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.