View all articles

Feature: The COOLEST cheap watches in the world

Imagine taking the coolest, cheapest watches in the world and making them even cooler? That’s what the peeps at IFLW have set out to do with some crazy, out-of-this-world modifications. Have they made these watches even cooler or just made a royal mess? Let’s find out.

The Concept

So, you may already be familiar with IFLW, which of course stands for “I Really Love Watches”. They’ve been posting the craziest of crazy watch content over on Instagram for quite some time now, because, as the name suggests, they really like watches. And for anyone who really likes watches, at some point the following thought occurs: Should I make my own watches?

Microbrands have been popping up like mushrooms since lockdown, giving us a new generation of watches to obsess over. There are cheap ones and expensive ones, simple ones and complex ones, innovative and interesting ones, and of course ones that are a gnat’s whisker away from just being a Rolex Submariner.

That’s the toughest bit about starting a microbrand, finding that sweet spot between familiarity and originality. Homage can quickly become rip-off. Original can easily become weird. Meanwhile, however, the market for modifying watches was sat completely unexplored, and so that’s the direction IFLW took.

It’s quite a simple premise. Take a watch everyone knows and loves, particularly ones down at the lower end of the price range and give them a new lease of life. Take this metal-clad G-Shock in black, packed with tech like Bluetooth and solar charging. What it didn’t have is a rainbow of colours adorning the dial and bezel, and now, thanks to IFLW, it does.

There’s three layers of modification going on here, first with the bezel, which gets a blended loop of colour starting with red at the top and working its way around through the full range until it comes full circle. Then there’s the markers which match that progression, but as discreet colour sampled from the portion of the bezel. And then there’s the dial, which offers up a galaxy of stars in every single colour you can think of—hence this particular watch’s name, the Black Metal Galaxy.

The Execution

So, what’s going on here to get these watches showing their new colours? It’s not a brand collaboration, if that’s what you’re thinking. IFLW have to source these watches, usually in small batches, and from there they modify them themselves.

Unlike one of those cheap car body repair centres, the watches are deconstructed first before painting, with each part attended to by hand. Okay, so it’s not exactly the Mona Lisa, but if you find yourself with a spare G-Shock and an afternoon to kill, have a go yourself. The blended colours and pointillism-style dial are surprisingly tedious to do.

Not every watch gets the full treatment, such as the Midnight Sky Concept, which starts life as a quartz Tissot PRX in 35mm. I asked about the automatic 35mm, and this demonstrates the difficulty in making these watches: IFLW can’t work on those until they can get enough of them to produce a batch.

The Midnight Sky Concept expands on the sunburst blue dial with the same colourful night sky realisation as the Black Metal Galaxy, and like the base PRX in comparison to the G-Shock, it’s a subtler, more mature approach to modification.

It’s surprising what a difference it makes, actually, even the Tissot. The paint is thick and globular, so the dots have a hint of shape and three-dimensionality. Because they sit above the dial, the sunburst drops deep into the background, giving a hint of parallax. If you just described to someone a watch with a bunch of colourful dots painted on it, it would sound properly naff, but it actually, really works.

The Price

So far, so good. If the idea of a lightly modified watch with punchy colours and a unique pattern appeals, then this is going to be right up your street. But there’s a small spanner in the works here, and that’s the price. Let’s take a look at our final watch, the G-Shock Liquorice Rush, which expands on the Black Metal Galaxy by streaking the dial with stringy stripes rather than dots.

It’s a good vibe with the clear resin watch, and certainly passes the most important test: do I want to put it in my mouth? Not only do I want to do that, I also want to bite into it, because it looks like it would be delicious. The base cost of one of these G-Shocks, before modification, is about £100. The cost of the Liquorice Rush is £519.

I asked IFLW about this, and I was told that that’s simply the downside of sourcing, dismantling, painting and rebuilding watches in batches of a few hundred at a time. Because yes, these watches simply can’t be produced in enormous quantities, even if they could get hold of more donor watches, and so the margin needed to make it worthwhile goes up.

Similarly, the PRX has an original price of £320, which goes up to £990 for the IFLW. The metal G-Shock’s £500 goes up to £1,249. Whether you consider that worthwhile is entirely up to you. It certainly wouldn’t be the first instance of modified, hand-painted items—inside and outside the watch industry—commanding a strong premium.

Should You Get One?

Ultimately, assuming these IFL watches float your boat with their bright colours and appetising patterns, you’re probably wondering if something like this is right for you. Watch modification is incredible rare, what with the industry being almost alarmingly litigious, and as such it’s never really caught on in the way it has in the automotive scene, so I can imagine the hesitance.

As nothing mechanical has been modified with these watches, there should be no difficulty in having them serviced by the manufacturer in the case of the Tissot and Oris watches IFLW modify. Casio, of course, is generally easier to replace batteries if and when needed yourself. You get a two-year warranty as well for a bit of extra peace-of-mind.

So really, if you want one, it comes down to the cost, and that’s a question only you can answer. It’s a lot cheaper to buy a standard version of the watch, but equally these offer a wildly different experience that just simply can’t be achieved without going the IFLW route. If you’re the kind of person who owns a pair of customised sneakers, then this will probably be for you.

Likewise, I’m sure there will be a whole bunch of people who couldn’t think of anything worse, and for them I think it’s worth remembering something important: choice and variety is what makes everything and anything interesting. Music, cinema, books, fashion, hobbies—whatever it is, if it were all the same, it would make for a pretty miserable dystopia.

So, I’m incredibly glad that these watches exist to give some colour and variety to the space. They may not be cheap, but they’re definitely not boring. And I can’t be the only one who thinks that way because pretty much every IFLW collection is immediately sold out.

What do you think of IFLW’s colourfully modified watches? Super fresh or super stale?

Shop pre-owned Tissot watches