To be fair, this isn't a new thing. Many of us remember seeing things like the the Seagull 1963 chronograph that surfaced in the affordable category a decade ago (yep... It actually HAS been that long), as well as the Oak & Oscar Jackson from 2017, and a good number of other odds and ends from mostly obscure brands in between. That said, there seems to be new momentum growing in the hand-wound chronograph category these days. Obviously the moon watch never went away, and a number of higher end references from Patek, Vacheron, and others have remained in circulation, but for this new boom is coming from the (relatively) affordable corner of the market—specifically the $500 - $3000 range.

With this category growth comes a bit of a hang-up, and it's the same one time and time and time and time again. Case thickness. Much like every watch that's fitted with the automatic Valjoux 7750 tends to have a portly beltline, the same seems to go for any of the hand-wound chronographs in the affordable space. By and large you're looking at a case thickness between about 13.5 and 14.5+ for most of these watches, even when case diameters trim down to under the 40mm mark.

The reality of the matter is that the majority of the affordable movements, whether Seagull, Sellita, or the new ETA are all around the ballpark of 7mm thick to begin with. Add a few mm for the sapphire crystal, another mm or two for dial and hand clearance, and then the caseback, and there's little in the way of opportunity to get an entry-level mechanical chronograph under the 12mm mark. It's par for the course, and you'll either be happy with it or these offerings just won't be for you.

The trigger for this topic discussion came from the three watches found below—the Hamilton Intra-Matic Chronograph H, The Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver (yep, that's a mouthful), and the Studio Underd0g Bicompax Chronograph. The Hamilton was discussed in a recent product presentation from the brand alongside an early batch of 2021 novelties, the Nivada is currently in for a full hands-on review (more to come on that soon), and the Studio Underd0g was a surprise that I was introduced to via fellow watch journalist Miguel Seabra of Espiral Do Tempo.

Hamilton Intra-Matic Chronograph H

Kicking things off with the one "big box" offering of the list, Hamilton has effectively ditched the rotor from the previous Intra-Matic chronograph, converting the movement to manual winding. The H-51 caliber still offers a 60-hour power reserve, which is a nice bump compared to some other alternatives. You're looking at a 40mm case, 14.35mm thick with 20mm lugs. It's being offered in four references in total including both panda and reverse panda dials on either leather or mesh strap/bracelet options. Clearly steered towards the vintage watch enthusiast that wants modern reliability, Hamilton opted for their vintage logo, and slightly creamy "faux patina" luminous material for the hands and indices. Generally speaking the whole "faux patina" thing irks, me, but in this case it's subtle enough that it's not especially bothersome. Pricing starts at $2,045 on leather and $2,095 on mesh.

View The Watch Here

Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver

Two key points to get out of the way first with this thing. Firstly, yes the name is obnoxiously long, and some people aren't too keen on having a mini Haiku on their dials, but this is a faithful reissue of the original chronograph from Nivada Grenchen which bore the exact same name. Second, based on our first impressions after a week or two of hands-on review, this thing is fantastically executed for the price. The case is designed thoughtfully in a manner that replicates the original profile and maintains a very "vintage feel" on the wrist, all while accommodating the additional thickness needed for its modern movement/crystal/etc. Its case is 38.3mm in diameter and 13.75mm thick, with a 20mm lug width. Its movement is a variation of Sellita's SW510 M, which is a manual version of Sellita's 7750 clone. I'll dive into more details in the full review, but the combination of the box crystal, friction bezel, and other true-to-original details for a sub-$2k price point make this one pretty easy to be smitten with. It's worth noting that it also comes in a self-winding version for a similar price tag, which adds 1.05mm to its case thickness.

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Studio Underd0g Bicompax Chronograph

More affordable and more fun? Meet Studio Underd0g—the brand who specifically asks the question "Why can’t horol0gy be a little bit m0re playful from time to time?". While the two watches above are so strictly concerned with heritage and legacy, Studio Underd0g goes full blown playful with their still quasi vintage designed references, named Watermel0n, Desert Sky, and Go0fy Panda. Given the sheer volume of Kickstarter campaigns out there, and the fact that they're such a crapshoot, I tend to avoid them editorially, but first impressions of these pieces ticked just enough boxes for me to be comfortable with the inclusion here.

Again we're getting some pretty compact dimensions. This time we have 38.5mm diameter cases, with a thickness of 13.6mm and 20mm lugs. The Bicompax uses a double-domed sapphire crystal up front, and a mineral crystal caseback that provides an open view of its Seagull ST-19 hand-wound movement. The current early-bird stage is priced at 325 GBP (approx. $441 USD), as the two previous price brackets have already sold out. I'm the first to admit that I've generally avoided any Seagull-powered watches over the years, perhaps out of paranoia regarding overall longevity and QC, but I'm pretty tempted to give this one a go and see how it turns out. Deliveries are slated for September of 2021.

View The Watch Here

Knowing that there are other options out there, what modern sub-$3k hand-wound chronographs would you consider adding to your collections? Let's see them!