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On the Wrist: James McCabe Heritage Automatic II

By Cameron Martel


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An Attention-Getting Entry-Level Automatic: Sensibly Sized & Priced Right

Words/Photography: Me / Model: Bryce McD, Jason C

Earlier this year I reviewed the James McCabe Heritage Retrograde, a quartz-powered 39.5mm casual-wear watch that I thought – and still think – is a total aesthetic knockout. It’s got a distinct steampunk look and the multi-color ion-coated case is a real sweet party trick. It was the first James McCabe I’ve reviewed, but not the first from Dartmouth Brands, parent company to JM (as well as Avi-8 and DuFa).

Hey, wouldn’t you know- here’s an automatic from James McCabe with the same case and similar aesthetics as the Heritage Retrograde. While the dial loses a few complications, the watch itself gains a Miyota automatic that is nicely decorated and shown off via a mineral exhibition caseback.

This is one of the few watches that’s as much fun to photograph as it is to wear, and from that perspective, it’s a solid win. From a watch enthusiasts perspective, however, the Heritage Automatic is fun but the barebones automatic movement itself doesn’t live up to its captivating good-looks of the rest of the watch.

Despite an entry-level movement, the Heritage Automatic is a solid watch to consider if you’re wanting something distinctly styled and still 100% watch. If you want to add an inexpensive automatic to your collection, and you want that watch to be something special, well, you’ll want to keep reading…

Disclosure: James McCabe provided this Heritage Automatic at no-charge for the purposes of this review.

James McCabe Heritage Automatic Wrist Shot

James McCabe Heritage Automatic Technical Specifications

  • Model Number: JM-1022-0A
  • MSRP: Appx $315
  • Case Diameter: 39.5mm
  • Alternate Models: Plenty
  • Movement: Automatic, Miyota 8215
  • Complications: Date display
  • Power Reserve: Approximately 42 hours
  • Water Resistance: 50m / 165ft
  • Crystal Material: Mineral

James McCabe Heritage Automatic Wrist Shot

Sensibly Sized & Properly Good Looking

A lot of the watches available for men today are oversized. Fact is, for most men, anything over 42mm is probably too big. But styles and tastes change, and part of that change has been accepting bigger cases.

Thankfully, James McCabe eschews this sizing nonsense by shipping the Heritage in a tasteful 39.5mm case. For most men, this is an ideal size. For me, it’s quite literally the perfect size.

Thanks to low profile lugs that don’t protrude too far from the case, the on the wrist feel of the Heritage is comfortable and complementary. Its size won’t cause it to dominate your outfit; that novelty is left to the case and dial, which are ion-treated and richly multichromatic as a result.

James McCabe Heritage Automatic

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James McCabe Heritage Automatic Wrist Shot

The Case is Striking in Photos & Outright Dramatic In-Person

And I don’t mean that disparagingly in any way. No photograph or video will capture the true brilliance of how the case plays with light and color. Know that it is very much as pronounced as the photos showcase here and then some.

This case is not the only case you can get the Heritage Automatic II in. In fact, the Automatic II comes in 9 different color and strap combinations, including a steel on steel version with blue hands.

Because the dial itself is tastefully styled, all versions of the Heritage Automatic look good, but as I’m sure is no surprise, it’s the one that I have here that is my favorite. In a close second-place is the JM-1022-06, which seems like it belongs paired with a nice overcoat and scarf. Gorgeous.

James McCabe Heritage Automatic

This extroverted extravagance does not come at the expense of finishing, which is more than satisfactory for a watch that retails for under $350. Some price-centric compromises were indeed made on the Heritage II, but not in the areas of build quality or finishing. Everywhere I have inspected the watch – including when under the significant magnification care of my 90mm macro lens – looks great.

In the example I have here, there are no blemishes near the engravings, screws, or dial. Speaking of the dial, it’s dust-free underneath the mineral dome and finished well. Alignment of the indices and hands is good.

The only part of the look I don’t care for is the indice used for the 6 o’clock hour marker, which doesn’t look as though it properly fits in with the rest of them.

James McCabe Heritage Movement

Turn it Over & Perception is Very Much Reality

I have seen and read other reviews of this watch that downplay the value of the exhibition case back. I patently disagree and feel that the caseback adds an entire dimension to this watch that its owner will appreciate. I mean, honestly, just look at that photo. How is that in any way an unwelcome sight?

Let’s get this out of the way: the movement used in the Heritage Automatic is the horological equivalent of a Bic pen. It’s inexpensive, ubiquitous, and essentially disposable if it breaks. That sounds like a pretty poor comparison, but I’d also like to press that there are many positive aspects of a Bic pen, including their reliability and attainability. Inexpensive doesn’t mean cheap.

That’s certainly the case here. James McCabe has taken an entry-level movement and greatly enhanced its presentation via a custom rotor and gorgeous setting. You and I know that the movement inside isn’t anything special, but when it looks like that and costs as little as it does, does it really have to be?

James McCabe Heritage Automatic Wrist Shot

A Great Daily Wearer

You can daily-wear this watch with confidence, though you’ll likely find yourself replacing the crystal in two or three years of regular wear. The case itself should weather its life on your wrist just fine; until I received this one, I had been wearing the Heritage Retrograde once or twice a week since it arrived in May and it looks no worse for wear.

The use of a mineral crystal lessens its stock longevity, but that was one of the areas where a concession had to be made. The good news here is that replacement crystals are inexpensive, and if you feel so inclined, you could go right ahead and replace it with sapphire.

The movement, by the way, will last for a decade or more assuming proper care. Get it serviced every 5-7 years – at a cost of around $150 or so – and the watch will last as long as you take care of it. Think years and decades.

James McCabe Heritage Automatic

A Great Choice for a $300 Timepiece

$300 is a reasonable amount of money to commit toward a watch purchase and is within the realm of what most people would consider “appropriate” to spend on a watch. It’s also reasonable to have high expectations of what that $300 will buy you. Thankfully, in today’s world of niche-market microbrands, the choices available are pretty good if you know where to look.

I have no apprehensions whatsoever about recommending the Heritage II Automatic when it rings in at that price. It’s priced competitively – even considering its mediocre mechanical movement – and absolutely unique compared to its peers.

I won’t pretend that there aren’t better watches out there, but I also think that better is very subjective. In this case, if you want a watch that will be stylistically unique and almost certainly the only one of its kind in a 500-mile radius, you would be hard pressed to find a better watch than this James McCabe. Recommended.

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About Cameron Martel

If it ticks or tocks, I want it on my wrist. I'm a fan of all things that keep good time, and I can't resist a great looking watch. WYCA is my way of appreciating the engineering and artistry that goes into affordable watches. My favorite watch is my Jazzmaster Auto Chrono, and the watch I wear the most is my Weekender Chronograph. I currently have 33 watches in my collection. Learn more about WYCA's Editorial Process.

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