Monday, December 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 1, 2014

Watch Review: Seiko Railroad Pocket Watch SVBR001

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Watch Review: Seiko SARB035

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 3, 2014

Watch Review: Affordable Mechanicals: sub-$300 Range: Hamilton Field Khaki Hand Wind H69419363 Officer Handwinding

With the entry point of Swiss-made mechanical watches approaching - and often well exceeding - the $1000, many newcomers to realm of the watch enthusiasts must limit themselves to Asian-made or vintage Swiss models if their budget only goes as high as a few hundred dollars.  For those individuals, the entry-level brands of the Swatch Group, such as Tissot and Hamilton, offer some of the best value propositions on the market today.

The watch on review today is perhaps the finest and least expensive example in Hamilton's present collection:  the Field Khaki Hand Wind (currently listed as the Officer Handwinding on Hamilton's website), reference number H69419363.  Its simple three-hand design reflects a functionalist and spartan outlook that meshes well with its military aesthetic.  At 38mm in diameter, it is well positioned as an understated timepiece that could be easily dressed up with a leather strap or matching bracelet (more on the latter below).  Its 20mm lug width ensures that it is compatible with a wide range of aftermarket straps, and the drilled lug holes are an increasingly rarefied feature that makes strap changes a breeze and further cements the watch's function-first aesthetic.  The watch comes in a black dial and an olive drab dial, the latter of which can appear black or grey depending on the light and surroundings.  

Notable at this price point is the watch's domed sapphire crystal, whose charming lack of anti-reflective coating makes it evoke the vintage charm of actual military watches that used plastic or plexiglass crystals, while offering the modern scratch resistance of sapphire.  Its movement is an ETA 2804-2, which is the most recent manual-wind version of ETA's workhorse 28XX lines of movements.  For those looking to understand the anachronistic appeal of a mechanical watch in a world where every cellphone can tell you the time, the combination of sweeping seconds hand and daily ritual of winding the watch to maintain its 38-hour power reserve offers the full experience at perhaps the lowest price attainable for a Swiss mechanical watch.

As pictured above, I opted to dress up the watch with its matching bracelet (reference number H605.694.101, available direct from Hamilton for $114 plus shipping at the time of writing).  I found that the solid-end-link bracelet really completes the watch by matching seamlessly with its satin metal finish, and as versatile as the watch is with a wide range of straps, uniting the watch with its bracelet makes it feel suddenly whole.

The Hamilton Field Khaki Hand Wind H69419363 (aka Officer Handwinding) is available on Amazon for less than $300.

Diameter: 38mm
Lug Width: 20mm
Dial Color: Olive Drab
Crystal: Sapphire
Movement: ETA 2804-2 (manual wind, approximately 38-hour power reserve)
Bracelet: H605.694.101 ($114 + shipping direct from Hamilton)

Recommendation:  If you're a fan of minimalism, military aesthetics, handwound movements, and perhaps the best bang-for-buck current production Swiss timepiece on the market today, do yourself a favor and pick up the H69419363.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Watches to Wear Returns in November!

WtW will return with fortnightly blog posts every other Monday, starting November 3rd.

There's a whole lot on the way, so stay tuned!