The Cheapest Automatic Watch Ever… (Fanmis Pilot Review)

I was browsing the web last week for some cheap automatic watches and there it was, right on Amazon, a neat little automatic Pilot watch that costs less than a couple of value meals from a fast food joint. It even shipped with Prime.

It caught my eye and I had a good chuckle. No way an automatic watch could be this cheap, or so I thought… 

After inspecting the pictures a bit more, I was surprised to see it had a display case back that clearly displayed an automatic movement inside. I figured, well, I guess it’s a mechanical after all…

Few minutes later and without hesitation I ordered not one, but two automatic watches from this brand.

My order included the watch I’ll be reviewing in this article, an IWC Pilot homage that I’ll dub the Fanmis (or sometimes) the Winner Pilot.

My order also included a Submariner Hulk inspired homage with a stunning green dial from the same brand. I wrote a review about that one as well.

Unboxing

I opened the packaging, your standard Amazon bubble mailer, and was greeted by a rather underwhelming and plain brown cardboard box. 

Not that I had expected the watch to come in some luxurious leather watch roll or anything like that, but at least having the brand on the box would’ve been nice.

I filmed an unboxing and first impressions video, so you can see my reaction in real time, but I’ll sum it up for you.

Packaging aside, once I got to the watch itself, I was immediately impressed. It definitely didn’t look like an expensive, luxury watch, but it definitely doesn’t scream ‘cheap Chinese watch’ either, like most other watches in this price range tend to.

First Impressions – The Good and the Bad 

Upon initial inspection, there were a couple of things that immediately stood out to me about this watch, both good and bad.

The dial, while relatively simple, has enough unique design elements to spark my intrigue. I was immediately visually greeted by the lovely extended date wheel on the 3:00 position that you don’t typically see, except in some of IWC’s watches, which was clearly the inspiration for this piece… Except it cost thousands of dollars more.

More about that later.

The bold and large Arabic hour numerals complimented the all-white pilot handset very well.

Along with the painted embassies along with the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions, the design comes together to form a bold, very legible and aesthetically pleasing look.

The crystal is slightly domed and creates a very nice looking distortion effect when viewed at an angle.

Again, not common to see something like this executed so well at such a low price.

The watch wasn’t perfect, however.

The polished parts of the watch such as the ‘Winner’ logo and the entire case seem to be finished very poorly. Not that I was expecting anything better for the price, but it makes me question if the case is actually made of stainless steel like the website listing says.

Or is it just chrome plated brass? I’m still not sure.

Brand Confusion – Is This a Fanmis, Winner or Reginald Watch?

Mystery metals aside, there were a few things that puzzled me about the watch. The branding of the watch is one of them.

The listing on Amazon has this watch listed as a Fanmis automatic watch, but on the dial it says Winner. I’ve also heard these two brands sometimes share similar designs with yet a third Chinese brand, Reginald. 

Most likely, these watches are all made in the same factory in China, and private labeled (having a logo associated with) whichever company buys them out to sell the watches. 

It’s possible that by the time you go to look for this watch, the brand name may have changed. Feel free to leave a comment if you ever notice as such and I’d be glad to update this article.

Is the Fanmis Pilot a IWC Mark XV Homage?

One of the design features that intrigued me off the bat was the Mark XV written in white at the bottom of the dial. Upon further investigation, it appears the watch was inspired by a much more expensive watch, the IWC Mark XV…

But not entirely.

The Arabic numerals and painted embassies appear to be almost a direct homage to the IWC Mark XV.

The odd thing, however, is that the date wheel on the right side of the watch appears to be reminiscent of a different IWC watch, the IWC Mark XVII.

IWC Mark XVII with similar date wheel

Basically, they took queues from two different IWC watches and mashed them together. 

Combining different design elements and creating a rather semi-unique design is much better to me than just blatantly copying a watch 1:1.

However, the fact that they still decided to print ‘MARK XV’ on the dial is an interesting choice.

I think they definitely could have done without it, and I doubt you’re fooling anybody into thinking this is an IWC watch.

Cheap Chinese Movement – One Major Flaw

The main draw of this watch is not the IWC inspired design, at least to me.

I’m more fascinated by the fact they have a fully automatic watch that’s so dang cheap. 

The accuracy is not at all bad, currently losing only about 6 seconds each day.

The good and surprising news is that not only is this an automatic watch, as demonstrated by the rotor shown through the see-through case back, but it also has hand winding.

A feature we sometimes don’t even see in otherwise awesome $200 watches, such as the Seiko SKX. 

This means you can power the watch and keep it running either by simply wearing it, or rotating the crown forward a bunch to wind it manually, whichever you prefer.

Read more about handwinding and its uses here.

Of course, at this price, you’re certainly not going to get a great movement, and that’s evident here.

The thing about handwinding on this watch is you’re going to be doing it… A lot.

Seriously, it’s like I can’t wind this watch, enough to give it the power it needs to keep it running for more than a couple of days at a time.

It’s clear the automatic mechanism, while a thing, definitely doesn’t work well enough to keep the watch powered on its own. 

You’re almost better off treating it as a mechanical hand winding watch entirely, and ignoring the automatic aspect of the movement, as it barely offers the movement any juice.

Kind of a bummer, but also not entirely unexpected buying a watch THIS cheap.

Hand-Winding, Setting the Date and Time

Automatic movement issues are expected in a watch this cheap.

With that said, that’s about the worst part about this watch, from here on out is smooth sailing. 

Winding the movement feels fine. The crown is large enough and has bevels that help you get a good grip and turn it to hand wind, easily.

Pulling the crown out to set the time, on the other hand, takes work. It takes a good amount of force to be able to pull the crown out.

I have very short nails which only exaggerates this issue. I’ve chipped a couple of nails in this process but it seems to have gotten easier to pull out over time, so that’s a plus.

Once the crown is pulled out, setting the time is doable, but a slow process.

The hands don’t turn very far with each rotation of the crown, so you’ll be sitting there for 30 seconds to a minute before you can move the hands to the proper time.

Not the biggest deal, but if you’re someone who owns multiple watches and keeps them in a rotation, definitely something to consider, as it’s not the most convenient watch for a grab and go.

Setting the date, on the other hand, is a relatively seamless process.

Always make sure your minute and hour hands are not between the hours of 9-3 to avoid damaging the date wheel. 

The date wheel has a rather snappy transition, which I like. It’s also neat to see the date change in the uniquely shaped date window.

Faux Leather Crocodile Strap

The included strap is a slightly glossy faux leather crocodile strap that doesn’t look terrible, especially from afar.

It’s not the most uncomfortable, either. It feels kinda rubbery, and this is a bit of a blessing and a curse.

On one hand, this ‘rubbery’ feel seems to make the watch strap pliable and surprisingly comfortable to wear on the wrist. 

On the other hand, it feels like it could disintegrate on me at any second.  

When it comes to watches even hundreds of dollars more, I treat the included strap as a disposable and replace it for something better the second I can get my grubby little hands on it.

The Fanmis Pilot is no exception.

Throwing this watch on a brown or black leather strap, tan or olive canvas strap or just about any NATO strap would certainly be a good look.

Anything that has a ‘rugged and casual’ vibe will work well with this watch. The lug width is 22mm, so make sure that’s the size strap you look for.

Dimensions, Comfort and Wearability

The watch itself wears slightly on the larger than average size, but definitely not ‘too large’ by today’s standards.

Here are the dimensions of the Winner/Fanmis Pilot:

  • Diameter: 41.5mm
  • Lug to lug: 45mm
  • Lug width: 22mm
  • Thickness: 14mm

The case is shaped nicely, being slightly larger toward the case back and tapering ever so slightly toward the crystal which adds just a bit of added wrist presence and depth on the wrist.

The lugs are curved slightly which helps the watch hug your wrist and overall, make it a very comfortable watch to wear.

It’s a rather light watch also, I’ve worn it for an entire day without any discomfort. 

The combination of the thickness along with the larger dial and lack of a bezel really helps this watch add some heft to your wrist, but the small lug to lug size and curved lugs help make this watch still very wearable on my 7-inch wrist.

I think it wears near perfect for my wrist size, though, for a pilot watch, I wouldn’t mind trying one a couple of millimeters larger in diameter, as long as it maintains a similarly compact lug to lug width.

Domed Crystal, Depth and Beauty

Something this watch nailed that other cheap watches usually never get right is the domed crystal.

It’s one of those things that when you see it done poorly, you can instantly spot it out as a cheap watch. That’s definitely not the case here.

The crystal adds some heavy distortion at certain angles, which adds visual interest to the watch.

I’m not expecting anything better than a mineral crystal at this price point, but it’s surprisingly well executed.

And combined with the depth of the case, it helps to create a rather visually interesting piece from any angle.

Water Resistance

On the listing, it’s described as having a 30 meters water resistance, though I don’t trust that at all in watches this cheap.

I’d be extremely surprised if it even has a rubber gasket anywhere in this watch to maintain its water resistance. 

Once I’ve had some more time wearing this watch and seeing if the movement holds up, I’m going to take it apart and see for myself. Stay tuned.

Price & Value – Is It Worth It?

The Fanmis/Winner Pilot is the absolute cheapest automatic watch I could find.

It’s a relatively good looking watch, combining design queues from multiple different highly sought after and beautiful IWC watches, it’s hard to go wrong.

With its impressively unique date wheel, a simple yet bold and handsome dial, a domed crystal and depth on the dial that adds some visual interest, it’s a very good looking watch. 

Though a poorly finished, completely polished case and an ‘automatic’ movement that struggles to keep itself powered prevent this watch from being a truly amazing deal.

Of course, for the price, it’s really hard to complain about any of the flaws I’ve mentioned.

You can definitely do a lot worse with your money.

Heck, there are watches that cost hundreds that are a much worse value than this.

You can pick one up on Amazon here.

Have any questions about the Fanmis Pilot? Let me know in the comments below! I reply to every single one.

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