Filson is an American maker of men’s goods which since 2012 has been owned by the same group that owns Detroit-based watch and goods maker Shinola – a further familial (but not directly connected) relation to also American company Fossil. That’s just a little bit of background information intended to help frame the nature, purpose, and particular reasons behind a watch that I actually have a lot to say about. The Filson Smokey Bear Watch is among the stranger timepieces I’ve written about lately – and that comes from someone known to be extremely open-minded to avant-garde design. In its own special way, this limited-edition watch is a true collector’s item just by virtue of how seemingly random it with is (yet with a lot of effort put into it). Moreover, this is perhaps one of the few $1,000 watches probably not worth its $1,000 price that I would nevertheless say is worth buying for $1,000.
Recently, Filson debuted a larger collection of “official” Smokey Bear items including clothing, bags, and other goods. This limited-edition Filson Smokey Bear Watch is a sort of thematic apex to the collection for ultimate Filson and Smokey Bear fans. Originally debuted in 1944 and popularized in the 1950s and for a few decades on, Smokey Bear (or “Smokey the Bear,” as the character is sometimes known) is a staple of Americana conceived in the golden age of advertising as a public service for the US Forest Service as part of a larger messaging campaign about preventing forest fires.
Apparently, only you can prevent forest fires, if the David Lynch-ian cartoon beast is to be believed. What makes Smokey Bear such an enduring character, in my opinion, is how much of an impact this image has made on the minds of children. When most kids first see the image of a serious-looking bear with a park ranger’s hat, they aren’t sure whether to be in fear or to perk up and pay attention. Forest fires (“wildfires”) are the evil that Smokey is fighting against – and those are clearly honorable things to prevent. With that said, it’s entirely feasible for a five year old child to harbor sleep time nightmares due to regular exposure to the stone-eyed upright walking grizzly that could randomly appear in the woods wearing nothing but pants and a labeled hat while brandishing a shovel. No, its not for burying bodies, its for shoveling sand on campfires, of course. I’m just saying that the line between Smokey being helpful to woodland creatures and terrifying to humans is clearly thin.
Smokey’s enduring message about preventing the destruction of our lauded natural preserves runs deep in American culture to the time of President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt who, I believe, began the tradition of establishing national parks in the United States. National parks exist all over the country and for decades have served as regular recreational grounds for families and anyone with an outdoors spirit. Of course, the introduction of humans into nature causes numerous problems from littering to, well, destruction. What Smokey Bear is advocating against isn’t all fires in nature, but rather responsible care when exercising the eons-old tradition of the campfire.
For more information on responsible camping, I would recommend watching a few dozen episodes of The Yogi Bear Show. Hanna Barbera created this more friendly (and mischievous) cartoon character in 1958, well into the public’s awareness of Smokey Bear. If the two were to star in an episode together I don’t think they would get along, but I think it is safe to say that the mascot of all that is wildfire prevention clearly paved the way for the catch-phrase slinging friend to Boo-Boo and bane of Ranger Smith’s existence. In fact, starting in the 1960s Yogi Bear served his own role in public service, helping to remind people not to feed bears. Leaving behind shovels for them to assist in Smokey’s fire extinguishing duties continues to be tolerated to this day.
The Filson Smokey Bear watch is military/camping-themed in a larger 43mm-wide steel case with Smokey’s visage and eternal gaze serving as the main focal point of interest under the 12 o’clock hour indicator. Over 6 o’clock the wearer will be constantly reminded that they – to the exclusion of all other humans on the planet – are solely responsible for the prevention of forest fires. This obligation is clearly impossible for any mere mortal to assume. With the exception of Santa Claus who – as it has been mathematically documented – must have the ability to be in many places at once, no entity exists that can ever possibly meet Smokey Bear’s exacting mandate.
Perhaps even more distressing is the fact that Smokey places the responsibility to prevent and put out wildfires exclusively on you. Not even he will assist you, but rather serves the role of teaching you how to prevent forest fires, which means diligently taking all measures to ensure your campfire is put out by (ideally) mixing it with sand and also dousing it with water. An orange-colored bandana comes with the watch, and on it are printed in detail all the information you should need (save where to get the water or loose sand) in order to see to a quick and permanent end to your previous night’s bringer of light, warmth, and sausage-cooking power.
I really admire the wisdom behind putting life instructions on articles of clothing. Bandana’s make good makeshift mouth and nose masks in the event you are in a smokey situation, so having instructions on them makes sense. I would really like to see the greatest fashion minds at work today figure out ways to use all that available free space on my clothing to print instructions on a range of things I may need to know in an emergency situation. I’m willing to wear pants which have step-by-step Heimlich maneuver lessons printed on them or a shirt that offers a guide on how much to bribe local authorities in a variety of quasi-developed third-world countries. In America, as the caretaker of the natural wildlife increasingly restricted to smaller and smaller habitable regions, we should certainly do everything possible to maintain that our flora and fauna companions aren’t burnt alive. It’s really the least the self-aware and socially responsible alpha predator of our land can do.
Despite having a sapphire crystal that is slightly too rounded for the antireflective coating to do its best work, and hands which are a bit on the short side, the Filson Smokey Bear Watch isn’t too bad. Shinola got a lot of things right such as the brushed finishing on the hands, the attractive “aged luminant” color and the raised Arabic hour numerals. It may not be a fashion revolution, but with its chunky dimensions and serious vibe, the Filson Smokey Bear watch is really a more mature item than I think most people might give it credit for.
An insert in the crown as well as the caseback are bronze-toned (not actually bronze, due to color stability), and they explain what you need to know about the limited-edition number of the watch as well as the fact that while Filson is located in Seattle, Washington, the watches are produced for them by Shinola in Detroit, Michigan. The case, as I said, is 43mm wide in steel, rather pleasantly thick, and water-resistant to 200 meters.
Inside the watch is a quartz-based movement they call the Argonite 715. This is actually a Ronda caliber 715 Swiss movement whose parts have been sent to the US and are assembled as a kit by Shinola. Attached to the case is a deep brown Filson leather strap with a small “roller wheel” on the buckle that assists in making the process of putting the watch on and taking it off a bit more comfortable.
Alone, the Filson Smokey Bear watch would be cute, but that isn’t all you get. What’s really impressive about this timepiece is the presentation. I’m not saying it’s so “all-out” that they included a shovel and Smokey Bear hat, but there is a lot of interesting documentation and the overall presentation is really something cool. If only the Swiss where able to come up with cohesive stuff like this as complementary materials to their fine timepieces. If Swiss watches have soul, then it seems to be at the expense of their display packaging material (no matter how expensive it is).
If you get the Filson Smokey Bear watch, I hope you like a little ursine erotica – which is a humorous but ironically accurate description of how the mid-20th-century artists pictured their woodlands’ spirit of safety. It’s just that a lot of the traditional images have smokey standing around quasi-suggestively (for the correctly receptive audience, of course). Bear fetishists apply here. Commanding Smokey where to bend over and shovel could easily be a regular part of your day now. I suppose for some people dreams do come true. Just don’t forget that bit about needing to prevent forest fires. No matter what urban jungle you are living in, your new bear comrade will make sure even the most minor of exposed flames is handled safely.
Then there is the marijuana enthusiasts community, who I am utterly surprised has not yet jumped on the chance to co-opt Smokey Bear as a pot smoking meme. I mean it is true that if one decides to go out into nature to participate in combustion-related activities and suffers from short-term memory loss, having Smokey Bear on your watch dial certainly can help as a reminder and keep you at least semi-responsible.
The meanings (and jokes) one can derive from this exceptionally well-thought-out watch presentation (and timepiece) help make it worth paying for. It is also why I think a 1,000-piece limited edition watch like this has real collectability potential. Enough people clearly know about Smokey Bear, and when these watches are gone it is only a matter of time before some collectors really want one given Filson’s utter determination to be both weird yet highly refined about it at the same time. I further like that I would have never expected a product like this to exist even a few months ago, and now that it is here, I am already wondering what is destined to come from Filson and Shinola next.
Once again, because the Filson Smokey Bear watch is produced by Shinola for Filson, it is assembled here in the US using a Swiss movement kit put together in Michigan and many of the other parts coming from places such as China. At least it does make a rather important “pit stop” on the way to the consumer by being assembled and tested right here in the USA. Get it for the presentation kit, keep the watch, and have fun to see type of role the watch has years from now when the limited edition of 1,000 has been long sold out. It may be weird, but I am super happy it exists, and what makes it better is the overall marketing concept and polish that you’d never find from a lesser brand. The watch comes on a brown leather Filson strap and has a retail price (available online) of $1,000.
>Model: Smokey Bear Watch reference 20036478
>Size: 43mm wide
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Sometimes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: People who may have demonstrated neglect of appreciating their distinct and singular role in preventing forest fires. Collectors of Americana and Smokey Bear-related items. Fans of ursine erotica.
>Best characteristic of watch: Impressive presentation and nice execution of a very weird project. Dial is handsome. If you are the philosophical type, then you might find deeper meaning in the public service announcement statement on the dial.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Not a luxury watch in construction, but it isn’t really trying to be. Smokey Bear branding is both worst enemy and greatest asset to the design. For the money, the presentation kit should include more wearable items. Unfortunately, only you and not your friends, can prevent wildfires. That’s just a lot of responsibility