My Cart

Close

The 8 Best Szanto Watches - A Buyers Guide

Posted on December 10 2020

Szanto Watches

 

Szanto Watches is a California based brand that was launched in 2013. It’s one of a couple of watch brands created by the Time Concepts company. The inspiration for Szanto comes primarily from vintage military and aviation watches, and a desire to recreate contemporary versions.

Their watches are inexpensive and feature both quartz and automatic movements. The collections range from WWI trench watches to more modern divers - with the vintage models making up the bulk of their range. I’d like to take you through a little of the brand’s backstory and then present you with a selection of the best watches that the company has to offer.

The History of Szanto Watches


The story of Szanto watches starts in 1989 with the creation of Luminox watches, a brand built around self-illuminating watch technology. US-based Barry Cohen was already a veteran of the watch industry and with his business partner, created a company to capitalise on the new GTLS technology.

Created by Swiss pioneers MB-Microtech, this innovative technology involved using radioactive tritium gas, in glass tubes, to create a self-powered light source. This lume never needs to be charged by sunlight and has a life of up to 25 years. Cohen saw the potential to use this in watches and launched Luminox - it’s Latin for Lightnight - to bring these innovative watches to the market. I’ve discussed Luminox here and also MB-Microtech’s company, Traser, here. They are both favourites of mine.

As Luminox expanded, Cohen was asked by watch brands and retailers if his company could produce private label watches. In response, he launched Time Concepts. From 2007 this new company worked with brands to produce watches in Switzerland and Asia. Luminox watches, for example, all carry the Swiss-made label.

As a natural part of the new companies growth, they created a couple of their own brands, Szanto being the foremost.

Cohen had taken an interest in vintage watches, in particular, early wristwatches that had been developed for military use. His idea was simple. Recreate the best of these designs, but with modern watchmaking technology and with updated sizing.

In essence, this has meant producing vintage looking pieces that are larger than the originals and use quartz movements, or modern Japanese automatics. It’s very much a niche brand that caters to specific tastes and is wholly independent of Luminox.

The Szanto name, like the brand’s inspiration, takes its cues from the past. It’s an old family name.

Where are Szanto Watches Made?


Time Concepts works with factories in Switzerland and China. They have long-established relationships with the factories and for Szanto currently use a Chinese plant with a Hong Kong office. Like Stuhrling, a brand I previously highlighted, they are very open about the Chinese origin of their watches and are transparent about the production process.

Are Szanto Watches Good Quality?


Time Concepts state “We feel very fortunate to work with a factory in China that is every bit as professional as any we've ever seen in Switzerland, and in fact is superior to many”.

They give out quite a bit of information regarding the process of creating their watches. Working with R&D teams in Hong Kong and China, they develop watches that are built under very strict standards and then thoroughly tested.

The 5,000-square-meter office-factory complex that they use is directly supervised by Hong Kong senior staff and experienced mainland-Chinese staff. The watches are assembled in a dust-free environment and are individually inspected with more than twenty-five quality control testing procedures. This includes everything from water resistance testing to drop ball tests for the watches glass.

Szanto watches are good quality and the brand are keen to stress that quality isn’t determined by where watches are made, but how they are made.

The Best Szanto Watches


I want to take you through what I believe to be the best watches that the brand produces. I’ll start with a couple of the vintage-inspired pieces, and then include some of the more contemporary designs. If you like the look and feel of vintage watches, but want reliable and wearable versions, I’d argue that Szanto is a good place to start.

 

Szanto Roland Sands Watch

 

This is my favourite Szanto watch. Part of the Icon series, it’s the result of a collaboration between Szanto and Roland Sands Designs.

I wasn’t familiar with Roland Sands.

It turns out that he’s a former professional motorcycle racer who now runs a company building custom bikes. RSD also design biking apparel and bike related products. Roland has starred in tv shows, been regularly featured in magazines, and along with his team, he runs a series of bike events and races. Branching out into watch design therefore seems quite natural.

The watch is faithful to the Szanto ethos of creating modern interpretations of vintage styles. The theme is vintage motorsports, but the application - a 43mm quartz watch - is modern.

The stainless steel case has an antique gold plating that is the first thing that I noticed when I saw this model. It immediately gives the impression of age. Coupled with the US-made Horween leather strap, it successfully mimics a previous era. Both should patina nicely too.

Round and with fixed wire lugs, the case is simple and effective. The dial looks like it was modelled on a speedometer, but there’s also a hint of a depth gauge. Either way, it’s reminiscent of an instrument panel.

Like the rest of the watch, the colouring is fairly spartan and restrained. But of course, the gold plated case, with its distinctive crown, is the real attraction.

I don’t see the appeal of this watch being limited to bike enthusiasts.

Szanto Roland Sands IC-RS-2104

  • 43mm Diameter
  • 9mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Quartz Movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 



Szanto Officer Classic Round Watch

 

The Officer’s Classic Round Automatic is much more in keeping with the idea of recreating a classic military watch. Again, it’s large. But the basic design elements are there. Namely, the vintage case, onion crown, textured dial, and turn of the century hands.

Taking each of these in turn, you can see the modern take on vintage watchmaking. The stainless steel case, for example, is larger than a real vintage watch, and it benefits from an exhibition case back. Not something of concern to soldiers in WWI.

The Guilloche finish dial? It looks the part but is printed, rather than machined like the originals were. And the hands? They have Superluminova rather than the dangerously radioactive Radium used in the past.

For me, this is why the watch works. The Superluminova is an improvement on a vintage piece. Yes, it’s not authentic, but that’s not what I want from the brand. I suspect that what I want - a watch in the style of a vintage piece - is what others want too. Something reliable, functional and altered just as much as is necessary to work for today’s watch buyer.

So I like that I can view the Japanese movement through the back. I like that the glass is mineral crystal. And I really like that it is water-resistant. I’m also happy that nobody died painting radioactive lume onto the hands.

Szanto Officer Classic Round 6304

  • 43mm Diameter
  • 10mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Automatic Movement
  • Acrylic Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 



Szanto Coin Cushion Watch

 

The Coin Cushion is a very similar watch to the previous model. The commonalities include the same hands, numerals, crown, automatic movement and the style of strap. The case and the dial format and decoration differ, but other than that, I’d suggest that these two watches are competing for the same customer.

At the risk of repeating myself, this is another watch that successfully updates a classic design for current watch aficionados. The choice then comes down to a preference for a squared case or a standard round one. Assuming that the dial differences aren’t enough to swing it.

It’s a difficult choice for me. I’m pulled more towards the cushion case - it feels like it’s the most authentically vintage of the two. The numerals also contrast well with the dial, and the hands add that final touch of colour.

Szanto Coin Cushion 6202

  • 42mm Diameter
  • 11mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Automatic Movement
  • Acrylic Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 



Szanto Heritage Aviator Watch

 

This model, the Heritage Aviator, is a watch inspired by the classic Flieger aesthetic. The dial is known as a Type-B - it has the minutes around the outer edge and the hours on an inner circle. Like the Coin Cushion and Officer models, this watch has a design familiar to those who’ve taken an interest in military watches.

That answers the question as to whether I like this watch. Of course I do - it’s a proven design that was originally created for pilots and is now a classic look. Szanto has modified it a little with the bronze-look case, hands and markers - but it’s still faithful to the established blueprint.

Again, if you’re after a reliable modern quartz piece that resembles an iconic watch of the past, this meets the criteria. At 41mm, it’s around my ideal size, and the Japanese quartz movement shouldn’t give you any problems.

Stylistically, it’s less eye-catching than a couple of the previous watches. That isn’t a bad thing. It passes for a contemporary model more, than say, the Coin Cushion. That's helpful if you plan on wearing the same watch in formal and casual settings.

Once the leather strap gets a little wear to it, this will really look like the rugged military watch that it was built to be.

Szanto Heritage Aviator Small Seconds 2753

  • 41mm Diameter
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Quartz Movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 



Szanto Shane Dorian Watch

 

If you really want a modern design, then the Shane Dorian, from the Icon series, is the best that Szanto offers. It’s a tasteful contemporary diver with 200M of water resistance.

Like Roland Sands, as a Brit, Shane Dorian was a new name to me. He’s a Hawaiian surfer, best known for his big wave riding. In a related side note - Time Concepts also own the dive watch company Hawaiian Lifeguard Association.

This watch is relatively straightforward when compared to others from the brand. It’s a recognisable style, with large bold numerals on a clear and legible dial. It has the typical dive watch essentials that include not only the water resistance but good lume, a mineral crystal and a rotating bezel.
It's packaged in a 42mm case that takes a durable 22mm rubber strap.

Of the colour options, I prefer this green and black variant. One reason for this is that it looks more like an outdoors watch - when Dorian isn’t surfing, he’s out bowhunting. The colouring adds versatility to what is essentially a dive watch.

Szanto Shane Dorian IC-SD-5303

  • 42mm Diameter
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz Movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance

 



Szanto SZ4101 Chronograph Watch

 

The first chronograph on my list is a beauty. A watch with a design reminiscent of a racing chronograph, but with military and vintage touches. All presented in a large 46mm aged bronze-style tourneau case.

That’s a lot to take in, so let’s break it down.

Aesthetically, there is quite a bit going on. At 46mm, the case is large and that is exaggerated by the barrel shape and the additional width from the chronograph pushers. Then there’s the colour. It has a bronze appearance, with signs of ageing. The crown and pushers are prominent and there’s a tachymeter scale on the bezel.

If it wasn’t for the colouring, I’d have this down as a 1960s-70s inspired motorsports watch. But with the colouring? The muted colour palette suggests a more rugged, military vibe.

The dial is well balanced, with the two sub-dials in a vertical arrangement. That allows the logo and date window to be matched horizontally.

It’s all neat and allows what is quite a busy design to retain a degree of simplicity. For me, it works. There’s a retro look, but without the colourful flair of a lot of retro chronographs.

Szanto SZ 4101

  • 46mm Diameter
  • 14mm Thick
  • 24mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Quartz Movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 

Szanto Pilot's Chronograph Watch

 

This second chronograph is slightly more conventional, being based again on a Type-B Flieger dial. It is large - 46mm again - but the style is faithful to the original German pilot’s watches.

There’s a round case, with 24mm lugs for the distressed leather strap. The strap is a nice touch, giving the watch an aged appearance. I like the white contrast stitching too.

The dial is plain black, and the chronograph’s sub-dials are housed in the centre circle. It means that they are small but does allow the minute numerals to remain visible, without the sub-dials cutting into them.

Outside of the case, the crown is a pumpkin shape and the pushers are modestly sized. They are in keeping with what I’d expect on a classic aviators watch and anything bigger would probably have been too much.

On a chronograph at this price-point, you’re going to be limited to a quartz movement. In this case, it’s another very reliable Japanese movement. There is also some token water resistance and a mineral crystal.

Szanto Pilots Chronograph SZ 2602

  • 46mm Diameter
  • 14mm Thick
  • 24mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Quartz Movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 



Szanto Vintage Dive Watch Blue

 

The final watch that I want to highlight is, despite the name, one of the least vintage-looking watches on my list. Instead, it’s a colourful dive watch with a rich, deep blue dial.

It ticks a lot of boxes. At 44mm it is not over-sized, and the 22mm strap is a comfortable width for me. Given a choice, I’d have preferred an automatic movement, but the quartz isn’t a dealbreaker.

As you’ll be aware, I’m a fan of vintage style watches in general and vintage divers in particular. The silver bezel is similar to my Northwind Armstrong and gives the watch a simple, pared-down look. It complements the spartan dial.

Aside from the vibrant colouring, the dial is uncomplicated. There are bold markers at each hour and thick, lumed hands. The contrast with the dial ensures that they are highly legible - ideal on a dive watch.

As much as I like leather straps, I’d normally suggest that they aren’t a practical choice for dive watches. In this case, the leather has been treated in order to be capable of submersion. It’s a thoughtful feature that has real-world use. And that is why I like this watch.

It’s an attractive design that retains its functionality.

Szanto Vintage Dive Blue SZ5202

  • 44mm Diameter
  • 14mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Quartz Movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance

 


Conclusion


Szanto Watches is a California based brand created by the founder of Luminox. It’s one of a couple of watch brands launched by the Time Concepts company - a business that he created to manufacturer watches for private labels

Szanto takes its inspiration from vintage military and aviation models. They recreate contemporary versions of classic designs, using modern watchmaking technology to ensure reliability and robustness. Their watches are inexpensive and feature both quartz and automatic movements.

I’ve compiled a list of my favourites and made sure to include the vintage-inspired pieces, as well as some more contemporary designs. Szanto has also created a number of watches in collaboration with notable figures, and I’ve included two of those watches.

Szanto watches will appeal to customers, like me, who are fans of vintage watches but would want to avoid the hassle of sourcing and maintaining a 100-year-old timepiece.


Subscribe to my list for updates and offers

0 comments

Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing