Officially launched last year in 2022, Imperial Watch Co. was founded by lifelong enthusiast Ben Berkow, who after years of modding watches as a hobby, decided to start his very own brand. From his work within the modding scene, Berkow had already gathered some experience when it came to communicating with manufacturing partners and having custom dials produced, and so he ultimately decided to take things one step further and create an entire watch that could be sold to the public. For his company’s inaugural model, Berkow chose a vintage-inspired diver, and the Imperial Watch Co. Royal Guard 200 offers a thoroughly retro-leaning design that draws from a number of different dive watches from the 1950s and 1960s, without being a recreation of any one specific model.
The case of the Imperial Watch Co. Royal Guard 200 offers an overall shape and profile that is somewhat similar to what can be found on a vintage pre-crown guard Submariner, and it measures 38mm in diameter by 14mm thick, with a lug width of 20mm and an overall lug-to-lug distance of 47mm. Part of its total thickness is due to the domed sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating that sticks up above the rim of its bezel, while the reverse side of the case gets fitted with a solid screw-down stainless steel caseback. At the 3 o’clock location is a signed crown, which has a shape that is somewhat reminiscent of the style fitted to a Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight, and it screws down to help create 200 meters of water resistance. Additionally, just as you would expect from a vintage-inspired diver, the lugs feature a thin polished bevel, along with drilled springbar holes to permit easy strap changes.
Surrounding the sapphire crystal is a unidirectional rotating bezel that features a coin-edge style rim and an aluminum insert in a faded blue/gray color. The bezel action is solid and springy with a tiny bit of natural play, and it rotates with a satisfying metallic click sound. With that in mind, the bezel rather unusually turns with a 90-click motion, rather than being the more standard 60-click or 120-click variety. Personally, I would have preferred to see either 60 or 120 clicks used for the bezel, as these numbers better correspond with the number of minutes in an hour. However, since this is a timing bezel and you are ultimately aligning the inverted triangle with the minute hand, it is far less important for the number of clicks to correspond with the number of units, compared to something like a GMT bezel that needs to be rotated to exactly align with the number of hours offset from the reference time zone. Although a 90-click bezel is a bit unusual when it comes to actually being able to align the bezel with the ever-changing position of the minute hand, 90 clicks ultimately does offer more precise alignment abilities than a bezel that rotates with a more standard 60-click motion.
When it comes to the dial and hands of the Imperial Watch Co. Royal Guard 200, there is undeniably a fairly heavy Eberhard influence, and even the brand’s logo is slightly reminiscent of what you will find on vintage Eberhard divers from the 1960s. Featuring a gloss black surface with golden yellow text and vintage-colored lume to emulate the appearance of an aged gilt dial, the overall design and layout of the Royal Guard 200’s dial are very similar to what you might find on an early Eberhard Scafograf. Consisting of a time-only display with large triangles for all four of the cardinal points and circular hour markers placed between them, the dial offers a distinct appearance compared to most other vintage divers due to the fact that its triangular markers are oriented outward, rather than pointing towards the center of the dial. Additionally, although the luminous pip on the bezel appears white in the daylight and the lume on the dial and hands is a creamy yellow color, all of it glows green in the dark, and while it doesn’t offer the torch-bright glow of something like a Seiko Monster, the large shapes of the hands and markers themselves ultimately offer plenty of low-light legibility.
Similar to the dial, the gold-finished hands on the Royal Guard 200 are reminiscent of what can be found on a vintage Eberhard diver; however, Imperial Watch Co. swaps the style of the hour and minute hands and changes up their proportions. Rather than having the hour hand be the one that has a large triangular tip, it is now the minute hand that offers this prominent feature. Additionally, the handset has been designed in such a way that the triangular tip on the minute hand and the circular luminous section on the seconds hand perfectly align with the size and shape of the hour markers as they pass over them. Admittedly, this may not be ideal when it comes to flat-out legibility, but I personally enjoy this unique detail quite a lot, and it creates a unique sense of harmony that isn’t found on any of the various divers that serve as its inspiration.
Fitted to the drilled lugs of the Imperial Watch Co. Royal Guard 200 is a stainless steel bracelet that tapers from 20mm at the lugs to 16mm where it meets the clasp. The design of the bracelet offers a similar overall appearance to something like a vintage Omega Speedmaster flat link bracelet, with its large brushed center links flanked by thinner high-polished side links. That said, the bracelet on the Royal Guard 200 offers modern build quality, with completely solid links (including nicely fitting solid end-links) and a folding clasp with a double push-button release and additional signed safety latch. Two minor drawbacks are that the removable links are secured by friction-fit pins (rather than screws), and other than four micro-adjustment sizing holes, the clasp doesn’t offer any type of integrated extension system. Even still, sizing the bracelet was a relatively painless process, and once properly fitted to my wrist, I personally found it to be quite comfortable.
Powering the Imperial Watch Co. Royal Guard 200 is the familiar Seiko NH35 automatic movement, which runs at a frequency of 21,600vph (3 Hz) with a power reserve of approximately 41 hours. The definition of a workhorse movement and universally considered to be a proven design, the Seiko NH35 is a perfect option for an affordable mechanical dive watch. However, since the NH35 is a date-displaying movement and the Royal Guard 200 is a time-only watch, there exists the inevitable “ghost position” when you pull out the crown to set the time. While I can’t imagine that anyone is exactly a fan of ghost positions (unless they plan on modding the watch and want it to have a date display), I’m really only bothered when I see them on more expensive timepieces, and it’s easy to overlook this minor irksome detail when dealing with watches such as the Imperial Watch Co. Royal Guard 200 that are priced firmly on the affordable end of the spectrum.
Arguably the single greatest strength of vintage-inspired watches is that they can offer access to fan-favorite designs that haven’t been produced for years, and they can also often do so at prices that are quite a bit less expensive than their true vintage counterparts. With an official retail price of $450 USD, the Imperial Watch Co. Royal Guard 200 certainly qualifies for the attainable category, and it is also quite a bit less expensive than any of the various vintage watches that are referenced by its design. Additionally, although the Royal Guard 200 wasn’t specifically created as a limited edition, production of this particular model has now ended and it is currently completely sold out. With that in mind, the model reviewed here was just the first timepiece from a completely new brand, and Imperial Watch Co. has since released a follow-up series of divers that are currently available for pre-order, which build upon the core design of the Royal Guard 200 but incorporate different bezel colors and the option of a date display. While this exact configuration isn’t available in the current series, the follow-up generation offers much of the same overall experience, and it makes this particular design available to anyone who may have missed out on the brand’s inaugural release. For more information on the Imperial Watch Co. Royal Guard 200, please visit the brand’s website.