After collaborations with Sperry, the NBA, and even a fictional elephant, Rowing Blazers has arrived at a new medium in wristwatches. While this is in fact the brand’s debut watch collaboration, there is a case to be made that an underlying love for wristwear exists within Rowing Blazers HQ. The same way Ricky Lauren or Tyson Beckford can be seen with something fantastic on their sleeve, the Rowing Blazers photoshoots often incorporate models wearing someone’s watch. A real watch, one that gives off the impression it is worn frequently and cherished. In a less subtle cue, the online shop caters to some of the most vibrant watch straps one could ask for. Not to mention that the brand curates a selection of, for the most part affordable, vintage watches alongside Foundwell and Wind Vintage.
The relationship with Seiko and Rowing Blazers developed in 2017 when the founder, Jack Carlson, was connected to the brand via a longtime friend. “Eric Wind introduced me to the Seiko team right around the time the Rowing Blazers launched. We just kept in touch over the years and Eric Hofmann and Munehisa Shibasaki of Seiko USA reached out in 2019 about doing a collaboration,” says Jack Carlson, founder, Rowing Blazers. “It’s our debut on the watch scene, and it’s kind of a dream because I’ve loved Seiko as a brand for a long time,” he says.
While the SoHo based brand doesn’t have the horological cachet that fellow New York retailers Tiffany & Co and Cartier bring to a dial, it’s clear that Rowing Blazers is making the most of a first impression.“Launching with three watches — two limited editions and one special edition — seems just about right to me. I don’t like to do things in half measures or just for the sake of doing them or because I think they will sell,” he says.
Four Color Colorblock Bezel (Special Edition)
The inaugural model will be somewhat recognizable to the brand’s core following. Taking provenance from the Summer ‘21 Colorblock Windbreaker, the two paint a scene emblematic of 90s style. One can’t help but reflect on Grand Puba and Alpine rugbies. The bezel’s execution really captures the spirit of the brand. And this is not to be confused as simply “preppy” (a word the founder has described in the past as “at worst problematic and at best cringeworthy and corny”). Instead it brings a retro vibe to an already cherished watch design. “I have a very specific aesthetic. I like things that are classic but also whimsical. Timeless but a little irreverent. Color and pattern are very important to me,” explains Jack.
It goes deeper than simply putting their own spin on a brand. The collaborations in Jack’s perspective require a mindful and, ultimately, authentic approach.“The four color colorblock bezel is just something I’ve always wanted. In some ways it’s so simple, so obvious even. A more colorful variation on a two-color “Pepsi” bezel. Very ‘90s, whimsical, light, fun — but also very classic, wearable and versatile. It’s nostalgic even though it has never existed before. That’s cool,” he says. There isn’t any disruption to what watch lovers expect. More importantly, those in the Rowing Blazers audience get an alleyoop for a universally adored watch in the Seiko 5. It’s simply a well balanced execution that allows the two to coexist.
One of the upfront perks is the fact that both a stainless steel bracelet and nylon strap (made to British military specification) are included for each version. With an aversion to leather straps, Carlson is known to only sport the two options.
Zig-Zag (Limited Edition)
While the special edition’s bezel could easily be the most eye-catching aspect, the Zig-Zag distinguishes itself as the most dynamic. The stainless steel bracelet gives it centerstage and also lends itself to blend in amongst louder colors, the most patterned ensemble, or simply the classic navy trousers and white oxford.
The Zig-Zag design is a staple within the fashion company’s apparel and accessories. It is found not only in the branding, but within the ties, socks, collars, even incorporated into the floor of the SoHo boutique. While describing his personal favorite of the trio, Carlson says,“The bezel takes the Rowing Blazers visual codes and applies them to a dive watch in a very natural way. The design in fact originates from the distinctive tie pattern of the Royal Artillery.”
On its nylon strap, the watch appears to be a completely different version of itself on its bracelet. And no, that’s not “rainbow”. It’s the brand’s signature “croquet” stripe. With so much color, the harmony between the bezel and strap is a bit perplexing. A collage of this magnitude is a “playful” license both parties are afforded. As far as lollipop seconds hand, a tad bit of personality is added on for good measure. To top it all off, the bi-lingual date wheel features black text for the weekdays, a turquoise Saturday, and a red Sunday to let you know the party is winding down. Being a bonafide sports watch, the Seiko 5 doesn’t require delicacy in the slightest bit. It’s perfectly acceptable to put both brand names to the test by either going as far down as 100m, or vigorously rowing on the surface.
Rally Diver (Limited Edition)
Whether it be for their rugbies or polo shirts, Rowing Blazers weaves in an origin story within a new product category. For affectionate watch lovers, this is paramount. The Rally Diver is the model which communicates not necessarily to the watch community, but more so the subsection of vintage enthusiasts. Often hard to please, this group meticulously looks for nods to the past, all the while critical when a new release looks too expected.
Among those hard-to-please purists is Eric Wind. “There are two broad ways reissues can go wrong. The first occurs when a brand tries to create an exact replica. It will often fall short, devaluing the beauty and rarity of the original,” he says. The second way Wind sees poorly executed reissues is compared to the disastrous restoration of Elías García Martínez’ fresco ‘Ecce Homo’ by Cecilia Giménez. Despite international pleas to allow experts the opportunity to evaluate the next step, Giménez took it upon herself to swiftly “restore” the Santuario de Misericordia’s painting causing one of the worst disasters in art history. “You have to know exactly what you’re doing and treat these projects with respect. It can turn out really badly if you try to make something “inspired by” the original if there is not deep knowledge behind the design,” says Wind.
According to Wind, the right way is usually somewhere in the middle.“In this case, we approached the project with the Seiko 5 Sports dial that harkens back to the 6309 that became popular in the 1980s. Looking at brands like Nike, you can see that the most successful collaborations in recent years come to fruition when both parties bring traditional elements of their own identity and present them together in a novel way.” Having attended Georgetown and Oxford with Carlson, the project is somewhat of a full circle moment for the Palm Beach based dealer. Stemming back eleven years, Wind found a love for 1960s-70s Seiko sports watches, in particular the Seiko 6106-8229 Rally Diver. It was on a watch blog, Hodinkee, that it would become his first vintage watch purchase. “I loved the look of the watch and it seemed to be a dive watch with racing features.”
The two would revisit this watch again when the concept of a collaboration with Seiko developed in 2019. “The Rally bezel is a nod to one of my favorite visual motifs from Seiko’s heritage without being a simple remake or reissue. I love the way this bezel looks on the classic Sports 5 dial,” says Carlson. The subtle vintage touch within each models’ lume is most discernible when contrasted against the black and white rally bezel. It’s a pop of pale beige that doesn’t quite have the more forced appearance found in fauxtina. Furthermore, the grey aligns perfectly with the applied “Seiko” and tastefully sized retailer stamp.
One detail that should be highlighted within the limited edition models is the laser engraved latin motto “TEMPVS FVGIT” from the Latin poet Virgil. While not only apropos for a watch, the concept is one that is adapted within the clothing. The brand carries on a tradition amongst early rowing clubs by incorporating a cross-stitched Latin motto under the lapels. Carlson emphasized the hidden details’ personal connection. “One thing that was especially cool to work on with Seiko was the caseback design. I wanted something that was sort of a memento mori. A reminder that time flies. We used this reclining skeleton motif from heraldry. I’ve studied heraldry for a long time and used to work at the College of Arms in London. Which is sort of the British government’s design institute for new coats of arms, badges, etc. And I’ve been fascinated by this reclining skeleton motif for a long time,” he says.
There are certain elements that make something “authentic”. Things you can feel that a sense of love went into. Whether that be in the cooking, style, conversation or bringing a fresh perspective to something that is already cherished. The brand’s approach when stepping into a different space feels cognizant of what makes their partners adored by others and attempting to paint a scene that captures it in a new light. “I’ve had so many watch ideas and designs in mind that I’ve wanted to do for a long time that it was difficult to narrow it down for this capsule, hopefully the first of many. At Rowing Blazers, we are constantly coming out with new products, many of them are limited edition or collaborations. But they all have a raison d’être. They’re all things I love and want to see in the world,” says Carlson.
Movement: 4R36 (Automatic)
Dial & Case: Unidirectional bezel; LumiBrite hands & indexs; 42.5mm stainless steel; water-resistant up to 10 bar
Bracelet: Three-fold clasp w/ secure lock; push button release
Price: $500; Available on https://seikousa.com and https://rowingblazers.com/collections/rowing-blazers-x-seiko