I test a lot of gadgets and gear for this site, and none of them have received the compliments or interest that the Original Grain “The Barrel” watch has. It doesn’t tell me when I have a call, or buzz me for texts, or vibrate uncontrollably when I haven’t visited Facebook in 20 minutes. It does two things: tells time, and looks good doing it.
The name is a bit of a giveaway, but Original Grain watches are made from (you guessed it) reclaimed wood. They offer a “classic” line of watches made from various types of wood, with prices ranging from $199 to $220, and using various woods from mahogany to rosewood. They also branch out (no pun intended) into woods with more story behind them, such as a “Brewer’s collection” made from reclaimed German Oak beer barrels, and the “Whiskey Barrel” collection, which is made from reclaimed bourbon barrels (this is the model we’re looking more closely at in this review). If you really, really love baseball, and/or you really, really want to spend some serious money, there is the “MLB Series”, which offers watches made from pieces of the 1923 Yankee Stadium as well as watches made from Wrigley Field. Before you jump for joy that you’ve found the ultimate gift for your favorite Yankees fan, though, just note the Yankees watch is $1,495, and only 2,008 were made. Cubs fans have it a bit easier, at only $975 for their watch.
The best part about Original Grain, however, is that when you buy any of their watches, they plant a tree. This is part of a “forest garden” program in Senegal, whereby planting specific trees and crops, they can contribute to giving people a chance for employment and sustainable food-they don’t just plant trees, but they consider how planting the tree can have an impact on a whole community. All that happens every time you buy one of their watches!
The Whiskey Barrel watch falls into a much more affordable price of $219. It seems like a wooden watch would be lightweight, but this is probably the heaviest watch I’ve ever worn, no doubt because the body and links are stainless steel. It isn’t an unpleasant weight, but it definitely has some heft to it. The metal is a coppery bronze color, which complements the lighter barrel wood nicely. There is a wood trim around the watch face, the face itself is wood, and the link bodies all have wood embedded in them, so the effect is a nice mixing of industrial and natural. The watch hands are the same coppery bronze, as is the second hand. The face itself is fairly plain, with ORIGINAL GRAIN printed on top and a very teeny tiny date window to the left of the number 3, but otherwise, it is fairly plain. I like that there isn’t much adornment to the watch face because it allows the natural grain of the wood to stand out as the main attraction. The watch movement itself is Japanese Quartz, and I’ve found it to keep time without any delays or issues.
Aesthetically, this is a very versatile watch. It can be dressed up or down easily, as I’ve been able to wear it with a business suit and then pair it with jeans. Every person who has seen it comments on how attractive it is, and the neutral tones of both the wood and the metal go well with any colors. I was concerned at first that the size would overwhelm my wrists (I have oddly small wrists) but while it is big, it doesn’t look out-of-place. The band is phenomenal and quite comfortable; I didn’t encounter any pinching or catching with the links, and the latch secures with both pins that lock in as well as a metal flap, so there’s no risk of it slipping off accidentally.
I have two quibbles with the watch, though one is more user-error. Original Grain was kind enough to include a tool to remove excess links, but I had a lot of difficulty using it and ended up snapping the thin end off the tool designed to pop out the link pins. Luckily, I had another watch tool on hand, and with a bit of effort and some trial and error, I was able to remove some links and adjust it to my wrist size. I do recommend if you’re not experienced with watch links to have a jeweler handle this part, as it was a rather frustrating experience. My other issue is that the date window is absolutely minuscule. It is so tiny it is difficult to read, and I would have preferred that Original Grain either leave it off entirely or replace the 3 with a larger date window instead.
Original Grain isn’t the only wooden watchmaker; in fact, in the course of browsing a store over the weekend, I found a whole slew of watches from a Canadian watchmaker named Tense. They too use reclaimed wood, but their watches are almost entirely wood, making them far lighter than the Original Grain. I was shopping with my mother, and we did some comparisons between the two types. We concluded that the Original Grain stood out for two reasons; it was aesthetically more pleasing, and being able to talk about it being from reclaimed bourbon barrels and the social impact that Original Grain makes give the watches more of a story. The styles are different, and the watches really can’t be directly compared, but if you’re looking at a wood-based watch, it was helpful to see them side by side and highlight what made Original Grain unique.
Smartwatches suck all the air out of the discussion these days, but personally, I think there’s something to be said for a good watch as a timepiece and standalone piece of jewelry. Original Grain highlights all the reasons why there’s a place for traditional watches; it is a unisex design that looks amazing, can be dressed up or down, has a history behind the materials plus a future in the trees that are planted with each sale, and it looks much, much cooler than any smartwatch can hope to look!
Source: Manufacturer provided review sample
What I Liked: Attractive watch; oozes quality construction; has an awesome story behind the style; can be dressed up or down; great price for a solid timepiece
What Needs Improvement: Date window is very tiny; links are hard to adjust; watch is rather heavy