Spinnaker Hull California Line-Up – Vintage vs Tactical – Detailed Review

Is Black or Tan more Tacti-cool?

Today we will look at the recently released Spinnaker Hull California line-up that features vintage and tactical versions.  As always there are a few sponsored pre-release “reviews” out there that use words to describe pictures and explain how if the watch featured more expensive parts that it would look better… Definitely check those out… but since you’re here now lets talk about these 2 Hull California’s that I ordered directly from the Spinnaker website just like you can.  Spinnaker is marketing these watches as “vintage dive” watches, code for “up to 1920’s dive standards,” and make some very generalized statements about how some dive watches in the past have used NH35 movements and the “neo-classical lines” of the dial.  Spinnaker really isn’t so much about heritage as it is image so don’t read too much into their regular use of the phrase “dive watch”. 

Now that I’ve worn both these beautiful watches through the rigors of the summer, let’s take a real look at whether they deserve your dollars and a privileged spot on your wrist!

Both watches were purchased directly from the Spinnaker website upon release and you should know that even though I am in Canada, Spinnaker was able to have these watches delivered within a handful of days to me using FedEx which is impressive since they came straight from Hong Kong.

Who’s it for?

Anyone who loves California dials and/or cushion cases will appreciate the modern dimensions and vintage touches of the Hull California line.  If you want to know right now which sub-model is going to be for you scroll down to my final thoughts.

TWC Paid:  Vintage – $252.00 CAD (Exchanged from $187.50 USD) inclusive

Tactical – $277.00 CAD (Exchanged from $206.25 USD) inclusive

Spinnaker  
Model: Hull California  
Reference: SP-5071-01  
Origin: Hong Kong  
Case: 42mm Marine Grade 316L Stainless Steel  
Height: 15mm   Length: 48mm  Lugs: 22mm       
Movement: Seiko NH-35 Automatic, 24J (21,600 BPH), 41 Hour Power Reserve, hacking, hand-windable  
Crystal: Hardened Mineral with anti-reflective (AR) coating, sapphire hardened  
WR: 10 ATM – 10 Bar – 100m – 330ft  
Lume: Super-LumiNova  
Strap: Leather, Waterproof Coated 22/20mm  
MSRP: $250.00 USD  
Website: Spinnaker-watches.com
Spinnaker  
Model: Hull California  
Reference: SP-5071-05  
Origin: Hong Kong  
Case: 42mm Marine Grade 316L Stainless Steel, Black PVD titanium carbide plating  
Height: 15mm   Length: 48mm  Lugs: 22mm       
Movement: Seiko NH-35 Automatic, 24J (21,600 BPH), 41 Hour Power Reserve, hacking, hand-windable  
Crystal: Hardened Mineral with anti-reflective (AR) coating, sapphire hardened  
WR: 10 ATM – 10 Bar – 100m – 330ft
Lume: Super-LumiNova  
Strap: Integrated Silicon (or caoutchouc rubber?) 22/20mm  
MSRP: $275.00 USD  
Website: Spinnaker-watches.com
The complete Spinnaker Hull California TM Line-up

Finding these watches:

I ordered both watches direct from Spinnaker and I would recommend doing so to you as well.  Spinnaker regularly has promotions out and about so I would suggest waiting for one of their sales.  The vintage models sold out in just a couple of days, but as I write this the tactical versions still haven’t.  Try AVG sponsored promo code WIAA20 at check out for potentially 20% off your Spinnaker order.  And if that doesn’t work the little card that comes with each of these watches claims you’ll get 15% off your first order when you sign up for their newsletter.

The Cross Shop:

Online – $299.00 USD – Maranez Layan Steel – I recently review the much larger Maranez Bangla and was very impressed by Maranez’s work.  Just like Spinnaker, Maranez delivered my Bangla in a handful of days via FedEx which was impressive.  Unlike Spinnaker however, Maranez takes their Layan series to the next step by offering a domed sapphire crystal, a 3-gasket screw-down crown, 300m water resistance and all come with both leather and rubber straps.  They’re even all serialized.  Even though the Layan is a little bigger, heavier and is a bit more expensive, it is a phenomenal deal and is very tough to beat for what you’re getting.  Keep watching TWC for a Match-Up! Between the Layan and the Hull.

Costco – $699.99 CAD – Ferragamo Time Square FFW040017 – I am many things but a fashion connoisseur I am certainly not.  As is often the case with Costco online, their watch line-up is filled out by with mostly “California designer” watches.  Regardless, here is one such watch for your consideration that claims, as many do, to have a rich Italian heritage of fashion stuff.

Rolex – $6,199.00 USD – Explorer I 39mm 214670 – Even though Rolex and Panerai were the founders of the original California dials I wouldn’t suggest hunting down one, they were typically tiny references that you could easily get ripped off on if you don’t know what you’re doing.  The Explorer I, like the modern Oyster Perpetual, can be found frequently enough at a local AD, but of course can be had online at a discount.  As always, the older 36mm references will be less expensive but if you shop around you can still get great deals on the 39mm reference as you can see in the link. 

Line-Up Review…

If you read the very few reviews of the Hull California release you may notice that people are describing it as a “dive watch.”  The only thing that makes this remotely diver-like is that it has a screw down crown and that the California dial was originally designed by Rolex / Panerai for Italian divers.  That’s it.  The word “tactical” is also used liberally here but replace it with tacti-cool and you’ll be pointing in the right direction. 

To explore the California line-up we’re going to have a fun Match-Up! comparing the vintage with the tactical and in doing so we should come away with what type of watch you’re getting with the Hull California line-up.

The question you should be asking today is,

“Who is each version of the Hull California for?”

1. Box / Packaging:                       Tie

Spinnaker releases all its watches currently with a modest blue box and cushion with a tiny warranty card and a sales tag telling you to hand or wrist wind your new watch.  It’s all appropriate for the price point and there’s nothing wrong with it at all but there’s also nothing remarkable about it like say the leather watch roll that Maranez offers.  At MSRP the Maranez is only $49 USD more expensive but if you start factoring in the regular discounts Spinnaker offers and you’ll quickly realize that you are paying for what you get with the Maranez.

2. Case:                                             Tactical

The thick cushion case looks great here and because of its 12mm thick case and almost square proportion it is about as pillowy as you’re going to find anywhere.  The Hull is marketed as an everyday wear watch that will give you that vintage look at work but also the image of an old timey Navy SEAL.  The reality here is that a 100m WR rating and a screw down crown don’t make a dive watch anymore but will be more than enough for your daily work to play activities.  My concern with the vintage model is that its high polish case is going to scratch extremely fast and, because of the case shape, will show all your wear and tear in dramatic fashion.  Being blacked out, the Tac version simply doesn’t have this problem and the only marks it will ever show will likely be from unforgettable moments.

If you’re worried about the 42mm number don’t; because of the stubby lugs the Hull sits like a 39-40mm reference would.

3. Case Back:                                  Vintage

The vintage model features a high polishing exhibition case back while the tactical is given the same but in a matte brush.  Unfortunately, it seems that it was outside Spinnakers budget to PVD coat the case back which would have given the watch a more uniform look.  Spinnaker is by no means the only to company to do this but if someone like Xeric can add such a minor detail to their black-out watches then it just makes me wonder why others choose not too. 

Otherwise, when I compare the case back of the Hull California line-up to other Spinnaker lines I come away a little disappointed.  Compare the new Spinnaker Wreck which offers a custom black rotor that looks very nice and then look at the printed black window of the Hull and tell me which one looks nicer.  I get that there isn’t much to see with the NH35 movement unless you spiffy it up dramatically, but my thought is that the black rotor on a bare movement is still nicer than a completely unchanged movement covered by some print.  That’s just me and at this price point the purpose of the exhibition case back is to simply prove that there is an automatic movement present, so I get it…

4. Movement / Functions:            Tie

The NH35 is a commonly used movement for micro-brands due to its low cost, high reliability and durable build quality.  Otherwise you can find “reviews” with all the facts, figures and words describing pictures with a quick web query so there isn’t more that I can bring to the table with this one.  Over the past week both of these watches have kept their time within +10 seconds if that sort of thing matters to you with an analog watch at this price point.

5. Lugs:                                             Tie

The Hull’s stubby lugs help maintain the square pillow look of the case and are even brush finished so that they disappear under the polish of the case body.

6. Crown:                                          Tie

I don’t know if it’s a style or a easy to get part from China / Japan, but the crown used here looks like every other crown typically mounted to an NH35; this of course is a generalization but what the Hull offers is a very standard large circular crown that’s sole modification has been the laser etching of the Spinnaker sail.

A big thing that I appreciate here, and something that anyone describing pictures of a watch they haven’t worn will miss, is the section of case cut out for the crown to screw down into.  This allows the crown to sit in a slightly more secure position and more importantly gives the appearance of the crown being flush with the case.  It looks great and it’s a very small detail that I feel was well thought out.  Take a look at my Seiko Presage “Blue Moon” review and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

One small thing I noted was that the threading on both watches were noticeably rough when screwing the crown into place.  It made it a bit difficult to tell if the crown was fully screwed in and physically hard to fully tighten and loosen.  This isn’t to say that it isn’t fully functional or so difficult as to potentially be unusable, but it was an immediately notable “issue”.

7. Bezel & Rehaut:                         Tie

It’s hard to tell having only worn these watches for a couple of weeks now, but I feel like the bezels on both of these watches are going to wear well over time.  The tactical versions durability is of course obvious, but the vintage features a brushed bezel that contrasts the high polished cushion case.  Both bezels also come to a point and then taper inwards in a similar fashion to the Seiko Presage and other vintage Seiko’s models.  It’s current purpose is simply heritage and aesthetics but back in the day this would have hidden the access point for crown accessed movements; luckily no one has tried to bring us back to those!

8. Dial:                                               Tie

The big selling feature here, other than the cushion case, is of course the unique application of the California dial.  Obviously, the dial features of the tactical model all blend together, though are easily legible up close, while the vintage model is clearly distinct.  The blue and red writing for the WR scripts are both a cute splash of color for the dials and an interesting touch for both watches.

One of the unique features of the dial, that is not nearly as noticeable on the wrist and in person as it is in photos, is the cratered finishing of the black dial. Now every dial is printed the same so you’re not going to find any differences between watches, but the real-time effect is a nice alternative to the usual matte and gloss finished dials most commonly found. I am curious what the dial is made of and if, or how, it will wear over time. My guess is that it’s probably a cheap base metal with a plastic finish but I’m just guessing here. Personally, I think that Spinnaker should do a space themed line-up using this “moon surface” dial. Plastic, I’ve read now that the dial is printed plastic 2019-10

Both models feature the Spinnaker name in a perfectly applied metal print that looks great and I think is MUCH nicer than their sail logo; definitely sustain that feature throughout your line-ups Spinnaker!  I really appreciate that everything printed on both dials is color matched, specifically the writing for the “AUTOMATIC” and the square around the date window.  Unfortunately, Spinnaker has gone to the parts bin for the date wheel and the font doesn’t match the rest of the Arabic numerals on the dial; oh well.

9. Hands:                                          Tie

Like many watches in this price range, the Hull’s hands jut out from the center and go nowhere.  What this means is that neither the hour hand nor the minute and second hands are truly close enough to any point on the dial to consider them truly tracking along it.  The minute and second hands are within a couple millimeters of the outer ring but that’s as close as we get. 

10. Lume:                                         Tie

As with any application of super lume the Hull’s hands and indices shine bright immediately and then quickly fade to a soft green glow.  I did find that the lume took longer than I’m used to with other super lume applications in order to charge.  The vintage model features light tan lume while the tactical model is a grey color, though both glow green.

11. Crystal:                                       Tie

Spinnaker has chosen to use a convex sapphire hardened crystal here and only time will tell how well this holds up.  Since both these models are supposed to be long-term wrist riders I suspect that you’re going to get $250 CAD ($200 USD) worth of wear out of them; but, if you’re bearish on wear then you should invest slightly more elsewhere and get a sapphire crystal.  The top edge of the crystal comes to an edge that you can distinctly feel when you run your fingers across, and I wonder if it has the potential to chip during aggressive use.

12. Strap:                                          Vintage

Both straps are well executed here.  The vanilla scented rubber is strongly styled, however when you flip it over you find that this exterior styling is as far as Spinnaker has taken this strap.  The back side lacks the commonly featured sweat channels and other comfort-oriented contours that can be found on even entry level rubber / silicone straps.  I had a thought about this though; what if you took the rubber straps and just flipped them, and the buckle, around so that the channeled side sat along the wrist?  Could this all be a simple case of the marketing team just mistaking looks over function?  What do you think?

The one confusing issue that pops up with the tactical is that on the pre-release marketing web page it says that the strap used is caoutchouc (natural) rubber but on the model specific spec sheet it says it’s silicon.  Read both the pre-release page and the post-release model page and see how many little discrepancies you can spot.  I’m confident that I figured most of them out when writing all the details here, but it is interesting to see…

Because of it’s 22mm width and 4mm thickness, the vintage Hull has an aggressive, in your face look that screams, “HEY! I’M VINTAGE [inspired]!”  It of course looks great, if you like the style, but this strap has also been given a practical feature that will allow you to take it off road with greater confidence.  This is to say that spinnaker has given this leather strap a “waterproof”, their word, coating to inspire greater use.  Whatever they treated this leather with it has made the strap almost rubber-like to the touch and you will find that it is a bit uncomfortable due to the stiffness for a sometime.  It does hold what ever shape you form it to however, so its easy to give it that initial fitting for your wrist which is helpful.

I like the buckles that Spinnaker has used here but they are laser engraved parts bin buckles, so they’re nothing special.

13. Gravitas / On the Wrist:                     Vintage

Both watches feel solid when held and although their stiff thick straps are uncomfortable at the start, they do eventually break in.  I definitely noticed the vintage model much more on my wrist as the strap was more uncomfortable for longer and I was conscious about dinging the high polished case.  If you can get over this mindset then the vintage Hull is a very beautiful and reasonably practical watch.  Meanwhile, the tactical had the opposite effect on my wrist; I completely forgot it was there and had no problem throwing a bunch of summer yard work, wet and dry, at it, all of which it took with ease; I even dunked it in the pool without a second thought.

14. Wife:                                                        Vintage

I was very surprised when my wife exclaimed that she loved the look of both of these watches!  The short of this is that she didn’t like the rubber strap on the tactical and the vintage’s colors won her over quickly.  She really loves the modern proportions combined with the vintage looks and cushion case.  If you want to know everything she thought about both watches and find out the ONE thing she HATED about them then read the My Wife’s Take next!

Thoughts…

My conclusion is resoundingly that if you want the best of both models you should definitely short list the SP-7051-03, as it features the great vintage dial features within the super durable PVD case; and the brown strap used looks tops. 

Spinnaker TM model SP-7051-03

I feel that the model for you depends on quite a few factors, but I think I can now boil it down to 3 options.

  1. Vintage – someone who appreciates the California dial and the old-timey styling but of course wants a modern case size and everyday usability of a modern watch.
  2. Tactical – someone who needs a minimal presence watch that can be worn both over and under clothing [read tactical]; or someone who wants a durable no-nonsense watch.
  3. Tacti-Vintage – someone who wants the vintage look but the durability of the tactical’s PVD case; someone who wants to look tactical and wants everyone to know they’re the most tactical-ist.

At the sale price I feel that the Hull California line-up makes a compelling argument for a great looking everyday watch for most buyers, provided you don’t mind all the parts-bin bits and bites that have been used to keep costs down.  Each of these watches will appeal to different people so which you prefer will depend on your affinity to vintage styling or practicality.  In the end both watches are more good looks than practical, but each has its own special appeal.

Personally, I will be reserving the vintage model to mostly travel occasions while the tactical will join my shortlist for housework and some light get paid workdays.  I like the image Spinnaker is selling, and I love California dials and cushion cases, but I am on the fence about the brand as a whole.  I think that if you like the look as much as I do, and you can get 20-30% off MSRP then go for it.  I would also say look at what Maranez has to offer as they are truly a great little brand that has nothing to prove to anyone and just make great watches.

Short side story to put a thought into context for you…  I also purchased a single copy of the recently updated Spinnaker Wreck.  It looked good for what Spinnaker was trying to achieve but upon attempting to set the time the crown and stem came straight out of the body!  I put it back into the body, but movement would not properly lock it in place.  I notified Spinnaker and they replied promptly and with non-fluent politeness and, upon providing photographic evidence, provided me with a few FedEx options to return the watch.  Just before boxing it back up I decided to try out the rotating bezel and get a photo of the rotor from the back base.  When I actuated the bezel for a full 120 clicks the whole thing popped right off!  Apparently, I had broken the metal bit that held the whole bezel in place!  I immediately provided Spinnaker with photos and decided to request a refund as I had seen enough.  Spinnaker has been really good about the whole thing and they’re customer service has been excellent.  After my time with the Hull California line, I can only assume that the Wreck that I received had been QC’d on a Wednesday and was just a bad luck lemon; but, it made me think about the brand as a whole and everything I had experienced up until now.  I have this soft feeling now that Spinnaker is more of a fashion brand than an innovating micro-brand.  The pretend vintage styles, the 100m “dive” watches, the upside down rubber strap (I think)… I’m just spit-balling here but I’d be curious what your impartial thoughts are?  Is Spinnaker an innovative micro-brand trying to earn global recognition or is it just a mass-marketing brand that looks like a duck?

In the end the Hull California line offers a good value and if you do happen to receive a lemon don’t despair, Spinnaker will treat you like a valued customer, just maybe temper your expectations of what you’re really getting when you order from the Spinnaker catalog.

If you’d like me to take a closer look at the Spinnaker catalog let me know in the comments; I still dig the brand but I’m on the fence about ordering anymore after my short time with the Wreck…

Final Score…

As this is a line-up comparison the score is just to see which aspects make a big difference between models within the line-up.

Check for my upcoming fun Match-Up! of a vintage King Seiko vs a modern Seiko Presage  and make sure to post your review requests and other thoughts in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Spinnaker Hull California Line-Up – Vintage vs Tactical – Detailed Review

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