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.

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