Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Watch Radar: Accessories

In the wake of the Timex Weekender find (the latest development has led me to purchase the gray and black dialed models, with the goal of swapping the black's bracelet onto the gray dialed head - which ought be the bee's knees, though I'll post a pic when all is said and done for you to decide), I've been looking online for leather bracelets and other trinkets (i.e. rings) to accessorize my now-full watch box.

In this pursuit, Etsy has proven a bountiful hunting ground.  I found several boutique vendors offering attractive leather bracelets in a variety of styles and colors, and ended going with one called Dstello, based in Spain.  The challenge was to find an attactive bracelet with a minimal amount of metal hardware (to minimize nicks and scratches to watches worn on the same wrist) and a complete avoidance of magnetic clasps, to prevent any possibility of magnetizing my watches.  I decided upon this simple bracelet with a hook closure to begin with, but also ordered a customized version of this blue leather bracelet with silver-toned hardware.  Both are on their way, and I'll post reviews of both when they arrive and I've had enough time to put them through their intended paces.

I also went looking for titanium rings, and found a variety of offerings with enameled blue stripes, which I found especially attractive.  The only problem is that I'm still a little unclear about my ring size, which, like my wrist, has diminished a bit since the weight loss.  My size 7.5 college ring is too big, so I imagine I'm somewhere between a 7 and a 7.25.  I was lucky enough to find a very attractive size 7 ring on clearance at the titaniumknights boutique, so I figured it was worth the risk to buy it and see how it works out.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Watch Review: Timex Weekender T2N654KW

Timex Weekender T2N654KW with royal blue NATO strap.

It's been just about a week since the Timex Weekender arrived in the mail, so I think I've had enough time to render a verdict:

It's the best $30 watch your money can buy today.

Admittedly, the $30 caveat is a sizable one.  And if you're going for as many functions as you can pack on your wrist, Casio offers digitals with far more features.  But in terms of classic style, versatility, and time-telling performance, it's hard to beat the Weekender.

At 40mm in diameter, it's poised right at the transition point between dressier midsized offerings and the larger sports watches that have gained a popular following in recent years.  The case is stainless steel backed, primarily brass with a chrome coating.  Only time will tell how well it holds up to everyday wear and tear, but I suspect it will gain a nice patina if/when the brass begins to show through.  The standard 20mm lug width means you have a wide array of aftermarket strap options, allowing you to dress up the watch with a black leather band - so accessorized, it wouldn't look out of place under a suit sleeve.  But the Weekender really shines when accompanied by a NATO-style strap.  The navy-with-grey-stripe strap that came with this model is really one of the most versatile I've seen, even as far as aftermarket NATOs go, hedging the line between subdued and sporty the way the stripped "Bond" NATO tends to.  I've opted for a royal blue traditional three-band NATO that I picked up on eBay for $10, which treads more on the sporty side of the equation, but still suits the watch to a T.

Timekeeping has been exactly what you'd expect from a quartz movement, with no noticeable deviation in my week's worth of ownership.  The lack of lume on the dial or watch hands is made irrelevant by the integration of Timex's INDIGLO technology, which uses the same electro-luminescent backlighting you'd find in a digital watch to light up the watch's face when you press the crown.  It's an elegant and interesting solution for a battery-operated analog watch.  The only complication is, as I understand it, endemic to Timex watches: their quartz movements produce a noticeable ticking sound.  It may be a conscious feature, an extension of Timex's "Takes a licking, keeps on ticking" motto.  And I've had vintage mechanical movements that tick louder, and the frequency is once-per-second - which corresponds to the movements of the second hand - so I hardly notice it even in silent environs.  But other owners have been put off by the sound, so if you're sensitive to rhythmic noises or prefer complete silence when you concentrate, this may not be the watch for you.

Otherwise, the Timex Weekender T2N654KW has assumed the role of go-to watch in my watch box, and has fulfilled that role admirably so far.  Definitely worth the meager investment if you're looking for an inexpensive yet versatile analog watch.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Watch Primer: Screw-Down Crowns

The crown is deceptively mundane in its ubiquity, but in truth much of the successful design and operation of a watch depends upon it. It provides the most direct interaction non-watchmakers will ever have with the watch's movement, and it represents the element of the watch most exposed to the outside world. In the case of screw-down crowns, it is also the part most likely to suffer wear and tear sufficient to require early replacement. 

Which brings me to one of my peeves about screw-down crowns: the ease with which they can be cross threaded - that is, screwed down with misaligned tracks so that they abrade and destroy one another - and suddenly require the costly replacement of the entire case.

While I've never cross threaded a crown myself (in part due to a precaution I always take, by lining up the threads by rotating the crown counterclockwise until I can feel the threads fall into position, then tightening it clockwise), I've had a watch purchase fall through when the seller discovered that cross threading had occurred, and ended up flipping another watch whose threads were partially stripped by the successive misuse of a long string of previous owners. Screw-down crowns are generally considered something of a sought-after feature, as they generally increase a watches' potential water resistance. Which is fine, I think, when the only times you'd have to unscrew the crown would be the occasional time/date adjustment. But their use with mechanical movements - which, by their limited power reserve and inherent inaccuracy when compared to quartz, require far more interaction with the crown - makes me wary of the frequency with which I have to screw and unscrew those delicate threads.

That is why in general, unless you intend to use the watch as a dedicated diver (in which case, yearly maintenance and pressure checks on the watch's seals become an absolute must), I would avoid screw-down crowns in mechanical watches, especially the rare (and counter-to-all-logic) models that combine the feature with a handwound movement. The delicacy of screw-downs is why I decided to sell off my Rolex Explorer I, and sadly, with every modern Rolex watch (with the possible exception of some Cellini models) incorporating the feature, I don't predict myself adding another to my watch box in the near future.

(As I managed to sell the Explorer for a little more than I purchased it, I had high hopes of replacing it with the similiar 116000 Oyster Perpetual with a blue sunburst dial with the same 3-6-9 design as the Explorer, but the screw-down crown remains a deal breaker.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Watch Radar: Timex Weekender T2N654KW

As I mentioned on Goods To Buy, the Timex Weekender series of military-style watches on NATO-style bands seem to be a great bargain for around $30 shipped, depending on which model you pick.  The picture above is the one that ended up selecting, the T2N654KW, with an off-white face and blue/gray stripped strap.

I'll follow up with a review once the watch arrives at my doorstep.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Watch Primer #11: Legible Dials

What's in a Dial?

For the purposes of this post, the term "dial" encompasses not only the dial itself - that is, the piece of material that forms a backdrop for the hands of a watch - but everything that appears beneath the watch crystal: dial proper, hands, day/date windows, indices, etc. I'll be limiting my discussion to analog watches, as the technological needs and display styles of digital watches tend to entail a different set of considerations, which perhaps I'll pick up on in another Watch Primer installment.

On a basic three-hand watch, the dial's most elemental function is to provide a backdrop against which you can perceive the watch hands, and tell the time from their relative positions:

While some watches epitomize minimalist design aesthetics with no indices (the Movado "Museum Watch" being an iconic example), I'm of the view that a watch is a tool, and as such is defined by its primary function: telling time. In order to perform that function efficiently, it needs to possess the precision and demarcations necessary to enable its wearer to tell the time quickly and accurately. In general, this necessitates that a watch dial possess both hour and minute markers. This, however, is only one half of the legibility equation. The other is whether the watch's minute hand extends far enough to actually touch the minute markers, allowing you to tell exactly where the hand falls between markers without having to extend the lines in your head.

The Omega Speedmaster Professional is once again a fine example of this principle done right:

Image (C) Omega SA.

 As you can see, the minute hand extends right up into the minute markers so that there's no question on which side of a marker the tip of the hand falls.

Mondaine's series of "Swiss Railway Watches" also seems to get it right, as in this example:

Mondaine A6603032811SBB.  Image courtesy 

Here, the blockish design of the minute hand could have made reading the precise time difficult if the hand didn't extend all the way into the minute markers.

Not all of the watches I've owned have gotten this design aspect right, though:

Citzen AT0200-05E Eco-Drive Chronograph.  Image courtesy

I didn't really notice this design issue back when I owned the Citizen (which otherwise is a stand-up watch; it saw me through a successful bar exam), but looking at it again years later the stubby minute hand was the first thing that I noticed. With time and exposure you just get more attuned to design nuances, which is one reason I wanted to tackle this topic in the Primer, so that those who are just starting out their watch collections can avoid the surprisingly less-than-obvious pitfalls into which I've fallen in the past.

Inexplicably, even titans of the watchmaking world like Rolex and Patek Philippe have sinned in this area:

A surprising number of Rolex's models have minute hands that fall short of the mark, but the infamously stubby 39mm Explorer is the most obvious culprit, potentially leaving you straining to tell where the hand falls with relation to the nearest minute:

Image courtesy

And then compare this 38mm diameter Calatrava 5296G

(C) Patek Philippe SA.
to the slightly older (and 37mm) Calatrava 5127G:

(C) Patek Philippe SA.
Both models use the same 324SC movement (and possibly the same hands, judging by the images), yet the millimeter larger 5296G has a noticeable gap between the minute indices and the tip of its minute hand.  Personally, I'd expect more attention to detail from the world's premier watch manufacturer.

I've heard in some circles that minute hand length might be constrained by the size of the dial in relation to the torque power of the watch's movement, but if that's really the limiting factor, then I think the disconnect becomes an admission of substandard - or at least cost-cutting - engineering, which may be forgivable in a fashion watch, but is hardly something you'd want to see in a watch that is supposed to stand for horological excellence - and costs thousands of dollars because of it.  Just another detail to be mindful of when shopping for your grail watch.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Watch Review: Casio G-Shock G5600CC-2 & NaNoWriMo Hiatus

The Casio G-Shock G5600CC-w is a 2011 update to the venerable G5600 series, which features an iridescent dark blue resin shell and strap and a blue negative LCD display.  It measures 43mm wide, making it one of the most reasonably sized G-Shocks on the market - which makes sense, as this model was designed to be unisex.  It features Tough Solar technology for recharging its battery by light (both sunlight and artificial light works, though the former is, of course, far more effective), multiple GMT settings for easy shifting between timezones, and the standard alarm, chronograph, and timer functions you'd find on almost any G-Shock.  The real draw here is the unique color of the watch and its negative LCD display, and if you're a big fan of blue, like me, then you'll definitely be satisfied here.

At the same time, under normal lighting conditions (the pictures here are all closeups with flash to highlight the iridescent nature of the blue resin), the watch's color appears navy blue, almost passing for black at the most cursory glance.  That makes it possible to achieve a unique balance with this model that most other G-Shocks fail to do: be both flashy and understated at the same time.  The casual passerby will probably assume it's the same uniform black G-Shock (as most progenitor G5600s are) that you most often find in the wild, though those who examine it more closely will be rewarded by its more unique attributes.

The biggest factor holding me back from purchasing the G5600CC-2 was whether the strap would accommodate my 6-inch wrist.  Most normal-length straps are a notch or two too big for me, which has been a continual problem as I've shopped around for strap options.   I'm happy to say that the G5600CC-2 fits my wrist on its 3rd shortest hole, and as its extra-long strap is studded with holes along most of its length, I'd have to assume it would accommodate wrists of virtually any size.

Despite G-Shock's reputation for putting out watches with pie pan-sized faces, the G5600CC-2 strikes a good balance.  At 43mm, it's on the larger size of my watch box, but it looks well proportioned on the wrist.  The only downside to its one-size-fits-all strap is that a good amount of it will be folded around on smaller wrists.  It's not too much of a problem on a digital sports watch like this, but still something to consider:

The Casio G-Shock G5600CC-2 retails for $120, but you can (as I did) find it online for much less.  Amazon carries it, along with a wide variety of G-Shocks, including another G5600 series model, the G5600CC-3D, which features a vibrant green case and green positive LCD display.


On a side note, updates may be sparser in November as I will be participating in NaNoWriMo 2011.  For more information, or to keep track of my progress in the event, stay tuned to updates on Fictional Matters!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Watch Radar: Seiko SARB045 & Casio G-Shock G5600CC-2

This is the inaugural post for the "Watch Radar" series, which will sporadically feature the watches that are showing up on my purchasing radar.  This post is occasioned by the future acquisition of two new outgrowths of my blue dial obsession: the automatic Seiko SARB045 and the digital quartz Casio G-Shock G5600CC-2.

Seiko SARB045
Seiko's SARB series of watches are Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) models that occupy its mid-range mechanical lineup.

Powered by the 6r15 series of automatic movements, which is a hackable and handwindable update to their venerable 7s26 movement, the SARB045 also features a deep blue dial that appears to rival the vibrancy of the "electric blue" Seamaster:

Because I'm crazy when it comes to blue dials, and because the notion of a sapphire-sandwiched automatic with a manufacture (if mid-range) movement for well less than a grand intrigues me, I decided to brave the overly strong yen and minor customs charge with importing watches from Japan and purchased one from a Rakuten dealer.  Though my first foray with a Rakuten purchase ended with the watch evidently disappearing en route and a chargeback, my second attempt to acquire the watch in question (a blue dialed Grand Seiko SBGX065 - which will definitely feature in an upcoming Watch I'm Wearing post) from a different Rakuten seller was a success, so I'm hoping for a similarly smooth experience with this seller.

Because I've recently pared down my collection to a single automatic, the SARB will eventually go head-to-head with the electric blue Seamaster, with the loser possibly ending up on eBay or a watch sales forum.

G-Shock G5600CC-2
I really wanted a vibrant blue G-Shock back when I first was looking to fill the digital quartz slot in my watch box (a position that went to the nearly all-titanium JDM model ProTrek that, at 44mm wide, is borderline too big for my wrist), but no serious contender existed at the time.  The G5600CC-2 is a 2011 model that fits my G-Shock wishlist almost perfectly, down to the form factor of the most venerable of G-Shock models, a blue negative LCD display, and Tough Solar tech without atomic clock syncing (which sadly does not work in Hawai`i).  After several unsuccessful attempts to grab this one at a bargain price from Hong Kong eBay sellers, I went with a low-priced and somewhat unknown online retailer based in New Jersey.  If all goes well, I'll follow up with a review of both the watch and the seller in the weeks to come.  If it doesn't, then it'll be PayPal Protection or chargeback time again (both of which will probably be future topics on Goods to Buy's eBay Primer).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Watch Primer: The Difference Between Manual Winds and Autos

I just came across an awesome post by WatchUSeek user Archer that offers one of the clearest technical explanations of the differences in winding mechanisms between autos and manual winds.  It's far more detailed than any explanation a non-watchmaker could provide, and I'd be remiss if I didn't link to it here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Watch Primer: Dress vs. Casual

This installment of the Watch Primer looks at what factors divide watches into the "dress watch" and "casual watch" categories.  This distinction has become increasingly blurred over time, with quintessential sport watches like the Rolex Submariner becoming known as an acceptable tuxedo accessory.  (The bottom line: No wristwatch should be worn with formal attire like a tuxedo, though a pocket watch is acceptable.)

What Makes a Watch Dressy?

Sleekness and elegance are two qualities of the categorical dress watch.  It is usually thin (say 10mm or less), with a clean, uncomplicated dial design and a smaller diameter - in today's expanding proportions, 40mm or smaller.  A leather strap with matching stitching is dressier than a bracelet, and among bracelets a more intricate design is dressier than the classic three-link oyster bracelet.

The strictest criteria would call for a light-colored dial (white, steel, or beige), and allow for no complications (not even a second hand!), and would likely even omit the extraneous details that minute markers would provide.  Hour indices would tend to be applied, though some classical designs employ laquer for their indices.  At 35mm wide and under 6mm thick, Jaeger-LeCoultre's original Master Ultra Thin is a quintessential example:

What Makes a Watch Casual?

Casual spans a wide range of watches, as it is basically any watch that doesn't meet the criteria above.  Some are purpose-built for certain activities, like diver watches and chronographs.  Some come awfully close to the definition of a dress watch, and could probably fill in for one with most onlookers being none the wiser, but technically stray too far afield by one or two parameters, with diameter and thickness being the usual culprits these days.  Others, such as digital workhorses like the Casio G-Shock and ProTrek lines, are a completely different breed of wristwatch and would seem completely out of place under the sleeve of a suit (presuming they could fit there) to most sensibilities.

What Difference Does It Make?

Admittedly,he distinction between dress and casual watches doesn't mean as much as it used to.  Many classic sport watches like the Submariner and Speedmaster look just as at home half-covered under a suit sleeve as they do accompanying a t-shirt and shorts.  More than that, most people wouldn't be able to tell - or if they could, wouldn't care - what watch is tucked under your sleeve, or whether you're wearing a watch at all.  But for those who care about watches - whether you want to abide by traditional rules, or break them - the first step in gaining mastery over your watch box is to learn the rules.  The age-old writing principle applies here as well: only after learning rules can you hope to bend - or even break - them successful.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Watch Primer #08: Tiers & Price Ranges, Part Three & Conclusions

This post is the last installment in the Tiers and Price Ranges entries for A Watch Primer.  It covers the final, most expansive (and yes, expensive) range - $10,000+ and beyond – and then looks back on all the tiers at which we’ve looked and offers some helpful tips for those interested in starting or expanding their watch collections.

Haute Horology - $10,000+ and Beyond

Once the price tag on a watch begins to exceed the ten grand threshold, you begin to venture past the realm of mass-production pieces into hand-finished, hand-assembled or bespoke watches.  In short, you’ve entered the playground of haute horology. 

The highest pantheon of big Swiss manufacturers – Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and Vacheron Constantin – start becoming accessible at this point, along with their peer from Glashutte, A. Lange & Sohne, as do the high-end models from Jaeger-LeCoultre.  Precious metal cases and bands enter the fold, and as you venture into $50k and beyond, so do the most challenging (and sought after) complications: perpetual calendars, rattraponte chronographs, minute repeaters.  Or if you’re looking to avoid widely available and factory manufactured pieces for something produced in small batches, largely by hand, and even built to your own specifications. 

If money is no object (as it is increasingly likely to be, if you’re shopping in this rarified neighborhood), you can snag a bespoke piece from world-class horologist like F.P. Journe or Richard Mille.  An honorable mention for the made-to-order market must go out to American company RGM Watches, which offers a great degree of customizability and has succeeding in offering the first American-made movement since Hamilton became a Swiss company, as well as its own tourbillion model.

Ultimately, this tier covers too much ground in terms of style and function to be able to encapsulate it all in a couple of exemplary watches.  My own “grail watch” picks from this tier reflect my preference for simpler watches with clean dials: Patek Philippe’s Calatrava line is still the high water mark for dress watches, Audemars Piguet’s classic blue-dialed Royal Oak (which, try as I might, I still prefer aesthetically to the also Genta-designed PP Nautilus) for steel sports watches, and, my top if-money-was-no-object choice, the A. Lange & Sohne Saxonia Dual Time in white gold:

Drawing Conclusions

So what can we learn from looking at the entire field of watches from drugstore Casio to bespoke Richard Mille?  For a device that has been rendered potentially obsolete with the advent of the smartphone (which could, with the right app, perform any of the timekeeping duties of a wristwatch, with greater accuracy and without costly maintenance), the wide panoply of designs, features, and target markets are as diverse as the people who wear them.  Every watch-wearing individual has his or her own opinion about what’s good and what isn’t, and with the traditional rules of wrist wear becoming increasingly blurred over time (case in point: the mounting consensus that a classically designed sports watch like the Rolex Submariner can perform dress watch duty as easily as it can time a dive), it is the clarity and coherence of your own sense of aesthetics that must chart the course of your watch collection. 

Price alone cannot determine the inherent worth of a timepiece.  It should, however, factor into your buying decisions for at least two reasons, the first obvious, the second less so.  First, the watch you buy to wear around your wrist should not be expensive enough to pay off your mortgage (or you probably should have used that money to do just that) or cause you to worry over your timepiece so much that it inhibits your ability to use and enjoy it.  Second, the price of your watch reflects your philosophical view of watches and the practice of wearing them. 

As wearing a wristwatch is no longer a requirement for telling accurate time, the act of wearing one has shifted from practical necessity to a stylistic choice.  It can be assumed to some degree that a man who wears a watch every day – or even as part of a larger rotation – does so because he appreciates it.  Given that appreciation, an observer can safely deduce facets of the man from the qualities of the watch.  A gentleman who chooses a solid but inexpensive quartz model like the Timex Easyreader as his day-to-day watch may be unpretentious, frugal, shrewd, or utilitarian – or he might be the opposite of all those things.  But his selection of timepiece inevitably speaks to his view of watches as a whole: his choice of a value-priced model with quartz accuracy and convenience evokes a perspective of watches as tools rather than affectations.  A man who wears a Rolex daily may do so because he is appearance-conscious, a big spender, or appreciates the aesthetics of the brand or a mechanical movements.  But his choice evokes a view of watches as objects of intrinsic (and, perhaps, intangible) worth, irrespective of functionality, ease of use, or efficiency.  Such a man inevitably acknowledges that watches as both timekeepers and aesthetic statements, and displays a willingness to invest in an aesthetic object that, if maintained and cared for, is designed to accompany him throughout his life.  Neither outlook is wrong; nor is one any more correct than the other.  But each man’s outlook inevitable reveals something about the man himself, and so it is a wise individual who takes pains to both know himself well enough to understand his outlook and chooses a watch that comports with it.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Watch Primer #07: Tiers and Price Ranges, Part Two

In the second Watch Primer installment of Tiers and Price Ranges, we'll be looking at the wide field of watches that fall within the luxury category of timepieces.  Because this segment of the market spans such a large range of prices (I've defined it as $1000-$10,000+, but there're no real hard and fast rules, especially at the $10,000+ side of things).  The overall spread can be classified as "luxury" because watches in this price range are just that: at their core, unnecessary.  But the extra money you pay in these ranges can net you considerable gains in value as far as design, quality of movements, fit and finish, and the degree to which the watch in question was actually crafted in-house by the brand.  Determining the most favorable balance of value vs. price can be tricky, so here's a description of each range and watches that exemplify the qualities you'd find therein.

Introductory Luxury: $1000-$3000

In the introductory level of the luxury cagetory, you'll begin to find examples from the most well-known and popular brands on the market, including Tag Heuer, Omega, Breitling, and other big Swiss manufacturers.  But this range is also home to some unique brands with interesting value propositions: there's Nomos, a Glashutte company which offers in-house manufacture movements in Bauhaus-influenced cases at an amazing price.  Longines, Swatch Group's mid-tier brand, offers a great balance of quality, solid ETA movements, and fit and finish.   Beginning in this range, some part of the hefty price tag you pay will be for brand recognition and marketing - which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's definitely something that should be factored into your buying decision.

Exemplars of the Range:

Longines L27044164 Heritage White Chronograph, $2,650 ($1612 on Amazon)

This model is a great example of the value you often get with Longines: a solid ETA chronograph movement with an elegant fit and finish and a style that evokes the classic chronographs of much more highly priced brands like Patek Philippe and Girard-Perregaux.  Also, as evidenced by the difference in MSRP and Amazon's price, you're more likely to find steeper discounts on quality but less publicized brands like Longines than household names like Rolex and Tag Heuer.  Speaking of which . . .

Tag Heuer Carrera WV2115.BA0787 Calibre 7 Twin Time, $2,700 ($2154.59 on Amazon)
Tag Heuer is arguably one of the most well-publicized watch brands out there, and this model comes from its Carrera line.  This Twin Time model features a second hour hand for dual timezones, a marked upgrade from the basic model (which is famous in movie circles for being the watch Leonardo DiCaprio wore - and which earned itself an extreme closeup or two - during the blockbuster Inception).

Mid-Range Luxury: $3000-$6000

Here in the mid range that you most often find the sweet spot between value - features, quality, design, and fit and finish - and price as far as luxury watches go.  At this range you can begin to expect to see manufacture movements and more elaborate complications.  This range is home to the venerable Moon Watch, the Omega Speedmaster Professional 3570.00, as well Breitling's most famous model, the Navitimer.  One of the most well-regarded manufacture brands, Jaeger-LeCoultre, also has a few signature models in this range, particularly the Reverso and the Master Ultra Thin.  At the top of this range you also begin to enter Rolex territory, with their introductory Air King line and slightly larger Oyster Perpetuals, steel Datejusts (which add a date window and the signature Rolex bubble, just as the name implies), and, until price jumps push it into the the next category or Rolex decides to update its design, the famous (and somewhat ubiquitous) no-date Submariner, the 14060M.  Noteworthy brands: Omega, Breitling, Jaeger-LeCoultre.

Exemplars of the Range:

Omega Speedmaster Professional 3570.00, $4500 ($4050 on WatchMaxx via Amazon)
Known as the Moon Watch for its usage by astronauts during the Apollo 11 moon landing (and subsequent missions), the Speedy Pro is one of the only watches from Omega that have remained virtually unchanged through more than 50 years of production, which serves as a testament to its timeless design and dependable quality.  And I speak from experience when I say that, if you're a fan, odds are you'll be adding it to your watch box one day.

Breitling Navitimer A2332212-G532BRLT, $5185 ($4516.05 on Jomashop via Amazon)
The Navitimer is the only chronograph in this range that could rival the Speedy Pro's pedigree, though while the Speedy gained its fame among the stars, the Navitimer earned its reputation in the skies - a reputation that has become the crux of Breitling's modern marketing strategy.  While the newest iteration of the Navitimer includes Breitling's first in-house movement, the B01, the added flourish pushes that model firmly into the next range of luxury watches.  And in purist circles, there's no topping the original.

High-End Luxury: $6000-$10,000+

In the final range of the luxury category, you begin to find watches with prices that rival those of used cars.  In this tier you should be demanding a manufacture movement with a reasonable to high degree of finishing, from brands noted for their horological prowess.  This area is where you'll find the bulk of Rolex's non-precious metal offerings, such as the Submariner Date, Explorer I, Explorer II, and GMT Master II.  You can also find the most recent iterations of Zenith's well-regarded El Primero chronograph movement, which was famously employed in Rolex Daytona chronographs before Rolex replaced it with an in-house movement (and interestingly enough, it is the vintage El Primero-powered Daytonas, especially the references that have been come to be known as "Paul Newman" models, that fetch the largest prices in watch auctions).  It should also be noted, though, that this range can net you a watch of commensurate quality and pedigree if you're willing to venture outside of the Swiss brands.  In particular, Seiko's high end sub-brand Grand Seiko, produces entirely in-house watches that rival the very best the Swiss have to offer. And in their Spring Drive line, Grand Seiko has achieved a melding of quartz accuracy with the convenience and character of a mechanical movement, an accomplishment that no Swiss maker has yet matched.  Noteworthy brands: Rolex, Zenith, IWC, Grand Seiko.

Exemplars of the Range:

Zenith 03.2041.4052/69.R580 El Primero Striking Tenth Chronograph, $10,900 ($9,265 on Amazon)
This is the flagship model of Zenith's current El Primero lineup, featuring a special chronograph function that can display times accurate up to a tenth of a second.  The El Primero movement is renowned for its high beat frequency - 36,000 bph, instead of the 28,000 found in most mechanical movements - which contribute to more fluid movement of the chronograph's second hand.  It also comes with a sapphire caseback so that you can see the fabled movement in action.

IWC Portuguese Hand-Wound IW545404, $8,900 ($7,120 on Jomashop via Amazon)
Featuring a new in-house designed and manufactured movement, the Portuguese Hand-Wound features one of IWC most elegant designs and unimpeachable manufacturing.  Short for International Watch Company - which actually has American origins, though now firmly entrenched Swiss company - IWC's star has been rising in the horological world in recent years, and their latest entry in the Portuguese line is a great example of why.

Next time, we take a look at the highest tiers of horology, of which many enthusiasts can only fantasize.  What do you think of the luxury ranges?  Can any watch be worth these sorts of price tags?  And if so, where does the value/price sweet spot fall for you?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Watch Primer #06: Tiers and Price Range, Part One

Today's Watch Primer entry categorizes the wide range of prices you'll find in the world of horology (from $20 drug store digitals to six-figure bespoke models), some of the noteworthy brands that exemplify each price range, and the bottom line when it comes to getting the most bang for your buck from a watch, regardless of your budget.

Inexpensive: Under $50

The first category covers the watches you'd commonly find anywhere between the electronics counter of your local drug store to the "free gift" portion of a TV infomercial.  My first watch fell into this category; a Lorus Sports digital quartz that I got from Costco for $20.  (Amazingly, I still have it two decades later, and it's still working perfectly with battery changes averaging once a decade.)   Inexpensive watches can run the gambit from cheap plasticy throwaways to dependable, hardworking timepieces, but examples in this range will inevitably use relatively cheap quartz movements (which will still probably keep more accurate time than all but the most fine-tuned of mechanicals).  Noteworthy brands at this level include Timex and Casio.

Examplars of the Range:
Timex Easyreader T2H281, $40 ($25 on Amazon)

The Timex Easyreader series offers dependable analog quartz watches at the appealing sub-$50 mark.  The model above gets a special nod for being clean and classic enough to stand in as a dress watch, especially if you decide to upgrade to an after-market premium leather strap.

Casio F91W-1, $19 ($11 on Amazon
At 97 cents above $10, the Casio F91W-1 is perhaps the best deal out there for a rugged digital quartz watch with alarm and chronograph functions.  You can't really ask for a more convenient sports watch that will take a beating and won't break the bank if you're forced to replace it.

Economy: Under $200

The economy range offers more options as far as movements, special features, and finishes go, but remain accessible and affordable to virtually any watch aficionado.  These tend to make for perfect gifts for young adults who will appreciate higher quality features but probably will put their watches through paces that might not suit more costly models.  This is also roughly the lowest price point where mechanical movements and solar-charging quartz movements begin to become available.  Noteworthy brands at the economy level include Seiko, Citizen, and Casio's popular G-Shock line.

Exemplars of the Range:

Seiko 5 SNK793, $185 ($60 on Amazon)
The venerable Seiko 5 series of economical automatic watches (noteworthy for being equipped with "in-house" Seiko movements at an unheard-of price point) fall under $100 if you take advantage of Amazon's hefty discounts across the line.  The model featured above features a subtle dark-blue dial, a display caseback and lugs that will easily accommodate aftermarket watch straps.

Citizen Eco-Drive AT0200-05E, $225 ($129 on Amazon)
This Citizen Eco-Drive model features the brand's titular solar-charging quartz movement, chronograph function, and a highly legible dial and nylon strap.  It's a great casual watch with military styling that equals the convenience of an automatic movement and does away with the hassle of having to replace a battery (or service the movement) every 2-3 years.

Affordable: $200-$1000

The affordable category is admittedly a controversial one, both in terms of its scope and whether the term could - or should - actually apply to watches that cost up to a grand.  In context of watches that cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, I believe that it does, especially since it is in this range that a watch enthusiast can acquire watches with genuinely impressive complications that would only be available at the aforementioned tens of thousands of dollars range in mechanical form.  The affordable category is also where you'll begin to find watches that employ Swiss-made quartz and mechanical movements, though those movements will almost certainly be sourced from large mass producers like ETA and Ronda.  Noteworthy brands include Swatch Group's Tissot and Hamilton, Citizen, Seiko, and smaller independent makers like Prometheus and Bathys Hawaii.

Exemplars of the Range:

Citizen Eco-Drive BL5250-02L, $400 ($240 on Amazon)

This Eco-Drive model is a great example of the impressive complications you can find in quartz watches in this price range.  It combines perpetual calendar, dual time, alarm, and chronograph functions, all complications that could easily run into the five-figure range in an in-house mechanical movement.  In terms of most bang in a watch for the least amount of bucks, it's hard to do better than this watch.  (Only downside for the slim-wristed: its 49mm size.)

Bathys 100 Fathoms in Black PVD, $395 (new batch coming in early 2012 from Bathys Hawaii)
Bathys has a special place in my heart among independent brands because it's located in Hawai`i (and even goes so far as to include "Hawaii" on their dials and engrave an image of the Hawaiian Islands on their casebacks).  They briefly went astray when they tried to price their watches upstream enough for brick-and-mortar watch stores like Ben Bridge - at which point their models simply didn't offer enough value to justify the premium you'd have to pay for the privilege of wearing the Hawaiian Islands on your wrist - but they've recently returned their prices to more modest levels along with a renewed emphasis on internet sales.  The result: my pick of their models, the Quartz 100 Fathoms in Black PVD, will be restocked in early 2012 at what I believe was its introductory price in 2007 - $395, rather than the somewhat overbearing $695 that the same model would have cost you a year before.  It's a reasonable price for a watch with a Swiss-made Ronda movement and sapphire crystal.

Coming up in Part Two: The Luxury Tiers.  What do you think of the ranges featured so far?  Are there any brands to which I should have given special attention?  Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Watches I'm Wearing: Citizen Stiletto AR3010-65A Review

This week's WIW review looks at the Citizen Stiletto AR3010-65A, one of the thinnest examples in Citizen's well-received Eco-Drive series of watches, which use a solar receptor hidden within the watch dial to recharge the watch's battery.  Able to function without light for months on a full charge, if it sees the light of day on a regular basis, the rechargeable battery itself can go 10 years before it needs replacement.  A close friend clued me into this excellent model when I asked him about his model, the AR3015-53E, which is the same watch in a sleek all-black configuration:

I tend to prefer steel-toned watches and lighter-toned dials, so went with the AR3010-65A.  The Stiletto has a case that is 37mm wide and roughly 5mm thick.  The 20mm lug width is proportional to the case size, and a standard width which makes finding alternative straps much, much easier.  The bracelet is very comfortable, and adjusts down from a roughly 8-inch diameter to accommodate a 6-inch wrist, with one link to spare.  I opted to swap it out for a cordovan patent leather strap to bring the watch more in line with the classic thin watch aesthetic of the Jaeger LeCoultre Master Grande Ultra Thin:

JLC Master Grande Ultra Thin
Citizen Stiletto on cordovan strap

Whether on a strap or the original bracelet, the Stiletto sits well on the wrist.  It's small and sleek enough to serve dress watch duty, but has quartz resilience and just enough presence - especially on bracelet - to work as a daily wearer as well.  I usually prefer watches with minute markers, but the gaps between the hour markers on the Stiletto are clear enough to allow for very close approximations when it comes to telling the time.  Finally, the combination of the Eco-Drive solar-powered quartz movement and the lack of a date function - which is a plus in my book - means for very little user maintenance as far as resetting goes. If you're luck enough, like those of us in Hawai`i, not to have to worry about Daylight Saving Time adjustments, you may never need to fiddle with the crown for years on end.

What do you think of ultra-thin quartz watches, or the Eco-Drive line?  Feel free to leave your comments below.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Watching the Watches: On Omega's Newer, Bigger Seamasters

This post is the first in a series titled "Watching the Watches," which will comment on brands, trends, and new developments in the horological world.

First up on the list: Omega, which makes sense as it was the luxury Swiss watch brand that caught my attention when I caught the WIS bug almost two years ago.  Being the official Olympics timekeeper and the modern Bond's watchmaker of choice, it's one of the most visible Swiss watch brands out there alongside Rolex, Tag Heuer, and Breitling.  It's enduring claim to fame is the Speedmaster Professional, which was the hand-wound chronograph chosen by NASA as the timekeeping devices of choice for the Apollo 11 (and subsequent) space missions, earning it the moniker "Moon Watch."  Modern Speedy Pros often have the words "First and Only Watch Worn on the Moon," written along their casebacks (though whether the "and Only" part is warranted is a matter of debate among WISes), and the watch's famous role has ensured its place in the Omega lineup for over fifty years with only minor technical deviations.

The other watches in Omega's lineup have continually changed with the times, from the non-Pro Speedmasters to the Seamaster line, which has gone through several design transitions over its lifetime leading down to the current "Bond" Seamaster and its higher-end offshoot, the Planet Ocean line.  The Planet Ocean models in particular have garnered attention with their introductory use of the Omega 2500 movement, Omega's first implementation of the co-axial escapement, based the Omega 1120 (which was in turn based on the ETA 2892-A2).  The latest iteration of the 2500, the 2500D, is used in the current Seamaster Professional, but the newly revamped Planet Oceans will feature the wholly designed in-house 8500 co-axial movement.  The new movement and the beefed up cases and bracelets designed to accommodate them represent the latest efforts on Omega's part to position the brand higher upstream in the luxury watch market - perhaps to appeal to the Rolex crowd more directly.

The upgrades, including doubled water resistance, in-house movements, sapphire crystal casebacks across the PO line, screwed-in pins replacing the older and more cumbersome friction pins, are nice, though their $5000+ pricing runs the risk of alienating Omega fans used to the PO's former price point.  But my biggest concern is the hulking size of the new PO cases, which will be offered in 42mm and 45.5mm for men's models.  (A 37.5mm will also be made available featuring the smaller Omega 8520 movement, but as ladies' only models with diamond-encrusted bezels.)  42mm is the diameter of the classic Speedy Pro, and on a watch of its thickness (roughly 10-11mm), a 6-inch wrist like mine can just barely pull off the proportions.  The 42mm PO is 15.7mm thick, the 45.5mm version is 16.5mm, and the 45.5mm chronograph (packing the impressive but colossal Omega 9300 movement) tops off the scale at a whopping 19.2mm!  By comparison, the chrono's thickness is almost two centimeters tall, or 53% the width of my midsize Seamaster (which matches the Speedy Pro's thickness at around 11mm).  There's no way that a watch with those proportions won't look ridiculous on slighter wrists like mine.  With many watches looming larger and larger these days, with even Rolex's Explorers receiving 39mm (still reasonable but departing from the classic 36mm form factor) and 42mm (a welcome addition for larger wrists but beginning to push the envelope) upgrades, it's becoming increasingly harder for slight-wristed men to find watches that suit them.  If the PO line ever replaces the "Bond" Seamaster's 36.25mm and 41mm models, the only option for those who prefer subtler watch sizes might be to look back to discontinued models.

What do you think about Omega's new models and the overall trend toward larger (and thicker) watches?  What range of watch diameters do you prefer?  Feel free to voice your opinion by leaving a comment below.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Watches I'm Wearing: Omega Seamaster 2253.80 "Electric Blue"

Why "Electric Blue" makes all the difference.

The first watch I'm featuring in the "Watches I'm Wearing" series is also one of the most unlikely.  Despite a passing obsession for the quintessential dive watch, the Rolex Submariner (which eventually lost out to the Rolex Explorer I for a place in my watch box), I generally dislike dive watches.  I'm not a diver, and don't like wearing pretensions of being one on my wrist.  Moreover, I've made it a goal in my watch collection to possess no more than one paradigmatic example of a particular brand's offerings, and in a head-to-head contest, no Seamaster (even the 2253.80) could ever best the classic Speedmaster Professional in epitomizing Omega as a brand.  This version of the Seamaster has been discontinued for two to three years - longer than I've been interested in mechanical watches - and even tracking it down proved a challenge that required resorting to a non-authorized (but excellent) dealer.

So how did it end up in my watch box - and on my wrist even as I type this entry?

Its fate is in part a result of the thriving community of users on the Omega brand subforum on WatchUSeek.  It was there that I first learned of this discontinued model and the "electric blue" dial that it and its full-size brother, the 2255.80, even existed.  The color of the dial changes with the kind and angle of light that strikes it; in broad daylight, I don't know of any dial more vibrant.  It is, for lack of a better description, mesmerizing.

As might be gleaned from my choice in color schemes for this blog, my favorite color is blue, and, in turn, my favorite dial color is also blue.  But the tones that we commonly find in blue-dialed watches are often pale or flat looking.  Even the dial color on my Speedmaster Date, the 3212.80, though nice, seemed to leave something to be desired.  The only time I've seen a blue dial and thought, "Yes, that's the exact hue I'm looking for!" is when I laid eyes on an image of the "Electric Blue" Seamaster in broad daylight.

Despite all horological considerations, the fact remains: at least one spot in my watch box will always hold a blue dialed watch.  This incontrovertible fact meant that I had to find a new occupant shortly after selling off the aforementioned Speedy Date.  I selected a 3510.82 Speedmaster Reduced as that replacement - a limited edition Japan-only model with a sunburst blue dial - but inevitable comparisons with the true Speedy Pro left even it's Japan-only allure lacking.  So after flipping the Reduced, I settled on finding a 2253.80, and resolved on ordering one sight unseen from Essential Watches.  It came in pristine condition, and the moment I laid eyes on the dial, I knew I'd found a keeper.

Underneath the case, the Seamaster is powered by the venerable Omega 1120 movement, which is based on the tried-and-true ETA 2892-A2.  The 1120 was used as the basis for the original co-axial movement, the Omega 2500, and is a proven, robust automatic movement.  The 2253.80 is the mid-size version of the Electric Blue, which means that it measures 36.25mm in diameter, positively diminutive by today's popular standards, especially for a dive watch (which now often finds itself in 44m+ territory).  On most wrists (and for most tastes), the full-size 2255.80 with its 41mm diameter probably offers the ideal proportions.  But for my six-inch wrist and preference for smaller watches, the mid-size stands as a rare diver perfectly proportioned for my wrist and sensibilities, with one of the most gorgeous toned dials of all time, to boot.  Since it entered the watch box, it's never had a chance to wind down.  No other automatic or manual wind can claim that distinction, not even the Explorer or the Speedy Pro.

My only criticism?  It would have been nice to have applied hour markers and screwed-in pins rather than friction pins in the bracelet.  Otherwise, this Seamaster is, for me, as close to a perfect watch as they come.

What do you think about the Seamaster 2253.80, the general lack of midsize men's diver watches these days, or blue dials in general?

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Watch Primer #05: A Few Words on Watch Movements

This installment of the Watch Primer series will take a look at one of the most galvanizing issues among watch enthusiasts: the watch movement.  A movement is the mechanism that powers the watch, and the differences between various types of movements and their specifications often influence how collectors view the watches they inhabit.  One of the biggest distinctions lies between mechanical movements and quartz movements.

Mechanical or Quartz--or Something In-Between?

Mechnical watches are powered entirely by kinetic energy, namely the tension provided by the mainspring.  Watches powered by these sorts of movements need to be wound in order to function, either manually by the crown or through a weighted rotor built into the movement itself that rotates with the daily motions of your watch arm.  In this way, mechanical watches with a rotor system are "automatically" wound while you wear them, which is why they're broadly classified as automatic movements.  These are the gold standard when it comes to most watch collectors, as they epitomize the artistry of the horological arts in physical intricacies.  Many watch enthusiasts prefer mechanical watches because they view them as been more "alive"--a metaphor strengthened by the "beating" heart of a mechanical movement, the balance spring.  The downside is that mechanical watches are less accurate at timekeeping due to their reliance upon kinetic mechanisms, which are subject to outside forces.  Also these kinds of watches require periodic servicing, which could range from reapplication of lubricants to a full overhaul of worn down parts, which, depending on the watch, could entail a considerable investment.  For the least expensive watches, servicing could cost nearly as much as the original purchase price of the watch itself (e.g., $200 for a $500 watch), while costs also increase as the price of the watch in question increases (e.g., $1700 for a $20,000 watch--proportionally a smaller percentage of the watch's cost, but an even larger investment to make every 2-3 years).

Mechanical +: the original type of watch movement; more aesthetically appealing; more prestigious in watch collecting circles; exhibits the panoply of horological prowess.

Mechanical -: tends to be more expensive than quartz; requires periodic servicing, which means perennial costs of upkeep; requires frequent wearing, winding, or the use of a watch box to remain powered.

Quartz watches are powered by batteries and regulated by the vibrations of a quartz crystal, from which their name derives.  They revolutionized the watch industry when the were introduced in the late 60s (I believe in the form of Seiko's Accutron), and while they began as an expensive novelty, economies of scale and the conduciveness of the movement for mass production has made it so that quartz watches can be produced at far lower costs than mechanical ones.  Hence the $20 watches you'd find in a department store are most assuredly quartz watches.  Nevertheless, even the cheapest quartz watch usually provides more accurate timekeeping that the most carefully tuned and expensive mechanical watch, and, when comparing the high end quartz versus the high end mechanical, the difference in accuracy is staggering (as little as -5/+5 seconds a YEAR for quartz, whereas even chronometer-grade mechanicals range -4/+6 seconds a DAY).  Also, quartz watches require only a battery change every 2-3 years as opposed to a full servicing, though when they are due for service, it may be more cost effective to replace the entire movement than to perform maintenance on it, depending on the quality and design of the movement.

Quartz +: Less expensive; more accurate; less maintenance required.

Quartz -: Less horologically distinctive; potentially less aesthetically pleasing, depending on whether you prefer a sweeping or ticking second hand.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Watch Primer #04: Case Diameter

Today's installment of the Watch Primer takes a look at the role a watch's case diameter can play in determining whether the watch is right for you.

The most important factor in determining the appropriate size of a watch is its proportionality with the size of your wrist.  Generally, the larger the circumference of your wrist, the larger a watch's case diameter can be and look good while you're wearing it.  Wrist circumference isn't a perfect measure; the shape of your wrist--whether its flat and wide, rounded and thick, etc.--also affects the way a watch looks on you.  In the broadest terms, watch diameters between 34mm and 46mm span the vast majority of watches available for men.  Those with larger wrists may find watches toward the 34mm side of the spectrum too dainty on their wrists, while those with smaller wrists may feel that watches toward 46mm in diameter seem less like a timepiece and more like a piece of dinnerware strapped to their wrist.

Beyond general proportionality, there is a stylistic divide between the larger-diameter watch and those of a smaller diameter.  Smaller diameters reflect both the aesthetic trend of the 1950s and 1960s as well as the dressier side of the watch spectrum.  This makes sense, as the miniaturization of watch movements and subtlety of watch case sizing makes a watch less obtrusive and easier to wear, with the goal being that the watch blend as seamlessly into its surroundings as possible.  Larger diameters, on the other hand, reflect both an emphasis on sportiness and robustness and recent trends toward both the glorification and accentuation of the watch as one of the only accessories a man can confidently wear in a wide range of social settings, and a exultation of the watch as a work of horological art meant to be displayed.  Depending on which side of this ideological divide you find yourself, you may be inclined toward smaller diameters despite a larger wrist, or larger diameters despite a smaller wrist.

Ultimately, the most weighty criterion of whether a watch's case diameter is right for you is whether you feel comfortable with it on your wrist.  No matter how appropriate a 36mm case might seem to be for a person with a 6-inch wrist--or a 48mm case on someone with an 8-inch wrist--if the owner of that wrist isn't comfortable with the way the watch looks and feels there, it probably isn't going to work.