Seals Watch Co. rumbled onto the microbrand scene back in 2015 with the Model A and Model C — field watches that took design inspiration from military tanks of the 1940s. That was a welcome move from a young microbrand, charging into the fray with a unique, untested design. In its third major release, Seals forgoes the vintage military inspiration with a more accessible and easily wearable modern sport watch: the Dark Seal. The model name is neither eponymous nor a nod toward the elite Naval force (or a certain masked avenger). Rather, the Dark Seal is named after a large harbor seal on Catalina Island, California, whom the brand’s founder befriended with regular offerings of frozen fish. Those free lunches were repaid handsomely when a massive shark began trailing Michael Seals’ skiff, forcing him to make a frantic run for the coastline. The dark seal appeared, drawing the shark’s attention and luring it away from the skiff, saving Seals from an apparently imminent shark attack. That would have made a fantastic engraving on the caseback, but we’ll have to content ourselves with a badass story and model name.
So, we’ve covered the inspiration behind the name, but how about the design? Michael Seals is quick to credit the late, great Gerald Genta and those design cues are easy to spot — the broad, brushed bezel echoes classic Genta designs, such as the Patek Philippe Nautilus or Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. The markers and hands also pay tribute to Genta’s design language, though, when I look at the dial, I personally see more of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual or Milgauss (especially with the orange accents and seconds hand).
While the design isn’t as striking and original as the brand’s first two releases, the elements work together without feeling overly derivative or falling into the ever-controversial “homage” category. Like all the watches from which it draws inspiration, the Dark Seal falls squarely into the dressy sport watch category. With its mix of brushed and polished surfaces, high-polish hands and applied markers, it’s a watch that’s easy to dress up or down, and the 200m water resistance gives it even more GADA appeal (go anywhere, do anything). To be clear, there are other watches from companies big and small that produce watches with this same general template, but I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing; it’s a formula that works for daily-wear timepieces.
The trick is taking this simple formula, differentiating it enough to have a character all its own, but maintaining a cohesive design. And simplicity can be extremely challenging to do well—think of the difference between NOMOS designs and those of any number of brands attempting to imitate a Bauhaus aesthetic. In such a constrained design space, miscues become amplified and jarring. Let’s get down to the details and see if Seals got the formula right.
It’s incredible how one small change can alter the entire personality and desirability of a watch. The Seals Watch Co. Dark Seal is available in two primary iterations, one that sports a 12-hour rotating bezel and the other with a fixed bezel. When I first saw photos of the 12-hour bezel version, for one reason or another, it didn’t resonate with me. But when photos of the fixed bezel started popping up in social media, I was smitten. The broad bezel with deep vertical brushing flanked by polished and angled sides, coupled with bursts of orange — this version immediately clicked, and I was hooked. In every other way, this is the exact same watch, but one change completely transformed the watch into something I needed to see on my wrist.
Getting into the details of the case, you can quickly tell that Seals is a dyed-in-the-wool “watch guy.” This watch is 40mm in diameter with 20mm lugs, is 48mm lug-to-lug, and has 200m of water resistance, a large (but not too large) engraved screw-down crown, domed sapphire crystal, drilled lugs for easy strap changes, and a healthy mix of brushed and polished surfaces. It checks all the boxes for a modern sport watch. Add in the little details, like curved spring bars and a small notch on the case between the lugs to avoid strap wear, and you can tell that the case was thoroughly conceived to address all the piddly little issues we watch types get worked up about.
On my 6.75” wrist, the case snugs right into my sport watch sweet spot. The lugs slope nicely and, coupled with the relatively short lug-to-lug length, provide a secure fit with no overhang. It’s a comfortable watch and one that’s easy to wear day in and day out. The mix of polished and brushed surfaces, beveling on the lugs, and elegant curves of the case all serve to dress up the watch, especially when combined with a leather strap. The fit and finish on the case is impressive for this price-point, and it’s clear that Seals Watch Co. has found a quality case manufacturer and worked extensively through the prototyping process to get all the little details right. My only tiny quibble is with the height of the case, but given that it’s a perfectly reasonably 12.4mm, I almost feel guilty saying that. Still, I’d love to see a future version bring that height down to around 11mm. That said, if it’s a matter of trade-offs, I’ll gladly take the 200m WR over any height reduction. Overall, the case and finishing are excellent, especially considering the price.
Flipping the watch over, the caseback eschews detailed engravings and technical specs, instead simply featuring a large logo and brand name. There’s nothing wrong with the caseback, but nothing exciting either. After learning the story about the harbor seal, now I really want to see a big old seal on the caseback. Sharks on casebacks are a dime a dozen, but a seal facing off against a shark, now that’s something I’d pay extra for!
Dial and Hands
Clean is the word when it comes to the dial. No Arabic numerals, no date, no superfluity. Text is kept to a minimum, with only the brand’s name and logo at 12 o’clock and almost no extraneous design elements. Set on a matte black dial (I’d say it’s an earthy black rather than an inky black), the hour markers are applied polished rectangles filled with BGW9 Super-LumiNova. The only deviation on this theme is a diamond marker that sits at 12 o’clock, a design cue that integrates with the other geometric elements like the hexagonal logo and counterbalance on the orange seconds hand — a little addition that I quite enjoy. The seconds hand is complemented by small orange highlights flanking the hour markers. Though the orange highlights may be the most derivative design element, they also provide a visually striking contrast to an otherwise austere design. If you’re not so keen on orange, the Dark Seal is available in several other colorways, including black, black with blue accents, and a blue dial. For my taste, orange is the way to go. That said, one thing I’d like to see is a deeper, more saturated dial color. An inkier, lacquer black would bring the dressiness of the piece to the fore — an option that would likely work best for versions without the colored accents. Since I’m dreaming up options here, I’d also love to see gilt accents on that dial.