Who’s in a Name? Review: William L 1985 New Chronograph “Panda”

When one starts a new business or brand, the founder faces an important question: what name should the company carry? A good name could make all the difference to the modern customer who unlike before, is now stared down by a multitude of brands when faced with the simple task of selecting a timepiece. Sometimes, too much choice is a bad thing.

Some brands opt for a meaningful name, encapsulating the brand’s mission into a product in an attempt to identify with a certain lifestyle or spirit. Some opt for a catchy name; the kind that may not necessarily mean anything, but is easy to utter and hard to forget. Others simply carry their founder’s name – a hopeful testament for an enduring legacy of craftsmanship, or at least a spirit of enterprise.

Today’s watch in question has chosen the latter – the William L 1985 New Chronograph proudly displays “William L 1985” just below the 12 o’ clock indices. But who is this “William L” even?

The Brand

Personally, I’ve never heard of this microbrand until I chanced upon this piece on the re-sale market. The brand was founded by a man named Guillaume Laidet; Guillaume translated to English is “William”, and hence “William L”, with “1985” taken from the founder’s year of birth. The founder used to work in the Swiss watch industry, before deciding to strike it out on his own.

The story goes that he inherited a vintage chronograph from his grand-grand uncle, which he restored at considerable expense. After receiving a lot of interest from his friends, he decided to launch his own line of watches on Kickstarter, inspired by the vintage styling but with modern specifications and a reasonable price.

The brand does not hide the fact that they make their watches in China to keep costs low. I’ve never had an issue with “Made in China” – heck almost everything is made there nowadays. I like their honesty, so plus points for them.

The brand has since moved from their Kickstarter days into a fully fledged company, now with multiple product offerings. I ain’t sponsored, but you can check them out here if you’re interested.

The Case & Specifications

Brand story aside, it’s time to get back to the watch itself, the “William L 1985 New Chronograph“, which seems to be a new take on their first chronograph model they launched on Kickstarter some time back.

The case measures 40mm across (roughly 42mm with crown included), a lug-to-lug of 47mm, lug width of 20mm and a thickness of 13.1mm.

The case is made of 316L stainless steel and adopts a brushed finish for most of it, except for the top of the case surrounding the dial, which instead uses a polished finish. The polished top does add a shine to the watch and makes it more eye-catching while the brushed surfaces give a textured feel.

Given the tried and tested 40mm case size, the watch is well-proportioned, both physically and visually. On wrist, the watch feels sturdy but not heavy.

One thing I noticed was that the lugs seem to be a bit closer to the case than other watches I’ve had so far. I enthusiastically installed a leather rally strap without noticing there wasn’t enough clearance; the strap ended up being scratched. On the bright side, the case was unscathed; you might want to make sure there’s enough space for your straps with this one.

The “New” uses a domed mineral crystal with anti-reflective coating. The product catalogue describes the mineral crystal as “ultra-resistant” which…sounds slightly unconvincing to me given how sapphire is often touted as more scratch resistant. The crystal peeks out slightly above the case, and adds slightly to the thickness of the watch. Nevertheless, the dome is a nice touch and enhances the look of the dial.

You can see the crystal peeking out slightly from the case

Chronograph pushers are located at 2 and 4 o’ clock; the one at 2 starts/stops the chronograph while the one at 4 resets it. The buttons themselves require a bit of force to depress, giving off a slight “click” when in use. I’ve yet to try out the pushers on an automatic chronograph, which are supposed to have a better tactile experience, but these are not too bad. The crown is also signed off with the initials, “WL”.

The caseback too is made out of stainless steel, with a screw down design contributing to a water resistance of 5 atm. The caseback isn’t exactly decorated, containing the usual details and (what I think is) an engraved logo. Given that the watch is aimed as a budget model, there isn’t much to complain about here.

The Dial

I must say the highlight of this piece has to be the dial. The dial features a tachymeter scale in black on the outer edge of the dial, followed by a telemeter scale in white. The dial uses applied, silver baton indices, which pop nicely against the white base. The chronograph minutes sub-dial is located at 9 o’ clock while the seconds hand sub-dial is found at 3 o’ clock. The particular model I have features black sub-dials against a white dial a la “panda” – the visual contrast is engaging and highly legible.

While William L says the hands are Dauphine, I do think that baton hands would be a more accurate description. A third, thinner hand stretches out to the edge of the tachymeter, serving as the chronograph seconds hand. Luminova is applied, but from my experience the lume doesn’t hold. You’re like to wear this as a dress piece anyway, so you’d probably not need the lume.

The design is intended to be a sportier, more modern take on their original chronograph model which was very well received. I feel that William L achieved what they wanted with this one; vintage design elements have been well balanced against the sportier look, and the dial is a pleasure to look that.

The Movement

The William L 1985 New Chronograph uses a Miyota 6S21 movement, with an accuracy of +/- 20 seconds a month. Miyota movements are known to be reliable and affordable, a sensible choice for this piece.

The Strap

The watch comes with quite a few different strap options; bracelet, steel mesh, and several choices of leather. The one I have came with the steel mesh.

The steel mesh feels well-made; it isn’t overly rigid and is flexible enough to wrap comfortably around the wrist. It is a bit on the looser side though, so those with smaller wrists may want to take note of that. The strap comes with a nicely signed buckle as well. All William L stock straps come with quick release, making strap changes a breeze. No concerns with this one, and definitely much better than the strap that came with my SKMEI 9206.

The Price

The steel mesh bracelet variant comes in at 189€, which is roughly $300SGD. Included is a leather travel pouch for holding the watch and a spare strap, as well as a 1 year guarantee.

Admittedly, at this price range, there are quite a few other options for you out there on the market. For what this piece offers, the price isn’t unreasonable, though there are more value-for-money options out there. Ultimately, if you like the design, I think the watch will keep you happy without burning a hole in the pocket.

Styling Options

“New” on the stock strap
The “New” on leather; my preferred choice

Overall

You’ve probably not heard of William L before till today, and neither will most of your friends; it is after all a microbrand. If you’re looking for something more mainstream, this one’s not for you, especially at this price range.

If you’re more adventurous however, you’ll find yourself coming to enjoy this one a lot. The vintage styling is well executed together with more modern design cues, and you get a watch of great build quality at a rather reasonable price; some might say it’s a “poor man’s Hamilton Intra-matic”. Ever since I got my hands on this one, it’s been getting increasing amounts of wrist time. It’s safe to say that this particular panda’s going to be here to stay.

Vintage Styling with Modern Day Specs; the Best of Both Worlds

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