The Sentinel is my kind of watch. As the founder of WatchesYouCanAfford.com, and as someone who still occasionally finds time to get a watch behind my lens, I’ve been extremely fortunate to be able to explore my interests and horological preferences (or lack thereof) in-depth. It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of microbrand watches because of what they’re doing to the establishment, both in terms of price aggression and the democratization of watchmaking.
And the Sentinel does those things quite well.
Please note: as of January 2021, The Phoibos Sentinel is not currently available.
Josh got in touch with me in Q1 2020, right before the pandemic really hit and before the reality of 2020 would set in for most of us, with an offer to have a look at the Phoibos Sentinel. Given that my watch reviews have slowed down in pace as my professional life has taken me elsewhere, I was happy to take on a review and add a timepiece from a microbrand that my extensive 100+ piece collection did not already have in it.
And besides, it’s nice to carve myself a little corner of WIAA. I like it here.
But then 2020 went right on being 2020.
Can We Pan Pandemics in a Watch Review?
In late March, the watch arrived at my home in Canada from Josh’s in the UK. By this time, the pandemic was in full swing and a lack of information about this new pathogen meant that it was indeed a weird time for all of us.
It was in the spirit of said pandemic that the watch went to my “decontamination room” (read: an area of my basement where things go to sit for a time before being further handled). After a week or so had passed, I brought the watch upstairs and did a preliminary photoshoot.
And then the Sentinel, true to its name, stood motionless for weeks, and then months, as 2020 dragged on (as an aside: it’s amazing how 2020 felt like both an eternity and an instant).
Since I began reviewing watches with regularity in 2013, I’ve learned that stainless steel loves to scratch and a macro lens loves to remind you of that. This matters because I don’t like to wear watches at all until I’ve had the chance to do both a macro shoot and a couple of lifestyle shoots.
But with nowhere to go thanks to a raging pandemic, and on-again-off-again lockdown orders, the Sentinel sat from March until… early December. Sorry, Josh.
A Military Field Watch That Deserved More of My Time
As I finally got a handle on 2020 (in mid-December, to be clear), the Phoibos again attracted my attention. Finally free of the personal and professional projects that dominated my year, I sat down with the intention of getting some of my passion projects out of the way.
The Sentinel was one such project, and as I got into the photos I had taken months prior, it became clear to me that I underappreciated a watch that checks off every box in the “Cam scale of watch awesomeness”:
- The automatic movement is not a low-rent, non-hacking mystery movement; it’s a Miyota 9015, which powers at least a dozen pieces in my collection and has proven itself to be an admirable ally in the war against poor timekeeping.
- The styling is conventionally unconventional, liberally borrowing major design elements field watches are known for while also adding some flairs of its own.
- The presentation, which is a modest leather satchel that comes complete with a second rubber strap, a manual, and all the usual warranty bits; the novelty of the faff-heavy piano-finished watchboxes wore off many moons ago for this Canadian.
- The price, which was a modest $350 USD when new.
One, two, and three are definitely appreciated, and that appreciation multiplies significantly the lower the price of the watch is. $350 for a well-constructed and automatic-powered field watch is very appropriate for a microbrand such as Phoibos.
Phoibos Sentinel Features & Specifications
- Size: 42mm diameter, 50mm lug to lug
- Movement: Miyota 9015 automatic
- Crystal: Sapphire
- Water Resistance: 200m / 660ft
- Features & Complications: Date display, a screw-down crown, C3 Super-LumiNova on the applied indices/hour markers and hands
- Strap: Two included, a genuine leather with conventional buckle and a water-ready rubber strap
Taking it All In
I’m a colourblind chap and so I try not to comment on colour choices. That said, I’ll never like the tan colour used for the hands and hour markers; it’s too washed out and hard for me to appreciate. For the record, I know that this is because I’m colourblind so I don’t fault the watch for it… but I wouldn’t blame you if you do.
The Sentinel is not a small watch. Sure, 42mm sounds “small” these days, but pair that with a squareish case and suddenly 42mm feels a bit more like 46mm. If you’re a fan of the oversized, then the prior statement is good news. If you prefer something smaller (and consider 42mm “small”), then you’ll likely find the supersized case a bit too big.
The case is a mix of textures and finishes, with a brushed accent filling out the hollowed out sections of the case near the lugs. This is a great accompaniment to the knurled and decorated crown, which is engraved with a star that is filled in with that tan colour I adore so much.
But colour scheme aside, both finishes are done well and free of imperfections as far as the naked eye can see. However, once I zoom in with the help of a 90mm macro lens…
… it appears that the finishing still holds up. Point for Phoibos.
Getting Dialed In
The Sentinel makes good use of all the available real estate, featuring large Arabic numerals at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock, with indices at the remaining hours; all are treated to a healthy dosage of LumiNova. The hands are also jumbo sword-style, with a hollow inner section and a C3-filled tip.
The entire affair is easily legible at dark thanks to lume that is bright enough to get you kicked out of a movie theatre… assuming you were allowed to go to one, that is.
The hour indices are applied, and you can see small imperfections in their application. The same is true of the red-dipped tip of the second’s hand, which is just ever-so-slightly imperfect.
Now we’re talking like… 10x zoom from what your unaided eye would see. To criticize these imperfections is more than just pedantic, it’s also unwarranted. The finishing here is as good as I’ve seen on some Swatch Swiss-made pieces costing twice or thrice the price.
Below the 12 o’clock marker is the printed Phoibos logo, which upon closer inspection seems to show either a pissed off or a mischievous octopus. It’s all in the eyes, mate, and you can tell that octopus is up to no good.
A date window sits between 4 and 5 o’clock, rounding out the notable features of the dial.
Oh, and that gorgeous textured backdrop that sits unassumingly in the background, upon which the white minute markers, logo, and automatic livery are flawlessly printed. The entire effect looks great, and again, the level of finishing relative to the price is excellent to see.
Let’s Get a Move On, Shall We?
Before we talk movements, I want to take a moment to appreciate the caseback, which is a rare and welcome departure from the common exhibition we all know and love.
Now, this isn’t a knock against exhibition casebacks or open-heart dials – the mechanical underpinnings of a movement are more than just a little beautiful, in my opinion – but rather a tactical admission that Phoibos found something that looks better on the caseback than the exposed movement would.
A rarity indeed, but come on, just look at this caseback:
No, I mean really look at it super-duper closely. In addition to looking amazing to the naked eye, the finishing is – get ready for it – above what you’d normally see on a $350 watch from a mainstream brand.
The livery itself is certainly evocative, but also at home on a military-styled field watch.
When I first got into the watch scene 8 years (and a full hairline) ago, Miyota movements were both commonplace and generally distrusted (justified or not). Today, Miyota movements are both commonplace and generally appreciated as being robust movements that can do 80% of what the Swiss can for 25% or less of the price.
And I’d also argue that the reliability (and availability) of Miyota movements is a large part of what has helped drive the microbrand movement… and also the adoption of microbrand watches by the mass market (sorry, couldn’t resist that pun).
According to Caliber Corner, the 9015 sports a 42-hour power reserve, hacking, hand winding, and 28,800 bph for a nice smooth seconds sweep.
Accuracy is estimated at -10/+30 seconds per day, which isn’t anything amazing, but my experience with the 9015 suggests that they’re generally more accurate than that.
All told, for $350, I have zero complaints regarding the choice of movement.
Things I’d Do Differently if I Were Mr. Phoibos
If the world changed and suddenly I found myself controlling the design department at Phoibos, I’d make a few small adjustments to the Sentinel:
- Shrink the case from 42mm to 40mm; it’d make this more wearable to a broader audience without detracting from it aesthetically
- Ditch the tiny overhang from the circular portion of the case
- Clean up the connection between the round and square case, specifically to remove the tolerance gap in the carved-out sections near the lugs (I have minor concerns that dust/etc. will make this part of the watch home).
- Provide quick-release straps/springbars; I chuckle a bit every time I see a watch that comes with multiple straps without quick-release springbars or a springbar tool. The average person is going to scratch up the lugs when they change the strap… totally preventable with quick-release.
All told, small criticisms given what is otherwise an excellent and good-looking field watch.
A Great Water-Ready Field Watch… If You Can Find One
Sadly, my delinquency in getting this review ready, paired with the fact that the Sentinel wasn’t a new model last spring, means that you may have read this review getting all hyped up about this watch only to realize that you can’t easily find them brand new.
At least, not on PhoibosWatch.com – the product page has long been taken offline, and searching for Sentinel on the website returns nothing. It appears that the Sentinel’s life has been discontinued.
That is a Phoibos problem – that a watch could come and go and barely be a note on the register within just a couple of years – but it’s not exclusively a Phoibos problem. Microbrands are rife with models that came and went with little fanfare to mark their passage.
It’s this lack of legacy that many watch enthusiasts consider a dealbreaker for microbrands. “Without a legacy”, they say, “a watch is just steel, plastic, and glass attached to some rubber and leather”. And they (almost) have a point.
But you can find the Sentinel easily enough on grey-market sites, watch trading communities, and eBay. And despite the fact that you won’t find any mention of the Sentinel on Phoibos’s website, that doesn’t take away from what this watch does well: deliver $700 in value for half that price.
And, for this watch fanatic, the Sentinel added another brand to my list of micro’s to watch.