Neo Vintage Gruens: Part 2

These things are crazy!

The wacky world of 90s Gruen bling

A while back I was ruminating on the 1980s – 90s era of cheap fashion watches. I spent some time on very inexpensive preowned Gruens I stumbled onto in Part 1. Well, I’m back with several more of these little zingers.

I’m still trying to get a handle on the low-end watch market at this time, since it was a time when I was not really paying attention to watches. I was raising two young boys and spending my time with things related to soccer. If I was looking at watches during the 90s, they would have been mall watches or fashion watches at department stores in the mold of what Swatch and Fossil might have made.

I certainly was not shopping online at that time, and not in jewelry stores looking at mainstream brands like Seiko, Citizen/Bulova, or Tag Heuer. I did have some watches, but I was not a “watch guy” then. I did get some watches in the 80s ans 90s, as I might have mentioned in other posts and I want to write about of those at some point.

The bigger picture at this time is where the Quartz Crises stood at this time. I am not an expert on this topic but I want to put these Gruen watches in context of the overall state of the watch industry at the time. I am having trouble determining actual dates for when these watches were made, so am putting most of them in the mid to late 90s. It is really hard to find information on Gruen watches post 1976. I don’t know when these watches were made! It could be anywhere from 1980-2000

To simplify things, quartz watches were established in the 1970s and they were not inexpensive. Through the 1980s, quartz watches became the standard. They got cheaper to make and were mostly produced in China, Hong Kong, Japan and Switzerland. Like all watches there were various levels of quality in quartz movements and in materials and build quality. The Swiss watch industry went several directions after the mechanical watch world crashed in the 1970s. By the early 80s it had consolidated to revive higher-end mechanical watches as well as various quartz watches. Throughout the 80s and 90s as off-shore quartz watch manufacturing brought prices down, the fashion watch market, al a Fossil and M.Z. Berger, Callanen International blossomed.

The cheap quartz movement became the generic disposable watch. I affectionately refer to this type of watch as the junk watch. While this was happening many of the old mechanical watch companies that had folded, like Gruen, were bought and their names, in licensing agreements, were put on these inexpensive quartz-driven products. Again, there are many levels of quality among quartz watches in the 90s. I think of the mainstream standards like Tag Heuer that are wonderful watches and not what I classify as disposable. I would love to collect 90s Tag Heuers, but even many of those are out of my price range. Even Omega had quartz Seamasters. Bulova made great watches in the 90s and I will write about my collection of Marine Stars some day.

So here we are. Lets look at some of these Gruens and break them down. I’ve got a lot more than last episode.

Mystery Bezel

Blue dial Sport at 38mm

This one is just crazy! What can I say? It was irresistible. The nice blue dial and gold details really pop. What a combination-I’ve never seen a bezel like this!? Its a cross between a dressy diver-style watch and an ancient Egyptian-influenced sun dial jewelry? I would have liked to see the design process that brought this about! The 90s two-tone is there. It looks to have been worn very little. It falls under the Sport range, which has lots of diver-styled models that are my favorites. This is only a 30m WR, so, not so sporty? It has a rotating unidirectional bezel and a round date window at 3 o’clock. Then, it has a flat tapering integrated-like bracelet with a sliding adjustable snap clasp. I always try to discern the design influences since this type of watch is usually trying to look like something higher-end than it is.

I always look at the contemporary Tag Heuers. Tag Heuer offered so many original and daring designs that they were mimicked everywhere. But, I don’t know about this one? Maybe some vague traces of ’92-93 Super 2000? ’97 6000? It coud be aspects of a 90s Breitling? The rotating bezel projections and faint octagon shape? But on this, they didn’t even bother with any marks between the projections — it looks like something is missing? It is really cheesy in a way, but at the same time compelling.

Flat bracelet, adjustable sliding clasp

Snap-on SST back with 236-2115

The quality of materials and build is pretty bad. The more you look at it the cheesier it becomes. The back informs us of a base metal “bezel”, but I’d say case too? The bracelet is a low-grade stainless. There is a tinny gold-plated crown and tiny crown guards. The rotating bezel is odd with the only markings being the numbers on the the four gold-plated half circles. That inner ring of gold plated notched squares does not rotate it is part of the case mold. On the blue sunburst dial is a tiny outer track printed in gold in what looks like 25 increments between hour markers. On this track at each applied hour maker is a tiny Arabic number counting 5 min intervals. At bottom of dial is JAPAN GR3104. I assume this means movement Japanese and maybe a Gruen watch model number? The hands have syringe points.

The bracelet is of the thin, flat link, tapered style. I’m not sure what the trade nick name is for them? You don’t take off links, but just slide catch along and tuck the excess under. Definitely has the 70s-80s dressy feel with a 7-section row, and sliding bar catch clasp. These can be tricky to use (dropped watches) until you get used to it. The basic end link does not meet the case, so there is a big enough gap and the bracelet is thinner than the lugs so that it feels like the bracelet doesn’t match the watch and case. This is a style that was prevalent in the 70s-80s available as after market replacement. I like this type of bracelet, but the squareness of it does not seem to match the curves of the watch? There is also a lack of any gold in bracelet. Got to move on!

A pair of SHARKSKIN Gruens, 37mm and 31mm

The Shark

Ok, you know these are cool. Wacky, but cool. Now we are getting back closer to a dive watch with 50m WR. Classic diver-style language in the hour marker shapes and lollipop second hand. Lumed hour markers and hands. A round date window. This great emerald green dial is a smaller 31mm case version. I have seen this watch in 31 and 38mm versions, in a few colors? I have seen black and orange dials. This black dial 37mm has the same color bezel and the smaller one but bright coral orange marks.

On this green dial we see HONG KONG and GR4698 (so small its hard to read number). This 31mm example is in great condition. On the black dial is only the number GU1960. Its back has SWISS MOVT PARTS THAI ASSEMBLY.

31mm Shark skin strap

The case has some kind of blasted finish? The rotating bezel, and buckle are base metal with a PVD coating, I think, that is a bit darker and with more shine. The Snap on back is stainless. Of course the strap is rough shark skin. Tag Heuer was offering a shark skin straps in the mid 90s.

31mm version of the SHARKSKIN
37mm version has SHARKSKIN on dial

This watch is all about the saw tooth /sharks tooth rotating bezel, with count-up Arabic numbers at ten minute intervals. This funky, bulbous case also has a slotted screw head on each stubby lug! They are purely decoration as they do not secure anything. The lugs sort of resemble a shark too, too. I did not know of any other watch that looked like this? This seemed to be an original design? But, no! There is the Zodiac Super Seawolf Buzzsaw and Seiko SCH series Sawtooth. So, this comes across as a simpler version of the Zodiac. On the Seiko, the screws on the integrated lugs actually hold on the bracelet. Though there are things copied from the Seiko, this Gruen case shape is so different and so curved, as is the bezel, while the Seiko has flat surfaces. Because of the curvature of the bezel, the teeth are not as easy to grip as you would think.

What is the purpose of this watch? Not really a tool. Just a quirky excuse to use shark skin for a bit of fun that you can get a little wet. It could be a good kids watch? At the same time, it is like a lot of Gruens at this time; a cheap copy-cat of a well-known watch.

More Conventional

Now lets look at another little 36mm Sport that I really like. This is a more mainstream appeal as a diver-styled casual watch. It has the two-tone look, but all the surfaces are satin finish and the design layout is simple. It is all more subtle than the first blue dial specimen mentioned above.

36mm grey dial Sport

It has the gold hand set and gold hour circles filled with lume. The second hand is a lumed lollipop. A round date window fits in OK with the circular hour markers. There is a slim rail road track on the perimeter. The Sport range had 50m and 100m WR models, but this one is only rated 30m WR? Its too bad, because I could see this one being worn more often for water recreational activities. I’m not sure what type of band it had originally. I put it on a simple inexpensive grey nylon NATO.

Standard Gruen SST case back data, but screw on

I really like the matte all-gold coated bezel on the matte silver case. The early 90s Tag Heuer or Zodiac diver look can be seen here, too, in the classic hand set and the matte gold bezel. The case is thin (the whole watch is less than 9mm thick) and has a matte silver PVD like coating on brass. You can see it worn off on the back image above, around the crown. The crown is gold plated.

The metallic grey faint sunburst dial matches the case finish. I always liked the grey- dialed divers by Zodiac and Tag Heuer — the toned-down look, and this has that feel, like a ’91 Tag Heuer 2000. I’m not sure what type of band it had originally. Could have been a bracelet? I put it on a simple, inexpensive grey nylon NATO. It might look good on a two tone bracelet if I can find a cheap one that has that satin sheen?

A Step Back

This next on is a classic junk watch. As much as I try to like it, I just can’t. Its bigger, at 40mm and has an integrated bracelet. It has the feature that I dislike the most in a cheap watch: a bezel that looks like it should rotate, but doesn’t! It has big gnarly protrusions on the bezel, just begging to assist in turning it.

40mm of 90s glory

I think it was the color/finish of the watch that caught my eye. It had a sort of titanium color, but in the metal it is a shiny coating that is more metallic with a mauve tinge. I like titanium watches, and any watch that is not polished or brushed stainless, but this doesn’t feel right? Compared to the last watch, it looks tacky.

Gold sections of the bracelet

The design is all over the place. Its definitely a late 90s look. Its gone from sport dive to sport space. The Tag Heuer hints are there, again. Sorry. The dial layout resembles some ’98 Series 2000 ones. The sector dial is like late ’90s Series 4000. Then there’s the sort of Super protrusions on the bezel. But, there’s no date. Maybe the designers decided with so much going on it would be too much? Or, with the cost of all the bling, they needed to cut the cost of the movement?

Snap on back with more info
Dark bronze dial

The end links of the integrated bracelet extend out a bit, but are so curved , they don’t add much lug to lug length. The stainless steel bracelet is coated all over with the same finish as the case, and has two gold highlights per link, Its running a little erratically, so maybe the battery is on the way out? Well, the whole watch will be on its way out of my collection. I just cant look at that dial for very long and the whole thing is too loud for me. Also, there’s that bezel that doesn’t turn!

Better Example

Its funny how you learn things about watches even as you start to write about them. Looking at this next one, it seems to have the same coating as the the last one, but I didn’t even notice. This example is well used, so some of the coating is worn off, especially on the bracelet, so it seems more like titanium in those spots. Overall, this watch is more up my alley.

40mm Sport, lots of gold trim and 100m WR

This is much better. This is one cheap, flimsy look-a-like I can live with. There is a lot going on here, too, but it seems more refined and purposeful. The gold and black bezel is easy to turn because the sharp corners of the gold notches are easy to grip. This gold edge of the bezel is the most prominent feature. It has a date at 3 o’clock, and a classic Tag Heuer diver hand set with lume. The dial elements are smallish. There is no lume on the dial, but lots of gold details on a charcoal grey starburst background. 12, 9 and 6, have an Arabic number and the other hours, a bar. On the perimeter of the dial is a tiny gold track. There are tiny dots at each hour mark but they don’t appear to have any lume.

Screw-on case back 241-Y142B
Almost square: 40mm x42mm

This Sport model has a 100m WR rating as well as a screw down crown and a screw on case back. The gold on black bezel insert is easy to read and I believe there is a lumed dot there! The dial state MOVEMENT JAPAN and GR1667.

Checking my Tag Heuer references, what we have here is a combination of design cues from several models. This case is different than other Gruen Sport types. Its bigger for one, so I’m thinking this one is late ’90s? It has short, almost integrated lugs giving the case a Formula1 look? The concentric circles created by gold bezel grip ring, gold on black insert, then inside pale gold dial perimeter, then black dial have traits of many ’90s Series 2000 and 4000 two tones.

This design seems like it came about by wanting all these influences but then was constrained by manufacturing processes and costs and turned out this unique design that is not a direct copy. At first glance, it is complex, like a chronograph, but it all seems more appropriate than the last watch? Still, there is the ’90s bling factor. The bezel maybe overpowers the dial a bit? The overall case size is 40mm but the crystal is only 26mm!

One-sided two-tone bracelet
Lots of bezel

The two-tone bracelet is classic 3-section Tag Heuer 2000 copy, but interesting in that the coating is only on the front side. Well, these are not solid links, of course, so all the folds and seam on the back would be tough to coat. As I mentioned in the previous watch, those links were coated on both sides. The wear can be seen where the grey and gold has worn off. But, hey, on a real Tag Heuer two tone bracelet the gold will wear off too! Another thing this bracelet has in common with some genuine Tag Heuer 2000 bracelets is the first end links at the case; the gold part is not really a separate section, but just “painted” over one sold piece of steel to make it look like three sections. You can see this when looking at old worn Tag Heuers.

Moving on we find another out there Sport that is more in the dress realm. It has a 36mm case and an integrated two-tone tapering bracelet. This one seems newer than the last 40mm and is in excellent condition. It is quite striking at first glance.

Gold on Black 36mm Sport; dressy?

This is more like the first 38mm blue dial example discussed with a flat tapering bracelet than the last 40mm one. It is that combination of sport and dress. This one maybe feels more dressy with the shinier bracelet? It is a combination of the last black/gold with the blue dial starting off. I have seen light dial versions of this watch. I don’t quite know how to categorize this one? It seems familiar…

Again we have a pretty elaborate black and gold bezel with the gold being a satin finish. The concentric circle motif continues. Starting form the outside bezel ring in gold, then the black insert, gold rehaut, finally to a black dial. I can’t figure out what contemporary watches inspired this look? It could be as far back as mid-80s Heuers. It’s bezel is familiar with the protrusions like a Tag Heuer 2000 but it has 12 instead of 6 on the T.H. The dial and hand set are more like a Zodiac Sea Dragon or Doxa? Again, this type of flat bracelet is not really seen on a diver. My T.H. copy-cat theory is not working on this guy. How much of a diver style is it?

Flat, tapered two-tone bracelet

On the dial is printed JAPAN MVMT and GR1625. The 3-section bracelet is more solid feeling and sort of shiny, but still brushed. The middle section is gold plated. Because this middle case is thin like the bracelet, they seem to work better together. The clasp is the same sliding type as the one described above, but feels more solid and has a signed clasp.

Case/lug thinkness matches bracelet
Screw on back, gold-plated crown

The prominent twelve bezel protrusions are silver tone which coordinates with the case and bracelet. The is quite a bit of slop in the bezel action. it has a tidy little case, with 30m WR. There is minimal luminant dots in side of each gold plated hour marker and on the hour and minute hands, but it is so faint that it is not of much use for more than a couple of minutes. The square date window at 3 o’clock is outlined in gold and the black numbers are on a pale gold (not white) background. Its a fun, funky little watch.

Gold Chronograph

I’ll finish this post off with a chronograph. Like most of these, there is lots of gold on this two-toner. The whole bezel is gold plated with with black Arabic numbers every 10 minutes and a small black triangle at every 5. It has a silver dial, 6,9,12 sub-dials again in gold, and a date window at 3 o’clock. The case sort of disappears behind that big gold bezel. Then you notice the brushed silver lugs and bracelet trimmed in gold.

40mm x 46mm two-tone chronograph

With the gold bezel and sub-dials the first impression is gold with a white dial, but then as you look at it longer, you start to see the brushed stainless and pale silver dial and the two-tone interplay comes about. It has a high bling factor.

I am not a big collector of chronographs. I have several Timex chronographs from the Mk1 and Allied lines in particular, but do not have much use for their functions. The ones I do have are more of an IWC look, pilot/military style, simple or subdued in colors — not gold. I always imagined that most chronographs are bought for looks rather than timer functions. It is nice to have stop watch occasionally, but I rarely need a chronograph’s functions. Most of my watches are three-hand. I don’t even think I have a GMT?

Snap-on back with 30m WR
two-tone bracelet with double clasp

I believe it uses a Japanese Hattori VD57 6-hand quartz movement. From a quick search, it appears to be readily available. The large second hand is not used for the chronograph timer. It is just a regular three-hand second sweep with lollipop for normal time keeping with sword shaped hour and minute hands. There is a second had sub-dial for that at 6 o’clock. At 9 is the minutes sub-dial that goes to 60. at 12 is the 1/10 second dial.

6, 9, 12 sub-dials and date at 3 o’clock

The information on the case back is different from all the other Gruens presented here; GU1059, 187, VD57, 927. The GU number instead of GR, could be the model number. VD57 is the movement. Not sure about the 187 or 927?

As for design influences copied, I’m not sure? Its a mix of mid 90s Tag Heuer cues; there were some 2000 series chronographs with silver dial and gold sub-dials and a 96 bracelet that is similar. The two different design features, the big gold bezel and the big triangle lume-filled hour markers are unlike any Gruen in this group and seem to be from chronographs of other brands? The bezel is similar to contemporary Zodiac ones, but those triangle hour markers leave me searching? Its a bit loud for my usual tastes, but overall the design seems to come together and its a fun way to get that luxury feel on the cheap.

This wraps up my Gruen side trip for now. Fun watches from an interesting era. As the 90s rolled into the 2000s, I seem to like the styles of many brands less. Things started getting big and ugly with less detail at the same time? I will be back to this era with my 90s Bulovas in another post.


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