Review: Halios Seaforth
I’ve managed to build a reputation over the years for telling stories about watches. There are watches whose histories stretch back in time, whose achievements reach all the way to the moon—and that’s great. Sometimes all a watch needs is to look good, be cheap and tell the time. Welcome to the Halios Seaforth.
A big thanks to the owner of this watch who very kindly loaned it to us for review. If you have a collection of interesting and unusual watches that really stand out, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’ll either have heard about Halios watches or you won’t. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about founder Jason Lim’s endeavour to bring affordable watches built in Asia to a wider western market, but nevertheless for certain pockets, Halios is a big deal. There’s been more chatter than a bag of wind-up teeth in the freezer.
If you’ve heard of Halios but you can’t quite remember from where, that’s understandable. There’s been no TV adverts or billboard posters, or glossy print in the front pages of a magazine. All the talk about Halios has been word of mouth—or rather, word of key.
That’s because Canadian-based Lim decided in 2009 that he wanted to build a watch. Usually that entails designing and building something in secret, only to find out afterwards if it’s a hit or not, usually requiring extraordinary amounts in marketing spend to convince people it’s something they want. That didn’t strike him as particularly sensible.
So, like you can these days, he went straight to the source: the internet, the forums. He didn’t try to guess what people wanted, he just went ahead and asked them. Imagine that, skipping all the guesswork and fanfare employed to dress up bad decision-making, taking all the risk out of it and just outright asking people what they actually want.
Of course, that doesn’t always go to plan, but apparently it did for Lim, because his dive watch design, the Seaforth, pulled off a disappearing act impressive enough to make David Copperfield scratch his head in wonder. He found a balance in price, quality and looks that tickled people just right. There have been three series of the Seaforth so far, and each could’ve given the Moonswatch a run for its money.
So, what are the raw ingredients to this extra special Seaforth? It’s like a good Italian pizza. It doesn’t need a stuffed crust, layers of five different kinds of meat and a whole gallon of dipping sauce. Simple ingredients, carefully chosen, is all it takes. You wouldn’t be able to pick out a Halios in a drive-by line-up, but give it a bit more time and it’ll be the one that stays in your memory. Putting your finger on why is like trying to decide if Ryan Gosling is handsome or not.
Much of that appeal is in the colour. Before brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe realised they could sell more watches by not being miserable and painting everything black, Halios was going for it pumping out more colours than a Skittles factory. Had we been paying attention, we’d have noticed the Seaforth’s early warning signs for certain popular colour preferences.
Throw in a marginal amount of customisation—steel, titanium; bezel, no bezel—and you’ve got yourself a hype train. Lim moved from not needing to market his products because he was conversing with his market base directly to not needing to market his products because they would sell out as soon as he set them live. Question is—is the Seaforth worth it?
Let’s start in the most vulgar place possible, because it’s a point that will need to be raised several times to make sure the context sticks. The Seaforth is a sub-$1,000 watch, comfortably. Some may be changing hands for more than that in the secondary market, but new—well, the fourth generation is listing at $690. This is a cheap watch. Not the cheapest, but cheap enough for more people than you’d expect to buy one on a whim.
What about the watch itself? Well here goes trying to explain why Ryan Gosling is handsome. The Seaforth is immediately a tactile watch. Some watches look good and feel boring, others look boring but feel good. The Cartier Ballon Bleu is a watch that feels good. The Tudor Black Bay 58 is a watch that feels boring. The Halios Seaforth feels like it was designed to be felt. The 41mm case in steel isn’t finished to the highest degree, nor the lowest, but where it’s at leaves just enough to catch your fingers when you turn the 120-click bezel or screw down the crown—in a very satisfying way.
And the looks: in isolation, the crown guards are too wide and stumpy, the lugs too cumbersome, the bezel too thin; but together, combined with a total thickness including the double-domed sapphire of just 12.4mm, it just works. It’s not overtly vintage in feel, nor blandly modern like so many can be. It quietly resonates personality, like Ryan Gosling, without loudly pretending to have it—like James Corden.
Through two layers of anti-reflective coating you’ll see a dial that’s equally as unremarkable when given little time. Markers, text, hands, it’s all there, and none of it shouts, “Oi you! I’m a Halios!”, yet somehow you know that if you saw it again you’d recognise it in a heartbeat. The features are considered, refined, reserved. What I’m saying here is that Jason Lim designed a great watch, a truly great watch, that doesn’t need to be loud or derivative or just plain ugly to get noticed.
Let me remind you again: this watch costs a lot less than a $1,000. There are watches priced many tens if not hundreds of thousands more that just can’t seem to comprehend the idea of being well designed. Gold and platinum can be bought, but good design—that seems to be getting scarcer by the day. Sure, improvement from the previous generation’s Miyota movement to the Swiss Sellita SW200 is nice, but if this watch looked like old ham, it could have a Geneva-sealed hyper complication in it and it still wouldn’t sell.
Could it be that Jason Lim has, by listening and not talking, cracked the code? Was the code even that hard to crack in the first place? It certainly makes you wonder when some guy in Canada makes a watch this good this cheap and it sells like it’s the antidote, why brands with intranet pages and photocopier machines and executive bathrooms can’t. It would probably be easier explaining why Ryan Gosling is handsome.
What do you think the mystery of the Halios Seaforth is? Are we looking at a one-hit wonder, or are we seeing the cracks in an outdated methodology being exploited by someone who actually sat down and wondered what people might want? Try as I might, it’s hard to think it’s not the latter.