Refined Hardware Robber Baron Watch Review

Posted on 07 April 2014 by Patrick Kansa

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The last time we took a look at a watch from Refined Hardware (here), I really grew to like their machine, or industrial, aesthetic. They’ve continued to build on that strength, and have released some additional models that are definitely cut from the same cloth. With the Robber Baron line, they’ve changed things around a bit, and have, well,  refined things a bit more, making for a compact piece.

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How do you get a compact piece? Well, the first place to start is with the movement. When we took a look at the Gatsby, there was a tourbillon involved. Here, on the Robber Baron, we’ve actually got a quartz-driven ISA Swiss 238/101 movement, which allows for the more compact case. While this movement is one that I’m sure is up to the task (simple three-hander duties) I was a bit put off at first, as the dial (in a literally big way) proclaims this to be an automatic. Which, to me (and very likely you) means something quite different from a movement with a battery.

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So I asked Refined Hardware about this. They re-iterated the movement choice was to make a slimmer watch (no arguments there). They also stated that they feel the electro-mechanical movement is indeed automatic, as you don’t need to wear or wind it daily. And that’s where the problem comes in – with that definition, every quartz watch is automatic. To me, the word automatic on the dial seems like a bit of a mis-lead, as people who aren’t educated about what to expect may well think that they’re going to get a mechanical, automatically-winding watch.

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For bit of silk-screened ink, I think it creates a bit of a headache for the watch. If it were me, I’d have that scrubbed right off the dial (and, while we’re at it, probably shrink the logo some as well, or swap it for what we see on the crown). With the word automatic off of the watch, it becomes a much clearer picture of what the watch is, and what we should expect from it – quartz reliability and accuracy.

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In that light, it’s a very capable watch. with a lot of interesting dimensionality (courtesy of those raised Roman numerals) and textures (via the finishes on the bezel and the case itself). Styling of the case is reminiscent of what we saw on their previous model – a machined look with screws (ostensibly) going through the case front to the back. With the Robber Baron, we lose the unique floating strap/lugs configuration, and instead have a more common fixed lug layout.

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Tucked into those lugs we’ve got a 22mmm mesh-style bracelet which includes links at the clasp, to allow for adjustment of the bracelet. Interestingly enough, those links aren’t held in place by friction pins – instead, they’ve made use of spring bars, which makes for pretty easy sizing adjustments. The bracelet itself is pretty comfortable (and as breathable as you might imagine). It also has a bit of machining done to it – the mesh links, rather than being fully rounded, have been flattened on the upper surface a bit. This makes for a somewhat smoother (flat) feel, and allows for a bit of a finish differential as well.

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All told, it was a comfortable watch to wear, combined with it’s relatively low weight (WEIGHT) and slim case. The dial itself, though, is a bit of a distraction from the watch for two reasons. First and foremost, you’ve got the excessively large branding, which I think would be better served by being smaller, and perhaps replaced with the logo that appears on the crown and caseback. Second is that word “Automatic”, which we discussed earlier.

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As with the other Refined Hardware watches that have preceded the Robber Baron, this is a limited-edition release, with 500 pieces being made available at a price of $1,550. Had the watch been a true automatic (ie, fully mechanical), that’s a price we probably wouldn’t have given much of a second thought to. With the inclusion of a quartz movement (Swiss though it is), you start to take a closer look. In the prices defense, we are talking about a smaller brand with smaller runs, and the fit, finish, and materials have all come across as top-notch in my time with the watch.

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Frankly, while we expect quartz-drive watches to be firmly in the affordable end of the spectrum, there are plenty of examples of them verging into luxury ranges, and those are generally from more established houses. Which is all a long way of saying that, while the price is certainly high, there are some other considerations that come into account that can help support the price. For me, personally, it’s not something my budget would swing. That said, if you’ve liked the look of the previous Refined Hardware pieces, but were looking for a more affordable variant, the Robber Baron may be your solution. refinedhardware.com

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Review Summary

  • Brand & Model: Refined Hardware Robber Baron
  • Price: $1,550
  • Who’s it for?: The person who likes the industrial look of the prior RH models, but is looking for something a bit more affordable
  • Would I wear it?: Very likely, though less frequently due to the gold tones in the piece
  • What I’d change: Drop or reduce the printing on the dial, and swap in an automatic movement to support the text
  • The best thing about it: As with the previous RH review, it comes down to the look and feel of the case

Yes, that denim in the backgrounds is indeed from Gustin!

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