Monday, October 14, 2013

Accessory Review: Pocket Watch Glass Display Dome with Walnut Base & Silver hook (It's On Amazon)

After choosing the Marathon TSAR as the latest occupant of my watch box, I went searching for a storage solution for the pocket watches that I've been handed down and the one modern example - an Orient CDD00001W, one of the only modern pocket watches I know of that features a sapphire crystal - I keep on hand for occasions where a wrist-bound watch simply won't do.  Most boxes designed to store pocket watches have capacities far too large for my needs - usually in the 10 to 12 pocket watch range - so I went with a couple of single-watch glass cases from Amazon.

At just under $30, they're a reasonable storage and display option.  I keep the aforementioned Orient in one, and my great-grandfather's vintage Omega pocket watch in another.  It's a solid choice that keeps the watch well protected and nicely displayed, though getting the watch on the hook can be a little fidgety.  I highly recommend it to anyone who has a pocket watch or two and wants a good place to keep them safe.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Watch Review: Marathon TSAR on U.S. Great Seal Bracelet

Spend enough time on any of the usual watch forums - especially where dive watches are discussed - and sooner or later you'll come across the Marathon Search-and-Rescue series of watches.  Marathon is a Canadian company that supplies Swiss-made watches to the U.S. and Canadian governments, and which has garnered a reputation for solid, purpose-built tool watches for those who value function first, form second.  As previous mainstay tool watches like the Rolex Submariner and the Omega Seamaster venture farther into fashion - some might say "bling" - territory, the backlash against that trend has led some dive watch enthusiasts to seek out the classic tool watch functionality and aesthetic from other sources.

Marathon's SAR series comes in several flavors.  The TSAR is a quartz-powered watch with a sensible 41mm diameter.  The GSAR is its automatic-powered - by an ETA 2824, specifically - doppelganger.  The JSAR is an oversized version at 47mm.   And the CSAR tops out the line as the automatic Valjoux 7750-powered chronograph.

Given the playing field, my choice among Marathon's offerings was an easy one.  The TSAR combines the ruggedness of an ideal dive watch with the better (though not impervious) shock resistance and low maintenance of a quartz movement.  Despite its chunkiness, its 41mm diameter is very restrained in a world of 45mm+ monstrosities.  The TSAR is only available on a rubber strap that - like most "regular" length straps on the market today - proved too long for its innermost hole to accommodate a 6" wrist.  Even had the strap fit, though, I still would have opted to replace it with the very solid matching bracelet that Marathon offers emblazoned with either the U.S. great seal, a U.S. Marines seal, or the Canadian maple leaf.  Given that the TSAR version I picked up features the "U.S. Government" notation usually found on government contract Marathons, I figured the U.S. great seal bracelet would provide a nice counterbalance and round out the tool watch aesthetic of the TSAR.

The TSAR maintains all of the tool watch features that other formerly function-over-form watch models have shed in the pursuit of fashion:  drilled lug holes, a knurled crown, and a diver's bezel that is legible and functional from the full zero to 60 minutes.  The minute hand is just long enough to line up with the minute indices, and the tritium illumination is bright but not obnoxiously so under darkened conditions.

For me, the Achilles' heel of a quartz movement is how the sudden need for a battery replacement can leave you with a dead watch at the most inconvenient times.  The movement employed by the TSAR is one of several I've come across that fends off this contingency by including an end-of-life indicator that, in theory, should cause the movement to advance in 4-second increments when the battery needs changing.  With that mechanism, maintenance of the watch becomes a far easier and predictable proposition than another dime-a-dozen quartz or even a mechanical movement.

Shopping around for the greatest deal available at the time, I snagged the TSAR and its bracelet for $707 all together.  You might be able to find it for less depending on market conditions at the time, or if you are willing to go used and come across a solid example.  How ever you get your hands on it, I highly recommend it.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Watch Radar: Marathon TSAR (Tritium Search and Rescue) Diver

Following my abortively brief ownership of a Bathys 100F Auto, I decided that the watch that will eventually fill the "dive watch" role in my watch box should ideally have a quartz movement.  Aside from being more accurate across the board and slightly more shock resistant, a quartz movement would also require less unscrewing of the inevitable screw-down crown.  I'd hoped to acquire one of Bathys's next batch of 100F Quartzes, but a quick exchange with John Patterson revealed that the current ETA is well into 2014, if not later.  A year-or-two-away ETA has been the standard line from Bathys as to the quartz 100F for several years now (I think I've been asking since 2010), I finally decided to set aside my longstanding goal of adding a "Hawaii" brand to my watch box, in favor of the tool watch of choice for North American governmental agencies:  Marathon's TSAR.  Sensibly sized (at roughly 41-42mm wide) and as solid as 316L steel gets, the watch itself and its bracelet are currently en route in separate packages.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Watch Review: The Affordable (Under $30) Casio MTP-1239D-2A

Shortly after acquiring the Casio MTP-1183A-2A, I discovered its day-date variant, the MTP-1239D-2A.  I initially dismissed it as I presumed it would be largely the same as the 1183A, but a picture of its bracelet revealed a push-button clasp as opposed to the friction clasp on the 1183A.  The idea that I might be able to swap out the 1183A's friction clasp for a push button made me decide to take the plunge and pick up the 1239D.

When it arrived, the first thing I noticed was the blue of the dial.  While the 1183A's dial is a muted, almost violet shade, the 1239D's is closer to the vibrant blue I've seen in Seiko's SARB series and approaches the "electric" blue of the reference 2253.80 Omega Seamaster I used to own.   Looking at the image above, you might also notice that the positioning of the 12 o'clock indices is slightly more spaced on the 1239D's dial than the 1183A's.  I think it provides stronger proportionality to the entire layout.

The bracelet also yielded interesting differences upon closer inspection.  While virtually identical at first glance to the 1183A bracelet, its links are incompatible.  Moreover, the bracelet's finishing is more of a matte, frosted finish than the brushed finish on the 1183A.  Most surprising however was that the curve of the push-button clasp was less curved than the 1183A's clasp, making the fit much more angular and less appealing on my 6" wrist.  That, coupled with what seems to my eye to be a better, more aesthetically pleasing finish on the 1183A's bracelet, led me to end up choosing the exact opposite combination I intended to when I first acquired the 1239D:  The 1239D's head combined with the 1183A's bracelet.

Because of my watch box rule, the 1183A has been displaced by the 1239D, albeit in a hybridized form.  The assembled package of 1183A bracelet and 1239D watch head costs about $45, which still clocks in at less than the vast majority of watches out there.  And either the date-only 1183A or the day-date 1239D would make a fine single purchase, with the considerations raised above, at $20 and $25, respectively.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Watch Accessory Review: Wolf Designs 4583029 5 Piece Watch Storage Box

Watch boxes occupy an interesting spot in the realm of watch accessories.  At some point (usually after collecting more than 2-3 watches), they become something of a necessity for those looking to keep their collection in some semblance of order.  But many such boxes tend to either occupy stratospheric price points (when the box costs more than most of the watches it houses, something is amiss), or pair reasonable pricing with dubious construction or materials (in particular, an anonymous model I picked up from eBay for about $40 had lining and watch pillows that started to disintegrate the moment I touched them).  The sweet spot that couples reasonable price with reasonable quality can be elusive.

After paring down my watch collection from well over the ten slots allocated in my previous watch box (a now-discontinued Fossil model), and confirming that Fossil's current watch box offerings 1) cost over $100 each (straying into costing-more-than-the-watches territory where Fossil is concerned) and 2) featuring no less than eight slots, I decided to venture onto Amazon and see if I could find another brand that would hit the reasonable-price, reasonable-quality sweet spot.

I'd heard of Wolf Designs before, but their "retail" price point positions them squarely outside reasonable price territory.  Fortunately, most retailers that carry them offer the boxes at substantial discounts, Amazon included, making them a stronger value proposition and worth looking into.  With a slim collection in mind, I chose their 5-watch offering, available on Amazon for roughly $50.  (Not cheap, but not quite exorbitant, either.)

The quality of materials is more than adequate, on par if not slightly better than those used in the now-discontinued Fossil box.  The slots feature a slight incline that allows the watches to rest naturally at an attractive angle when nestled within.  The display window is glass rather than plastic, giving it a more solid feel.  I prefer watch boxes with transparent lids as they allow solar-powered watches (such as the Citizen Eco-Drive line and many higher-end Casios) to take on light even while the box is closed.

The locking mechanism is simple and functional, but ultimately of limited protective value; any determined thief need only shatter the glass lid to gain access to the watches within, or simply take the entire box.  I tend to leave mine unlocked by default.

All in all, this is about as nice a watch box as can be had at around the $50 price point - which is hardly a steal, but an acceptable value given the watch box market.  For those looking to maintain a smaller (by WIS standards) collection, the Wolf Designs 4583029 5 Piece Watch Storage Box is probably the box to get.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Top 5: Best Affordable Watches Under $50 for 2013

The Best Watches for Less Than $50 

In a world with a built-in clock in every cellphone and computer, the wristwatch is, as far as pure timekeeping purposes go, obsolete.  But extinction is not the only result of obsolescence.  There are situations where a wristwatch serves better as a timekeeper than a phone, just as there are situations (albeit ratified) where a pocket watch is preferred over wristwatch.  Wristwatches represent one of the few accessories a man can comfortably wear in nearly any context.  Here's five watches that epitomize the finest attributes of the 21st century wristwatch - and won't overtax your wallet while doing it.  As an additional challenge from last year's Top 5 list, the price limit for this list is $50!

5. Invicta 8932

One of the most visible Rolex Submariner homages out there (so much so that its most recent interations have been tweaked just enough to keep them firmly away from replica territory), the Invicta 8932 has a cult following of its own, and a solid reputation as a bang-for-your-buck watch.  While its bracelet lacks the diver's extension that would make it a quintessential diver's watch, the 8932 offers the same water resistance (200 meters) as more expensive professional divers, and a sleek, tool watch design that demonstrates how a watch meant for the deep ocean has just as easily found its way into boardrooms and night clubs.

The 8932 is less than $50 on

4. Casio A168W-1

Casio's regular line of digital watches have served reliably since the early days of the quartz revolution, and the A168W-1 strikes a fine balance of reliability, geek-chic style, and utterly affordability.  Its metal bracelet makes it a more comfortable match with your suit, and its sub-$20 price makes it the best bang-for-your-buck watch on this list.

Find the A168W-1 for under $20 at

3. Timex Weekender T2N651KW

Timex is the source of the slogan "takes a licking and keeps on ticking" for a reason.  Known for sturdy, dependable yet inexpensive analog watches, Timex's origins are derived from the same source as wristwatches themselves: World War II, and the need for mass produceable and reliable timepieces.  Timex weathered the post-war drop in military orders and the subsequent quartz crisis in the 1970s that nearly tore the Swiss watch industry asunder, all the while continuing to build upon its reputation for dependability and economy.

The Weekender series of watches represents one of Timex's most recent offerings that blends reliability with classic styling and affordability.  The plain, military-style dial also recalls the readability and familiarity of classroom wall clocks, and the Indiglo backlighting gives it excellent visability in the dark.  The Weekender is designed to complement the ubiquitious NATO-style nylon straps that often give vintage watches with worn out bracelets a new lease on life, but it looks just as good on a leather strap or steel bracelet--and, so outfitted, competes with all but the blingiest of dress watches with subtlety and panache.

The Weekender as pictured above (T2N651KW) is available for less than $30 with NATO-style strap or under $40 with metal bracelet (T2N656KW).  Click here for the full Weekender selection on

2. G-Shock DW5600E-1V

The quitessential G-Shock, the 5600 series can take all the punishment an active lifestyle can dish out and still perform with precision and reliability.  Its no-frills yet tough-as-nails design makes it perhaps the ultimate sports watch, wherever your sport of choice may take you.  Its only weakness is its rubber strap, which--if my experience is any indication--will probably be the first thing on this watch to fail after many years of hard service, and the primary attribute that will make many sartorialists frown at seeing one peak out from beneath the cuff of your suit.  But if you're as tough as the watch you wear, you can probably brush those haughty looks aside.

The DW5600E-1V is just over $40 at

1. Casio MTP-1183A-2A

My top pick under $50 for this year should come as no surprise to those familiar with the current state of my watch box.  I bought the Casio MTP-1183A-2A on a whim to see how a $20 watch would compare to a Grand Seiko high-accuracy quartz priced nearly 100 times that.  The answer:  quite well.  Classical styling, solid finishes, in the wild it can easily be mistaken for a watch costing hundreds of dollars.  There's no mistaking which is the pricier option when compared side-by-side with a GS, but feature for feature, the MTP-1183A-2A provides just as much value as the thousand-dollar watch at a fraction of the cost.

The MTP-1183A-2A pictured above can be had for just under $55 on

Monday, September 2, 2013

Watch Radar: Timex Weekender Timex Unisex T2P1439J Weekender Green Blue Stripe Slip Thru Nylon Strap Watch

It seems that Timex has introduced several new color variations since I first reviewed their Weekender series of watches.  My pick of the new offerings for the summer is the T2P1439J, which has a bright Green Blue Stripe strap and a blue second hand.  If a blue second hand model had been available among the initial model offerings, it would have been my first pick.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Watch Primer: Shopping for Shorter Straps

One continual challenge I've faced as a watch enthusiast is finding straps that accommodate my wrist's 6" circumference.  The most common "short" strap length, usually 75mm by 105mm, inevitably proves to be at least one hole short of the right fit.  I've punched an extra hole (with mixed results), and shopped around for extra-short length straps, only to find that they're something of a rarefied breed these days, with major watch strap suppliers like Hirsch having discontinued "short" lengths altogether for their products.

The two sources I've found for extra-short straps are both German.  My favorite is Nomos, who in addition to being perhaps the best deal on the watch market for those looking for in-house movements also utilize Horween Shell Cordovan in the vast majority of their straps.  Shell Cordovan is made from a particularly pliant and durable section of horse hides, and those who frequent men's sartorial sites and forums will find that many pay a premium to have their shoes crafted from this special class of leather.  Nomos's cordovan straps are unlined, making them suitable for dress watches and all but the beefiest sport watches.  I pair their dark brown strap with my Speedmaster Pro, using the excellent 18mm RDH deployant from  A small tip as to strap widths:  click on the link for the Zuerich model for 20mm lug width straps, and the Tangente model for 18mm lug widths.  Both taper down by 2mm at the buckle end (or 18mm and 16mm widths, respectively).

Another source for extra-short straps is Stowa.  Two of their 20mm straps are offered in "short" lengths that measure 100mm/70mm, which should be just right for around a 6" wrist.

The difficulty with sourcing shorter-length straps is one of the reasons I generally prefer bracelets, which are often designed adjustable enough to accommodate even wrists under 6".  Another option for those hellbent on leather straps would be to have one made to order.

The final solution I've found is the NATO-style straps that Timex has famously paired with its Weekender series of watches.  They are noticeably shorter than genuine NATO straps, and fit my wrist perfectly.  I strongly recommend it to anyone with a smaller wrist who likes the NATO strap style but dislikes how long most of them are.  My picks are the Blue-with-Gray-Stripe and high visibility Red.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Watch Review: Bathys 100 Fathoms Automatic SIlver PVD

I've had an alternating love-hate relationship with Bathys Hawaii for a while now, beginning with when I first laid eyes on their Aquaculture model back in 2009 (sadly, more than a year too late to have purchased one during its original run).  The notion that I would be able to obtain a mechanical watch from a small company headquartered in the islands where I grew up was high on my priority, and only a combination of supply issues and the comparatively exorbitant brick-and-mortar pricing that Bathys had resorted to at the time prevented me from delving in.  (The base 100 Fathoms, like the one reviewed here, was retailing in stores for nearly $1000.)

I managed to get my hands on a preowned Benthic with mother-of-pearl dial in 2011, but the 44mm diameter was simply too much for my 6" wrist.  It's possible that the long-awaited Bathys bracelet would have salvaged it, but I seized the opportunity to flip the watch when it arose, just before Bathys announced its shift from brick-and-mortar stores back to online retail, along with a $300 price drop for most of their watches.  $695 was a stronger value proposition for the 100 Fathoms auto, but at that point I wanted to try out the quartz version with its big date.  Unfortunately, despite indications from Bathys's founder that the 100F quartzes would be eventually restocked, they have yet to surface in the more than two years since I originally make my inquiry.  (Learning a few months later that the specific Rhonda movement used in the quartzes required manual advancing beyond the non-existent 32 through 39 displays also weakened my enthusiasm.)  When the Bathys bracelet finally came out, I knew I would eventually have to try out a 100F with one attached, but the pricing made it so that the total package would have run close to $900.

A couple of things have changed since then that made me finally decide to take the plunge.  First, the manufacturer of the bracelet has decided to discontinue it and sell off his remaining stock at liquidation prices.  This means that the window for acquiring the bracelet will eventually close.  Second, Bathys has decided to up their game by dropping the price of the 100F auto to $595.  Together with the discounted bracelets, that means that you can pick up the total package for just under $650 - less than the 100F auto alone would have cost you six months ago.  That was enough to coax me into taking the plunge.

I went with the ruthenium dial, Silver PVD version because I figured it would go best with bracelet, which I picked up in both silver and black PVD forms.  Installing the bracelet was a bit more challenging that I anticipated, with some small tweaking required on the end pieces to make the pins line up properly, but once installed the bracelet feels very solid and matches the 100F well.

The 41mm diameter coupled with the large dial is about as big as a watch can be on my wrist without looking ridiculous, and the watch head is about as thick as I'd venture to wear.  Surprisingly, I found myself wondering if I'd made a mistake picking the ruthenium dial over the black, as visibility can be adversely affected depending on the lighting angle.  But what disturbed me the most - and led me to finally decide to return the watch - was that there was milling residue on the chapter ring around the 8 o'clock mark, and a piece of lint a little below the 3 o'clock mark.  These could only really be seen up close, but could be seen with an unassisted eye.  This to my mind is inexcusable in a watch costing several hundred dollars, and necessitated the return.

I considered opting for an exchange with a black-dialed version, but ultimately decided to wait until the vaunted 100F quartz is restocked - hopefully in black PVD - to making my next, and perhaps final, Bathys purchase.  Here's hoping that when I do, the next example is free of the quality control issues I've encountered so far.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Watch Review - Ultra-Affordable Analog: How a $20 Casio MTP-1183A Took On a $2000 Grand Seiko SBGX065 - and Won

(It's the one on the right.)

It's been a few weeks since the Casio MTP-1183A arrived at my doorstep, and I've had sufficient occasion to put it through its proper paces.  From the onset, my goal in acquiring it was unfair:  it was to vie against a quartz Grand Seiko, the previous occupant of the "blue dial" slot in my watch box, a watch selling for literally 100 times its price.  Understandably, this was a contest it would not - and could not - win on raw specifications alone.  It gains or loses up to 15 seconds a month; the Grand Seiko, 10 seconds a year.

The dial is nicely legible, and the blue sunburst tone, while not as deep or reflective as the one on the Grand Seiko, is still impressive given the watch's bare-bones price.  Even more impressive is how well the second hand lines up with the indices - a sticking point that other quartz offerings listed at more than 20 times its price have failed to get right.  (In my watch history, the offender was a $500 Hamilton Ventura, though several comparably priced $20-$30 Timex Weekenders also suffered from a similar letdown.)  The simple hands can be a bit harder to read in certain conditions than the larger and more painstakingly finished ones on the GS, but even the GS hands suffer in low-light situations given their lack of lume, which is more of an aesthetic choice than a deficit of design.

At 38mm in diameter, it is marginally bigger than the GS at 37mm, though the smaller dial size makes the MTP-1183A seems comparatively smaller on the wrist (and somewhat better proportioned on mine).  Lug guards protect the shallow crown and contribute to a slightly more sporty profile, though the MTP-1183A classic enough to fill in as a dress watch if paired with a quality 20mm leather strap.  This, in fact, is where the Casio trumps the GS:  its 20mm lug width allows for far more strap options than the GS's painfully hard-to-find 19mm.  If you're a strap fanatic, the Casio offers far more flexibility.

The folded metal bracelet is serviceable, but nothing to write home about, and easily trumped in comfort and finish by virtually any solid end link bracelet on the market.  I've replaced it with a 20mm Oyster bracelet from Tungchoy Watch.

I bought the Casio on a lark to see how it would compare to the top-of-the-line quartz GS.  It ended up doing so well as a value proposition that it has deposed the GS from its place as the quartz backup in my watch box.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Watch Radar: Crazy Affordable/Value Find: Casio MTP1183E-7ACF

Cruising Amazon's watch selection, I came across what looks like a strong contender to the Timex Weekender series as an ultra-affordable watch:  This Casio MTP1183E-7ACF clocks in around $20, but from all indications would look right at home with a suit:

The leather strap will probably prove stiff and plasticky, but the fit and finish of the case, dial, and hands seem to put the Weekenders to shame.  I have a spare brown leather strap, a couple of NATOs, and the mesh-like bracelet from my Weekender escapades to try on it when it arrives.  At this price, I couldn't help but try it out.  If it's as good in the flesh as it seems on the screen, I may have found my new top recommendation for an ultra-affordable.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Watch Primer #14: The Sliding Scale of Mechanical Complications, As Exemplified by Date Functions

Today's Watch Primer entry looks at how complicated the watch on your wrist should be, and the pros and cons of having all those functions at your beck and call.

To start off, what is a complication?  My view on the subject goes back to the most primal function of a wristwatch:  telling time.  Truth be told, a watch needs only an hour hand (or its functional equivalent) to serve its purpose as a watch - and, in fact, some models adhere to that somewhat myopic minimalist ideal.  But the vast majority of watches out there will, at the very least, feature hands for hours and minutes.  In my view, any contrivance designed to provide information beyond those two factors - hours and minutes - is a complication.  Thus, in my view, many of the barest watches come with at least one complication:  namely, a second hand, whether central or subsidiary.

The next most common complication is the date window, which I'd hazard to guess more watches today have than have not.  The perfunctory inclusion of this complication is something of a pet peeve of mine, because it requires tedious resetting if the watch were ever to wind down, or, as occurred between yesterday and today, when a month with thirty days concludes and the date window must be advanced manually from "31" to "1."  Nevertheless, my time working at court - where the date as well as the time is an important consideration - has impressed upon me that a date function can be a useful reminder for a harried mind.  The date window can be accompanied by a day-of-the-week indicator, whose marginal utility is I think outweighed by the added hassle of resetting it along with the date when the watch is wound down.

Additional date-related complications takes you into more rarefied company, starting with the annual calendar, which is designed so that the watch's date displays will only have to be adjusted manually once a year (excepting wind downs).  Often at this point a watch may gain indicators for the month in addition to date and day-of-the-week. The perpetual calendar accounts for the vagaries of the calendar for roughly a century at a time, meaning that, if kept running, the watch will need a servicing long before it requires a date adjustment.  In the most complex perpetuals, a year display may be added on top of everything else.

Somewhere in the play in the joints left between these incrementally more complex date functions is the moon phase complication, which is by its very nature included mostly for show and aesthetics.  I must profess a profound ignorance as to lunar cycles or the utility of tracking them; whenever I see such a complication, I only see a complication in non-watch-related parlance.  The prospect of trying to resync a moon phase to lunar cycles is enough to keep it off of my wrist.

So what do I mean by sliding scale of complications?  The general principle is this:  The more complicated the watch, the less utility you gain from each additional function; at the same time, the cost - in time and money - spent on maintaining those functions increases.  Taking a look at any watchmaker's table of servicing costs will demonstrate that the cost of maintenance scales exponentially as the watch in question grows ever more complicated.  At the same time, by the very nature of those complications, setting and utilizing them becomes an increasingly onerous task as the list of added functions grows longer and longer.  At some point - both in the amount of time you spend attending to it, and the amount of money you spend on keeping it in good working order - I would argue that you begin to cease owning the watch, and the watch starts to own you.

There is a certain purity in being able to pick up a watch, reset the time, give the crown a few turns, strap it to your wrist, and be done with it.  That purity easily translates to ease of use and legibility of an uncluttered dial, and even can make the cost of servicing a far more palatable necessity.  There is no one-size-fits-all answer for how complicated your ideal watch should be.  That is largely a function of your needs, means, and values.  But a guiding principle can be derived from economics' cost-benefit analysis:  You can determine the complexity of your ideal watch where the marginal cost, in both money and effort, of the complication at at least counterbalanced by the marginal benefit the complication provides.  For me personally, this sweet spot occurs where functionality shifts from telling time to marking the date.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Watch Radar: Pebble Smart Watch

A friend who participated in the original KickStarter campaign recently received his Pebble watch in the mail.  His initial impressions are over the moon.  He's especially pleased with the ability to read emails directly on the watch's e-paper screen.  I'm looking forward to asking for his long-term impressions after a few weeks of use.

I held back on participating in the KickStarter campaign in part because I'm usually reluctant to be an early adopter.  My consumer philosophy is to let others work out the initial kinks of product design and wait until a refined version appears on the market.  This tendency compounds when certain technical aspects of a product give me pause.  In the Pebble's case, the things that raised my eyebrow were its seven-day battery life, (presumably) non-sapphire crystal, 22mm band size, and dependancy on iOS / Android compatibility.  The last factor could easily shift from liability to asset, depending on whether the Pebble's connectivity and native app development keeps pace with smartphone operating systems and functionality.  But at a stage where only the earliest backers are just now getting their hands on the product, it's still too early to say how deep the support will run.

Also, in the end, even if the Pebble is as successful and useful as it could be, giving it a place in my watch box would only result in it competing for wrist time with the mechanicals and quartzes that currently vie against each other.  For now, I'm happy to let others serve as the intrepid pioneers for what may very well be the next phase of evolution for the humble wristwatch.  The decades-old technology in the automatic on my wrist suits me just fine.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Watch Primer: Watch Spotting

Image courtesy PhotoBucket user always247

As you journey deeper and deeper into the quagmire that is watch collecting and WISdom, the knowledge that you inevitably pick up along the way (not unlike mud on tires or barnacles on the hull) will lead to you spotting familiar watch models on others' wrists when you're out in public.  In a recent outing with a couple high school friends, I spotted an Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean on one of them.  A few seconds of scrutiny allowed me to determine that it was a 42mm Caliber 2500 model (from the hands, orange numbers on black dial, what appeared to be a painted bezel, and an engraved caseback - which I believe has been replaced by sapphire in the current Caliber 8500s).  I would have asked about it, but we were in mixed company and didn't want to necessarily call attention to what, if purchased new when 2500 POs were still stocked, was a $4000+ watch.  (Ironically, others in our party would later comment on the watch, but focused on its bright orange neoprene strap.)

It's one thing to take note of and remark on watches among friends, but what is the protocol when you spot a familiar watch on a not-so-familiar wrist?  As with most social situations, it's primarily a matter of context.  Crossing paths on the street?  Maybe not.  Waiting in a line?  Maybe.

Personally, unless I can infer from the context or the specs of the watch in question that the person its attached to is another WIS, I tend to take note but not bring it up.  Especially with garden variety Rolexes (Submariners and Datejusts), it's about an even chance that the person wearing it just acquired it because it's a Rolex, and may be largely uninterested - or even put off - by someone who wants to talk about the technical minutiae that WISes tend to obsess over.  I have noticed, however, that a person who engages in other somewhat anachronistic personal items - e.g., fountain pens - are more likely to be interested in the details.

What has your experience been in spotting familiar models on the wrists of passersby?  Have you ever approached a stranger to ask them about their watch?  Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Watch Brand Review: Hamilton

Today's reviewed watch brand occupies an interesting position in the watch world.


Hamilton began as one of the paragons of the American watchmaking industry, along with others like Elgin and Waltham.  Modern American watchmakers like RGM look to Hamilton as a spiritual predecessor, even using refurbished Hamilton movements in some of their offerings.  Like its peers, however, the American Hamilton fell to the wayside in the mid-20th century, though its name and branding live on as an entry-level brand in the large and powerful Swatch Group.  The economy of scale that Swatch brings to bear coupled with Hamilton's market position means that it represents one of the most inexpensive ways to acquire dependable models powered by solid Swiss movements - particularly after Swatch choose to dwindle the supply of ETA movements to third-parties.  As a result, Hamilton is a logical choice for many looking to inaugurate themselves into the world of Swiss-made mechanical watches.


The trade-off for the attractive price points and value ratio lies in the design of many of Hamilton's offerings, which seem at times hopelessly diluted or derivative.  Subtleties are also often determined by the dictates of the underlying movement - the exact opposite of what true manufacturers strive for (albeit with the luxury of price points several orders of magnitude greater than Hamilton's) - so that they appear aesthetically odd or out of place.  There are exceptions; iconic designs like the classic Ventura, which have endured the test of time (even though its original electronic movement has not), and others that draw on Hamilton's history, like the Intra-Matic (though it too sheds its lauded micro-rotor movement for a more run-of-the-mill ETA 2892-2).  But even those examples contain compromises:  the Ventura's dial has a plasticy appearance when viewed close-up, and its pedestrian quartz movement's second hand doesn't line up with its hour marks, while the Intra-Matic's bracelet appears to be one of Hamilton's stock designs, employing friction pins where competing brands might have offered a screw-in system.


By and large Hamilton makes up for the lumps it takes for its half-hearted designs in the functionality of its offerings.  As can be expected of watches powered by time-tested workhorse movements, they do what they're supposed to.  The ETA 2892-2 in my Intra-Matic may be one of the most accurate mechanicals ever to grace my watch box, which has included in-house offerings from Nomos and Rolex.  Moreover, there is a certain degree of comfort in the knowledge that, should anything go wrong, the ubiquity of ETA's movements means that any watchmaker worth his salt knows how to handle them, and that replacement parts are readily sourceable.  That's the hidden added cost of being an in-house snob:  the exclusivity of the movement on your wrist means that you have very few options when it needs servicing or repair.  Those limited options mean swallowing a bitterly expensive pill when the time comes.  While this may be a non-issue to those who have the disposable income to expend on five figure - or more - timepieces, those who would have to save to afford them have to factor service costs into the overall calculus of acquisition.  In this way, and for what it's worth, Hamilton occupies the "affordable" quadrant of Swiss mechanical watches.


While Hamilton does offer one of the best value propositions in the realm of Swiss watches, I would offer a word of caution to those who would, as a result of their relative affordability, seek to build a sprawling collection of Hamiltons or similarly priced watches.  One or two can cover bases in a collection that might cost considerably more if a collector were to turn to the offerings of more prestigious brands; but once a collection comprises half a dozen or more watches in the sub-$1000 range, the total amount of money expended could have allowed for the acquisition of a single superlative watch which would likely eclipse those Hamiltons in virtually every respect.  Thus, while Hamilton is a great value introduction to Swiss mechanicals, its offerings alone, I would caution, should not a collection make.

My Pick

This is probably a no-brainer:  it's the Intra-Matic 38mm.  It's on my wrist as I type this review, and unless another value proposition from Hamilton knocks it from its perch (I'm looking at you, Viewmatic Skeleton), it'll continue to hold the "automatic" slot of my watch box for the foreseeable future.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Watch Review: Hamilton Intra-Matic 38mm H38455151

I had thought that I'd managed to kick the watch buying habit after paring down my collection, and especially after a brief Halloween-and-November-themed excursion with the new Seiko Orange Monster SRP309 that ended with a eBay flip.  But a review of the 2012 Hamilton Intra-Matic by James Stacey on A Blog to Watch (formerly A Blog to Read) put the vintage-styled automatic on my radar.  I've bemoaned the trend toward larger case diameters in a previous Watch Primer post, so coming across a freshly released model under the 40mm threshold was a welcome surprise.  The classic styling and silver sunburst dial were immediately attractive, as was the notion of adding an automatic back to my watch box that wouldn't break the bank, and which I would be comfortable wearing daily to work at the courthouse.

With a street price a little over $500, the Intra-Matic is also one of the least expensive options that I know of that is powered by an ETA 2892-2, a slightly thinner and more upscale movement than the ubiquitous ETA 2824.  I've owned two watches in the past powered by this movement or its subsidiary seconds variant - the Omega Seamaster 2253.80, wielding a modified 2892 in its Caliber 1200, and the Xetum Tyndall, employing an ETA 2895, which is the 2892's subsidiary seconds counterpart.  Both came in well above the $1000 mark, so the opportunity to pick up a 2892-powered model with bracelet for less than $600 was too good to pass up.

I found the 38mm case well proportioned for a 6" wrist, the sweet spot for which seems to reside somewhere between 34mm and 38mm.  The dial is preeminently legible, such that it is readable even under low light conditions despite having no applied lume.  I opted for the bracelet version because I suspected the standard-length strap would prove too long for my wrist, and had planned to use a spare black Nomos shell cordovan strap instead.  The watch looks very good combined with the black shell cordovan, but I eventually opted to return it to its stock bracelet, in part so the OCD part of me wouldn't be tempted to swap out the strap for its brown shell cordovan counterpart every time I wore a brown belt and shoes.  While the bracelet tends to make the gorgeous dial blend more into the rest of the watch, the contrast of a black strap really draws attention to it.

Timekeeping on my Intra-Matic has been superb, with less than a minute gained in the several months I've been wearing the watch as a weekday wearer.  The only functional quirk is, regrettably design-based:  the juxtaposition of a hours-and-minutes-only dial with a date display.  Even after several watches successfully weaned me from my fixation with minute markers - the Hamilton Ventura - and second hands - the Citizen Stiletto - the date display would, under normal circumstances, have been a deal breaker.  But the lack of a screw-down crown coupled with my professional responsibilities having made knowing the date at a glance a very welcome convenience, pushed me to take a chance on the Intra-Matic.  I'm very glad that I did.  While I still prefer dateless models in general, the Intra-Matic is a watch that I'd be happy to wear day in and day out for the indefinite future.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Watch Radar: Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic Skeleton H42555151

Being among the entry-level brands under the aegis of the mighty Swatch Group conglomerate, Hamilton offers one of the strongest value propositions for those interested in Swiss-made mechanical movements - specifically those made by Swatch's subsidiary ETA - in the sub-$1000 price point.  Last year's Hamilton Intra-Matic - featuring an ETA 2892-2 at a street price of just over $500 - is a prime example of the solid finishing and economy of scale that Hamilton can offer budget-minded mechanical watch fans.

The one design that caught my eye - supposedly revealed at BaselWorld 2013, but sneak-peaked by the good folks at Hodinkee in February - is the Jazzmaster Viewmatic Skeleton, reference H42555151.  It represents a rare opportunity to acquire a skeleton movement - an even rarer (though admittedly somewhat contra-purposed) automatic one at that - with the finishing available from a large watch brand at a suggested retail of approximately $1200.  Applying the usual Hamilton street discount, it's likely to become a Swiss-made skeleton model at or below $1000.

Image courtesy
Image courtesy

As can be seen in these close-up images, the dial appears very attractively designed and well-finished for a mass-production model, with many flourishes - like the Hamilton "H" patterning on the movement plate - that can only be achieved economically by a large-scale manufacturer.  The watch is sensibly sized for dress and casual use at 40mm, and satisfies my personal criteria of being time only - avoiding the annoyance of having to reset date or day windows, or the more arcane knowledge required to set moon phase complications (knowledge that I still do not possess).

While Hamilton calls the movement a Caliber H-20-S, automatic skeleton; its size relative to the case and rotor design lead me to believe it's a skeletonized form of the ubiquitous ETA 2824, albeit a variant that will be exclusive to Hamilton.  (Another perk of being in the Swatch Group is access to exclusive ETA variations, which other Swatch brands like Longines have also enjoyed.)

For my watch box, the new Viewmatic Skeleton is possibly poised to knock the Intra-Matic from its place as my go-to automatic.  My work responsibilities that make the Intra-Matic's date window a convenient evil will conclude at the end of June, and while I've grown to like the Intra-Matic's hour-and-minute-only hand setup, part of the soul of a mechanical movement does lie in the telltale sweep of its second hand.  Only the comparatively larger size - 36mm to 38mm is really the ideal for my 6" wrist - and potential movement downgrade from a 2892 to 2824 give me pause in considering the switch.  I may have to see the watch in person to make the final call.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Watch Primer #13: Building A Watch Collection

As with any hobby that primarily consists of acquiring manufactured goods (and obsessing over said goods), the sky really can be the limit where watch collecting is concerned.  Where money is no object, one can amass a collection spanning styles, manufacturers, eras, and complications, or price tags rivaling luxury cars and even single-family homes.  Few of us can afford to dedicate such resources to a pass time; but the question is, even if we could, would we want to?

For me (and the purposes of the Watch Primer series), the answer to this question stems from the intrinsic characteristics of the watch itself.  The most elemental is this:

You can only wear one watch at a time.

(I've seen videos of the CEO of Omega, Stephen Urquhart, running around Baselworld with a Planet Ocean strapped to each wrist, but given his position in the industry and the context, I think he provides a fitting exception to prove the rule.)

From this first principle comes a corollary that has direct bearing on the size and disposition of your ideal watch collection:

The amount of wrist time each watch enjoys is inversely proportional to the number of watches in your collection.

This might not matter for those watch enthusiasts who, at least in part, collect watches for the same reason that some people collect coins or stamps - that is, for the collection itself.  For those who make it a point to collect every subtle iteration of a particular model, or the rarest examples across a wide range of brands, actually wearing each and every one of the watches in their collection is merely a secondary perk (or, if they're more focused on maintaining the value and condition of the pieces, an anathema).  But it is my contention that the act and practice of collecting always remains a distant second to the actual use and enjoyment of the watches you own.

Back when my collection threatened to overwhelm my 10-slot watch box, I often found that at least half of my watches remained in the stable for months on end.  A couple saw alternating but occasionally infrequent use, while one watch - usually an automatic - enjoyed go-to watch status.  Among those watches perennially confined to the stable was the Speedy Pro - the eventual winner of my "only watch" category - and every time I reach into the box for another model, I would feel a slight pang of guilt at leaving it behind.  Even now, with my collection pared down to four, two of them - the quartz "backup" and "beater" contingent, comprised of a Grand Seiko and a Casio ProTrek - see very infrequent use.  If I weren't so attached to the notion of having a quartz "backup" dress watch and a "backup" chronograph, I could probably stand to pare down those two as well.

The most important thing is to acquire watches that you would be comfortable putting on day in, day out, for the indefinite future.  This determination is to a large degree dependent on context; if your work days see you often donning a suit, then a dress or dressy sports watch would be appropriate.  If your work is more active and less formal, a more casual and rugged watch may be better suited.  The other half depends on your own aesthetic sense - your propensity or disinclination for certain colors, features, or design elements.  Sometimes, the context and aesthetics force a compromise:  my current work-day watch, a Hamilton Intra-Matic 38mm, deviates from my minimalist aesthetic preference with a date window, which, for the purposes of the court documents I regularly deal with, has proven to be a necessity.