Scoring an automatic chronograph these days for under a thousand bucks is darn near unheard of, and when someone tells me I can get a column wheel auto chrono for under $700, I start looking for the hidden TV cameras. Today, not only will we be looking at exactly that, but a pretty cool smart watch as well, both from the young brand William L. 1985.

The Contender

Through the end of their Kickstarter campaign on March 31st, supporters can pledge the new William L. 1985 Automatic Chronograph for $619. Yes you read that right, SIX HUNDRED AND NINETEEN DOLLARS for an automatic chronograph movement with a column wheel and vertical clutch. Even if you’re not big on chronographs, that’s just too tantalizing to ignore. The project is already fully funded but there’s still time to get in on an amazing deal.

From a design perspective, the piece is clearly vintage inspired, but doesn’t bring much in terms of new aesthetics to the table. For you anti-daters out there, or if you just don’t like a date window at 4:30 (like me), the watch is also being offered sans-date window. The design is not offensive in any way. It just kind of blends in with a rather large crowd of vintage inspired time pieces. That is, until you realize what’s packed inside.

Seiko’s NE88a was released several years ago, coincidentally not long after the Swatch Group announced that it would start limiting sales of its ETA-owned movements to entities outside the group. With the Valjoux 7750 being the most commonly used off-the-shelf automatic chronograph movement in the industry (and Sellitta not able to produce the SW500 in sufficient quantities), a new offering was desperately needed. All of these details make it all the more puzzling that the NE88a is still such a rare bird in the marketplace today.

The Seiko offers a 3, 6, 9 tri-compax layout. In my eyes this is cleaner and a bit more elegant looking than the 6, 9, 12 layout of the 7750 that you see everywhere these days. It also offers a sharper, more positive feel to the pushers than the lever operated system in the Valjoux. In the case of the watch that I had on loan from William L., the movement underpins a black dial with vintage creme-colored Arabic numerals. The outer track consists of a tachymeter scale, which contrary to popular belief can measure anything on a per hour basis, not just speed. Inboard of the tachymeter is a less frequently encountered telemeter scale used to measure distance to a sound – loads of fun in a thunder storm I must say.

On the wrist the 41mm case wears quite nicely on the included leather strap with quick release integrated spring bars. Other options in this department include a canvas strap, silicone strap, mesh metal bracelet, or a 3-link metal bracelet. The case itself comes in brushed 316L stainless steel or IP coated in either black or rose gold. The angled bezel is polished. Additional dial variants include white, blue, panda, and reverse panda, all with or without the date window. While the double domed sapphire crystal is treated to an anti-reflective coating on both sides (something else quite uncommon at this price point), the rather tall dome gives off significant reflection, no doubt exacerbated by the black dial on this specific model. Around back is another sapphire crystal showing off the NE88a movement inside.

And In This Corner

When it comes to smart watches, well, let’s just say I’m not overly enthusiastic. I had an Apple Watch Version 2 for about a month and decided it wasn’t for me, and nothing else since then has enticed me to have a second look at this particular technology. That being said, if I were to look at some sort of smart watch/activity tracking device, I’d look at something like the new William L. 1985 Chrono Smartwatch.

I like the Chrono Smartwatch specifically for the fact that it looks like a classic dress watch. Not until you look closely at the outer rehaut do you start finding clues that this is indeed more than just a watch. The appearance of “ALM”, “MSG”, “CALL”, and “FIND PHONE” offer clues that there’s more going on here than simple time telling. Indeed, by pairing the watch with an app on your mobile phone you gain access to several smart watch features such as automatic time syncing, activity tracking and sleep monitoring, Find My Phone capability, remote camera shutter, battery life, etc. The remote shutter was one of the few features on my Apple Watch that I used consistently, so its inclusion here is a big plus. Speaking of batteries, there’s no charging necessary. The Chrono Smartwatch is powered by a standard CR2025 coin battery and promises 18 months of use under normal conditions.

Something that tended to rub me the wrong way with the Apple Watch was the fact that not only was my phone ringing and vibrating in my pocket, but the watch was doing the same thing on my wrist. This was just unnecessary redundancy. The story here is similar. An incoming phone call is accompanied by a vibration, a blinking red LED cleverly hidden under either the 3, 6, 9, or 12 index, and the seconds hand pointing to “CALL” on the rehaut (or “MSG” for incoming text messages) for about 2 seconds before returning to its normal function of ticking off the passing seconds. I suppose if my phone were in silent mode and not on my person, these might be convenient alerts. Then again, if I’ve put the phone in silent mode, it’s likely I’ve done it for a reason and really don’t want to be disturbed.

Adding to the coolness factor of the Chrono Smartwatch is the method in which it indicates the day and date. Press the pusher at 2 o’clock once and the seconds hand swings to “DATE” on the rehaut. Leave it alone and two seconds later it will point to the date on the inner ring numbered 1-31. However, if after swinging to point to “DATE” you again press the 2 o’clock pusher, the seconds hand swings to “DAY”, and two seconds later points to the proper day of the week on the rehaut. While it takes a bit longer to glean the day and date this way versus a simple day/date window, it’s considerably more entertaining. Pressing the 4 o’clock pusher activates the Find My Phone feature. This one I used on more than a couple of occasions after misplacing my phone – great feature in my book.

For those looking for the smartwatch features in a slightly more toned down package, William L. is also offering a simpler model without the day/date functionality or the two chronograph-style pushers. You still get all of the smartwatch features with the watch paired to the app on your phone, but in a slightly cleaner dial. As opposed to the sapphire crystal on the Automatic Chronograph, mineral glass is used on the two Smartwatch models to keep the price down.

Both the standard and Chrono Smartwatches are available in the same three case finishes and strap/bracelet choices as the Automatic Chronograph, and with a black or white dial. At 40mm the size is just about right for anyone. The standard Smartwatch rings in at $123 at the lowest price level in the campaign, while the Chrono Smartwatch starts at $172.

My impression after wearing both the Automatic Chronograph and the Chrono Smartwatch over a period of about five days was that both were well made, comfortable, nice looking watches. Convincing me that a smart watch is a necessary piece of technology is still a tough sell, but I’d consider giving something like this a try. The Automatic Chronograph, on the other hand, is a slam dunk in my humble opinion. Its pleasing vintage looks, moderate case size, and fantasic movement make it a hands-down winner. I’ll take mine in a reverse panda dial with stainless steel case on a metal bracelet please.

Click here for Kickstarter link


  • Brand & Model: William L. 1985 Automatic Chronograph, Chrono Smartwatch, Smartwatch
  • Price: $619/$172/$123
  • Who we think they might be for: The automatic chronograph is for every single watch lover out there. The smart watches appeal to those who are interested in the technology but still want the look of a classic dress watch.
  • Would I buy one for myself: The Automatic Chronograph in a heartbeat. Still a tough sell for me on the smart watches, but even I’ll admit that this is an excellent way to incorporate the technology into a handsome wrist watch.
  • If I could make one design suggestion, it would be: Decrease the dome size to reduce reflection.
  • What spoke to me the most about these watches: An automatic column wheel, vertical clutch chronograph is pretty much unheard of at this price point, and the styling of the Smartwatch models is excellent.

Technical Specifications

  • Material: Stainless steel
  • Size: 41mm for Automatic Chronograph, 40mm for Smartwatch models.
  • Crystal: Sapphire on Automatic Chronograph, Mineral on Smartwatch models.
  • Case Back: Sapphire on Automatic Chronograph, Solid on Smartwatch models
  • Water Resistance: 10 atm
  • Inter-lug Width: 20mm

ByEric Boucher

Up until recently I was a prolific collector of watches of all shapes and sizes, and an obsessive reader of all the major watch blogs and forums. Now, I’m sure much to the regret of John, Patrick, Victor, and the rest of the contributors here on WWR, I have the privilege of writing my own reviews for other watch geeks to read. Hope you enjoy what I have to say, and if you don't, that's perfectly ok too! You can also find me on Instagram at @ranchracer.

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