Orient Star Retro-Future Bicycle Watch

The Orient of Kings, Reference WE0031FS

Royal Orient. A name that to many Orient fans is a riddle, wrapped in a
mystery, inside an enigma; and, at the same time, a true holy grail – not any less,
and perhaps even more, since the demise of this sub-brand about four years ago.

Attempting to satisfy the appetite for information on this royal line of
watches, and to lift up some of the mystique surrounding it, I have on occasion
discussed Royal Orient on the blog, looked at the royal
and even speculated on the reasons
for its disappearance
.  Today we're
taking one step further to look at the actual beast. Or rather, beauty.

Royal Orient ref. WE0031FS was produced for around a year, between 2007-8
(and then replaced with the near identical WE0061FS for another year or so). It
was a member of a small family of "FS" models, driven by caliber
40Z60:  21,600 VPH movement, automatic,
hand-winding and hacking, featuring the time, small seconds, power reserve, and
an open heart.

Adjusted to an accuracy of -5/+10 seconds a day, this caliber claimed much better performance
than its non-royal siblings. It also featured slightly improved finishing –
specifically, Geneva stripes on the rotor and base-plate. Not anything you've
not seen before, but it's nice compared to the backside of most Orients.

If you examine the open heart closely, you'll notice the visible part of
the movement too is not different from what you'll see in an Orient Star;
however in this model, the golden decorated frame around the aperture definitely
adds considerable glitter.

The overall design of the watch is clearly inspired by Gerald Genta's
Royal Oak. This is not unlike countless watchmaking brands, both obscure
and quite prestigious, which over the last five decades or so got similar
inspiration – some producing very close copies, some trying to keep a certain
distance from the very recognizable origin.

I think it is fair to say that while Orient did not try too hard to hide
the Royal Oak lines, it did inject a lot of their own DNA into it. Between the
power reserve and semi-skeletonized dial, this is an unmistakable Orient.

Obviously, the most noticeable and glorious part of the watch is the
dial. Seen from a couple of feet away, it appears deep, matte blue, contrasting
beautifully with the rose-gold plated markers and hands. Look at it a little
closer, and it reveals a kind of sandpaper texture. But one needs to examine it
under the magnifying glass to understand how elaborately decorated this dial
really is; you then see the different patterns, some wavy, some radial, and the
true make-up of the paint job – a kind of microscopic spraying of light and
dark blue pigments over a black background, which really looks like nothing
else I've seen in watch dials.

Indeed, if there is one element in this watch that is truly comparable
to a Grand Seiko it is this dial, not just because of its beauty, but in its design
approach: one where almost invisibly minute details mesh together to form a very
clear, visible impression of quality.

The higher finishing of the watch is also evident in other elements. The
41.4mm wide, 11.7mm thick case for instance, features mostly brushed and fairly
complex surfaces, with nicely polished chamfering all round; the bezel is
stepped, polished on the sides and finely brushed on top.

The hands and markers are very finely finished. The smaller hands of the
power reserve indicator and seconds are smoothly polished, as are the hour
markers; the hour and minute hands are brushed and filled with lume, and while
they perhaps lack the total surgical precision of Grand Seiko hands, they
definitely look fantastic and their three-dimensionality adds depth to the

Crystals are of course sapphire, front and back. The 20mm strap is fine
crocodile leather, padded to just the right amount; and attached to it is a
very comfortable and easy to use folding buckle.

All this makes the Royal Orient WE0031FS a joy to wear. Its size and
color scheme provide it substantial wrist presence, however it never feels too
big or heavy.

Back when it was new, this model would cost around 1,500 USD; other
references of the FS line cost a little higher as they came with a steel bracelet.
Finding any FS reference today is incredibly difficult, as they very rarely surface
on eBay or other e-commerce platforms, and when they do – you might see prices
exceeding the original price tag.

I wouldn't say that paying 2,000 USD or more for this watch would make a
lot of sense; however, sense is hardly part of the equation here. You'd usually
pay more than 2,000 USD for the simplest of Grand Seiko's mechanical pieces if
in good condition – and this Royal Orient here is perhaps lacking in some departments
compared to the Grand, but definitely makes up for it in its exclusivity (and I
honestly think it looks better than most basic black / silver dial GS).

I definitely paid much less than the price tag for my FS, which just
goes to show that opportunities do pop up once in a while, and one has to keep
one's eyes open if one is ever to get hold of one's grail!

It had a few scratches (which are barely visible to the naked eye) but
came with the original box and papers and strap, does about +2 seconds a day,
and is probably as well kept, if not better, than if I had bought it new and
worn it since 2007…

If you are shopping for Royal Orients, pay attention not to be mistaken
by the NA line. Royal Orient NA, such as ref. WE0051NA, look very similar to
the FS except having central, not small, seconds, and will probably sell for
much less; however they are in fact the ladies' version, they are beautiful but
less than 32mm in diameter. Both FS and NA line-ups were actually mentioned
on the blog

The bottom line? This is definitely a very exceptional piece of watchmaking
by Orient. Beautiful, impressive, wearable and highly enjoyable. Was it worth,
as new, about double the price of comparable semi-skeleton Orient Stars? From a
very simplistic, formal point of view, probably not. Orient Stars offer
fantastic value for money and mostly very good quality and finesse. However,
when you consider the added value of rarity; when you remember that in
watchmaking, as in most products, price rises exponentially with every marginal
increase of quality; and when you take another good look at that stunning blue
dial – things start to make sense for the Royal one.