone wore a watch. Since the introduction of cell phones and Apple watches they have become a vanishing asset. I’m inspired by your watch recommendations and I look forward to Millennials and Post Millennials reviving the art of watches in all price ranges. Your writing style is refreshing as well. I look forward to your next article.

  2. The choice of a watch is such a timeless (no pun intended) decision. Like our grandparents choosing which hat to wear to the cinema. That touch of class which is commonplace to others while being such a personal decision to ourselves. You nailed it Elodie. Great article.

  3. I don’t wear watches but I might start. My grandfather’s Bulova is the most treasured piece of jewelry I own (after my wedding ring). Great article – keep up the excellent writing.

  4. Such a great piece Élodie! The sentimental and personal connection is worth more than anything I’ll ever buy at an Omega store, although I’m definitely open to any Speedmaster that comes my way:)

  5. Really liked your post! I also discovered my love of watches at a yong age and remember being obsessed with my Swatch watches when they first came out. I agree about the Casio – Apple rip. You nailed it.

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