Stuhrling Original started with a company vision: take expensive luxury watches and scale them down to an affordable price range for regular people. While this is a common value proposition for companies making expensive-looking watches, Stuhrling actually delivers eye-catching designs that do look pretty luxurious.
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Here’s the bottom line:
Stuhrling makes nice-looking and affordable watches and you get what you pay for.
People either love Stuhrling or hate it, depending on how much money they have to spend.
The company is just over 20 years old, and they’ve come a long way in terms of quality and reputation. Just five years ago, their watches were infamous for arriving broken or falling apart after a few months. In the last few years, however, Stuhrling has dramatically upped their quality and has become one of the top-selling watch brands on the internet.
Nearly every Stuhrling model is an affordable adaptation of a high-end luxury brand like Rolex.
But even if they look good, “best-selling” doesn’t necessarily mean best-performing, or best-functioning. Holding the brand together is a mythos of Swiss/European origins, luxury designs, and affordable price points that make it seem too good to be true. But is it?
In this article, we’re going to review Stuhrling as a company, examine their watches, and discover if their products are worth buying or not. I’m going to expand in detail on the following ratings of Stuhrling watches:
|Design:||(4.0 / 5)|
|Value:||(4.0 / 5)|
|History:||(2.0 / 5)|
|Durability:||(3.0 / 5)|
|Respect:||(3.0 / 5)|
|Price:||(4.5 / 5)|
|Warranty / Customer Service:||(4.0 / 5)|
|Overall Rating:||(3.8 / 5)|
Brand History and Origins: Where does Stuhrling Come from?
Stuhrling (AKA Stuhrling Original) is an American company founded in 1999 by Chaim Fischer.
The brand name comes from Swiss watchmaking legend Max Stuhrling, who was the master of his craft in 1800’s Switzerland. The Stuhrling name is used to give the brand an association of German / Swiss origin and authenticity. Today, the brand boasts Max Stuhrling IV (a descendant of the original Stuhrling) as a partner of the brand, lending it even more legitimacy.
As the age of the internet dawned and the e-commerce industry began to explode, Stuhrling took the brand online in 2002. Since then, they’ve been selling watches online exclusively. Today they claim to have sold over 15 million watches, which is a monumental business achievement.
Stuhrling Company – Headquarters and Ownership
Stuhrling is a privately-held company headquartered in Brooklyn, NY. This means they don’t own anyone, and are not owned by any larger watch companies.
They have satellite offices in Hong Kong and Switzerland, and sell their watches in over 100 countries. According to their company profile, the Stuhrling mission statement is this:
At Stührling Original we believe everyone deserves luxury, which is why we engineer designs inspired by classical Swiss artistry. We have built a global brand around the core belief that luxury is to be found in the details of the watchmaker’s craft.
Style and Design – Original or Not?
Many of the designs in Stuhrling’s collection are both eye-catching and unique, featuring styles you won’t find anywhere else. Other watches in their collection have more classic luxury watch design elements borrowing from established Swiss and German brands like Rolex, Omega, Stowa, and Nomos.
As of 2020, the Stuhrling collection is subdivided into the following lines:
- Legacy – exquisite automatic skeleton dress watches
- Aquadiver – classically-styled dive watches with some original designs
- Aviator – modern interpretations on classic pilot watches
- Symphony – smaller and more subtle dress watches borrowing designs from established brands
- Monaco – sports chronographs
- Tourbillon – Stuhrling’s high-end line featuring real tourbillon complications
- Vogue – women’s dress watches
Let’s take a look at what the watches in these lineups look like, and review some of the standout models.
Stuhrling Legacy Review
The Legacy series is Stuhrling’s most attention-grabbing line of watches. These are the ones that make you think that Stuhrling watches must be worth $1000-$2000, but then leave you surprised that the price is only in the $100-$400 range.
The Legacy collection is predominantly made up of automatic skeleton watches, meaning that you can see the mechanical movement through a partially cut-away dial. The balance wheel is on display so you can view the mechanical heartbeat of the watch.
The visible parts of the dial are nicely engraved and decorated, giving the watch a luxury appearance that defines the brand.
Going an extra step in their detailing, the Stuhrling Legacy watches feature intricate guilloche work, blued hands and/or blued screws, and extra care to make the entire dial face harmonious to look at despite being rather busy.
Most of the watches in this series feature a day-night display in the shape of a sun-and-the-moon subdial. Although it’s unnecessary, it’s pleasant to look at as a way to mark the passage of time. The sun is displayed at 12pm, the moon at 12am, and they rotate between each other throughout the day.
Furthermore they have a dual-time subdial, useful for tracking a secondary time zone.
Overall these watches are quite nice to look at and will surely get you a lot of compliments. They do tend to be on the bigger side, ranging from 42mm to 47mm in diameter. They also tend to be a bit thicker, ranging from 12mm to 15mm of thickness. Generally the more complications (features like sun-and-moon or dual-time), the thicker and wider the watch.
When choosing a watch from this series, the important thing is to fall in love with how it looks. The visual appeal is the biggest selling point here, and you should find something that gets your heart going.
Try to limit your selection to 2 or 3 watches, and then narrow them down by size based on your use. If you have a smaller wrist, stick to sizes under 42mm. If you’re used to larger watches, you can go crazy. If you want a watch to wear with a formal suit to fit under a cuff you’ll want to choose something thinner with fewer complications.
Stuhrling Aquadiver Review
The Aquadiver series features a mix of classic and new dive watch designs with either Quartz or Automatic movements.
At the end of the day, there’s only so many variations a watch brand can make on established dive watch designs popularized by Rolex and Blancpain, so I won’t hold Stuhrling accountable for copying them like everyone else.
Nonetheless, they still offer some interesting designs with eye-catching and reflective blue, green, black, and gray dials; this is a step in the right direction, and they work to pleasantly spruce up these old designs.
Some of the influences in the Aquadiver collection come from the following watches:
- Rolex Submariner
- Longines Hydroconquest
- Omega Aqua Terra
- Rolex Yachtmaster
- Tudor Submariner
- Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms
- Unimatic U1
Many of the Stuhrling Aquadivers are rated for a depth of 200m, feature screw-down crowns, and uni-directional rotating bezels.
While they’re interesting to look at and have a unique character to them, many watch fans find it difficult to justify purchasing an Aquadiver compared to a reliable diver from Seiko, Citizen, or Orient. However, if you like the look, you probably won’t find it anywhere else for the price.
Stuhrling Aviator Review
The aviator series is my least favorite in the Stuhrling collection. These seem to be made mainly for the sake of having a more varied collection, and don’t actually improve on the pilot watch designs that they borrow from.
A traditional pilot watch (flieger) should be easy to read and have a relatively unobscured dial. Instead, Stuhrling makes the dials much busier and adds a lot of pilot-looking design elements that I don’t find particularly attractive. This may be a matter of taste, but I like my fliegers as plain as possible. Still, I have to give them props for being creative.
The Aviator series frequently incorporates altimeter styling and sharp sword hands, Arabic numerals, and date windows, incorporating the aesthetics of classic fleigers.
Some of the famous brands that they borrow designs from include:
- Bell & Ross
For the price, Stuhrling offers a good selection of pilot watches to pick from. If you’re in the market for a tool-looking fashion watch, they’ve got a nice range. The non-traditional nature of these watches can often be a good thing, and it’s great that they’re not afraid to experiment with new designs.
Stuhrling Symphony Review
The Stuhrling Symphony series is a collection of some of the most iconic luxury dress watches, priced down to under $200.
These watches are more along the lines of traditional dress watches in terms of size and aesthetic. However, it’s difficult to ignore that they copy some very distinct models for the collection, including from the following:
- Rolex Skydweller
- Credor Eichi
- Rolex Datejust
- Rolex Cellini Moonphase
- Hamilton Navy Pioneer
Nonetheless, most of those models are in the luxury and ultra-luxury segments that would otherwise be unaffordable to most people.
Keeping true to their vision, Stuhrling makes an “affordable luxury” version of these iconic designs that you can afford.
These watches will go well with business casual wear, or fit nicely under a cuff with a formal suit. The Symphony series watches are mostly powered by Quartz movements, come with a leather strap, and are rather thin (under 10mm). If you’re looking for a dress watch, you may find one here that suits your taste.
Stuhrling Monaco Review
The Monaco series features Stuhrling’s sports chronographs, powered entirely by Quartz movements.
These chronographs are based on an aesthetic of motocross, Formula 1, and aviation sports styles. For what they’re trying to be, they’re actually rather nice – especially considering the low price. All of the models come in a variety of colors that stay true to the design intent, and have a solid construction.
These watches pay homage to some of the most famous sports chronographs in the industry, including the following:
- Rolex Daytona
- Breitling Navitimer
- Tag Heuer Aquaracer Chronograph
- IWC Portugieser Chronograph
- Omega Speedmaster
- Breitling Transocean
- A Lange & Sohn chronographs
- JLC Master Ultra Thin Reserve de Marche
Many of them look remarkably close to the originals, but they come in way more colors than them. The Monaco series pays close attention to a lot of detail work that Stuhrling didn’t have to include, and is nice for the price. These details include:
- Concentric circles on chronograph subdials
- Signed screw-down crowns
- Tastefully-matched leather straps
If you like the look of any of these, you’ll have a hard time finding something similar from another brand for the same low price.
Stuhrling Tourbillon Review
The Tourbillon series is where Stuhrling truly shines. These watches feature a real tourbillon complication, which traditionally can’t be found in watches under $10,000.
As such, Stuhrling makes an “affordable” version of these priced predominantly in the $1500-$2000 range. These watches are on an entirely different level than the prior Stuhrling collections. If you know what a tourbillon is, and thought you could never afford one, Stuhrling has the solution for you.
What is a tourbillon?
A feature that used to be useful in pocket watches to counteract the effects of gravity and keep them accurate. Since wristwatches lie flat on the wrist and don’t hang off your jacket, modern tourbillons are more expressions of mastery in watchmaking rather than useful features.
This range of watches is polished and finished to a much higher degree, has a true luxury appeal and quality, and yet still mimics some famous brands:
- Hamilton Jazzmaster
There aren’t a lot of “affordable” tourbillons out there – some startups like ERA Prometheus come to mind; however, until recently, these complications were unknown except in the most luxury of watches. In this sense, Stuhrling delivers it’s promise of delivering luxury at an affordable price point.
Stuhrling Vogue Review – Women’s Watches
The Vogue series is the women’s-only model line in the Stuhrling collection. The Legacy and Symphony series also have a ladies’ counterpart, but scaled down for smaller wrists.
Women who wear watches tend to wear them for the fashion element more often than utility (compared to men), so Stuhrling is a good fit for them at the price point. For under $200 (and even under $100), you can find small-sized watches inspired by designs from Cartier and Rolex.
Many of the watches have beautiful elements such as pearl-like dials, diamond-like adornments, and extremely dainty straps. Overall they look about as good as any other budget women’s fashion watch.
The Quality of Stuhrling watches – are they junk?
Some people believe that Stuhrling makes junk watches. This is a misconception and plain snobbery. Just because a watch is cheaply-priced, that doesn’t automatically make it junk.
Let’s break this into price brackets for easier understanding.
Stuhrling’s tourbillon watches are extremely high-grade; they feature an ultra-expensive tourbillon complication for just a few thousand dollars. Furthermore, they’re skillfully finished and crafted to a high degree of refinement. To call them junk would be plain ignorant. Are there better watches for the price? Yes, but not if you want a tourbillon.
What about watches under $400? These are some of the more accessible and good-looking watches, but the truth is that they’re technically overpriced. Similar watches come out of China all the time for under $200. The difference is that those generic Chinese watches don’t have a big brand name behind them, which bolsters the price.
What do you get with a big brand name like Stuhrling compared to a generic Chinese version?
First, the same watch will be finished to a much higher degree. This means that the level of detailing on the case, the movement, the hands, and everything will have an extra touch added to it to make it more decorated and distinguished.
Second, you get the brand backing. For Stuhrling, this includes a money-back guarantee and a 2-3 year warranty (more on that later).
Lastly, you get a higher level of quality inspection (QC).
When you buy a generic China version of a skeleton watch, you’re taking a big gamble: if something goes wrong you have no recourse.
So even though Stuhrling may use generic Chinese watches, stamp their logo on it, and customize it for their customers, there is a major difference in quality and finishing.
In conclusion, you get what you pay for, and they are certainly not junk.
Stuhrling Watches are Made in China
Brands like Stuhrling try really hard to make you think that they’re Swiss, German, or European in order to piggyback off the “feeling of luxury.” That’s why they pay a lot of money for an old brand name that sounds European and that has connections to those old watchmakers.
At the end of the day, however, most affordable watches in the world are manufactured in China, not Switzerland. The low price point indicates that most of the watch was assembled by machines and low-skilled labor (compared to hand-assembled and hand-finished by expert Swiss watchmakers).
Even so-called “Swiss-Made” brands will often have 49% of their components manufactured or assembled in China and still get away with being called “Swiss.”
So where are Stuhrling watches made? They are made in China, just like Nikes, iPhones, and most things in life. This by itself does not make them bad or cheap, especially since today Chinese manufacturing is at the peak of its craft.
Stuhrling uses Chinese Movements in their Watches
Stuhrling today is a different animal than the one that came out in the early 2000s. Back then, their focus was on marketing; today, the focus has shifted to greater quality.
When they first got started, Stuhrling went through a bit of a controversy over their “Lexus” movements. They claimed that their movements were exclusive luxury Stuhrling creations, but it turned out that they were actually off-the-shelf Chinese movements.
This was pretty bad for the Stuhrling brand, leading to skepticism about their “luxury” nature. However, they quickly learned from their mistake and abandoned these false marketing claims. Their more recent products have been free of the quality issues that have plagued their early watches.
Today, Stuhrling openly admits to using Chinese movements in their watches.
They’re assembled in factories owned by George J. von Burg within Switzerland and Hong Kong, and use Chinese mechanical movements supplied by PTS Resources.
After obtaining the Chinese movements, Stuhrling takes the time to polish, refinish, and regulate them to a higher standard and finesse. Today, over 50% of their lines are automatic, using some of the following movements:
- Dixmont-Guangzhou DG3809
- Dixmont-Guangzhou DG2813
- Sea-Gull ST1714
- Dixmont-Guangzhou DG2816
- PTS-Liaocheng G3202Z
- Hangzhou 2189
- Hangzhou 2198
- Sea-Gull ST2555
- Sea-Gull ST1632-6
- Sea-Gull ST1612-6
- PTS-Liaocheng Z2015
- PTS-Hangzhou 3310/3311 tourbillon
- Sea-Gull ST2545
Respect and Reputation for the Stuhrling Brand
Stuhrling watches are looked down upon by watch snobs who have never owned one, but garner great respect from those who wear them.
Most people who have bought one are extremely happy with their purchase and go on to buy another 2, 3, 5 or even 10 more. The low price point makes it easy to have a full Stuhrling collection, while you would only be able to afford a couple of traditional watches otherwise.
Watch enthusiasts can have an unwarranted arrogance towards some brands that don’t fit their perfect boxes and requirements for something to be a “true watch.” They serve as gatekeepers to people wanting to enjoy the elegance of a uniquely-designed wristwatch by shunning their joy and shaming them for enjoying non-luxury brands. But Stuhrling watches do more than copy luxury designs – they replicate their art for working classes to enjoy.
It would be ludicrous to critique Stuhrling for being “overpriced” while praising a Rolex as a reasonable purchase; the latter is always overpriced to a greater magnitude.
The real measure of character in the watch world is if you can have a diverse collection of pieces you actually enjoy wearing and looking at, not looking for details to condescend and criticize without a second glance; and not wearing them for somebody else’s social approval (that would be called Ego). If this is one of your first watches, pick a design that speaks to you and love it to death.
Pros and Cons
The following is a collection of condensed user reviews to give you a holistic idea of peoples’ ideas about Stuhrling watches – some from owners, others from speculators.
Cons: Why watch snobs dislike Stuhrling
- Large size
- Copies of existing luxury watches
- Thickness of the case
- Blue gem in the crown (personal preference)
- Sometimes they arrive non-functional, but customer service is quick to resolve
- They use Chinese movements
- Hard to recommend their watches over $150 compared to watches from Seiko or Orient. Those two are more conventional in design, but superior in quality and utility
- Low resale value
- No real history of watchmaking
- Fake MSRP is off-putting (their “$1500 watch” is “on sale” for $150, for example)
Pros: Why Stuhrling owners love their watches
- Excellent choice for skeleton watches ( a good Swiss skeleton is $1000+)
- AM/PM indicators make them look much more expensive than they are
- Fine details like engravings of the movement and wings engraved into the back of the heart
- Leather band is stiff but comfortable
- Overall wearability is pleasant
- Looks much more expensive than it is
- The more expensive ones are made of higher quality
- They will give you a lot of enjoyment for the money. You can enjoy them immensely even if you already have other really expensive watches
- Sometimes you need a pimp watch without spending pimp money
- If you can find one under $200, go for it because the designs are unique for the price
- The customer service is actually good and the repairs are well-done
- Stuhrling designs are more interesting than Seiko or Citizen
- They’re fine watches, just keep in mind you’re getting an $80 watch, not a $400 one on sale
- They get an unfair bad rap just for being a new brand trying to look like an old established brand
- Stuhrling is one of the most prolific finisher of Chinese movements
- Most people who buy one end up buying 3-5 because they’re so impressed
- Stuhrling makes Chinese movement watches at an affordably-attractive price
- The cheapest way to get a tourbillon
- Movement is decently finished
Notice how the people that dislike Stuhrling have never bought one, while the people that love them have multiple.
This should tell you that there’s more to Stuhrling than meets the eye in a product photo – and if you’re feeling adventurous you should go ahead and pull the trigger on that watch that caught your eye.
Why Stuhrling watches are so cheap, but have a high MSRP
If you look through their product catalog, you’ll notice that Stuhrling watches have outrageous MSRPs. For example, their Depthmaster 883 is listed at an MSRP of $1900, but is “on sale” for $380. What’s the catch here?
The simple truth is that they can put whatever number they want in the MSRP price – the higher it is, the more of a “steal” it looks like you’re getting. While this may seem ingenous to some, the reality is that 99% of e-commerce sites do this in practice – even Amazon. We’re just so used to seeing it that we ignore it.
Stuhrling does itself a bit of a disservice by making it look like their watch actually costs $1900 though. Nobody really believes that, and it just smells fishy.
Regardless, just ignore it; Invicta gets criticized for the same thing, but from a business standpoint they probably do it because it helps sales. Overall, it’s really not a big deal – just know that you’re not actually getting a super expensive watch for really cheap.
Stuhrling Warranty and Returns
If you buy a watch from Stuhrling or on Amazon, you get some nice perks:
- 30 day returns
- 2 year warranty
- Free worldwide shipping
Furthermore, they have an “Encore” program which extends your warranty for a whole year (up to 3 years) if you sign up with your email address.
What’s covered by this warranty?
- Free movement replacement in case of factory defects
- Battery replacement within one year for quartz watches
- Not covered: watch case, bracelet, straps, crystal, and normal wear. Non-water resistant watches that have been submerged are not covered. Any modification or work done on the watch voids the warranty.
Final Thoughts on Stuhrling
The strong points of Stuhrling are their unique designs and brand name backing behind their product. While many of them are based on existing Swiss luxury brands, many of their models have a unique and distinctive character that’s both attention-getting and luxury-looking.
In this sense, Stuhrling accomplishes their goal – “affordable luxury” watches for the common man. From their collections, I especially like the Legacy line, which are some of the most eye-catching watches I’ve seen for the price.
Lastly, Stuhrling’s Tourbillon line proves that the brand is capable of producing genuine high-end pieces, and yet chooses to focus on bringing affordable watches to millions of people. If you’re thinking about getting one, you’ll be joining millions of happy customers who often come back for more.
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