The Daily Valet. - 2/17/24, Saturday

Weekend of February 17th
Cory Ohlendorf  
By Cory Ohlendorf, Valet. Editor
Writer Evan Malachosky gives us a peek inside an interesting sub-genre within the watch world.

Weekend Reading

Homage Horology


Diving into the wild world of Seiko mods


Like most people, I have an eye for things I cannot afford: seven-figure houses in the neighborhood over, perfectly restored retro SUVs, and watches that cost as much as a semester at any respectable university. Will I buy any of these? Surely—one day, I tell myself. In the interim, though, I settle for affordable alternatives that satiate my appetite for the, well, luxurious things in life.

My Hyundai is pretty comfortable with all the bells and whistles. So is the two-bedroom house my fiancée and I are renting. It's got a hell of a backyard, bars and restaurants within walking distance, and a spacious driveway—a rarity for my neighborhood. And the landlord is pretty lenient with what we can and cannot do to the place. (Anybody want to help us paint?)

That said, I still want something fancy to tell the time, even if my iPhone does it with unparalleled precision. The object of my desire? A Paul Newman Daytona, which can fetch as much as $17.8 million at auction, or even a Rolex Explorer II, which feels affordable in contrast: roughly $13,000 on resale sites like Chrono24. But still, my fiancée wouldn't love it if I mortgaged our, well, future mortgage on a timepiece.

As such, I settle for, as I said, affordable alternatives. The Zodiac Olympos for black-tie events; though I'm sometimes ashamed to admit it, an Apple Watch for my workouts; and a slew of Seiko mods to appease my interest in Rolex watches until I can, as everyone hopes, one day afford one.

What exactly is a Seiko mod, you ask? For those unfamiliar, they're watches built in the style of pricier, well-known reference numbers using aftermarket parts and a modified Seiko movement—typically the NH35 or NH38A. From the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak to the Rolex DateJust, Daytona, and Submariner, to the Cartier Santos, there are endless “homages” available from “certified” modders and upstart operations alike, whether on their own site, Etsy or eBay.

No, you don't get the factory warranty, or the brand-to-buyer connection, but these watches are oftentimes indistinguishable, at least from an arm's length away. Up close, watch experts can pinpoint the differences: the Seiko logo, for example, in place of Rolex or Cartier, and perhaps some subpar finishings or an off bracelet. But for most, these watches are as close to “luxury” as it gets—or as they can afford. And there's a whole community around it now. The Seiko mod subreddit boasts over 50,000 active members at the moment.

Photography by Evan Malachosky

When mine arrived in need of a size adjustment, even my local independent jeweler was impressed. “Look at this” he yelled to his co-owner, raising my black-and-blue Seiko Batgirl (Reference Number 126710BLNR). “It's fake,” his counterpart replied. “Sure,”; he responded, “But they're getting damn good with these,” gesturing its heft as he inspected its dial. The two took a second to admire it before removing the links required to make it fit my admittedly slender wrist.

For the fashion-minded, Seiko mods are a step up from mimicry, at least in quality. For Jon Alan, aka @jonsjawns, his go-to is a Vintage Seiko NH35 Mod, which is based on a Rolex Submariner. “I was wearing a $40 Sub knockoff for over a year and decided I wanted something a bit higher quality,” he says. “When looking for a new watch, I found a lot of weird options that definitely felt like 'knockoffs,' too, but when I came across the mods they really felt authentic in their celebration of the Submariner. Also the price point was exactly what I was looking for.”

“Celebration”—hmm ... I'm sure this isn't exactly what Rolex or Cartier would call the models they see available via Mr Wolf Watch Mods, an Australian modder with a rich catalog of his own homages priced between $300 and $600. In terms of modders, Mr Wolf is about as good as it gets. There are others on eBay, where I've bought both of mine, but Mr Wolf offers an added layer of assurance, and speedy customer service should anything go wrong with your watch.

“Anyone can decide for themselves what they feel is a fake or an homage, but for me these feel like an homage,”Alan says. He loves his mod, and wears it with almost everything—and documents it proudly on his Instagram, where he posts polished fit pics regularly. “The quality of the piece doesn't feel like it's trying to trick customers.”

That's the difference maker, in my opinion, which separates the watches Jon and I own from the ones sold in shady market stalls or on street corners. These are not fakes—they're homages, “celebrations”. Most times, they call out the very reference number they're inspired by. There's no cockeyed Rolex logo, misaligned indices, or plastic elements. For what it's worth, most modders want to be taken seriously, not to take advantage, and in an industry where prices rise daily and watches become harder and harder to buy directly from the brand, I, for one, welcome the mods. So does Jon.

“I've only had positive feedback about it because it's all there in the quality of the construction,” he says. “I showed it to a friend of mine who has a Sub and there were obvious differences, but they felt it was a great piece especially at the price point. It makes me question whether I should even save up for a Rolex. I'm sure that will ignite ire from the experts, but I don't care. It feels good, looks good, and is well made.”

As he mentions, mods may stop some buyers short in their process of ranking up from Timex to Rolex. (Sorry, Timex—no knock on your products; I love my old J.Crew collab from 2011. It's still ticking.) That's a problem for the big brands, but probably a drop in the bucket, if you ask me. As most have made abundantly clear, they care most about their super-shoppers—the ones with watch boxes and rolls full of their reference numbers, not the Average Joe saving for their first, and likely last, purchase.


To be fair, though, the brands aren't just being selective—they're going through shortages, too. “Rolex scarcity isn't new, but it's increasingly extreme,” watch writer Zen Love explained last year. Love points out that many believe the problem started in 2016 and has been exacerbated by the rise in online interest for such watches, which drew margin-hungry resellers into the fold.

In a rare statement, Rolex confirmed it was not their intent to posit scarcity in order to increase demand. In fact, doing so would be bad for business, they explained. “The scarcity of our products is not a strategy on our part.” In fact, it's easy to understand why the brand might fall a bit behind: Rolex makes every single element of its watches in-house, something that cannot be said for all brands, especially at this scale.

That said, those upset about Rolex supply chain problems are probably not the ones buying mods anyway, which all but confirms they're separate markets, albeit with obvious aesthetic-based overlaps. Sure, I know of the problems Rolex is facing, but they in no way affect my day-to-day. I'm sticking with my Hyundai, my half-painted rental house, and the two mods on my desk—the aforementioned Batgirl and the Seiko Submariner Super Dome—all of which I'm quite happy with.

Build Your Own has an online configurator, which allows you to customize your mod, swapping in everything from bezels and dials, to hands and straps. You can play around and price out your selections and once you're satisfied, simply add to cart. You'll have to build it yourself, though, or find a local watch shop willing to put it together for you.