No, it doesn’t have night vision, a breaching device or a micro folding knife, but the Smith and Bradley Sans 13 tactical watch features more purpose driven design than half of what we might call “tactical” today. Besides, it’s National Tactical Officers Association NOTA tested and recommended. What more could you ask for? Okay, a SHWAT™ review… Its rugged yet simple good looks have spurred comments in some of my sneak peak photos pushed out on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. There really is more to this watch than good looks and a true law enforcement pedigree. This is an American success story launched on Kickstarter.
This isn’t a watch designed by some New York, Hong Kong or European fashionista. Many of the design priorities for the Sans 13 watch come from founder Jerommie Smith’s 17 years in law enforcement. During that time he developed a passion for working on watches, everything from 1930’s vintage mechanical watches to Omegas and Rolex. He and his co-founder, attorney Ryan Bradley, spent years assessing their favorite watches and features. The next steps were natural – design a watch and create a company to build and sell it. Smith went back to his law enforcement roots to design the Sans 13.
While Smith might not put great looks at the top of the parameter list, what prospects does a dog ugly watch have in a demanding market? While tastes may vary, the response we’ve gotten to pictures of the watch and in person comments have been universally positive. I was in a restaurant in Austin, Texas and as I was preparing to order, the waiter inquired about the good looking watch on my wrist. Maybe he was simply after a good tip, and he got one, but I’m usually less cynical than that.
Obviously, Smith and Bradley needed the tactical watch to be tough enough to survive getting banged around during high risk scenarios. To my way of thinking, keeping a watch on my wrist is a big part of that first priority. While walking across multiple lanes of traffic from the rental car garage to the terminal building in the Atlanta airport, I had a solid dive watch get caught on my luggage. One of the spring bars holding the band to watch gave way. Huge bummer.
Smith and Bradley addressed that issue by using actual screws to attach the band to the lugs. I’d call that a win for the end user. The band itself is 3/16 of an inch thick and made of natural rubber. It’s extremely flexible, yet holds its shape nicely. The 3/4 inch width seems about right to me and leaves room for the Smith and Bradley logo. It’s an admittedly classy logo, even in black rubber. Need a softer and lighter strap? They offer a 20 mm G10 band, sometimes mistakenly referred to as NATO straps. Originally created by the British Ministry of Defense for watches worn in conflict, their most conspicuous wearer may have been James Bond.
With the watch firmly attached to the wrist, we need to be able to read it. The black ratcheting, rotating bezel has large bold number markings and a triangle pointer at the zero minute position. A stainless steel bezel will be available soon after this is published. The numbers are easily read in the daylight and the pointer glows in darkness. The knurled bezel is solid, and easy to use for timing steaks on the grill with or without gloves. But who’d use gloves….?
What we want to read most of the time is on the inside of the watch, so a super clear crystal is important. Some watch makers use a mineral crystal to achieve this and save money, but those crystals can be scratched easily, making viewing more difficult over time. For the Sans 13 watch, Smith and Bradley opted instead for the far superior Sapphire crystal. This synthetic is super hard, cut by diamond coated saws and then polished. Ostensibly, it should stay essentially scratch free for a lifetime.
Under the sapphire crystal are white on black hour and minute indicators and date window. The twelve hour numbers are large and easy to read, the twenty four hour clock numbers and date could be tough to read for the forty-plus crowd. Personally, I wish they’d kept the original magnified date window on the watch, but most of the responders to the market research said to lose it. It’s in the 24 hour numbering that we discover the source of the Sans 13 watch name – Smith and Bradley left off the number 13 at the 1:00 position (thus, the “Sans 13” nomenclature). Maybe hotels are next in their portfolio.
In addition to the numerical time designators, there are 60 hash marks indicating seconds or minutes. Starting at 12:00 there’s a bolder hash mark every five minutes. Like the pointer on the bezel, these oversized hashmarks are illuminated in darkness along with the hands of the watch. And that brings up one of the core design features of the Sans 13. Founders Ryan Bradley and Jerommie Smith conducted hundreds of interviews with field users, focusing on Law Enforcement. A consistent complaint about watches with illuminated features was brightness – too much brightness. Bright enough that officers would remove their watches before entering into a dark risky environment to avoid becoming a self identified target. That might sound crazy, but if a bad guy is hiding in the dark with eyes accustomed to the darkness, a brightly glowing time piece can turn into an early warning system for the wrong team.
To mitigate the over bearing brightness often associated with tritium tubes found on some tactical watches, Smith and Bradley chose a propriety paint that not only reduces the overall visual signature in the dark, but also is lighter weight than tritium filled tubes used by others. That pays dividends in keeping accurate time. Some big name brands are known to drag due to the heavier weight on the hands. If you think that sounds crazy, the next piece will really mess you up.
Inside watch movements there’s friction, and where there’s friction there’s heat. While smaller movements are cheaper, high end full sized swiss movements like the Ronda used in the Sans 13 watch dissipate heat better through the use of larger gears. Jewels in a watch movement replace metal friction points that would need oil to minimize friction. Four jewels are used in this watch movement, and the bearings are synthetic rubies.
Further to the back of the watch is the battery. It should last 42 months, while the watch should last a lifetime. The back is polished stainless steel, largely impervious to sweat which will have a negative effect on most finishes when worn against the skin over time.
The black watch case is PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition) coated instead of being painted or plated. The PVD process bonds coating into the metal case and cannot be scratched. That’s not to say you cannot scratch the watch, however. You can scratch the metal. I thought I’d done that with a key, but the mark rubbed right off. The case provides a crown guard to protect the otherwise vulnerable crown. The 43mm watch is slightly wider in diameter than a poker chip, about three chips tall.
In the end, the Smith and Bradley Ltd Sans 13 feels solid, looks great and does what it was intended to do. If you like the quality and features, you’ll find the $395 price point reasonable, and can throw your Trijicon ACOG in the waterproof case the watch came in. Discounts are available to military and law enforcement personnel. Looking for something more? Smith and Bradley is launching a dive watch on Kickstarter, and has plans for another tactical watch with a different feature set in the works. Perhaps one of the most impressive parts of the value proposition is that the founders sign off on every watch shipped and include their direct email addresses, making them readily accessible to every buyer. In a world where we as customers are usually not much more than a user name or ID number, that’s pretty impressive.
On the web: www.smithbradleyltd.com.