For those not familiar, the Seagull 1963 is a reissue of the first watch made specially for the Air Force of the People’s Liberation Army in China. With a beautiful vintage styling, it’s a great looking mechanical chronograph that’s built up quite a following; I don’t own one myself yet, but I don’t deny that it isn’t on the radar. As far as mechanical chronographs go, most would agree it’s good value, especially with its ST19 movement being based off a Swiss movement.
Priced at around USD$300 new, you might however feel more comfortable spending that cash on something a ‘lil more mainstream. And that, brings us to the question of the day: is there a cheaper alternative to the already “budget” Chinese chronograph? Well, the answer is maybe, and its name is the SKMEI 9206.
SKMEI has earned a (debatably infamous) name for itself within the community for making low cost, homages of popular Casio models, such as the G-Shock series. Most YouTube watch channels pronounce the brand as “ski-me”; it’s actually however, an English abbreviation of its Chinese name: “时刻美”, which translated means “beautiful at every moment”.
Now I fully admit that the article’s title is somewhat of a clickbait; there are after all quite a few differences between the Seagull 1963 and the SKMEI 9206. When I first saw the SKMEI 9206 however, I was instantly reminded of the Seagull 1963. Perhaps it was the pushers or the red chronograph seconds hand; or maybe it was the fact that both were Chinese made chronographs.
At it’s ridiculously affordable price point, it’s impressive that the chronograph even works. But is it worth your consideration?
The Case & Specifications
With crown included, the case measures 43mm across, with a lug-to-lug of 45mm, lug width of 22mm and a case thickness of 11mm.
Visually, the dial appears larger than it wears, possibly due to the thinner bezel and a slightly domed crystal. In terms of wear-ability, the curved lugs allow for straps to sit closer to your wrist. For my 16.5cm wrist, I would say that the watch sits just at the edge of what I’m comfortable with; any larger and it’d start to look a bit clumsy.
According to the official SKMEI website, the crystal is made of “glass”, which I assume to be mineral. While I can’t say that it is mineral glass for sure, it’s definitely not sapphire; I’ve already gotten some small scratches on the crystal so this is definitely not one to be swinging around bashing things. The slightly curved dome is however, a nice addition and catches the light beautifully.
The case itself is made of zinc alloy, with the chronograph pushers located at 2 and 4 o’ clock. Quality wise, there’s a good weighty feel to the watch despite the use of alloy; at the very least the watch doesn’t feel cheap. However I doubt the alloy will last throughout the years.
At first glance, the case back looks like a screw down; closer observation reveals it to be a snap on. Water resistance is rated at 30m which is good for (just) daily use; I’m keeping this one dry to be safe.
I do like how the lugs curve, and I think they suit the overall look of the watch, which generally doesn’t have any sharp angles. They pair well with NATO straps and add a vintage look to the case, reminiscent of fixed lugs on a trench watch.
The SKMEI 9206 comes in several colourways; I’ve opted for the green dial variant, which in my opinion is closer to teal. Batons are used to mark the hours, save for 12 o’ clock which is instead marked by the Roman numeral “XII” and the indices are (surprise surprise) applied. An applied “SKMEI” logo sits below the 12 o’ clock marker, while a white date window is positioned at 6. Interestingly, the date window is “cut” rather deeply into the dial, adding a sense of depth to the date window. On the outer edge, a tachymeter has been printed in a white font, contrasting well with the dark coloured dial.
Two sub-dials are found at 3 o’ clock and 9 o’ clock, with the 24 hour sub-dial on the right and the chronograph minutes sub-dial on the left. The minutes sub-dial measures up to 60 minutes, though only 5 minute intervals are marked out, rendering any chronograph reading in between difficult to decipher. The sub-dials seem to be separately pieced together from the rest of the dial, though the same matching font from the tachymeter is carried over.
Arrow shaped hands have been employed for the dial and sub-dials, painted in a nice contrasting white. The chronograph hand itself is a striking red, bound to catch one’s eye. The hands are on the thinner side, but reach all the way to the edge. Reading the time in the day is easy thanks to this; night time visibility however is a different story. SKMEI claims that lume has been applied on the hands; if there’s even any, it’s negligible so don’t count on it.
A point to note: there is no seconds hands or seconds sub-dial, which is something interesting. If you’re looking for a conversation starter, this could be one.
Overall, I feel the dial is well designed, with features normally seen in more expensive watches, such as the applied indices. At this price, I wouldn’t blame SKMEI if they just printed everything, or simply punched out 2 holes from the dial for the sub-dials. If you’re brand conscious however, you will have to contend with the prominently featured SKMEI logo, which admittedly, could do with some aesthetic improvements.
While SKMEI does not reveal what the movement is, one can only assume it is some cheap, Chinese movement. I pried open the case back, and the only words printed were “SL70”. This was pretty much the only hit on Google, and the movement looks the same.
When I first got the watch, the chronograph hand was off-center, likely a result of being thrown about while shipping. Thankfully, I could reset the hands to 0, courtesy of a Long Island Watch Tutorial.
The pushers aren’t particularly tactile; you don’t “feel” the pushers as you depress them. Just by clicking the pushers alone, you wouldn’t know that the chronograph has been activated without looking at the chronograph hand itself.
Absolutely no clue about movement accuracy; the watch just…works.
I often hear people complaining about the stock straps that come along with their watches, and its usually swapped out as soon as possible. I’ve never had much problem with the default straps, but boy I would gladly change this for a NATO any day.
The SKMEI comes with a bling-bling Milanese strap made of stainless steel no less. Sadly, SKMEI had to cut cost somewhere, and I guess the strap took the brunt of it. The strap was too large and even at the smallest setting, I was unable to fit it to my wrist. The strap was also stiff and the clasp, difficult to use. The watch is fine; just don’t bother with the strap. You’ll thank me later.
If you’re keeping track of the pros and cons so far, the SKMEI hasn’t been a complete flunk, but neither has it been much of a performer. Hopefully, this tips your scales a bit more towards a “buy” decision. Brand new, the watch costs just $15 (SGD). A working chronograph. For 15 bucks. How even?!
So is the SKMEI 9206 the super budget version of the Seagull 1963? Well, yes in the sense that it is a Chinese chronograph, with familiar visual elements, such as the sub-dials at 3′ and 9′. With a green NATO on it, I’m of the opinion that it’s a neat little piece. If you’re expecting the SKMEI 9206 to be just as good as the Seagull 1963 however, you’re in for a rough ride. It’s a far cry from being a perfect watch, or even a mid-tier watch.
Regardless, with its crazily affordable price point of just 15 bucks, do you really want to fault SKMEI for the 9206’s little imperfections? If it breaks you could just get a new one without batting an eyelid. Heck you could get 20 for the price of a secondhand SKX007. There’s really no reason not to get one, just for that little bit of fun.
So go ahead, skip that latte from Starbucks tomorrow and get yourself a SKMEI 9206 instead.
“That the SKMEI 9206 even works is already enough to impress me”