Home $500-$1000 James McCabe and the Baja diver: faux-vintage fun

James McCabe and the Baja diver: faux-vintage fun

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The James McCabe Baja is an interesting new direction for McCabe, and a welcome one. The short version is, affordable diver you can wear without worry.

There’s the concept of a ‘beater’ watch, a watch you can wear to the beach, to work, to use the way a tool watch was intended – as a tool, less jewelry. And that’s what McCabe is working towards here.

Made of stainless steel, the watch is given a pre-worn finish. The bezel looks aged. The bracelet and case are a little pre-scratched, and not polished or brushed. It’s not trying to be a watch from 60 years ago that looks brand new, it’s aiming at something like that, but as if it had been well-worn, and loved.

There’s this concept of a dress watch, a watch as jewelry, where you worry about a scratch or ding in something that’s highly polished. That’s not the case here. It’s like a comfortable pair of sneakers, broken-in and familiar like an old friend.

So what do you get for your £600.00? A quality Japanese 3 hand automatic movement. A stainless steel case water resistant to 200 meters. A dial with applied indices. It’s pretty slick.

The case is 41mm with a unidirectional rotation bezel. The insert is a worn/bleached look, and is nice. The crown guards are small and make it easy to operate the crown. The crown is signed with JM, and has fine knurling that works well.

The back of the case has a clear display window, so you can see the Seiko NH35A. It’s not a pretty movement, but it’s a rugged, reliable movement that keeps time well, and will for many years.

The dial is a color James McCabe calls Gravel blue. It has applied indices for the hours, and 12 and 6 numerals on the dial. The date window is bounded by an applied rectangle. The dial is marked with a faux-meteorite pattern. Dial text is limited to James McCabe, Automatic, 660FT/200M. The depth is written in orange.

The bracelet is a 5 link ‘jubilee’ style. The links are solid, the end links are solid, and the clasp is a butterfly deployant clasp. The end links are molded to resemble the folded links of old, containing the lines to continue the pattern of the links.

What do you not get? There’s no cyclops on the sapphire glass crystal. There’s no pip on the bezel, just a large circle at 12. The bezel is slightly smaller in diameter than the case, The crown guard shape is a little pointy at its bottom side, rather than being rounded in profile at the bottom edge. The bracelet adjusts with split pins rather than screws. (Honestly, this can be easier to adjust than screwed links.) Because it’s a solid bracelet, it’s a little heavier than the vintage watch it takes inspiration from.

The meteorite dial, isn’t. It’s a faux meteorite. Every watch gets the same pattern, even when it’s made in different colorways. On the particular example we reviewed, the clasp didn’t want to stay closed securely, coming undone a few times throughout the day.

The edges on the case are a little soft, as you might expect from a faux vintage thing, rather than being sharp, and brushed or polished. But that sort of finish work is part of what makes a watch worth more. The 12 and 6 are not lumed, and look a little unusual when viewed at night time. The color of the lume in the indices doesn’t match the hands in daylight. These are the sorts of details you’d think might be a little better for the price being asked.

What contributes to good value for money? When things have been done within tight tolerances, when the bracelet clasp stays closed properly, when the end links are machined instead of molded, and fit tightly so that you can’t see light through the gap between end link and case lug, that’s when you know you’re getting something that’s had attention paid to it.

That’s not mentioning the Seiko NH35a movement, which appears in watches made by Seiko that are about half the price. Or watches by Hamtun, NTH, and others that are either manufactured to higher standards with that movement at a lower price, or higher standards with higher quality movements at roughly the same price.

Even so, it’s a tough, reliable watch that you should feel comfortable wearing anywhere, like a favorite pair of jeans. If you’re so inclined, check it out at Mccabewatches.com.

Watch Overview

  • Brand & Model: James McCabe Baja Automatic JM-1037-22
  • Price: £600 GBP or about 780 USD
  • Who we think it might be for: You like want stainless steel watch with a reliable movement, faux vintage aged look, that you can wear anywhere.
  • Would I buy one for myself based on what I’ve seen?: It’s not wrong. I like the way the aging came out. I’m concerned that the price is a bit high for what you get.
  • If I could make one design suggestion, it would be: I wish the case had been sized to match the bezel more closely. Seeing case out from underneath the bezel is a choice.
  • What spoke to me the most about this watch: I really like how the blue came out, and the 12/6 numerals work well.

Tech Specs from McCabe watches

  • Case size: 41mm
  • Height: 14mm
  • Case material: stainless steel
  • Crystal: sapphire, mineral glass case back
  • Strap: stainless steel jubilee
  • Movement: Seiko NH35