Spotlight: The LaMotte Balboa
American Horology is Coming Into its Own... Again.
It hasn't escaped my notice that the first three reviews I've done on this site were all of watches made by American brands. It also hasn't escaped me that the next two (including this one) are also watches from American brands. And if that wasn't enough, the last two watches I bought? Also American brands.
But more on that in another post...
Today, I'm gonna talk about a new watch from a new brand that, quite frankly, took me a bit by surprise. On the one hand, I really liked the watch. On the other hand, I wasn't sure I'd be up for shelling out $895 for a newcomer brand's debut piece. I'm the master of self-justification when it comes to making allowances for high watch prices, but even I struggled there.
Jonnie LaMotte, one of the brand's founders, did make things a bit easier a few days ago when he let me know that a version of the Balboa would be made available sans its very nice leather strap and on a NATO-style instead for $100 less. This, I think, makes the Balboa more palatable. In fact, I wore the watch almost exclusively on a single-pass nylon strap myself; it just absolutely shines in that configuration.
I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start with...
Case Size: 39mm.
Lug Width: 20mm.
Case Thickness: 12.20mm with crystal.
Case Material: 316L stainless steel.
Caseback: Exhibition, screwed-in.
Colorways: Stainless Steel
Bracelet/Strap: Hand-stitched, choice of brown Horween or gray Barenia leather, moisture resistant lining, embossed logo on inside lining.
Water Resistance: 10ATM/100 Meters
Dial: Brushed stainless steel.
Hands: Three hands, polished, with BGW9 Super-Luminova lume.
Bezel: Stainless steel
Movement: Americhron 7000 Series automatic self-winding, designed and assembled in the USA using domestic and foreign parts, 28800 bph, accuracy -10 to +30 sec per day. (7A20)
Price: $895 USD. Note: a NATO-only option is available for $100 less
My Take on the Specs
Solid. The Balboa ticks off a lot of boxes for me; in fact, the only one I'm kinda bummed about is the lack of a date option. It's a debut piece, I get that - but I do love my date windows.
Despite the lack of a screw-down crown, the Balboa does manage to pull off 10ATM of water resistance. This isn't a dive watch (I see it as more of a field watch) so 10ATM is plenty. I would've preferred a screw-down crown but that's nitpicking and not necessary for what the Balboa is intended to be. The crown itself is well-sized and I had no issues winding it or adjusting the time with it. The coin-edge grip helps in that regard.
The supplied leather strap is nice, with padding near the lugs. It'll take some breaking in, but looks great - at least, the gray one I got with my review unit does. It matched the dial perfectly and, frankly, I didn't really find a better leather strap for it.
I will say this: there needs to be a bracelet option. I put a Zelos bracelet on it, just for kicks, and, well, look:
See? It needs a bracelet.
Back to the specs. Let's talk about that movement.
This isn't the first watch movement from an American company this century - that honor belongs to Nashville-based Weiss Watch Company and the CAL 1003 movement. They included that movement in one of their limited-edition pieces, but as far as I know, they have not licensed or sold it to anyone else.
The Americhron 7000 (7A20) movement produced by FTS out of Arizona, on the other hand, is intended for use by other brands. FTS, which also makes a quartz movement used by New York's Islander Watches, is a company out of Arizona that is bringing watch movement production back to the US. I say "production" because the parts for the Americhron 7000 were actually manufactured by Titan Company Limited out of India. The movement is assembled and tuned here in the States.
To be fair, while this is a new movement that’s untested by time, watch movements aren’t exactly state secrets anymore. It’s not completely prohibitive to design and produce a three-hand movement in the States - it’s just more expensive. The Balboa’s price reflects that reality. Moreover, if your goal is to help support American horology, getting the Balboa means you do that and end up with a good-looking watch to boot.
Look and Feel
I really dig this watch. On either the supplied leather strap or my gray and black Zulu Diver single-pass nylon strap, this watch sits very nicely on my wrist. I have a 7-inch wrist and the 48mm lug-to-lug distance works just fine for me - and I suspect it'll work just fine on wrists as small as 6 inches. That's because the Balboa's lugs have a decent downturn to them that compensates well for the additional width of the sapphire caseback. It doesn't quite wrap the watch around my wrist; it's just curved enough to make it comfortable.
Weight-wise, it’s not a chonkster. It’s actually pretty well-balanced on my wrist and I have no complaints about it feeling heavy or unweildy. At just over 12mm, it slips under a dress shirt sleeve just fine (and looks completely at home, too). Take it off the leather and add the aforementioned nylon strap and you have a really solid everyday wear piece.
In fact, that is perhaps one of the Balboa‘s greatest strengths. On the leather, that clean, well finished case and sparse dial means it passes handily as a business casual watch. The applied indices with polished edges enclosing plenty of lume stand proudly from the dial. A painted minute track meets the blued seconds hand, which looks amazing under the right light. The company's wordmark, the name of the watch, the word "Automatic" and the water resistance rating is all that jumps out on the almost spartan dial. Capping it all off are the fencepost-style hour and minute hands that carry the lume-filled, polished-edge motif forward.
If that's all you had, this would be a handsome watch. But it's not. There's the question of the rehaut.
I had a hard time telling this from the initial images I saw and when I got the watch... well, it didn't get easier. It's a nice bit of optical illusion; the rehaut with its printed minute track, which is darker than the dial, actually appears to sit below the dial. The difference in color and finish makes it look like we have a very layered, three-dimensional thing going on here; a layer containing the outermost track on the bottom, then the main dial, then the applied indices and hands.
Turning and twisting the watch enhances that bit of optical trickery and elevates the watch from "hey, not bad," to "oh that's cool." It increases the watch's glanceability (is that a word?) and keeps drawing your eyes back to it in a way that, well, I just hadn't considered.
Flip the piece over and you have that Americhron 7000 movement under an exhibition caseback. It's not a spectacularly designed movement or anything, but it does have a few very nice touches. The rotor is skeletonized and the LaMotte appears to have allowed FTS to keep their branding on it. This must be intentional to show off the American origin of the movement and I'm glad they went that way. It's a rugged-looking movement, with a bridge on top of the balance wheel that adds to its workhorse look and feel. A note to FTS: blue that bridge and rotor. That'll make it look really awesome.
I really like this watch. No joke; for a debut unit, this isn't just "not bad", it's actually good. The optical trickery of the dial, the well-done indices, the exhibition caseback - they all combine to make this a watch that I'd happily add to my collection - once they add a date version 😉. To me, that's the thing that is missing and I hope Lamotte does release one of those. I'm very curious to see how they interpret the date window on that dial.
Let's talk about that price. I think the $795 version with the NATO-style strap is the one to get, but I'm sure that some folks will still see that as too high. I can see why; as a microbrand consumer, I've gotten spoiled by brands that deliver amazing value for a lot less. I understand why the price has to be high, though - an American-assembled movement inside an American-assembled timepiece was never going to be cheap. I don't know how much the Americhron costs, but I suspect LaMotte could've shaved off a few hundred by going with a workhorse Miyota high-beat movement. If they did that though, the Balboa wouldn't be the watch it is. Ultimately, you're paying for what the Balboa represents: a well-made timepiece that is as American inside as it is outside.
There's a lot to like about the Balboa and very, very little to dislike. It's a strong debut for LaMotte and just as strong for FTS. I look forward to seeing what the LaMotte brothers have in store for the future.
Indies and Micros is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.