Monday, August 3, 2015

Watch Principle #2: The Watch Box Rule, or a Home for Every Model

The second principle builds on the first:  the moment you decide to purchase another watch beyond your first, you'll need a place to put your spare watch(es) when you're not wearing them.  (For the only-watch crowd, I imagine the TV cliche of placing your watch on a nightstand holds mostly true to reality.)  As the thirteen Watch Primer post discusses, the respective wrist times of the watches you own shrinks in direct proportion to the total number of watches; if you have more than two, then your watches will spend the vast majority of their lives being stored, rather than on your wrist.  While it's possible to store your watches in the boxes or packaging they came in, this practice quickly becomes bulky, sprawling, and eventually impracticable - unless you've an abundance of shelf space and don't mind rummaging through several boxes each morning to pick out your watch for the day.  For most others, a watch box makes sense as a designated repository for all the watches that aren't adorning your wrist.

The idea behind acquiring a watch box is a familiar one: putting everything in its place, and, in turn, maintaining a place for every thing.  For the watch enthusiast looking to expand his or her collection sensibly, it also presents an opportunity to impose what I've come to recognize as a vital rule in my own path to WISdom:  the Watch Box Rule.

The rule is a simple one:  You can't have more watches than you have spaces in your watch box.  If you do, you have two options:  sell off timepieces until you're back in the black, or acquire a bigger watch box.  Yet there is actually more to the rule than may be perceived at first glance.  The pare-down option forces you to take stock of your current collection and to assay every timepiece within it against the others.  The wheat will quickly separate from the chaff.  The buy-a-new-box option, on the other hand, imposes an additional up-front cost to expanding your collection, and also serves as a physical embodiment and quantification of your watch collection: it will grow bigger as your collection does, gaining more slots and becoming more and more unwieldy and challenging to store as your watches grow in number.  And, by forcing yourself to store all of your watches in one place, it serves as an immediate representation of exactly how extensive your watch collection has become.

Even if the prospect of legions of watches assembled in rows and waiting for you to don them sets your heart aflutter, seeing said legions in the metal forces you to consider exactly how much of an investment - of time, effort, space, and attention - the amassing of your collection has cost you.  The largest watch box I've owned had ten slots, and there was a time (OK, many times) when I owned more watches than it could accommodate.  Staring at those ten slots and their occupants, as well as the watches left homeless by overzealous acquisitions, realizing how infrequently I actually wore some of those watches, made me realize that, for my purposes, my collection had grown over-encumbered.  That made me sit down and assess each and every watch, considering how attached I was to it, how often I wore it, and what features it brought to my watch box that weren't duplicated by its neighbors.  Doing so allowed me to pare things down enough to accommodate my current 5-watch watch box.

I won't lie; there have been times - many of them, in fact - where I've been tempted to purchase a sixth watch.  It isn't hard to find six-slot watch boxes on Amazon or elsewhere.  But so far I've managed to keep to the Watch Box Rule.  And keeping to it has forced me to constantly reassess my watch collecting goals, with an focus on longer and longer terms.  It's made me realize that, of the five occupants of my watch box today, only one has a tenured position:  the Rolex Oyster Perpetual  116000.  Simply put, it's as close to my Platonic ideal of an everyday watch as I'm likely to get.  The Speedy Pro is virtually assured of a lifelong spot - tenure-tracked, if we continue the analogy - but the right new chronograph release in the distant future could remove it from its position.   (A smaller diameter, blue dial, and perhaps a column wheel movement would be the requisite factors there.)  The rest of my box's slots are, in truth, still up for eventual grabs.

Deciding on the size of your watch box and sticking to the Watch Box Rule can help you determine your goals and priorities for your watch collection, and keep you from making those spur-of-the-moment purchases that could keep you from attaining those goals.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Watch Review: Rolex Oyster Perpetual 36mm 116000 Blue Arabic Dial

Several years ago, I added the first Rolex to my collection in the form of the then-newly discontinued 36mm Explorer I 114270 after what I thought was an exhaustive search of Rolex's contemporary offerings.  I'd intended the acquisition to be the sole representative of the laudable crown in my watch box, and it likely would have been, had I not been tempted to view its successor, the 39mm Explorer I 214270, at my local authorized dealer.  It wasn't that the 214270 impressed me (with its stunted hands, how could it?); it was that I laid eyes on the 116000 with its blue, Explorer-style 9-6-3 dial and updated oysterclasp bracelet, and immediately fell in love.

The result was I sold the Explorer I I'd fully intended to keep (at a slight profit, thanks to its discontinuance and having acquired it used), and bided my time and money until I could afford to purchase the 116000 new.  The time came a little sooner than I'd expected due to the introduction of the 39mm Oyster Perpetual models at Baselworld 2015 and rumored (and likely probable) discontinuance of the Arabic dial 36mm models, but I was able to negotiate enough of a deal to walk away with the Rolex I'd lusted after for nearly four years.

It had taken four years in part because I'd tried so desperately to talk myself out of the purchase.  I knew that I'd be unlikely to sell a nameless Oyster Perpetual for more than I bought it for, especially not if I bought it new, and I was loathe to sink the thousands I'd recovered and couple of hundred I'd gained from the Explorer back into another watch, much less another Rolex.  But the pull of the 116000 was so strong that I nearly purchased a gently used example from one of the preowned watch vendors at Nakano Broadway during my last trip to Japan.  In the end, it may have been for the best, as the retail experience at my local authorized dealer was top notch, and there is an ineffably exquisite quality to purchasing and subsequently wearing a watch that can claim you as its sole owner.  (Far less ineffable were the previous owner's wrist hairs that emerged from between the bracelet links of my secondhand Explorer I, when I gave it a thorough ultrasonic cleaning.)  I was afraid that, after spending over $5k on a watch - more than I've ever spent on a consumer product - I'd become bored of it in a month or two, as I have with many previous watch acquisitions (and which my long history as a watch flipper can attest to).

Going into the fourth month since picking up the 116000, I can happily report that wasn't the case.  Many WIS understand the difference between a watch that immediately speaks to you and one that does not; the latter may become an acquired favorite, after a time, but the former will always appeal to you on some primordial level, making you smile each time you glance at it, no matter how many times you already have.  Several times while wearing it, I have been times I've been tempted to winnow my five-watch rule down to an only-watch rule, with the 116000 as the sole survivor.  Only my love for the Speedy Pro - in my book the poster child for acquired favorites; it wasn't love the first time it graced my wrist (it struck me as too large, as it continues to do when paired with a bracelet), but the longer I've had it, the more and more I've grown to appreciate its immaculately designed dial, bulbous crystal, and myriad other design decisions that make it the Platonic ideal of a chronograph.  Well, that and my obsession with having a backup for nearly everything.  But if I were compelled to live an only-watch lifestyle, I have to admit that, for all of the Speedy's benefits, both technical and in heritage, I'd probably end up siding with the 116000.  It just suits me best.

Because it's not one of the more-vaunted sports models, you may be able to negotiate a slight discount on an Oyster Perpetual, even at an Authorized Dealer, as I did.  Granted, all I achieved was getting it tax free (nearly 5% off what would have been the total price), but that amounts to several hundred dollars in savings on a purchase like this.  Seeing as I had been willing to pay full price if necessary, I counted it as a welcome surplus of exchange.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Watch Review: Nomos Glashutte Tangente Gangreserve

In writing last month's Kent Wang Bauhaus v3 watch review, I realized that I never reviewed one of the most paradigmatic Bauhaus-influenced designs out there - and one of the only ones I'm aware of that is available with an in-house movement.  I'm speaking generally of Nomos Glashutte's entire Tangente line, but this review will draw on my experience of the Gangreserve (Power Reserve) model that I acquired several years ago.

In addition to offering one of the best value propositions out there as far as true manufactures go, Nomos Glashutte also represents a bastion of sensibly sized watches for those with diminutive wrists and/or old-fashioned sensibilities.  At 35mm in diameter, the Tangente is the ideal size for a dress watch, and its 18mm lug width means that there are plenty of after-market options beyond the admittedly excellent shell cordovan strap that it comes with.  Its austere indices and numbering are, in my opinion, a quintessential expression of the Bauhaus aesthetic, and its blued hands - true blued hands, achieved through chemical processes that occur during heat treatment - match that aesthetic perfectly.

In retrospect, the power reserve indicator that I specifically purchased the Gangreserve for may actually be the weakest link in that particular Tangente's chain.  While useful in keeping the watch wound, it does break up the otherwise seamlessly sleek aesthetic that the basic Tangente model achieves so effortlessly.  In addition, it increases the cost of servicing substantially over the basic Alpha movement.  If I were to redo my purchase, I would likely go with the basic Tangente model - albeit with the same exhibition case back that I enjoyed in the Gangreserve version.

Whether or not the Tangente is for you likely falls to how you answer the following three questions:

First, are you OK with - or perhaps even prefer - a manual wind movement?  There can a certain pleasure associated with the daily ritual of winding a watch by hand, and if that tableau appeals to you, then the Tangente may be right up your alley.

(And if not, the new Tangente Automatik with the automatic  DUW 3001 movement may be the perfect alternative.  Just look at how the DUW 3001 fills up the 35mm case back!)

Second, do you like the way that dress or vintage sized watches look on your wrist?  Nomos's Tangente intentionally bucks the modern trend toward bigger and more substantial wristwatches, which can either be a welcome respite or an unwanted anachronism, depending on what range of watch sizes you find look best on your wrist.

Finally, perhaps the most important question is this: how much does the Bauhaus aesthetic appeal to you?  Is it attractive enough for you to see yourself wearing a watch in that style as your daily wearer, or in lieu of more traditional dress watch styles?  If you're a Bauhaus aficionado, then a Nomos Tangente may very well be your ideal watch.  If you'd prefer more classic, modern, or outlandish designs, then the Tangente probably won't be a viable option as a daily wearer or dress watch stand-in; whether it should still have a place in your watch box depends on the size of your collection and the financial resources you're willing to devote to it.  For me, while I'm a fan of the aesthetic, I'm more partial to more classic designs, such as the Patek Philippe Calatrava for dress watches, or the Rolex Oyster Perpetual when it comes to all-rounder watches that straddle the sporty/dress continuum.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Watch Review: Kent Wang Bauhaus v3

There is something about the Bauhaus aesthetic that is uniquely suited to watch design.  The minimalist, form-is-function philosophy can be especially appealing to those in pursuit - though some might say in vain - of a single watch for every occasion.  For those who want such a watch to not only be as universal as possible, but also affordable and powered by a dependable automatic movement, it's hard to think of a better candidate than Kent Wang's Bauhaus Watch V3.

This third iteration of Kent Wang's minimalist watch gets a lot of things right.  At 40mm in diameter (down from the beefier 42mm original), it's poised right at the sweet spot between today's larger watches and the more restrained proportions you'd find in vintage or dedicated dress models.  It features a polished steel case with a scratch resistant sapphire crystal, display case back, and a versatile leather strap that surprised me by managing to fit my 6" wrist on its innermost adjustment hole.  (Most regular-length straps on the market today, or offered standard on men's watches, tend to go only so far as a 6.25" wrist or so.)  As the v3's strap length was, to my understanding, lengthened to accommodate larger wrists up to 8", its ability to accommodate a 2" range in wrist sizes is extremely impressive.  In addition, the Bauhaus's lug width of 20mm means that it is compatible with a wide range of after-market strap options, from NATOs in nylon to unlined straps in shell cordovan.

Of course, it's the dial where this watch earns its Bauhaus moniker.  A simple matte surface with printed (or, in the case of the black version, applied metal) indices form a clean, uncluttered, and utter utilitarian template for telling time.  Eminently readable (especially when contrasted with the white model's blued hands), its only potential flaw - the sameness of the indices could cause one to misread the time if viewed at an off angle - is negated by the date window at 3 o'clock.  The date window's presence is the only real design concession that falls short of the Bauhaus ideal, but it serves enough of a function in utility and improved readability that I think its inclusion adds more to the watch than it detracts.

At under $400 retail (or around $300 if you can catch it during a Massdrop group buy), the Bauhaus V3 offers a tremendous amount of value for its price.  Its Japanese Miyota 9015 movement (upgraded from the Chinese Seagull the original and v2 used) is a solid competitor to the once-ubiquitous ETA 2824-2, and is the workhorse movement that many watch brands turned to after ETA shuttered its supply lines to third parties.  It matches the 2824-2 in virtually every metric except for its winding rotor mechanism, which is uni-directional rather than bi-directional.  While hardly a deal breaker in itself, that fact does mean that it will wind itself a a slightly reduced rate versus a comparable movement with a bi-directional rotor.  It had no difficulty sustaining itself while I used it as my workday wearer, despite my mostly sedentary responsibilities, and if you plan to wear it every day, as I did, it should have no trouble keeping itself wound from day to day.

If you're looking for an extremely versatile yet affordable automatic - perhaps as your introduction to automatic watches in general - Kent Wang's Bauhaus v3 watch is an excellent choice.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Watch Review: Marathon TSAR Medium Diver's Quartz 36mm

I've always been a fan of quartz movements when it comes to diver's watches, or really any watch with a screw-down crown.  The more the screw-down mechanism is utilized, the more likely it is to fail, and depending on the watch and precise nature of the failure, might require replacement of the entire watch case.  This makes low-maintenance quartz movements the functional ideal for watches that employ screw-down crowns for their needed water resistance, as they are accurate enough to minimize the number of times you'd have to access the crown to the end of non-31-day months and the occasional, every-other-year battery change.

Actually finding a full-fledged diver's watch (meaning 300m water resistance) with a quartz movement these days, however, can be a difficult task, further compounded if you're looking for a watch that would look reasonable on a smaller (say sub-7") wrist.  42mm is the threshold for reasonableness for my 6" wrist, and sub-42mm options are very, very hard to come by.

Marathon's original TSAR (short for for "Tactical Search And Rescue"), a solid tool watch noted for its contracts for and use by government agencies, barely fit the bill at around 42mm, though its 13.5mm thickness keeps it at the very cusp of feasibility.  I briefly owned one that I acquired on sale from Top Spec U.S., one of Marathon's authorized dealers, but in the end it was just a little too big and chunky for my needs.

Having once owned a Rolex Explorer I 114270 and an Omega Seamaster Pro 2253.80, I've long held 36mm as perhaps the perfect size for someone with a wrist as diminutive as mine.  The Seamaster in particular was a strong contender for a lifelong diver's watch, but the demands its mechanical movement placed on its screw-down crown was simply too much for my admittedly near-OCD comfort levels.  I considered its equally discontinued quartz-movement-powered doppelganger, the 2263,80, but couldn't bring myself to spend well over $1000 on a run-of-the-mill Swiss quartz.  

Marathon surprised many watch commentators with the introduction of a "medium" version of its hallowed TSAR, especially in this day and age where the trend of bigger and bulkier watch sizes is showing no signs of slowing down.  Their choice of a 36mm diameter seems audacious in a market where 38mm is already considered small, but not all that surprising, since the difference between 36mm and 42mm is the same 6mm that separates the TSAR (42mm) and its larger brother, the JSAR (48mm).  It seems clear that Marathon intends to offer a version of its Search-and-Rescue diver's watch for consumers spanning the entire spectrum of wrist sizes.

Besides being smaller and slightly less thick (12.5" versus the original 13.5"), the TSAR Medium brings the same feature set as the original: a high-torque ETA F06 Quartz with date display and end-of-life indicator (ticking at multiple-second intervals, rather than per-second), 300m water resistance, tritium tube illumination on its hour indices and hour and minute hands, and a chunky and highly visible diver's bezel with a solid ratcheting motion.  It trades the original's 20mm lug width (and it's virtually endless stream of after-market compatible strap and bracelet options) for the slightly less varied but still highly versatile 18mm, which looks better proportioned to its smaller diameter.

Like all Marathon's diver's watches, the TSAR Medium comes on a rubber strap, though a redesigned one that features half-punched strap holes, allowing the user to punch through only the one they use in order to give the strap a more streamlined appearance.  I'm pleased to say that, while the rubber strap on the original TSAR was too long to accommodate a 6" wrist, even at the innermost strap hole, the strap on the Medium just makes the grade at the innermost position.  So 6"-wristers out there needed shell out for the matching bracelet just to find a comfortable fit.

But while the bracelet is hardly necessary, it's highly recommended.  It completes the TSAR look in a way that a rubber strap never could, and offers a nice nod to the TSAR's government-contracted roots with an engraved U.S. Seal on the clasp.  The dual-screw system does make resizing the bracelet a bit more challenging - but not impossible - so if you're wary of damaging the bracelet in the attempt, it's probably best to seek out a qualified watch professional to do the adjustment.  For those fearless enough to try it on their own, I've managed the deed with two flat-head screwdrivers of the same size, with scotch tape securing the watch to the work surface to prevent it from wriggling out of position.

At just under $500 (and just over $650 with bracelet), the TSAR Medium is admittedly pricey for a quartz watch.  But if you like your watches reasonably sized and agree that the ease and accuracy of quartz is best suited to diver's watches, you'd be hard pressed to find a better in-production option than Marathon's TSAR Medium.

Case: Brushed Steel
Movement: High-Torque ETA F06 Quartz
Dial: Black
Lume: Tritium Tube
Crystal: Sapphire
Strap: Rubber (steel bracelet available)
Water Resistance: 300m
Dimensions: 36 x 43.5mm
Thickness: 12.5mm
Lug Width: 18mm
Price: $495 (+ $180 for bracelet)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Watch Review: Seiko Railroad Pocket Watch SVBR001

Image courtesy of Seiya Japan, a well-respected exporter of JDM watches.
I've had a fascination with pocket watches from the moment I first laid eyes on one.  While anachronisms have always appealed to me in general, there is something intrinsically cultured and appealing about pulling a watch from your pocket to check the time.  While the wristwatch largely replaced the pocket watch that used to occupy a place of prominence in every gentleman's getup (and has, in turn, been functionally supplanted by the timekeeping function inherent to cellphones), it remains the only traditionally acceptable timepiece to wear with all but the most formal attire.  It is for this reason that I reserve room in my watch collection for a pair of pocket watches, one mechanical, one quartz, to fill in during occasions where sartorial dictates would inveigh against wrist-borne timepieces.

The Seiko Railroad Pocket Watch (SVBR001) was one of the few purchases I'd planned well in advance of my last trip to Japan.  It's a perfect example of a contemporary watch designed firmly in the aesthetic of vintage timepieces, affording you the convenience of a modern quartz movement with the heft and finish of a mostly bygone era at an entirely reasonable price in today's watch market.  At 47mm in diameter, it feels substantial in the hand, and the clear dial markings and well-proportioned hands distinguish it from the more hastily thrown-together designs one often finds in listings of current production pocket watches.  The only modern upgrade I wish it offered is a sapphire crystal; the curved glass that it employs must be consciously babied, since its lupine-style case does not provide the added protection of a hunter-style cover.

Although it comes with an elegant braided lanyard, the SVBR001 is best paired with a genuine watch chain, especially as its aesthetics pair well with the vast majority of vintage offerings.  I use it with a 925 silver single Albert chain from the UK that I acquired on eBay several years ago, but it would be served just as well by a modern double Albert like this one by Ky & Co.  Both watch and chain spend most of their time in a glass pocket watch display case, which I've reviewed previously, that neatly converts any pocket watch into a handsome desk clock.

All in all, unless you're a railroad professional enamored by the classic conductor's aesthetic, the SVBR001 is not an everyday watch.  It is an easily attainable and maintainable callback to a time long gone, that still finds relevance today on the rare social occasions that hearken back to the more refined nuances of yesteryear.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Watch Review: Seiko SARB035

The Seiko SARB series is well-known among watch aficionados as one of the greatest value propositions among entry-level mechanical wristwatches.  It offers a handsome range of watches with a classic, subtly Japanese-influenced aesthetic, and automatic, in-house (thanks to Seiko's vertical integration) movements roughly at the $500 price point.  Only the SARB series' limited availability as a JDM - Japanese Domestic Model - limits its global position as one of the most attractive entry points into mechanical watch collecting.

The SARB035 is a cream-dialed offering that tips the scales at a little over $300, depending on currency conversion rate at the time of purchase.  Its 38mm diameter positions it well between the dress watch and everyday watch categories, as it looks just as at home when paired with a t-shirt and jeans as it does sliding under the cuff of a dress shirt.  The front crystal is sapphire, while the display back is Seiko's proprietary hardlex, meaning that the crystals are unlikely to suffer scratches from daily wear, unless you tend to be rough on your watches while they're off your wrist.

While the SARB035 comes with the dependable, solid-end-link bracelet that defines the SARB line, its 20mm lug width means that you have the widest possible options when it comes to aftermarket straps.  (Contrasted with the extremely hard to find 19mm width you'd have to deal with on most modern Grand Seikos, the SARB035 only looks like an even better choice.)  I opted for a shiny aftermarket cordovan strap that I got at the same Yodobashi Camera where I picked up the SARB035.

The the slightly iridescent cream dial and intricate fraction-of-a-second painted indices really play up a strongly appealing vintage vibe, as does Seiko's font, hands, and applied indices selection.  The watch looks on par with automatics in the several thousand dollar range, and offers similar performance with its 6R15C movement, which offers an impressive 50-hour power reserve and usually performs far more accurately than its rating of +25/-15 secs/day.

Image courtesy WatchUSeek Forums.
 The only thing that might give some buyers pause about the SARB035 or the SARB series in general is the lackluster fine adjustment for the included bracelet.  With only two fine adjustment positions in the clasp and one-size links, I've found myself in the unfortunate position of being in between adjustment sizes for both the SARB035 and SARB045's bracelets.  Too tight is never an option, and I can't abide bracelets that shift up and down the wrist like a bangle, which is why I opted for the aftermarket strap.  A minor annoyance for those who intend to wear this watch with a fine leather strap to complement its vintage vibe, but a potential deal breaker for those who intend to use the bracelet and find themselves stuck between adjustment sizes.

With only that small caveat, the SARB035 is a solid value proposition and great entry point into mechanical watches for those who can gain access to this Japan-only beauty.