It’s sometimes said that best cheap copy watches are an investment. In many cases, that’s true, but you tend to have to lay out at least a few thousands dollars to obtain a timepiece that’s likely to appreciate in value over time — or even maintain its value.
Some investment watches are quite durable. The classic Rolex Submariner, made mostly of high-grade stainless steel, leaps to mind.
But some people don’t want an investment watch. They simply want a solid, versatile timepiece that can, as we once said of the venerable Timex, take a licking and keep on ticking. Imagine a weekend watch that can go to the beach, be taken swimming and camping, or just be a companion when doing yard work.
A good choice for that duty is what I call the “tactical” watch, because it’s designed with military use in mind. Or at least, the rigors that a soldier or sailor might face.
Perhaps the most famous tactical watch is the Casio G-Shock, but digital watches have fallen out of vogue. So here’s a new option: the Reactor Gryphon.
At $350, this isn’t a cheap replica watch. But that isn’t crazy pricey, either, for an incredibly solid piece that’s designed and built to function well in all kinds of conditions. Reactor is playing in the same ballpark with Luminox, a company that manufactures a popular tactical watch that’s associated with the Navy Seals.
Reactor let me borrow a Gryphon, and I wore it do as many things as I could think of. I got it wet, took it out to drive sports cars, made it my go-to weekend timepiece, and even found some ways to wear it under dressier circumstances, thanks to its bold orange face, which jazzed up some outfits.
I also chatted with Reactor’s founder, Jimmy Olmes, whose previous foray into the horology business was with Freestyle, a surfing brand.
Olmes explained that Reactor’s approach has been to design replica watches that can be sold profitably and to construct around the watches a business that provides value for the consumers and takes some of the heat off retailers.
“Our business in amazingly good, in a difficult watch market,” he said.
The keys are to combat widespread discounting by guaranteeing dealer margins; to speed up the service cycle from six-to-ten weeks to 48 hours by using Reactor’s service center; and to avoid over-distributing Reactor watches so that they don’t blend in with everybody else.
Reactor sells a wide range of watches, not just tactical pieces such as the Gryphon. There are styles that will appeal to both men and women, to everyone from armchair quarterbacks to serious outdoors folks.
What’s cool about the Gryphon is that it’s actually a watch inside a watch. To provide a depth rating of 200M/660 ft., the guts of the watch, including a quartz movement with a 10-year battery, were encased in stainless steel, while the exterior of the watch was crafted from a lightweight polymer borrowed from the firearms business. The crown screws down.
It has a nice, thick nylon-and-rubber strap with laser-cut holes, and although at 42mm it’s a a chunky watch on paper, it doesn’t wear that big. The Gryphon also has the best lume of any sport or tactical watch I’ve ever seen, thanks to a substance Reactor calls NeverDark. The only watch I own that glows anywhere near as bright in very low light or complete darkness is my Seiko Diver, a legend for its lume.
The unidirectional bezel clicks solidly and precisely, and the face is quite legible. There’s a small date window at six o’clock, and timekeeping was very precise. Importantly, the Gryphon was comfortable to wear all day, rain or shine, hot or cold.
This is a serious watch, at a reasonable price for the build quality and the thought that went into its design. I didn’t punish it, but I could. It would also look good if it were a little beat-up, a strong test for any sport watch. And if I were headed out for camping, rafting, climbing, or hiking, this would be my go-to watch.