40 Years of Eddie Bauer Watches, Part 1

The Wild World of Retail Branded Watches

90s Marine Sport style

Here I go again. I’m about to relate to you my collecting experiences with a body of watches that I feel somewhat uncomfortable discussing. I really like the watches, but I feel like I don’t have a firm grasp of the subject matter I want to tackle. I’m saying 40 years because I suspect the Eddie Bauer collection I own spans from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Most are probably from the mid to late 1990s. I just don’t know how to best categorize them?

Why am I collecting them? Good question. For one, they are available. Nobody wants them anymore and they are cheap. I like the two-tone Tag Heuer flavor many have and the subconscious vintage feelings they evoke. I like the little details and the rounded edges and small curves and ovals. They represent an era of watch history, that I think is largely gone — the quartz Fashion Watch heyday. Most in my collection came from Fossil and Gruen manufacturers in Hong Kong/China, but there seems to come from a wide variety of makers. No design is ever wholly original. Every designer draws on something they have seen, but these types of watches at times come close to being copies of leading brand’s popular sellers. I have seen all kinds of other crazy designs carrying the Eddie Bauer name while researching my finds. It seems the buyers were willing to go with any trend.

As I look at my collection for common themes, I see lots of white dials, two-tone gold or brass with silver, rotating bezels, with a dressy sport watch feel with diver overtones. That said, the EB watch world covers a huge spectrum of styles.

I have written about this phase while covering my Gruen collection. I see many years of Tag Heuer features blended together. They are from a time when I was not noticing watches particularly, and as I have said, during that time I had different tastes. I probably would have considered them tacky and ugly? I liked cleaner, more minimal lines then.

I find it interesting, too, that these watches were sold through Eddie Bauer, an outdoor sports focused brand. So, they should be sporty and rugged by illusion at least. In reality they are more fashion accessory than tool watch just as Eddie Bauer clothes are more fashion than function. Some of these designs even veer towards the dressy spectrum. The styles range from field watch to diver to classic. The sporting goods stores of the 60s and 70s maybe sold watches closer to tool watches. During the 80s and 90s things swung more towards quartz fashion accessories. Maybe today, maybe things a swinging back towards higher end tool watches? I’ve found the Japan quartz movements to be going strong after 25-30 years even if the cases maybe are showing their age.

What happens is I collect watches I like without knowing a lot about their history, manufacture, specifications, condition, or most importantly, their age! I want to come across as knowledgeable, but mostly just want to talk about how much I like examples from this broad group of inexpensive watches. I start to write about them and realize as I go, there are lots of things I don’t know. I also think it interesting to find out how and why a watch comes into possession. A lot of context and clarification could come if I had original prices, and dates and technical info.

I find that I learn a lot of new things about watches I have had for a while when I start to write about them! Things I never realized at the time of purchase come to me as I start to describe my findings. But, you have to start somewhere. You pick up bits and pieces over the span of time you collect the watches. I started thinking I could cover what I wanted in one post, but this is going to be a two or three part subject.

These posts usually take quite a while and are always more work than I expected because as I go along, more research entails. Write, research, update, repeat. Even after I publish, I keep updating. I try to focus on the watches that I own or have owned rather than the whole broad history of every model of watch within that category. Inevitably I have to reference examples I don’t own that leads me down the path of describing the categorizations and taxonomy of whole eras and histories. Worse yet, since I have the collecting bug, writing causes me to go and buy a watch I had seen, but didn’t buy before, so I can add the info to a post!

The first Eddie Bauer watch I got was from an “antique” store. It was what is called a 3-eye. Looks like a chronograph, but is just using sub-dials to display day and date. Its styling reminded me of several older Bulova Marine Stars I already had. The design language put it in the later 90s range. It got me starting to search for information, which is bad because then you find other examples you just have to get. Before you know it, you are telling yourself its time to stop. Its the collector’s moment of deciding that you have enough of a certain type of watch. If you want another, something has to go. Each person has their own tipping point.

Its the same when writing. At some point you have to stop writing about one watch or characteristic, or concept and move on. As I start writing about my Eddie Bauers, I will have to categorize the collection on the fly to get a framework for the post. That is something I had not really though about until now. How can I divide up the collection? Several of them are similar and most of them are from the late 90s (I think). Maybe 3-hand, sub dials, bracelets, case and/or bezel finishes, complications? Only one is a chronograph?

2-Eye and 3-Eye

Since the first one I got was a 3-Eye, let me start with these. They all have mostly, integrated bracelets. Three of four have crown guards. They all have rotating bezels. Looks like they all have mineral crystals. They have two or three sub-dials. Most are a mixture of stainless steel parts and plated base metal parts. Three of the four have gold plated details. They all have the rugged, solid character of an everyday watch. All are rated 50m WR. All have a similar polished stainless steel case back with similar etched information including that they contain a Japan (quartz) movement.

What do you call a watch like these? No, can’t call them junk.

Three of the four have bracelets indicating manufacture in Hong Kong. That is a key to as to their age. Probably made by Fossil in the glory days of the Fashion Watch. The fourth I suspect, was maybe China. It seems the newest, from maybe the post-Hong Kong era?

I prefer the older ones. They have the subtle diver-ish references to Bulova Marine Stars that they themselves borrowed from Tag Heuer divers and Breitling. In the 90s watches were still smaller, in the 37-40mm range. As the 2000s rolled by watches got bigger and uglier, in my opinion, losing details, becoming more square and details sparse, wide number styles replacing oval hour markers. I think I can order the four watches in the image above by date from just looking at the design details? The one far right, white dial, with brass-exposed bezel is probably the oldest with its Tag Heuer S/el-Link looking bracelet. Then the blue dial with boat-shaped hour markers and a bracelet moving toward the Link. Next would be the 2-eye, dials getting silver, 5-section links, numbers moving in. Bezels getting flatter. Newest is the biggest, silver dial, wide numbers, starting towards Aquaracer Omega Seamaster hands, but the bezel still hanging on to TH Super 2000/4000 look?

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Blue 3-Eye, 0493
Blue 3-Eye polished back

This was my first Eddie Bauer. Its 38mm x 49mm with a push button for back lighting sub dials. Like the blue dial and polished silver borders of boat-shaped hour markers and sub dials. With my eyesight, the sub dials are hard to read! The 9 o’clock sub dial is Day, the 3 o’clock Date, the 6 o’clock a 24-hr dial. Miyota 6R29 movement. I put in a new battery when I got it. About 6 months later, it needed another battery…The bezel reminds me again of some Tag Heuer bezels and is not easy to grip. Looking at the back you see lots of info stating 5ATM WR, old Battery number (I think), Stainless steel case back, 42102 Japan. I’m not sure what the 42102 is, but all of the watches with this type of back have that number, too? At the bottom is an interesting description of the watch and what should be the Eddie Bauer model number. In this era, it seems harder to find these blue dials as most are white?

This white dial, brass-exposed bezel may be my favorite of this bunch. It comes in at 38mm x 48mm. So, with its bracelet weight it wears pretty big. 48mm is about as big as I normally like on my wrist and it does not feel too big. Love the white dial with gold trimmed elements, but what caught my eye in online images was the brass/gold bezel. I could not tell if it was gold plating or brass finish? Once I got it I realized it was silver plating that was worn off! That brass is the base metal showing through. You can see the wear showing some brass on the back, too. But it looks great! I like bronze or brass finished, real or fake. I can’t decide if the wear was natural or the previous owner helped it along? There’s just a bit of remaining silver finish on the curves part of the bezel. The rounded teeth of the bezel still retain the gold finishing. The case shows lots of finish wear-off, too.

Intact bezel finish

The reason I decided the silver had worn of the bezel is that I saw this poor image of an online listing of a similar watch. You can see the same case, gold trim, etc. Different hour marker shape. The bezel marking is different and there are fewer teeth, but this is how mine probably looked before the wear-off. Still a good-looking watch with the Tag Heuer aesthetic.

This 2-eye, model 3786, is more modern with a flatter bezel and fat, diver-like hands. It has a silver dial and lumed numbers except where the sub dials cover the 3 and 9. The crown sticks out noticeably past the crown cards. Another odd thing is a tachymeter scale on the rehaut? That is something you usually see on a chronograph? It would be hard to use without being able to stop the second hand? You could pull out the crown to stop the second hand on 12, then push it in to start your timing.

This next 3-eye is probably the one I like least? Probably an early 2000s model, it is entering the bigger and to me, uglier era of watches in general. Case is right at 40mm wide and the first center link pieces hold it out to 50mm. It looks bigger that it is. Part of that is the width of the crystal and dial which are 2mm wider that the the earlier three. While still retaining cues form Tag Heuer, it is heading towards Link territory with its squared corners and fewer details. I kind of like the silver dial and the minimal gold trim, but I’m considering moving it out of my collection? It is working fine, and is probably the newest of this group. I think it is the post-Hong Kong time frame-probably made in China? Again, the sub dials are not that easy to read, especially the double digits on the date dial at 3 o’clock. The gold finish on the bezel, crown and bracelet is so thin and weak, it almost appears silver. It is easy to not notice them — the light has to be just right.

This 3-Eye, with Sun/Moon for Day/night display always caught my eye. I just like the design; the plain silver bezel with gold projections on side instead of teeth, like some 90s Breitlings, the gold sub dials and sun/moon on metallic white. Its just pleasing, even though, like most 3-eyes, the tiny numbers and letters on sub dials are hard to read, they are also irritating to set. It has a too-vertical crazy scale(20 increments for 5 min) on the rehaut even though the dial already has half-second marks. The 41mm x 45 mm shape/size is great. Its from the Hong Kong phase, made by Gruen/M.Z. Berger using a Miyota 4P31. So, there is probably a Gruen version of this watch out there? At 30mWR, not really outdoorsy?

This last one is my only Eddie Bauer Chronograph so far. I can’t resist the white dial, the, gold bezel and overall two-tone look of this era. Its a nice looking watch. I’m placing it in the early 1990s. I wanted to get an actual chrono, not a 3-eye, even though I’m not a big chronograph user. It has a tachymeter on its rotating bezel. This one seems to be in really good condition and is working! (for regular time at least). I have had bad luck with this type of movement from this time frame, with my Bulova Marine Stars… The info on the dial and screw-on back do not offer any data other than Made in Japan.

I have not opened it up, since it seems to be working! I’m saying its something like a Miyota 3510. It has a crown at 4 o’clock and four push buttons and a date a 6 o’clock. I’ve scoured the earth trying to find working 3S31 movement like this (without date) for a 1991 Bulova I have. They are not made any more and hard to find and relatively expensive. Most used watches I find with this type of movement are not working, and are hard to service. That’s why they are for sale!

This type of quartz chronograph, with alarm, takes a while to learn how to operate and adjust. Its a bit fussy for me, with its chimes, but if I used it regularly, I’d get the hang of it. It is awkward technology. When in chronograph mode, the second sweep and minute sub dial seem to be working bit the 2/100ths sub dial is erratic? It has been decades since I used an alarm watch (Casio). My phone has become my alarm. Its funny, but I don’t like digital watches at this time in my life, but I’m warming to them. So, this alarm chrono with its adjustment-accompanying beeps, reminds me of a digital Casio. Another noticeable thing with this quartz watch, besides the usual stepping of the second hand is how the minute hand clicks into place as the second hand hits 12. That’s not something I see, on say, my Timex chronographs. Their minute hands move slowly across the space between minute marks.

Sizing for this watch is great, too. Its 40mm x 48 and has big slab lugs with 20mm spacing. It came on a newish black leather 2-piece strap. I don’t know what its original strap was? It is rated for 100m WR which is higher than any of the Eddie Bauers I own. Most are 50m WR. It has big, legible sub dials. It has the same dressy diver feel of a Marine Star of this period.

Let me leave you with this fun story from Wristology about the connection between Eddie Bauer and Swiss watches: https://www.thewristorian.com/post/bauer-power-when-watches-and-outdoor-pursuits-collide

I’ll be back with more Eddie Bauer finds in my next post.







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