Watches for less than a Meal: The (Incredible?) Daiso “Mili” Watch

Just how affordable can a watch get? Turns out the answer is: very. This military styled field watch cost less than my last meal, but is it any good?


The Chinese have a saying, “一寸光阴一寸金,寸金难买寸光阴“; loosely translated, it states that while gold and time are both valuable, you can never “buy” more time with gold. Such sayings are not exclusive, and I’m sure that every culture has a similar expression. Needless to say, the importance of time is universally understood, and has served as the impetus for man to measure it with accuracy.

There are some groups however, for whom the difference between seconds could translate into life and death, with the military being one of them. In fact, timekeeping was so important to the military, they literally changed the way we wear watches. When you look down at your wrist today instead of whipping out a watch from your pocket, you have the military to thank for.

Aside from wristwatches, the practical demands of the military gave rise to a whole genre of its own watches. Through different wars in history, governments have issued various specifications for the production of such watches. You will notice however, these “mil-spec” watches share a common design language: black dial, 24 hour indicators, and lume. As watch manufacturers were constrained by the provided specifications, the only difference was usually the brand printed on the dial. Function is emphasized over form; not unsurprising for a watch that is more tool than bling.

While the primary objective of the “mil-spec” design was functionality, that hasn’t stopped it from being picked up by the general public. This genre of watches is produced at every price range both quartz and mechanical, featuring the likes of Timex and Hamilton amongst others. Today’s watch however is from neither. In fact, it (incredibly) isn’t even from a watch brand, it’s from a “living ware” supplier. If nothing at all, the Daiso “Mili” is at the very least, evidence that the “mil-spec” design continues to remain popular even til today.

The Case & Specifications

The Daiso “Mili” adopts a very wearable proportion, with a case size of roughly 37mm (40mm including the crown) and a lug-to-lug of around 45mm.

The case is made out of black coloured plastic, keeping in line with the utilitarian military theme. The watch uses fixed lugs; the lugs are permanently attached to the case, which was most likely molded from a single piece of plastic. Without spring bars, you’re pretty much limited to NATO straps.

The rounded lugs slope down at quite an angle, allowing the accompanying NATO strap to wrap nicely around the wrist without any awkward gaps. The watch wore well on my wrist, and I’m confident that it’ll fit for most without a problem. Those with larger wrists will want to note however, that the watch may appear a bit smaller on the visual side. Being made mostly out of plastic, the watch is light and will not cause any comfort issues.

A domed acrylic crystal sits atop the slightly angled bezel, which I felt was a nice touch. The acrylic won’t offer much protection against scratches, but is great fun to stare at and adds to the charm of this piece.

The watch features a snap-on case back, with a few descriptors embossed into it. Once again, the Daiso “Mili” has kept in line with its design inspiration; military watches would typically have serial numbers engraved on their case backs, along with other useful information such as date of issue.

While some snap-on case backs offer at least 30m of water resistance, you’ll want to keep the “Mili” away from water just as the packaging instructs you to. I doubt it’ll be able to handle anything more than the casual splash.

The Dial

The no-nonsense dial which was designed to be discreet, is ironically the highlight of the “Mili”. Don’t be surprised if you find the design familiar; these watches are aren’t supposed to deviate from the specifications after all.

The black dial features contrasting, white numerals for the hour markers, with an inner track of numerals in the 24HR format, which is how time is usually reported in the army to avoid any confusion. For example, if it’s 4PM you say 1600HRS instead of 0400HRS. The numerals are printed in a clean font, further boosting its legibility.

Minutes are demarcated on the outer track, with triangular indices situated at every 5th minute interval. The triangular indices feature a green lume, though the amount applied is marginal so don’t count on it.

Syringe shaped hands have been chosen for the hour and minute hands, while the seconds hand starts with a lollipop and ends in an arrow tip. The same lume as the triangular indices have been applied to the hands; it’s equally marginal…and equally unreliable. To be fair, the watch costs peanuts, so I’m not complaining, but we’ll get to the price later. The fact that there’s even ANY lume at all is amazing.

From afar, the dial looks like your typical mil-spec watch, but they had to cut corners somewhere. The hands look plasticky upon closer inspection, and the dial itself seems rather “flat”, lacking the depth of more expensive watches with finer craftsmanship. While it may look like one, the “Mili” isn’t going to replace a Hamilton Khaki Field anytime soon.

The Movement

The movement in the “Mili” is nothing to shout about, but interestingly enough, the packaging specifies that the movement is made in Singapore! As inscribed on the case back, a Hattori PCS21 quartz movement powers the watch. The movement is your typical cheap quartz movement found in low-cost watches, but shouldn’t give you any problems in terms of accuracy. Interestingly enough, Hattori seems to be a Seiko subsidiary, which technically means you are getting a “Japanese-designed” movement.

One thing to note: the watch is loud. You hear every tick-tock; the plastic casing doesn’t help to mute it much. I try not to wear it in the office, and its never kept at bedside.

The Strap

Just as with the movement, there’s not much to be said here. Daiso also sells nylon NATO straps for 2 bucks a piece – they probably have them produced en masse, hence the low price. It’s not a premium feeling strap, but heck for 2 bucks? I’ll take it.

The Price

If you’ve been liking the watch so far, get ready to be blown away. The Daiso “Mili” could be yours today, for a mere SGD$5.80. That’s 500 yen. Or USD$4.32. If you were planning on getting a fashion watch, don’t bother. This is just as good, for the fraction of a price. Sure the “Mili” is plasticky, and yeah the lume’s having an existential crisis but honestly? $5.80? If that’s not incredible, I don’t know what is.

Overall Thoughts

The world of watches can get crazily expensive. The likes of people snatching for limited editions and reselling watches at crazy high prices or auctions costing unimaginable amounts of wealth; we’ve seen it all before. But every now and then, there comes a watch that packs a whole lot of punch, for not a whole lot of money. The Daiso “Mili” is exactly that watch.

There’s many things you can complain about it: it’s plasticky, it’s loud, and lacks the finer finishes we’ve gotten used to. On the whole however, the Daiso “Mili” has accurately captured the spirit of the Mil-Spec watch, at an incredibly low price that anyone can afford. I’d say the next level up from here would be a Timex, but even then the “Mili” is a mere fraction of that in terms of cost.

Would I carry this with me to the army? Definitely no; I doubt it’d survive what I put my Casio through back in the day. But the “Mili” doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t, and that’s what makes it such simple, good, fun. The best thing? Go ahead and smack this into a wall – you can always get another one.

Like the military inspired watches that came before it, the Daiso “Mili” is designed to do one thing: work

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