August 20, 2022
by David Bredan
In short: yes. Yes, I think you should absolutely add the Casio A159WAD-1D to your collection. Why? Well, there’s lots to that, and it’s not just its affordable pricing at $70 – settling even lower still, at around $35 at Walmart, Amazon, and other places. Introduced in 2018, the Casio A159WAD-1D is a diamond-set variation within the A159 line from the brand’s “Casio Retro” collection of vintage-inspired watches. (Hey, if you care about collection structuring and pedigree of luxury watches, why not let this A159 get the same love?) Let’s see then, how this “little watch that could” measures up, and why I simply can’t stop wearing it lately.
Watch enthusiasts — not all, but certainly many of us — tend to gravitate toward enigmatic brands and watches as we progress through the development of our watch collecting habits and desires. At some point or another, a quick glance at a watch will tell you more than it once used to — you’ll be able to quickly and accurately assess the refinement of its case and bracelet, dial, and hands, and know its movement by heart. It is at this point that we might wish to look for something more about the whys and hows behind a particular reference, collection, or brand.
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Interestingly, in this case, both the brand and the reference are rather mysterious. Let’s begin with the former, briefly. You see, in 2016, Ariel had the privilege to visit some of Casio’s amazing G-Shock manufacturing and testing facilities in Japan, revealing impressive automatization, production, and testing procedures. But Casio is different from Casio G-Shock because Casio makes millions of watches like the A159 – this lightweight, square, battery-powered digital watch with a price tag in the low tens, not even low hundreds, of U.S. dollars. Sure, we can probably imagine huge machines stamping bezels and cases from cheap, tin-like “resin” and casebacks from stainless steel, but the way millions of circuit boards and bracelet links and tiny buttons come together into a ready-to-wear $35 watch is a mystery to most of us working outside the impressive field of consumer goods mass production. So, from the way these are made to the number in which they are made, there is a lot to wonder about at a brand level — but that is really just the beginning.
Then, there is the watch itself, and this is where the fun begins. First things first — let’s clarify what it is we are looking at. The Casio A159WAD-1D measures 36.8mm by 33.2mm, is just 9.7mm-thick, and only weighs 45g or 1.58 ounces. Pick it up, and the apparently five-piece link bracelet loudly rattles, not just at its loose ends around the open clasp but even in between the lugs. The endlinks are made with such generous tolerance levels that the entire bracelet jiggles between the lugs as it slides on the spring bar. Despite the cheap rattle and the fact that a single link from a Rolex Oyster bracelet feels more robust and more expensive than this entire contraption, you still don’t get the impression that it’s going to disintegrate or fall off your wrist anytime soon. It just feels like an old Rolex that’s already been worn for 20-30 years. The plus side? Like so many loose bracelets, this one is also very comfortable, as it follows the curvature of the wrist more willingly. While your mileage may vary, I experienced no hairpulling during wear – surprising news, in truth, as I was expecting lots of it. Putting the watch on is when it might occur momentarily, but never once while wearing it.
The square LCD display is as retro as it is clear and legible. It’s shockingly clear (even if in some photographs it might appear to have less contrast between the active and inactive parts of the display). In fact, this is the most legible watch that I currently own, winning this rather important competition by a considerable margin. At night, the laughably bad “LED” light tucked into the left side of the display serves as a stark reminder of the 35-dollar price tag: its faint green light barely reaches the hour display, with some light-bleed making it over to the minutes. To be fair, when conditions are so dark that the display can’t be read without the light’s assistance, time can be read in its entirety – but during twilight, or in a poorly lit staircase, you’ll probably miss some good old Super-LumiNova or, to be more on point, some Timex Indiglo goodness.
And yet, the Casio A159WAD-1D is full of redeeming features. Again, the brilliance of its daytime legibility cannot be overemphasized, which is an essential element of a proper watch at any price point. Luxury watches costing a thousand times more often come with a reflective dial, crystal, and hands, requiring migraine-inducing effort to differentiate the hands and their reflections from the fancy dial textures. And, thanks to its light weight and flexible bracelet, it’s easily more comfortable than 300m or 600m (desk) diver’s watches that weigh literally five times as this does and painfully wobble around the wrist at every movement. This little Casio is both comfy and legible, and that nudges it yet closer to being a proper watch, ideally suited for daily wear.
Okay, it’s time we got to the diamonds already. Because the most interesting thing about this watch does not concern its surprisingly great legibility or acceptable wrist feel. It’s unique to this particular Casio A159WAD-1D reference (and three other models, its gold-colored alternative, the A159WGED-1, and two smaller versions, namely the LA670WEAD-1EF and LA-670WGAD-1D): the two diamonds displayed rather prominently on above and below the display, under a front glass element faceted in a way that mimics a diamond.
Diamonds on watches are something normally associated with prices at least in the low thousands, but more generally with five- and six-figure price tags. To some, they represent status, added value, craftsmanship or… Did we mention, status? To find precious stones in a Casio watch, and especially a very cheap one at that, is as fun as it is mysterious. If you are aware of diamond-set (factory-set, that is) Casio watches from before 2018, I’d love to see them — but here it sure makes me wonder whether this is just a fashion move by Casio, performed in the hopes of attracting the bijoux-fiend customer — or, and I might be over-thinking this thanks to my decade-long involvement with the luxury watch industry, if this is Casio teasing high-end watchmakers and their often stratospheric price hikes on diamond-set watches.
Whereas it might not make you like diamonds if you don’t already, there really are no two ways around this: The Casio A159WAD-1D is a factory diamond-set watch. As such, there’s a solid chance of it boasting exactly two more diamonds than any of the luxury watches your peers are wearing at any given time, and at a time when watches are so often reduced to bragging rights, to see a popular weapon of choice from the bragging wars, reduced to a $35 level. Sure, cheap natural diamonds are used on various cutting and drilling tools, and these two tiny stones are definitely more “industrial grade” than “investment grade” — but to talk about that, at this price, really would be missing the joke entirely.
Casio clarifies on its official home page: “Natural diamonds: The diamonds used for certain models are natural products that have been purchased in compliance with the United Nations resolutions, from legitimate sources that are not involved in the funding of conflict. No synthetic diamonds are used.” So, unlike many Swiss watchmakers, Casio is open about at least some details concerning the sources of its diamonds, as well as about their natural origins. A watchuseek forum user even claims to have downloaded a diamond certificate based on the instructions that came with his watch. There might be some market-specific differences, as I could not replicate this, so take that for whatever it’s worth, especially on a watch at this price point.
When wearing the Casio A159WAD-1D around, its faceted front glass (forget sapphire crystal, it’s scratchy “resin glass”) is almost as much fun to look at, as it is to try and catch the light in one of the facets of the diamonds. Although they are sitting lower and behind the front glass, there still is a chance to catch a reflection not just on the top facet (called the table), but also in the angled row of facets, called the crown. The relatively small case looks good against my 6.8″ (17cm) circumference wrist, while the balance between reflections on the glass and bezel, as well as between the black display surround and texts, is all well managed.
Made in Japan, boasting a +/-30 second accuracy per month and a seven-year battery life on a CR2016, the Casio A159WAD-1D is a diamond in the rough, a bit of a gem that is likely to be a fun addition to your collection. Retail prices for the various diamond-set Casio watches range between $70 USD and $90 USD, but are normally available for considerably less. You can learn more at the brand’s website here, although this piece is not available in every market.