The word toolwatch is thrown around a lot. Generally it means that the watch in question performs a task other than keeping time, such as a dive watch or a chronograph. It can also mean that its specifications allow it to operate in harsh environments and less than ideal conditions, such as a pilot or a field watch. Contemporary toolwatches can still be refined timepieces. The IWC Big Pilot is an elegant watch. The Hamilton Khaki Auto offers graceful lines and a dignified appearance. But some watches own their “toolishness” more than others. What I mean is that there are watches that embody the ideal of a tool; they are built tough and look tougher. The G-Shock is a good example. So is the Luminox Leatherback. They are like uncut gems–a little rough around the edges. The Hummers and Wranglers of the watch world.
This is the category into which I’d toss the Vanbanner LEA. Without a doubt, it’s an out-of-the-box, unapologetic toolwatch. With its multi-layered dial, angular blasted metal case, and industrial matte black bezel, it appears both technical and rugged at the same time. In addition, it’s big. The watch measures 45mm in diameter, excluding the crown, which is also oversized. It runs 52.5mm lug to lug, as well, but its cascading drilled lugs do offset the size somewhat.
The LEA is essentially a field watch (a lea is a field or grassy pasture) with dive watch specs. Its sandwich layering with its large Arabic numerals, coupled with its broad outer chapter ring designating the minutes, make for a highly legible, practical dial. It also uses a healthy dose of both C3 and BGW9 Super-Luminova on its sword hands, markers, and bezel. The 120-click, ratcheting bezel, in conjunction with the aforementioned chapter ring, also provide a functional dive calculator. In fact, the watch is equipped with a screwed-down crown and provides an impressive 300m of water resistance. Thus, as far as field watches go, it has chops.
The LEA comes on a 2mm thick NATO strap with rugged metal eyelets that gives the watch a tactical military appearance. Under the hood, we have a Seiko NH35 which is visible through the exhibition caseback–albeit hidden by the strap.
|Sandblasted 316L Stainless Steel|
52.5mm Lug to Lug
300m Water Resistance
41-Hour Power Reserve
|Crystal & Dial||Sandwich Dial /w Big Date Window|
C3 & BGW9 Super-LumiNova on indicators, hands,
and bezel markers
|Strap||2mm Thick Canvas NATO Strap with Eyelets|
As mentioned earlier, the LEA defies categorization in some respect. It borrows elements from a number of different toolwatch iterations: large legible numerals and rugged case (field watch); sword hands, bezel, and screwed-down crown (dive watch); broad dial, big crown, and luminous markers (pilot watch). As such, in spite of its robust construction, there is a certain whimsy to the mix of ingredients that seem to characterize the brand’s aesthetic, and set it apart from traditional choices. You might recall the equally whimsical Parkingmaster, reviewed here earlier in the year. In the end, you have to respect the entrepreneurial courage to make bold design decisions and fight for your space in a competitive market.
It is difficult to cast judgement on a prototype, as pictured here. Tolerances and final finishing will likely be improved before the timepiece goes into full production; however, at the moment, there is a small amount of back play in the unidirectional bezel, and the threads in the screwed down crown feel coarse. Some will find that the 45mm case on a thick NATO wears large, as well.
A mix of horological elements can make for a busy dial. That’s not something you want in a field watch. On the LEA, however, I think it works. The use of colour and the added depth of the sandwich dial combine for an interesting and attractive use of real estate. I also think that the sword hands are a nice touch and add flair to the otherwise tactical regard. My favourite component is the lumed matte black bezel. It looks great when juxtaposed against the blasted metal of the case. The entire watch has a gritty industrial quality, and I think if you are a fan of the Casioak, or of larger toolwatches–like those from Marathon, Luminox, or Traser–you will probably appreciate the LEA for what it is: a rugged everyday carry.
The LEA will retail for $258USD. For more information, check out the website.
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