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.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

First of the Divers'

OK, I should be working. Or talking about a specific diver's watch. But Antiquorum ( is having their auction this week. I wish I was there. Their online catalog is insane - I've been lustfully leering at some of the watches that are going on the block this week. The Antiquorum fine watch auction is easily the most amazing collection of watches sold in one spot at one time - it's the Barrett-Jackson of watch auctions. There are literally hundreds of watches I'd love to own.

So this week's Diver's watch comes from that auction. It's not something you see every day, and it's a hard core diver's watch. With this watch on your wrist, every one will know you are a diver. If you're wearing this watch without being a diver, you're a bit excentric - it's just so huge, so focused on diving, that people will wonder a bit about you.

The watch fulfils all of my criteria for a diver's watch. The face is black. It has a metal band. It also comes with an original Omega rubber strap, and a spare link bracelet, so you know you're not messing around here. The watch is waterproof to 600 m, which is more than enough for anyone diong diving.

The watch is just massive. It has a huge, easy to read graduated bezel. There's a huge (easy to operate with gloves on) red button for locking the bezel. So if you set the bezel, and push the button, the bezel won't turn, in either direction. No mistakes. The winding crown is at 9:00, which is unusual, and it's heavily protected - look at those massive crown guards! It's also a screw-down crown.

The minute hand is bright orange - you'd have no problems seeing this in any light situation. The second and hour hands are also big and easy to read.

This watch has an automatic movement. Easy to read minute and hour markings. A big, bold, luminescent markign at 12. And what appears to be luminescent markings on the rotating bezel (something I haven't seen before).

This is a serious watch. My only concern is its size 55 mm wide!!! - if you're not diving, this would be awkward, and probably very heavy to wear. It's got that cool retro 70's feel to it, though - you know this watch has seen some interesting sights in its time.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The search for the perfect dive watch

I know it's not Wednesday yet, but I thought I'd start out the week with a new idea.  Instead of random "watch I like" posts, for the next few weeks, I'll be exploring, researching, and highlighting dive watches, in the search for a "perfect" dive watch.

Just about every manufacture of watches makes at least one "dive" watch.  The first that comes to mind for most people is the Rolex Submariner.  Most other dive watches are at least loosely based on the Sub.  But even among Subs, there are all sorts of different styles.  The hands on an older Tudor Sub are quite different from the hands on a modern Rolex Sub.  The dials, and rotating bezels, can be different colors.  And of course there's the "Sea Dweller" - the uber-Sub.  

Other examples quickly come to mind - the Breitling Top-Time (James Bond's had a geiger counter built-in).  The IWC Aquatimer.  The Patek Philippe Nautilus.  The Cartier Pasha.  The Omega Seamaster.  The Seiko and Casio dive watches are also right up there.

So, what makes a watch a dive watch?

Wikipedia defines a dive watch as a watch designed for underwater diving that features, as a minimum, a water resistance greater than 10 ATM, the equivalent of 100 meters (330 feet).  There is an ISO standard for diver's watches (ISO 6425).  These are suitable for diving with underwater breating apparatus in depths of 100 m or more; an ISO 6425 certified watch can be marked with the word "DIVER'S".

But there are thousands of watches out there that are water resistant to 100 m.  Really, you could take just about any modern watch scuba diving.  So what unique features make a watch a diver's watch? 

Well, the ISO certification standard gives us some clues.

1) Fantastic visibility in just about all levels of light.

The ISO certification requires adequate readability at 25 cm in total darkness; an indication that the watch is running in total darkness; clearly distinguishable minute markings.

But a good diver's watch, I think, should go beyond this.  It should be legible at any light.  The sun's glare.  The light of the moon.  A dim reflection.  A lot of watches are readable in complete darkness; it's when there's just a little bit of light that makes reading them difficult - your eyes adjust to absolute darkness, and become much more sensitive.  Analog watches should have several different ways of reflecting light back to your eyes.  The hour and minute hands should have a healthy amount of chemiluminescence.  But they should also have some "mirrored" elements, and (ideally) some sections in white or other color that contrasts highly with the colour of the dial.  Hour markers on the watch should be the same - ideally they should have mirrored segments, black or white segments (high contrast to the face color), and a healthy chemiluminescent dollop.

Although a diver's watch can have a face of any colour, the majority are black with white hands and markers.  I think my "perfect" diver's watch will have to have this color combination, or a minor variant of it (dark blue?).  Strictly an aesthetic thing, but isn't that the most important thing here?  After all, it's not like I even dive!

2.  Easy to read the exact time

The ISO standard states that there should be clearly distinguishable minute markings on the watch face.  Makes sense to me.

3.  Unidirectional bezel

The ISO standard states that there should be a unidirectional bezel, with elapsed minute markings at least every 5 minutes, and a specific marker to mark a specific minute marking.  

In other words, there should be a rotating bezel.  It can only rotate in one direction.  So, once it's set, it can be accidentally moved, but only to tell you you have LESS air, not that you have MORE air.  i.e. if you set the marker at the minute hand now, the minute markings will tell you how long you've been underwater.  If the bezel gets moved accidentally, it can only be in the counterclockwise direction, which means when you see how much time you've been under water, it will seem like more, not like less, time.  

I would add a few things to the ISO standard (not that I've read the ISO standard, but I'm just reading about it on Wikipedia...  my apologies if these things are part of the standard already, and just not mentioned in Wikipedia).  First, the specific marker should be chemiluminescent.  It should also be readily visible in any light conditions.  AT A MINIMUM, you should be able to read three things in any light conditions: the location of the minute hand, the location of the "12", and the location of the bezel marker.

Second, the bezel should have some kind of grip on it, so that it can be easily turned, even with gloves on.

Third, the bezel should "click" every minute (or half minute). None of this free-wheeling bezel stuff - you need a bit more accuracy than that.

Fourth, ideally, the bezel should be designed so that sand and salt won't gum it up.  I don't want to have a "stuck" bezel, just because I've been in the sand or sea - that's what it's for!  I'm a bit torn about whether this means that the bezel needs to be an internal bezel (like the one on some of the IWC aquatimers).  With an internal bezel, you just turn a crown to turn the bezel, but the bezel is under the crystal, and is therefore protected from sand and salt.  However, it does change the look of the watch a lot - I'm not sure if a "perfect" dive watch should have an internal bezel...

Finally, I'm a bit torn on whether the bezel should be one colour or two - in a lot of traditional dive watches, the first 15 minutes of the bezel are a different colour.  Not sure why that is - I would understand it if we were counting down (last 15 minutes you can be underwater) but on almost all of these bezels, we're counting up.  I'll have to look into the significance - now it's really staring to bother me.

4.  Tough, reliable watch

The ISO certification has requirements for magnetic resistance, shock resistance, chemical resistance, strap/band solidity.  It also nees an End of Life indicator on a battery powered watch, and an indicator that the watch is running.  Makes sense to me.  You don't want the watch falling off in the middle of the ocean.  You want to know that you're not going to run out of batteries in the middle of a dive.  You want to be able to glance at the watch and confirm that it's still running, and doing what it needs to do.  Theoretically, you are depending on the watch for your health and safety.

Also makes sense that the watch should be able to withstand the corrosive nature of seawater.

5.  Looks like a Dive watch

I think it's important for a dive watch to look the part.  It should have a metal, rubber, or fabric strap.  A big, easy to read, black face.  A serious piece of metal on your wrist.  It should be devoid of fancy features that decrease legibility - no chrono dials, preferably no date indicator (though, if you must, one with a black background).  Although the quintissential dive watch (the Rolex Sub) has a cyclops magnifier for the date window, I would do without - it distorts the face, and sticks up too much (it will get banged up and scratched).  This is a utilitarian watch.  Oh - and I think it should have a wetsuit extension clasp if it's a metal band, or an extra-long bracelet if it's rubber or fabric.  It should have a safety clasp.  Big thick hands.  And a screw-down crown.  I'm not too fussed about fancy shmancy "helium release valves", depth guages, trip computers, or any of those things.

So this wednesday, we'll take a look at our first dive watch.  And we'll look at another every Wednesday 'till I get bored and decide to look at other types of watch for a change.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The reason watches are jewellery

This week, we prove that watches are jewellery.

The watch of the week is water resistant to 50 metres. It has a backlight so it can be seen in any light. Analog hands so it's easy to read at a glance. And a digital display that will tell you the time in every time zone on the planet, by city name. It has 5 different alarms, and a stopwatch. It's got a "perpetual date" which accounts for leap years. It remembers Daylight Savings Time.

It is the most accurate watch in the world. It never needs to be set. Ever.

Oh - and it costs about $25.

It's the Casio wave ceptor.
It has a radio receiver that automatically dials in the frequency of the US Military atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado every night. It receives this time signal (generated by an atomic clock - which works by counting the radioactive decay of a molecule, I think, of Cesium) and automatically resets the hands and the digital time. Keep in mind that this is a quartz movement anyway - so it only gains or loses a second or two a day. But it receives this time signal and adjusts, automatically. Every night. Using the same clock that's used to calibrate satellites, stealth bombers, and the like.
Pretty neat.
Yes, I have fancy watches (like the Breitling discussed below). And that watch is a "COSC certified chronometer". And it's quartz, so the criteria to be a COSC certified chronometer is even more arduous. But this Casio is the watch I use to set the Breitling, because it's more accurate.
Anything costing more than $25 is a piece of jewellery. Its function is incidental. Since this watch is a better, more complete timekeeper and costs $25.
The interesting thing is that (these days) most men will only wear jewellery that has a soupcon of function to it. A watch. Cuff links. A wedding band. Anything else is "gaudy" because real men don't wear jewellery. But that's just a fancy excuse. Your $5000 Rolex? Jewellery. Your $100 Fossil? Jewellery. Because this watch has them beat in terms of function.
I'd go on about the esthetics of this watch, but I won't. It's well laid out. Easy to read (though the digital screen sometimes gets obstructed by the minute hand). Easy to use, with labels for each of the buttons, both on the front and (more detailed) on the back of the watch. It's fairly light and comfortable to wear. The blue strip running around the bezel from 9 to 12 is a nice detail; not sure why it's there or even if it's intentional. More than that, you don't need to know. It's main objective is function, and it's the most functional watch I've ever seen.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax

This week's watch isn't in my collection.  It's a watch I've wished I owned for at least two decades now.  About 6 years ago, I could finally start looking for one, but a lot of people warned me away - "those are finicky" or "unreliable" were comments I often received from knowledgeable vendors trying to sell me other, similar watches.

Well, what do you expect from a highly complicated movement from the 40's??????

Of course, now, they're so expensive I can't afford one.  But I keep 
looking - you never know.  Maybe one will get missed by all the other afficionados.  Maybe the economic crisis has hit Universal fans harder than others.  From the prices I've been seeing lately, it looks like it's hit Rolex collectors pretty hard...  but I digress...

The Universal Tri-Compax is a super-underrated watch.  A watch collector's watch.  A watch repair guy's watch.  No real status symbols here - most people in North America have never even heard of Universal.  But Universal Geneve is a watch company with a distinctive and honourable past.  Apparently they make (or, at least, made) every part in-house - no ETA movement here!  Their newer watches I don't quite get - they look nice, but there's something about their design that's not quite right.  Not so with the tri-compax - this is as close as it gets to a perfect watch face.

Even among Universals, this one is special.  Universal called it "the Glorious"...  I think it was their most complicated watch movement, and probably remains so.  This is a watch with a history.  The close-ups of Harry Truman signing the Potsdam declaration (the terms of the Japanese surrender in 1945) revealed that he wore one on special occasions (maybe he wore one all the time, who knows).  OK, his was gold, not stainless steel like the one I'm profiling this week, but pretty close. 

So what makes this watch special?

First, the movement.  Highly complex.  Triple date.  Two of the three dates are apertures.  You can see these at about 10:00 and at about 2:00 (in the picture, they show "Wed" and "Feb".  They look pretty simple, but think about it - each is a rotating
 wheel.  One has seven settings, the other has 12.  And I guess they have to overlap (or maybe they don't... I've never seen one without a dial on it).  But from their position, and from the size the disc would have to be, it seems to me that they would have to overlap.  Which means they're slightly angled (think about it - they need to be at the same depth when indicating, but can be at different depths on the other side of the disc).  Think about the (pre-CAD) engineering that had to go into this!

 Between the two apertures, at the 12:00 position, there's a dial that shows numbers 1-31.  These indicate the day of the month.  The top half of this dial is another aperture, indicating the phase of the moon.  Not sure why the phase of the moon was so important in watch design, but people seemed to want it on their watches.  

Add to these complications a "standard" 12 hour chronograph with dials just like the watch we profiled last week (second hand at the 9, 12 hour counter for the chronograph at the 12, 30 minute counter for the chronograph at the 3).  Oh - and you've got the standard hands at the centre of the watch - the chronograph second hand, the time minute hand, and the time hour hand.

So if you think about it, you've got hands or dials that rotate at the following time intervals:

-once a minute (second hand)
-once a minute (chrono second hand)
-once a half hour (chrono minute hand)
-once an hour (minute hand)
-once every 12 hours (hour hand)
-once every 12 hours (chrono hour hand)
-once every 24 hours (day aperture)
-once every 29 days (moon phase aperture)
-once every 31 days (date)
-once every year (month aperture)

Three of these (chrono second, minute, and hour hands) can be started and stopped, and reset.

Most watches just have once a minute, once an hour, and once every 12 hours.

If you think about all the gears that allow this to happen, you'll probably get a headache.  But part of the beauty of this watch is that it's fairly thin, too.  Complex?  check.  Engineering marvel? you bet.  Something you'd want to take apart?  Not if you ever wanted to see it working again.

What makes this watch so special is that it's so complex, but that it looks clean and simple.  This is in part due to the apertures and hidden dials (rather than having hands for each of the features).  If you look at the watch, there's a lot of "white space".  The huge, gold triangular hands make it clear that the main function of the watch is telling the time.  No messing about here -you're always going to be able to read the time.  The minute hand has its own register, around the outside of the dial, making it easy to see exactly what the time is.  Minutes are indicated in 20 second intervals, with arabic numerals for each 5 minute interval.  The hour markers (shown at 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10 and 11) are triangular, nicely complementing the main hands.  As you'd expect, the chrono second hand is quite thin, and the blued finish add a bit of color, complementing the moon phase - everything ties together on this watch.  The chrono registers also have blued hands, with the exception of the day indicator, which, for some odd reason, is red.  You can tell that, with all the apertures and dials, they had trouble figuring out where to put "universal geneve" and "tri-compax", but they manage to do an excellent job of picking a place and a font.  Simple.  Yet complicated.

This particular watch has a gorgeous patina to the dial - it looks like it has never been re-done, and is in amazing shape for a watch over 60 years old.  The stainless steel case looks original, as do the chrono pushers (though they are quite different from the chrono pushers on the Truman tri-compax, which were rectangular).  Not sure if the crown is original, but it looks great.  Some fading on the finish, as would be expected - remember, you have to wind this watch every day!  

The case also has pushers on the left hand side, which can't be seen in this photo, but which are used to set the date, day, moon phase, etc.  The back is stainless steel.  

Thanks to the Watch Man for giving me permission to use his pictures of the watch - it's up for sale on ebay and can be seen at

Update:  As expected, it sold for a lot of money - $4250 CDN.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Leonidas Chronograph

It's wednesday again... So soon! Got to work today and realized I'm wearing the Breitling Aerospace again! Which means I can't use last week's criteria for figuring out which watch I'm going to talk about today.

So, instead, I'm going to describe my most recent acquisition. My Leonidas chronograph.

I bought this at a local auction, for very little. I think part of the reason is the face - which shows a LOT of oxidation (i.e. rust) coming through. You can barely read the name of the watch. In fact, the auction house had it wrong, listing it as a Leonadas or something. Not that many people going to that particular auction would think a Leonidas is something to write home about...

I love the way this watch looks. There's something about the oxidation that adds to the character of the dial. I was thinking about refinishing it, or putting a new dial on it (something NOS from Heuer would probably be most appropriate, for reasons I'll get to later) but the more I think about this, the more I think I'm keeping the dial as is.

The most impressive thing about this watch is that, despite the oxidation on the dial, it's in immaculate shape. The movement is running very strongly, and the chronograph registers snap back exactly to where they should, immediately and precisely. The ticking is even and strong. I've never seen a chronograph this old act this way - either it was worn regularly or it has recently been cleaned and serviced. I think the watch was pampered over the last 50 plus years - the case is in great shape, as are the crown and buttons. The acrylic crystal doesn't have a single scratch on it, and the hands look great. Maybe this was a project watch for someone who really knew what they were doing? Who knows. If it was a project watch, they had a lot of class - keeping the dial as is, and the speidel band... Some people would have changed both.

But let me get to a description of the watch itself, rather than its condition... Leonidas was a well known, well reputed Swiss house; they were bought by Heuer; I think in the 50's. Heuer continued to use the Leonidas name for a while, as a "second tier" brand (kind of like Rolex/Tudor) but after a while dropped it. Heuer itself was purchased by Tag in the 80's, and became the marketing marvel it is today (though it's just a marketing house today - Tag's are only gorgeous because they re-issue some of their watches from the 60s and 70s. I can't think of a single modern Tag I'd want in my collection - even the "ana-digi" Tags are less desirable than the ones from other companies... And don't get me started on the French Champagne and canvas bag company that bought Tag in 1999... But I digress).

So this watch is either a pre-Heuer Leonidas (from the 40's), or a Leonidas made recently after the Heuer purchase (50's, possibly 60's). I really can't tell. If anyone has seen this watch before, or can provide more information about its origins, year of manufacture, or anything else, it would be appreciated - just post it to the comments section and I'll edit the post to add.

Based on the hand placement and approximate year of manufacture, I would guess this has a Valjoux 72 in it. I haven't opened the watch up yet to confirm. The three registers are a second hand register (at 9), a thirty minute register for the chronograph (at 3), and a 12 hour register for the chronograph (at 6). The second hand acts as the chronograph second hand register, and stays at 12 when the chronograph is not in use. Many, many watches have a similar register pattern - the Omega Speedmaster, the Rolex Daytona, etc., though they may have used other movements (the Daytona famously was based on a modified Zenith el primero movement). I doubt the movement in my watch is a Zenith, though that would be an amazing find.

The minute register "clicks" into place, rather than sweeping, making it very easy to read. The watch also has tachymeter markings (in blue) and telemeter markings (in red) around the outside of the dial. The tachymeter is used to determine conversion of distance to speed, based on the time it takes for travelling one unit of distance. For example, you would start the chronograph at a mile marker on the road, stop the chronograph at the next mile marker, and read the tachymeter dial. It would tell you how fast you were going, in miles per hour. By using a km marker instead of a mile marker, you would find out how fast you were going in km/hr. You can use it for any unit of distance - for example, if you were measuring parsecs, it would tell you how many parsecs you were travelling per hour. Unfortunately, it only works for distances travelled in 60 seconds or less, since the tachymeter marker only goes around the dial once.

The telemeter converts speed of sound into distance. Basically, you use this to determine how far the German cannons are (or, more mundanely, how far away the lightning is striking). Start the chronograph when you see the lightning; stop it when you hear the thunder. The telemeter will tell you how far away the lightning strike was, in miles. It's an approximate reading, I think it assumes the speed of light is instantaneous and the speed of sound is 330 ft/sec (which, I think, is the speed of sound at 20 degrees celcius). But I'm not entirely sure what the exact assumptions are. The only downside to the telemeter is that it gives you markings that go to 12.5 - which are easily confused with the hour hand markings, especially if there are no hour hand markings, such as on this watch (well, it does have hour hand markings for 11, 12, and 1, but that's about it). No big deal - I don't think it affects time reading, but it's a bit annoying.

Inside the telemeter register is a minute hand register with markings in arabic at 5 minute intervals, and line markings, at 20 second intervals (5 per minute).

The dial is just drop dead gorgeous. The interplay and overlap between the chrono subsidiary dials and the telemeter/minute hand registers is a work of art - it took a lot of time and effort to get this right. The minute register is amazingly fine and accurate. The hands complement the dial perfectly - simple stick hands with tapered ends for the chronograph registers; the same, with a luminescent insert, for the minute and hour hands; and a simple thin hand, extending beyond the centre of the dial, for the second hand.

The case is nice too, though nothing to write home about. The part of the case that holds the crystal, and the back of the case, are polished stainless steel; the rest (i.e. middle part) of the case also appears to be stainless steel, but not as polished (possibly cast?). The lugs are simple and functional.

The watch is complemented, I think, by the vintage Speidel stainless steel band, which is in great shape. I always thought bands like this (stretchy, spring loaded bands) would pinch, or, at the very least, catch the hairs on my wrist, but for some reason, these older ones don't. It's remarkably comfortable to wear, even on a relatively hairy wrist like mine. I might eventually replace the band with something in leather, but I haven't quite decided yet.

Anyway, there it is! My Leonidas chronograph.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

First Blog is the Deepest

OK, so the concept here is a new watch profiled, every week. An interesting exercise. But where to start. There are so many watches, and the first post had better be good. Do I pick the watch I like the most? The most complex? The one I like the most from my collection? My most recent acquisition? Or the one I'd like to buy if I had the cash?

So many different ways of doing this. And yet, the answer came to me as I was, well, checking the time.

I'm going to start this "watch of the week" site with a comment on the watch I'm wearing today: A Breitling Aerospace "Repetition Minutes"

Breitling has been designing watches, primarily for marine or aviation use, since 1884. They are well known, and a bit of a "poseur" watch if you don't have a flying license. Great branding, but not all that common. The most common and well known Breitling is the Navitimer, which has a circular slide rule as a rotating bezel - so people who know how to use a slide rule can do essential flight calculations at the drop of a hat - pounds of fuel to litres, anyone?

The Breitling “flying B” is a scripted B incorporated into an anchor, having wings. This way, the Breitlings appeal to both flight professionals and sailors, though they're really more known as a flight watch. Richard Branson's solo flight around the world in a hot air baloon was sponsored by Breitling, and you don't get tougher (or more "poseur") than that... Imagine a big silver hot air balloon with BREITLING in huge letters and you'll understand what I mean.

The Breitling aerospace is one of my favorite watches, and a perfect example of an “ana-digi” watch. I've got a bit of a weakness for ana-digi watches, as you'll learn over time if you follow this site. By perfect example: it's thin, lightweight (because it is made of titanium), water resistant, and simple to use. It has an easy to read analog dial with two apertures containing digital readouts. The digital readouts can be used to display time, date, a second time zone, a countdown timer, an alarm, or a chronograph. Or, the digital readouts can be left blank. All functions are operated through the crown: rotate to change the readout from one feature to the next; press to start the chronograph, timer, or toggle the alarm; pull out to set; hold down to reset.

The watch is a “repeater” (hence the “repetition minutes” in its name) - though this isn’t as complicated a feature as it would be on a mechanical watch. Pushing down the crown in "time", "date", or "blank" mode and the watch will count off hours, quarter hours, and minutes, using three different ‘chimes’. This allows you to tell the time without looking at the watch.

The watch is a COSC certified swiss chronometer. This is a bit of a gimmick, I think, for digital watches - they're all pretty accurate. Apparently, the COSC has a different accuracy tolerance for digital watches, so these are "really, really accurate", but I've never really noticed any digital watch gaining or losing more than a second or two a month. I guess when you make expensive watches that take batteries, you need to justify it somehow - a COSC certification is one way of doing that.

The watch features an all titanium watch body and band. The band is a premium band, with a double clasp, screw-type pins, and a wetsuit extension. I really like the look of the band - something about the brushed titanium looks really good. I think it has something to do with the bevelling around each rectangular piece. Nice integration with the face, too. Only one little annoyance - it's not the most comfortable band on the planet. The curvature on the double clasp is a bit wrong for my wrist, which makes that part of the band dig into my wrist. also, the "double clasp" part tends to dig in as well. Maybe I need to adjust the links so that more are on one side?

The watch features a gray dial that is exactly the same color as the body and band (other dials, such as blue and black, were also available for this watch, but I really like the monochromatic look). The dial features green luminescent hour markings with arabic numerals at 12, 3, 6 and 9. Hands are matching with green luminescence. The two digital apertures feature greenish LCDs on a black background. The top aperture indicates the mode (CHR=chronograph; T2 = second time zone, etc.) where the bottom aperture indicates 3 sets of two numbers from 0-9. The hands are gorgeous, simple, also titanium colored (though a little lighter than the face). I love how the minute hand extends beyond the middle of the watch, but the hour hand doesn't. the tapering on the hands make for very precise reading of the minute. Hands move once every thirty seconds, or 120 times an hour.

The dial is surrounded with the characteristic Breitling rotating bezel engraved from 0-59, with inserts at 0, 15, 30 and 45, and a luminescent dot in the insert at 0. The bezel, and inserts, are all titanium (the watch was also available with gold inserts). Rotation is bidirectional. There are screws on the side of the bezel, every 5 minutes. Part of me likes the look of this (since it's very different than any other watch), but something simpler might have been nicer. The inserts on the bezel, especially the one at 12, have a tendancy to catch thin pieces of clothing, and I worry that one day I'm going to bend it or break it. Hasn't happened yet, though.

Dial is covered in a sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating. Mine has a tiny imperfection or scratch in the anti-reflective coating, close to the 6. I'm not sure how it got there - it was there when I bought the watch (I bought it used). I'm pretty hard on my watches, and the sapphire hasn't got a single other scratch on it, so the last owner must have banged it pretty hard to get this scratch.

Original crown, of course, marked with Breitling “B”. Not the flying wings or anchor, but just the scripted B.

Interestingly, the back of the watch contains metric conversion information purportedly useful for pilots. for example, it tells me that 2.54 cm = 1 inch, 1 cm = 0.39 inches. I guess this is a holdover from the Navitimers - I'm not sure how useful it is on this watch, since the watch doesn't have a slide rule.

Strangely, the back is a pop-off (I would expect a screw back on a watch of this quality). Probably because of the titanium - not sure how easy it is to machine a titanium screw back. Watch is considered waterproof to 50 m.

I love this watch. It's a "no excuses" watch. I can wear it anywhere - it's never "too good" (the titanium finish and the digital dials downplay it to a certain extent - no bling here); it's never "not enough" (it's a Breitling. Completely respectable in just about every circle). I can wear it in the shower, it'll wake me up in the morning (though the alarm isn't all that loud - maybe the titanium doesn't resonate as well as stainless steel?). I like the redundancy of a chronograph function and a rotating bezel. Just love this watch.

Watch of the Week

Featuring a new watch every Wednesday.