Friday, September 2, 2011

Back after my hiatus

I've decided to start up this blog again. Unfortunately, either my http site was hijacked, or I let it expire - either way is now some watch sales site, with a WhoIs located somewhere in India. It really sucks - I liked having that domain name. Now I'm stuck with the blogspot address. I'm going to look into it with my registrar, but I imagine there's not much I can do - I probably let it go expired. Really mad at myself for that one!

Anyway, I thought I'd start with a classic, as a "Hats off" to Mr. Gerald Genta, who just recently passed away.

There's something about the Patek Nautilus that's just incredible. But I can't really figure out what. While the watch is more commonly seen in stainless steel, I've found a great photo of a gold one, with a beautiful black face. There's just something about it that's timeless and awesome. Although it's a classic Patek design, it really looks like no other watch they make. I don't know why I like this watch so much, part of me thinks it's ugly, with the weird protrusions on either side of the case, the too-wide bezel, and the odd shape to the face (it looks square with rounded edges, but I think it's actually octagonal with rounded edges). But all the design elements seem to fit together for some reason. The bracelet, I think, perfectly complements the shape of the face, and somehow the thickness of the bezel seems to work. The simple, classic face and hands is something I often look for in a watch.

Anyway, it's really about the way the elements fit together with this one.

(credit to for the photo - they're auctioning off this watch next month).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

This Week's Diver's Watch - the Seiko Sea Urchin

For this week's diver's watch, we go significantly downscale, at least in price, compared to the watches we've looked at till now.  We'll be looking at the Seiko 5; the so-called "sea urchin".  Part of the reason for this is that Seiko makes a fantastic dive watch; the other reason is that I've been thinking about my criteria for dive watches recently.  A dive watch, traditionally, was a really expensive bit of gear, because your life depended on it.  This is why serious diver's bought Rolexes - you needed absolute reliability.  Diving wasn't a cheap sport, and compared to the cost of the rest of your equipment, and your vacations to the great barrier reef, well, cost was no object when it came down to finding the proper watch.  And there were really no cheap, reliable alternatives - if you wanted something that was really, really reliable, AND waterproof to diving depth, you had to buy something expensive.  Most bought Rolexes, Breitlings, Zodiacs or Omegas.  But that was the 60s and early 70s.

Then came the Japanese quartz watches, devastating, for a short while, the Swiss watch industry.  Then came Swatchgroup, making watches a fashion item again.  Then came the consolidation and revitalization  of the Swiss industry, followed by what is now a renaissance of the intricate mechanical movement.  But none of that should change the criteria for a diver's watch.

In today's modern manufacturing world, there is NOTHING in my criteria for a diver's watch that says it should be expensive.  Reliable, yes.  Water resistant to a reasonable depth, yes.  Rugged, yes.  But expensive?  

And the more I think about it, the more I see a new criteria in my list of things I want in my ultimate dive watch: disposability.  A diver's watch is a tool.  It needs to be absolutely reliable and rugged.  But on that day where you smash it up against a rock, or you lend it to a friend for their dive, or you forget it in a kit bag on a boat in aruba, it shouldn't ruin your diving career.  I think disposability is a "like to have" rather than a "must have" feature of a diver's watch; the bright line requirements include reliability, water resistance, ease of use, and all the other good things I mentioned in my first Diver's Watch post.  But I think that, given the choice between two equally good diver's watches, the cheaper of the two would win out.

Which, I think, is why the Seiko line of diver's watches has been so popular with real-life divers.  The so-called "sea-urchin" (I don't think that's its official name) is the last in a long line of watches from Seiko that really seem to do the job well.

So let's take a look at it.  At first glance, it looks an awful lot like a Rolex Submariner.  The black face, the shape and placement of the hour markers, the dimensions of the rotating bezel, and, more than anything else, the band.  But to me, it looks like a diver has taken the Rolex Sub into a room with a bunch of other divers, and tried to improve it.  

First, the useless cyclops magnifier is gone.  OK, really, when does a diver really need to look at the date underwater?  Never.  When the lighting is good, and your above sea level, you can make out the date just fine without a magnifier.  And this means there isn't a big chunky magnet for rocks and brick walls jutting out of the crystal of your watch.  I've never understood the Rolex magnifier - in rough conditions, you know it's getting chipped.  It distorts that portion of the face of the watch, so its harder to read the time.  It kind of looks ugly.  And it's only reason is to make the date look larger.  I can read the date just fine on a normal watch.

And about that date - doesn't it look so much better in white on a black background?  It doesn't stand out from the rest of the face so much.  

I'm not too fussed about the day indicator, but I can see where it would come in handy when you're on a 4 day scuba trip.  I tend to lose track of the day of the week when I'm on vacation, and it's handy to have.

Another improvement over the Rolex is the shape and size of the hands.  I've never really dug the Mercedes-shaped hour hand on the sub.  In some (older) Tudor Submariners, the hour hand was a cross shape that looked unusual, highly functional, and, well, neat.  But the mercedes hand, while easier to read than a tiny hand, was never my favorite feature of the Rolex.  I like the hour hand on this Seiko - huge, thick, tapering so you can get an accurate reading, and with a nice little silver detail to make it look a little less blocky.  I imagine it looks great under water, or in low light situations, with all that luminescence.  The minute hand is also about as big as you could make it on a watch of this size, about the largest minute hand I've ever seen, but also tapered for accurate readings.  The second hand is complete with a luminescent 'dot' so you can confirm that the watch is working, even in low light situations.

I think the hour indicators are even bigger than on the Submariner, making for increased legibility.  I have to say I really like them.  They look a little oversized, but it adds, I think, to the sportiness of the watch.  The unidirectional rotating bezel is also thicker than the Rolex, but not as think as the crazy Blancpain I reviewed last week.  I think the thicker bezel gives the watch a more modern look, but I'm not sure why.  The indents on the bezel make it easy to turn, even with gloves on.  One small detail - I would have liked a luminescent dot or something at the 0 mark on the luminescent bezel.   Maybe it's there, but it doesn't look like it to me.  

I should note that this particular Seiko dive isn't the most "serious" of the Seiko dive watches - it's only resistant to 100 meters, it doesn't have a luminescent dot at 12 (some of the others do), it doesn't have a color change on the bezel between the first 15 minutes and the rest, and it doesn't have a rubber band.  But of the ones I've seen, it's the one I like most (even if it's not the most "diver" of them, if you know what I mean).  Please remember - I'm not actually a diver myself.

The case looks a little squarer than the Submariner, and there are no crown guards.  I think the "perfect" dive watch would have crown guards - lets face it, this watch is going to get banged up a fair bit.  The bracelet is very similar to an oyster bracelet, and there's nothing wrong with that.

In terms of reliability, we're looking at a Seiko 5 movement.  This is Seiko's most ubiquitous automatic movement.  It's been around for decades.  23 jewels, quite accurate, and very, very reliable.  Also very easy to fix or replace if it dies, since there are probably millions of Seiko 5 movements out there.  Pretty standard movement for a watch repair person to have in stock.

All in all, a really nice watch.  Probably head to head with the Rolex Submariner in the race for my "ultimate dive watch".

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Search for the perfect diver's watch continued - Blancpain Aqualung

OK - here's a watch that's a little less standard than the ones I highlighted so far, in my search for the ultimate diver's watch.  The Blancpain Aqualung.  

Now, Blancpain isn't really known for their diver's watches.  They're more of a high-end fancy dress watch company.  They're another one of these names that has been "revitalized" - the "modern" Blancpain was started in 1983; the name had been out of use for decades.  One of the oldest watch names in the world, Mr. Blancpain was making watches back in 1735.  Of course, like many other watch brands, the Japanese quartz industry killed the brand at some point...  Some enterprising person recreated the brand in 1983.  The modern company held a lot of world records, including the thinnest automatic chronograph, the smallest minute repeater, and the most complicated watch on the planet.  Think intricate; think lots of precious metals; think delicate and refined.  At least that's what I think of when I see "blancpain" on the dial.

Which is why this watch, sold at Antiquorum last month, threw me for a bit of a loop.  Yes, it's a Blancpain.  But it looks HUGE.  And RUGGED.  And it's water resistant to 1000 feet (333 metres).   I don't know much about the history of this watch (when it was made, etc.), but judging from the wear on the luminous markers, I would have to guess they were radium, which puts the watch somewhere between the 40's and the 60's.  But that's just a guess.

There's no denying this is a serious diver's watch.  1000 foot water resistance is nothing to sneer at.  The hands are extremely luminous and easy to read; the hour markers (in orange!) are also very easy to read and stand out almost as much as the bright white luminous hands.  But what really sets this watch apart is the rotating bezel.  Just look at the size of that thing!  HUGE.  If you have trouble reading elapsed time on this watch, you probably shouldn't be diving.  

If I had to guess based on the picture, I would say this is a stainless steel watch, with a bidirectional rotating bezel (don't ask me why I'd guess this, I just would) and an acrylic crystal.  Looks like an aftermarket, much more modern, kevlar band.  

Gorgeous watch, but I don't think it's going to be my "ultimate" dive watch.  Why?  Well, it's a Blancpain.  If I bought a Blancpain, it would be hugely, horribly complicated, possibly rose gold, with a leather band.  I just can't take the Blancpain name seriously on a dive watch.  I'm not sure why that is - I'm sure they made a fantastic dive watch.  If I had a collection of dive watches, this would definitely be on the short list - it's probably very rare, and watch collectors and divers alike would say "wow".  But if I was looking for the one dive watch to rule them all, this probably isn't "the one".  At least not for me.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Back to Dive Watches - the Tissot Sea-Touch

OK, back from a brief hiatus to my search for the perfect dive watch.  This week, instead of going back into the history books, I thought I'd profile a "brand new" watch from Tissot.  The pictures are from the Tissot ads, rather than of an actual watch, but I didn't think you'd mind.

The Tissot T-touch line has been around for a while now (probably about 10 years).  They're Tissot's version of the ABC watch (altimeter, barometer, compass), with a slick little twist - the watch crystal is a "touch screen".  The typical t-touch has an altimeter, a barometer, a
 thermometer, a digital compass, an alarm, and a chronograph mode.  To select which mode you want, you activate the screen by pushing a button (the touch screen isn't always on - that would cause lots of false activations), then pointing to the section of the screen labelled with the function you want.  For example, if you wanted to use the thermometer
 function, you'd push a button, then press on the crystal at about the 10:00 mark.  The temperature function would show up on the lcd screen at the bottom of the watch.

I've always liked these watches, but never really saw the need for one.  First, I don't need an altimeter.  I've never needed one.  Second, I don't need a barometer.  Wouldn't know how to use it. Third, the thermometer function is near useless on just about every ABC watch, since the temperature sensor is (invariably) close to your skin.  So you always get false readings that are somewhere between the ambient temperature and 37 degrees celcius.  I admit a compass would be cool, but not really necessary - when am I ever going to need a compass and not need a GPS?  I can usually guestimate direction based on the time and the direction of the sun.

I've also never bought one because, although I like techy watches, and I love ana-digi watches, I never really liked the style of these.  To me, the non-rotating bezel, with it's direction indicators, seemed a bit over-done.  And although I like ana-digi movements, there's something about the
 location, or the size, or something, about the LCD screen on these watches that kind of turns me off.  It's really cool to press the screen, watch the hands twirl around, and tell people where North is, but that really wasn't enough for me to buy this watch.

The only one I ever considered was the Silen-T, which is Tissot's "silent" alarm watch.  Very cool features, that I would probably use a lot.  Involving being able to tell the time without looking at the face, and a silent alarm.  I still think this is a great looking watch with amazing features, and will probably buy one at some point...  But I'll leave that watch for another day.

Well, just recently, Tissot added a new watch to their T-touch line, that's made me consider these watches again.  And it's a dive watch.  It probably won't win "best dive watch ever", but it's a pretty cool watch, so I thought I'd talk about it today.

The names of Tissot watches always put a smile on my face.  There was the T-touch (T for Tissot).  The Silen-T (the touch screen watch with a silent alarm.  Now the Sea-Touch, which is kind of a cute play on T-touch.  The Sea-Touch uses the t-touch technology, but instead of being an ABC watch, it's got a bunch of features useful for diving.  It still has the compass (the coolest, and marginally most useful of the ABC features), and a thermometer, but instead of an altimeter or a barometer, it has a dive computer.  The dive computer automatically activates once you dive, and records your depth every 15 seconds.  Once you hit sea level again for more than 5 minutes, the dive computer stops, and the information gets transferred to the dive log.  Very cool feature - now you've got a record of your diving times and depths.  You can quickly access your maximum depth, your dive duration, and a bunch of other features.

You know, with this kind of information available, it would have been nice to incorporate other features, such as an alarm when you hit a pre-set time or depth, but I guess I'm asking for too much.

The Sea-Touch has another nice dive feature that is absent far too often from dive watches - the buttons work under water.  OK, the tactile touch screen is deactivated, but the normal buttons work.  The watch is water resistant to 200 m, which is quite respectable and sufficient. 

Aesthetically, the watch looks much nicer than the other t-touches, mostly because of the classic "dive" elements.  It has a proper bezel.  That rotates.  That indicates something useful.  I'm not sure what happens after 30, though - suddenly the numbers jump to 75.  Maybe the numbers are used in conjunction with the hands to indicate depth, but that would be stupid, given that the bezel rotates.  And I'm not sure why the minute increments end at 30, but the orange part of the dial goes to 50.  I guess I'd have to say that the first half of this bezel (up to 30) is useful, and the rest is just weird.  

Oops - that last paragraph was my bad - it helps to read the manual!  When in dive mode, the elapsed time shows on the LCD, and the depth in meters (or feet, depending on the bezel chosen) is indicated with the minute hand.  The hour hand indicates dive speed!!!  (in minutes per minute or feet per minute) so you can easily calculate decompression!!!  This using the white segment of the dial.   So I've changed my mind - the bezel is quite cool.  The only problem I have with it now is that it looks like it rotates (it's even got little ridges to make it easier to rotate with gloves on).  Given how the bezel works, and what it indicates, it probably shouldn't rotate.  

I do love the look of this watch a lot more than the other t-touches, but compared to a traditional dive watch?  I'm not so sure.  I like the use of orange, both in the orange watch and the more conservative black watch that has orange accents.  The face is a traditional black, but the hands are a little less legible than most dive watch hands.  I'm not sure if orange on black is the most legible combination.  The LCD is backlit, which is nice, but only for the information that's on the LCD - it doesn't help read the time.

Over all, I do like this watch.  It's in the consideration set.  But I'm not certain it's the one dive watch to rule them all.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Deviating from watches for a quick second

Instead of profiling another watch this week, I thought I'd share something I think is kind of cool. I'm still very much infatuated with the Citizen eco-drive watch I bought last month, so in my spare time, I did a bit of research on it. Being a tech-guy, I was interested in how, exactly, the watch worked (in terms of the radio control, as well as in terms of the "eco-drive"). Being a patent agent, I figured the easiest way of getting more information was to search the US patent database.

Turns out Citizen has a crazy amount of patents on both the radio control mechanism and the eco-drive mechanism. It's insanely complex stuff - everything from where the solar cell is located, to the placement of the radio antenna within the case, is patented. Reading these patents, it's amazing how much time and energy went into this technology. Everything has been considered.

The claims are quite interesting. For example, US patent 7,372,779 is an issued US patent, with the following abstract and first claim:

The invention is directed to obtaining a radio controlled timepiece that, in a case when the user who uses it moves from one country or one region to another where the time difference is different, has simplified an operation of correcting the time difference between the countries or regions and an operation of correcting the time difference due to daylight saving time's being executed. To this end, the invention provides a radio controlled timepiece 1 that, in addition to the radio controlled timepiece 1 in the prior art, it further includes offset time difference information storage means 8 that stores an offset time difference between a country where reference time information is formed and a country where a standard radio wave has been received and daylight saving time information storage means 9 that has stored therein for future use information on whether daylight saving time is being executed in the region where the standard radio wave has been received, and local standard time information forming means 10 that, with respect to the reference time
information of the standard radio wave that has been received in a particular region, executes calculation processing by using at least either one of offset time difference information with respect to the reference time information corresponding to the particular region and daylight saving time information in the particular region, to thereby form local standard time information in the particular region.

1. A radio controlled timepiece, which comprises: a reference signal generating means that outputs a reference signal; a time keeping means that outputs time keeping nformation based upon said reference signal; a display means that displays time nformation based upon said time keeping information; and a receiving means that receives a standard radio wave having time information, whereby output time nformation output from said time keeping means can be corrected based upon a reception signal output from said receiving means, and wherein said radio controlled timepiece further comprises: an offset time difference information storage means that stores an offset time difference formed between a certain region and a particular region where said standard radio wave has been received, by setting a time information in said certain region as a standard time information; a daylight saving time information storage means that stores therein information whether or not a daylight saving time is executed in the region where said standard radio wave has been received; a local standard time information forming means that executes an operational processing by utilizing said offset time difference information formed between said time information of said standard radio wave as received in said particular region and said standard time information, and said daylight saving time information used in said particular region, so as to form said local standard time information in said particular region; and a time difference correction history information storage means that stores information on whether or not a user has manually corrected time difference information, and wherein said radio controlled timepiece is configured so that when said radio controlled timepiece has received said standard radio wave, said offset time difference of said offset time difference information storing means is adjusted by utilizing said information of said time difference correction history information storage means, said daylight saving time information stored in said daylight saving time information storage means as obtained when said standard radio wave has been received at an immediately preceding sampling period, and said daylight saving time information as obtained when said standard radio wave has been received at the present sampling period, and then said local standard time information of said local standard time information forming means is adjusted based upon said adjusted offset time information and said daylight saving time information as obtained when said standard radio wave has been received at the present sampling period.
Based on the abstract, it looks like my watch is covered - the time is automatically calibrated for the time zone and daylight saving time information received. However, I'm not sure whether the watch falls under claim 1 (not sure I have a "reference signal generating means" on my watch).

US 7,408,845 seems more on point:

1. A radio correcting timepiece comprising signal receiving means for receiving plural standard radio waves having time information and timepiece means for correcting time operation to display time on the basis of the time information contained in at least one standard radio wave received by the signal receiving means, wherein: said correcting time operation operates to receive said time information according to a predetermined receiving order for each standard radio wave, and in the case of success in obtaining said time information from either of said standard radio waves or in the case of unsuccess in obtaining said time information from all of said standard radio waves operates to terminate said receiving operation, and, further in the case of said success, operates to correct the time based on the time information obtained, and, on the basis of the information related to success or unsuccess in obtaining said time information from one or plural standard radio waves obtained by said correcting
time operation operated in the past, said predetermined receiving order of each standard radio wave used in said correcting time operation after the past time is renewed.
But the coolest are the design patents. US D554,536 definitely covers the design elements of my watch, though I guess you'd have to have all of the designs to be confusing... If they really wanted to cover it, they would have separate design apps for the different "portions" of the design - the slide rule, the face, the hands, etc.:

It's kind of cool. And Citizen, (or Swatchgroup, or anyone else) - if you're looking for someone to file your industrial designs in Canada, let me know - no one else will be able to convince the Canadian Patent Office of the distinguishing elements of your design better than me!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Citizen Skyhawk

This week I'm taking a break from the Diver's watch segment (I know, I know, after only two segments! We'll get back to it next week, promise). The reason is that I recently aquired a new watch, and it needs to be written up.

As you may have noticed from earlier posts, I have a thing for atomic watches. That is, watches that can receive the radio signal from the US military atomic watch (which is, I think, in Boulder, CO) that is used to synch satelites. The appeal of these watches is that they tell the "perfect" time. Well, till now I had one (the red faced Casio). It's a great watch, but not the most appealing from a esthetic point of view. I've been meaning to upgrade it for a while.

So I've had my eye on the Citizen Skyhawk series for a while now. These are probably the most upscale of the Citizen sports watches. The one I bought looks great, and has an insane amount of features.

Like the Casio, it's Atomic. But unlike the Casio, it can receive the radio signal from four different atomic clocks: the one in the US, one in Europe, and two in Japan. It chooses the right radio signal automatically, based on the time zone you tell it you are in. It listens for the radio signal three times a day - at 2, 3 and 4 am, where atmospheric conditions are optimum) and automatically adjusts the time and date (both the hands, and the digital face) accordingly. You can also set it so it receives Daylight Savings Time information from the atomic clock - so you never have to worry about that, either.

You can also ask it to synch at any time, by pushing a button. This doesn't work too well during the day, since it has trouble receiving the signal. And if that's not enough, you can change the 4am synch time to any other time you want.

The watch has so many additional features, I've got to use headings!


This is an an "eco-drive" watch, which is the trademark for Citizen's solar technology.  Citizen was probably the first watch company that used a solar panel that doesn't look like a solar panel.  On this particular watch, you can't tell there's a solar panel at all.  I think the whole face is a solar panel, but it looks just like a normal, black watch face.  It's quite amazing to me that the solar panel is so efficient - there is very little real estate on the watch dial, what with all the markings, hands, lcd screens, and all.  But if you look at it closely, you can sort of tell that the solar panel is there - the dial isn't quite black, seen under strong light, it's a bit of a translucent gray.

The solar panel charges a capacitor.  The advantage of using a capacitor instead of a rechargable battery is that, in theory at least, the capacitor will never need to be changed, and the capacitor can be charged and recharged ad infinitum.  A rechargable battery only has a certain life span, and a certain number of charges.  Apparently, the watch also has a back-up battery, but I'm not sure how power gets allocated. 

All in all, this must be pretty sophisticated technology - a capacitor isn't normally very good at giving a slow trickle of energy.  The solar panel would need some kind of "cut off" so you don't over charge the capacitor or the battery.  There needs to be some kind of switching from capacitor to battery, when the charge gets low.  Lots of circuitry.

Apparently, at full charge, the watch is good for 200 days.

The solar panel allows the watch to "know" when it's being used, and Citizen has used this to its advantage in a really clever way - if the watch is locked up in a drawer for longer than a certain amount of time (i.e. if the watch face doesn't see any light at all for a certain amount of time), it goes into a hibernation mode.  There are actually two levels of hibernation - for the first, the watch shuts off the digital display.  For the second, the watch hands stop moving (but the watch still 'remembers', or counts, the time).  The minute the face hits a bit of light, the watch "knows" it's in use again, and the hands jump to the correct time.  Really, these guys have thought of just about everything.

The neat thing about this technology is that, really, you never need to open the back of the watch.  The watch back actually says "do not open! service center repair only".   The only time you would ever need to open the watch is if it broke.  I've never had a watch that tells me not to open it!  Very neat.  I suppose this also makes it easier to get the water resistance where it is (no o-ring worries).

So the battery never needs changing, and the time never needs adjusting. Talk about a low maintenance watch!


The Skyhawk comes in stainless steel, a blackened stainless steel, and titanium.  The one I bought is titanium.  Says so right on the dial.  I tried on all three, and the titanium one is remarkably lighter.  The watch face is still fairly heavy (I guess all the electronics inside can't be too light) but the bracelet is about half the weight you'd expect it to be.  This results in a watch that is very easy to wear.

Titanium also looks great, in my opinion - it's slightly different than stainless, with a bit more of a gray tint.

Titanium is famous for being very hard to work with, which is why all the detail on the band is quite surprising to me.  Note that the majority is brushed titanium, but the small links that connect the main links are polished titanium.  This gives a subtle two-tone effect.  Note that not all of the small links are polished - this would make it look stripey, like a Cartier Panthere.  Instead, just the linking links (if you know what I mean), or every second link is polished.  Very neat look.

The clasp is operated by two buttons, one on each side.  There is no wetsuit extension.  A bit disappointing, but I guess this is supposed to be an aviator watch, not a diving watch.

Sapphire Crystal

Of course, the watch has a sapphire crystal.  This is almost standard these days.  I imagine it will be hard to scratch.  There doesn't appear to be any anti-glare coating, though, which is a bit disappointing, I suppose.  

200 Metre Water Resistance

I would have settled for 100m.  50 is kind of weenie - most watches have this, and it doesn't mean much.  But 200m water resistance is serious water resistance.  You can wear this in just about any situation without worries.

Slide Rule

Yes, the watch has a rotating bezel.  And in true aviator watch style, the rotating bezel is one part of a three part slide rule.

The slide rule is actually very useful if you know how to use it.  Multiplication and division are very, very easy to perform.  Apparently you can use it to calculate a square root, but I've never needed to calculate a square root, so I never learned how.  Time calculations are also easy, thanks to the third part of the slide rule.  So, you can calculate how much time you can fly for if you are using 30 gallons of fuel per hour and have 73 gallons of fuel in your tank (just slide the "30" to the 12 position, and look at the time at the 73 position).  Equally useful are the little indicators for commonly used calculations.  I can never remember how many km there are in a mile, so it's actually really nice to see km, nautical miles, and statutory miles actually indicated on the bezel.  It also has indicators for fuel lbs/litres/oil lbs/imperial gallons/US gallons, which I would probably use less (though US gallons to litres might come in handy at some point).  Very cool, very functional - it's like having a metric conversion calculator watch, without all the geeky buttons.

I think the bezel is titanium, painted black with white numbers.  The interior (non-moving) bezel looks like an aluminum, painted black with silver numbers.  A bit wierd to have the white so close to the silver - it would have been nicer if they were all the same colour - but it's hardly noticable, and obviously cost a whole lot less than either painting the aluminum numbers white.

Because the bezel is titanium, the machining on it isn't as perfect as I hoped - it's a bit tough to turn.  But maybe that's by design.  In any event, the twelve round protrusions add both functionality (making it easier to turn the bezel, both with or without gloves on) and interesting style.


The dial is amazingly cluttered.  Four dials, two LCD panels, a three layer slide rule, 8 hands, hour markers, minute markers, and a whole lot of writing).   Despite this, it looks quite organized and it is very, very easy to read the time.  The main hands are very large and legible in all light conditions. The hour markers are also quite large, and luminous. The minute markers are also larger than on most watches.  

As if this wasn't enough, the watch has an LED backlighting (red, so that it doesn't effect your night vision), though it only lights up the LCD panel (it would have been nice to light up the whole dial).  This backlighting only works in some modes, so if you're using the chronograph in the dark, you're out of luck.

I'm going to go through each of the features of the dial in clockwise order, starting at 6.

Mode dial

At the 6:00 is the mode dial.  This features 8 different modes: starting at 6 again: time, calendar, timer, chronograph, world time-set, alarm-1, alarm-2, and radio control-set.  You change from one mode to another by pulling out the crown one notch and turning it.  This is actually quite annoying - it would have been much better if they kept with the old Citizen system - jsut turn the crown in the standard position, without having to pull it out first.  Citizen probably had a reason for changing this - maybe people were complaining that the mode was always accidentally changing while it was on your wrist. 

In the "time" mode, the left hand LCD indicates the current time zone of the hands of the watch, and the right hand LCD indicates the time for the time zone you've selected as your "world time".  Pulling out the crown one stop enables you to set the time zone for the right hand LCD display.  

In the "cal" mode, the right hand LCD display indicates the day and date.

Timer and chrono features work like on any digital watch, with the features appearing on the right hand LCD.  Oh - one nice thing, in chrono, you get hours, minutes, seconds, and hundredths, all showing.  None of this hundredths disappearing when you start logging hours.

World time set allows you to add or remove different time zones from your scrolling list of time zones in "time" mode, and allows you to set daylight savings time manually.

The two alarms work like on a normal watch, with one exception - you also set the time zone, which is a great feature.  So you can set the alarm to ring at 8:00 am Cairo time.

Rx-S mode allows you to set the various features of the atomic/radio controlled aspects of the watch.

LCD panels

Just below 9:00, and between 3:00 and 4:00 are two LCD panels.  They are used for the various modes/functions, as discussed above.  It's kind of cool to have a dedicated LCD panel that tells you which time zone you are in.

Battery/Radio indicator

At 10:00 is the battery and radio indicator.  In every mode except radio reception mode, it indicates the life of the battery, with four positions.  Kind of like a "reserve de marche" indicator.  Very neat.  I've never seen it anywhere but the "fully charged" position, but I imagine that may change over time.

When the watch is receiving a time signal, the battery indicator hand rotates to indicate which radio frequency it is dialed in to - US, Europe or Japan.  The radio frequency is set automatically based on your time zone, so this is a bit redundant and useless information, but it's pretty cool to have the words "US, EUR, JPN" as settings on the watch - which is probably why they did this.


At the 12:00 position, the largest subset dial, is the "UTC" dial.  There are two hands, one a normal minute hand (in white) and the second a 24 hour hand (in orange).  This dial always indicates UTC, otherwise known as (I believe) Grenwich Standard Time.  Kind of cool for an aeronautic watch, since GMT is used constantly when flying.  But for me, it would have been much cooler if this was set to the second time zone, for quick reading of that time.

24 hour hand

At the 2:00 position is another dial, with one hand, which indicates the time, on a 24 hour scale.  This could have easily been replaced with a little orange aperture (am/pm) since you already have the time on a 12 hour scale with the big hands.  If they had done this, it would have left room on the dial for an analog view of one of the alarms, which I would have preferred.

As it is, the three dials on the top half of the watch are pretty much useless to me, but that doesn't stop them from being cool.

Radio Signal Indicator

At the 11:00, 12:00, and between 1:00 and 2:30 are indicators for the radio signal.  When the watch is attempting to synch with the atomic clock, the second hand will move to "RX", which is indicated at the 12:00 position.  If the watch fails to receive a signal, the second hand will move to "NO", at 11:00.  If the watch receives a signal, it informs you the strength of that signal by pointing to L (low), M (medium) or H (high) indicators between 2:30 and 1:00.  Very neat.  You can also confirm whether a signal was received by pushing the lower of the two pushers.

All in all, a very nice watch.  A tad complicated, but actually quite easy to use.  

After a week of wearing it, I would make the following improvements:

1) LED lights for the whole face rather than just the LCDs

2) LED lights that work regardless of mode

3) Second time zone indicated at 12:00 dial, rather than UTC (though I'm sure people will disagree with me on this one, so I'm not too fussed)

4) Alarm indicated at 2:00 dial, rather than 24 hour hand

5) Mode dial that works in default crown position, rather than having to pull the crown out to change modes

6) Bezel that is easier to turn

I think you'll agree that these are all pretty minor points.  So far, I'm thrilled with the watch.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Ultimate Divers' part II - The Rolex Submariner

This week's watch of the week is a little early, since I'll be "computer free" for a while.  I don't have too much time to find something esoteric, and realistically, I couldn't do a search for the ultimate Diver's watch without at least considering the entries from Rolex, so we'll get those out of the way today.

For a lot of people, the Submariner is the ultimate diver's watch, and it's not hard to see why.  It's the watch that everyone else copied.  The oyster case was one of the first waterproof cases, meant for extreme use, and the Rolex is really very functionally and clasically laid out - which is why it hasn't changed too much 
in the last few decades.

I'll be looking at a few different Subs, though, since the devil is in the details, and you can really tell what's important in a watch by the little changes that are made over the years.  All photos used today are courtesy of - these are all watches that Antiquorum sold over the last week, in their mega watch auction.

So let's look at this first sub.  Black dial?  Check.  Easy to read, luminescent hour markers and hands? Check.  Unidirectional rotating decompression bezel, with luminescent marker and markings every 5 minutes?  Check.  Easy to turn with gloves on? Check.  Water resistant to a reasonable depth? Check.  Touch crystal and band? check.  So it's a diver's watch.  

But let's look at some of the extra features that make this Submariner so special.  Crown guards.  Nice touch.  This way, the screw down crown doesn't get banged up from hits to the side.  It also prevents the crown from accidentally getting unscrewed (which would be very bad at 300 metres).  

The first 15 minutes of the bezel are ticked off every minute, to make it easier to see exactly where you stand.  There is also a subtle, but readable minute chapter ring on the dial.  The hands are easy to read - the "mercedes" hour hand, called this because it resembles the mercedes symbol, is unmistakably distinct from the minute or second hands.  The second hand is big enough to read easily, but tapers to a fine point for accuracy.  It is perfectly aligned with the minute chapter ring.  The second hand has a big luminescent dot making it easy to read, but is quite thin for accuracy.  Use of a triangle at 12 and sticks of luminescence at 3,6,and 9, with circles of luminescence at the other hour markers, make this watch very easy to read - you always know which way is up.  Many, many other watches have copied this style.

The oyster band has also been frequently copied.  Nice, big, solid chunks of stainless steel.  In earlier models, the band looked pretty much the same, but solid links weren't used - instead, they were thick sheets of metal folded to shape.  This was fine, but as the watches got used and got older, the metal would bend out of shape slightly, resulting in band "stretch".  Not a big deal, since it really didn't effect the integrity of the band, and actually probably made the band more comfortable to wear, but people didn't like this (made the watch look old) so the solid links (which are also purportedly stronger since the links are solid metal) were adopted.  Of course,
 the band is only as strong as its weakest link, and the spring bars are the same, but so much of the watch business is perception!

The clasp (which can't be seen in any of the pictures) is also much copied.  It folds over itself and never actually separates - another safety feature - it would be hard to lose this watch over your wrist, even if the band somehow got opened.

People have gone on and on about the history of Rolex (to me, looks like a beautifully executed "marketing" play from the start, and not really about watchmaking - for a long time, they had other companies make their movements, under confidentiality).  People have gone on and on about the movements (oyster perpetual, has all sorts of refinements, including use of interesting alloys and mechanisms to increase reliability, all are officially certified chronometers, etc., etc., etc.,).  But I really don't know enough about Rolexes to add anything of value to those discussions.  

Instead, let's look at a couple of "variations on the theme", and see where they get us.

  This one is a "sub date".  The biggest difference is that it features a date window.  Personally, I don't like the date version as much, for a few reasons.  First, the date window is magnified by what's called the "cyclops" loupe.  There's actually a big piece of glass (or acrylic, depending on the year of manufacture) that sticks OUT of the crystal.  If I had one of these, this would get banged up.  A lot.  I'd end up with lots of scratches on this piece of glass, since it sticks out and just asks to be banged into something.  Second, I think the big white aperture window detracts a lot from the symmetric nature of the face.  Everything else is black.  Your eye just automatically goes to the magnified (and distorted, since magnification will do this) date, rather than to the time.  Other watch brands have used an inverted date (with the number in white, on a black background), and I like that a little more.  Finally, this is a sports watch.  A diving watch.  I'm going to wear it diving.  Even James Bond didn't wear his all the time - he had a dress watch for dress occasions.  So every time you wear it, you have to set the date.  No thanks.
The other obvious difference between the two watches is that this one looks to be a bit older.  The luminescent markers have yellowed nicely, giving a vintage look.

This next one is called the "Roger Moore" sub.  Not sure why, but I suspect it's the model Roger Moore wore in Moonraker, or some such thing.  
Even though it's got "Roger Moore" in the name, I quite like it.  The luminescent strips have aged quite nicely, and almost look orange.  

A "sub" discussion just wouldn't be complete without a look at the watch known as the "James Bond" submariner.  This is a much earlier version of the watch, made famous for a close-up shot in one of the very early Bond movies (possibly even Dr. No).  Although it's got the submariner rotating bezel, it looks a lot like an Explorer, because there are no crown guards.  Also, I think the overall size of the watch was a fair bit smaller than the submariners you see today.  

It's got so-called "historic value" because of it's movie fame, but I think I'd rather have a version with crown guards.  

If I had my choice, I would get an older one, with a matte dial and as little as possible written on the face (the later Rolexes have more 'stuff' on the face; "superlative chronometer", water resistance in feet and metres, etc. etc. etc.).  Nicely yellowed luminescence (radium if I can find it, or if they ever used it - there's something cool about a radioactive dial).  Crown guards.  And (yes) an acrylic crystal.  None of this sapphire crystal stuff - old school.  I wouldn't care so much about the stretch on the band, or whether the band had a wetsuit extension clasp (some of the newer ones do).  Definitely no date.  This is something I really didn't know I felt so strongly about until I wrote this article - so I guess there is a use to this!  The more I think about it, the more I think a date window detracts from a divers' watch - at least from THIS diver's watch.

I should note that the bezel comes in different "flavours" too - they came out with a "Rolex Green" bezel for the watch's anniversary a few years back.  And I think there might be a few with the first 15 minutes in a different colour.  Oh - and I think the new ones are ceramic rather than painted steel - which means they don't scratch or wear out nearly as much.  But those features are unnecessary to me - a Sub should be banged up - it's a professional divers' watch.  And it should be as black as possible, 'cus that's just the way it should be.