Friday, August 19, 2011

Five Benjamins

The question: "How much do you have to spend before an affordable [watch] is comparable to a more expensive watch?" This was posed by mrsamsa on a watch forum this week. To rephrase, at what price point does the quality curve really start to flatten out? Beyond what price do you increasingly pay for style and branding rather than higher quality? A rough majority would say, about $500. Quoth midshipman01:
    A $500 watch running an ETA 2824 is going to be, for all practical purpose, as good at being a watch as one costing 10x's as much. It'll probably be made of the same materials, the movements will be well-established and high quality, and quality control at least has a chance of being somewhat comparable from the end-user's perspective. . . . But, as we say here time and again, watches (especially mechanical and high end types) aren't really about tangible qualities. People pay Rolex prices to get piece of the Rolex pedigree. They don't want a watch, they want a Rolex. They find some sense of satisfaction in it that's worth a cost far beyond what functionality or even "craftmanship" is actually offered.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Movie Night: How a Watch Works

I love this old movie, produced in 1949 by the Hamilton Watch Co. It explains perfectly the basic operation of mechanical watch movements. I put it up on YouTube, but better quality versions are available on the Internet Archive.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Loafing at the Mall

I took my daughter and her friend school shopping this week and, at loose ends for a couple of hours, browsed watches at the mall. I never do this; I'm just not a mall shopper. But it was, well, not entirely uninteresting.

Except for one jewelry store that carried TAG Heuer, and another with Movado (blech), there were mostly just consumer and entry level affordable watches on offer. The brands were the usual suspects: Citizen, Seiko, Pulsar, Invicta, Skagen, Armitron, Bulova, Kenneth Cole, Fossil, etc. Turns our that JCPenney also carries Elgin, behind glass, which places my new Chinese watch somewhere on the cheap American jewelry scale. I guess that's something. Maybe.

It's interesting to see fashion brands (Fossil, Kenneth Cole) next to jewelery brands (Bulova, Movado) next to full-blooded watch brands (Citizen, Seiko). I'm a little surprised to say that, dollar for dollar, I don't think there is a lot of difference in quality between them all. Ignoring consumer-grade watches, most were otherwise equally well-made, all-stainless watches with Japanese quartz movements. Most are OEMed from the same factories in Singapore, Hong Kong, and China. I tried on a $50 Fossil, and the quality was honestly great. It's principally their superior aesthetics and design that makes some Citizens and Seikos stand out so strongly against their competitors.

But only some. I'm disappointed to say that Citizen and Seiko apparently have special branches dedicated to designing ugly watches for tasteless Americans. On the low end, many of their best watches are only offered in foreign markets. And on their high end, I think Citizen beats Seiko handily with their stateside offerings. (This a not the case in Europe and Asia.) The only surprise was to see a number of (regrettably, ugly) Seiko solar-powered watches. Seiko has traditionally ignored solar, which Citizen has embraced and dominated with their extensive Ecotech offerings. Not sure what to make of this.

Other trends? Watches continue to get bigger, especially in the fashion brands. I saw many 50mm and larger watches. A lot of watches still look very blingy, though there seemed to be fewer saucer-sized, "diamond" encrusted hip-hop models. Still, the number of watches sporting fake diamonds were legion. Ugly and baffling. Who wears such things?

I was very pleased to see many mechanical watches, mainly in the fashion segment. Most all were using Chinese movements (some Invictas used Miyota/Citizen movements), and most were of skeleton or open heart design. You pay a premium for them, but at least everyone can see you're wearing mechanical. In this sense, these mechanical movements are being employed for aesthetics as well as exclusivity, which is a new trend in itself. I hope their popularity continues to rise, not only because I love mechanicals, but also so that Seiko and Citizen may be incentivized to expand their mechanical offerings. Both make very high quality movements, but they are plain and dull and, at least in American models, used very rarely.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Chinese Skeleton #3

I just received my third Chinese skeleton watch, this time from DealExtreme, a Wilon model 968-1. It's a fairly large watch (42mm) on a light-weight folded link bracelet, but it still balances well on the wrist. Really, it's very comfortable. The display case back and probably the bracelet, too, are stainless, though the case is plated base metal. The hands are thick and lumed, which makes it very readable. Many skeleton watches, like my Elgin, are not; the hands get lost against the busyness of the movement. And it seems to keep decent time.

But the watch did not come with the engraved movement that the listing pictured. That was one of the main reasons I ordered it. Instead it has a very plain skeletonized Chinese standard movement. Also, the bracelet has rough sides and the sizing pins are so loose you can push them out with your fingers; the dial is misaligned, rotated slightly clockwise; the winding stem is a bit stiff; and I'm not sure it really autowinds. With most of these cheap Chinese autos, the rotors just do not turn like they should (too light).

I'm very disappointed that it came without the engraved movement. But it has a catchy Breitling Navitimer style, and is very light and comfortable. I like it enough, in fact, that may it may just get a turn as my new favorite beater.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Wearing a watch with a long-sleeved shirt is problematic for me, and I wear long-sleeved shirts most of the time. I have 8.5 inch wrists, quite large, and I like my watches sized loose. Consequently, most of my watches won't fit comfortably, or won't fit at all, under most of my cuffs. Many other men must have this same problem. What to do?

Style guru Alan Flusser maintains that only thin and inconspicuous watches should be worn with formal dress. A bulky sports watch worn with a dress shirt, he says, is a gaff. Well into the 90s, most men wore very small and thin watches, compared to those of today. They fit under cuffs just fine. But that looks stylistically to a past era.

Big sports watches are the predominant style now, even with dress
shirts. It takes confidence today for a thick-wristed man to wear a vintage 32mm watch. Many of my vintage watches look girly compared to my new ones, even though I don't really have or like overly big watches (say, over 42mm).

In the high-style era of the 30s through 60s, as men transitioned from pocket to wrist watches, watchmakers competed to see who could make the thinnest watch. At the same time, men often wore generous French cuffs and had shirts tailored to fit, including bespoke cuff sizing. Fitting a watch under you cuff was not at all an issue. The Italians introduced tight-fitting cannon cuffs, but style mavens like Gianni Agnelli just took to wearing their watches over them. You still see this occasionally, but it's hardly conventional. GQ says that the "only cuff [a watch] should be worn over is that of a wet suit."

The clothier Luciano Barbera, with watch worn over shirt cuff.

Most men, it seems, just bunch their sleeve up above their watch. I can't stand this myself. I either roll up my sleeves or leave my left cuff unbuttoned. But these are workarounds, not solutions. The real solution is of course to have your cuffs tailored to size. If that's not in your budget (it's not in mine), some men just relocate the left sleeve button out further toward the cuff edge, and may also have it shanked (hung from a longer, knotted thread). This can give you an extra half inch or more.

But frankly, as an ideal, Flusser certainly has it right. If you're dressing up, just go thin.

Addendum:  The photo above is many years old, but I just came across a recent one that shows Luciano still wearing his watch over the cuff.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Took Lemonhead for a Walk Tonight

My most expensive watches I rarely wear, and therefore my Seiko Kinetic 200m diver (SKA367P1) almost never leaves my watch drawer. But I decided it needed some exercise, so I took it along on my evening constitutional tonight. Seiko's kinetic movements are quartz, but derive their power from a mechanical autowinder, so it needed a good walk just to get its heart beating. It's a big chunk 'o steel (216g), and just lugging it around is mild exercise in itself. But it's not too nice to wear, even just exercising, I've decided. Rather it's too nice not to wear.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Elgin Skeleton Watch: Round Two

I sent back the DOA Elgin watch I received about two weeks ago, and the seller refunded my money. But he also sent me a replacement. I ate almost $10 in shipping on the return, plus the time and grief, but this was more than fair. So, round two (with prettier pictures).

This unit works perfectly. I've described it before, but to expand a bit: the watch is heavy. More than 50g (=ca. 40%) heavier than my Seiko 6309-7290. Fortunately it balances well on its solid bracelet. Still, I wish it were a bit lighter. My second gripe is that it honestly looks about as cheap as it is. A bit blingy, a bit overdesigned, a bit Wal-mart. My third gripe is that the silver hands get lost against the busy silver skeleton movement. This a common problem with skeleton watches.

But I'm still glad this watch came back. I bought it for its skeletonized Sea-gull ST-16 movement, and it is indeed a beautiful movement, beautifully displayed. Many mechanical watches have display backs but few merit them. This one most certainly does.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hai Fuyate!

Yes, a third Fuyate has landed. These Fuyate watches may be churned out of the same junk watch factories as all the other bottom-feeding Chinese brands, but they tend to be somewhat smarter looking. I purchased this one on the whimsiest of whims, because it was the least ugly open heart design I've come across lately. Perhaps not a great commendation, but there you have it.

Yes, I finally broke out my DSLR and light tent.

An open heart watch is one with the balance wheel exposed to view through the front of the dial. It's great fun to watch it beating away, just as with a skeleton watch, but because they are otherwise normally dialed, open heart watches are easier to read and a bit less blingy. But I find most fairly unappealing. The open heart is often called a tourbillon in listings (including the one for this watch), but that is incorrect. Even cheap Chinese versions of real tourbillon watches usually start about $1000. This watch was $21 shipped.

It measures about 44mm across and is perhaps 18mm in thickness. Quite chunky. The hands and indices are blued, which looks nice against the white dial, and all the hands are (weakly) lumed. It has three sub-dials. At 3:00 is a 24hr sub, at 6:00 a day-night indicator, and at 9:00 the open heart. It has a solid stainless back (no gasket), which is fine, since the unbranded movement is nothing to look at. But here it is anyway:

The movement seems to run well, but the quality otherwise is not great. The plating of the mystery metal case is poor and pitted, the case back very thin, and dial and surround look cheap. The hands are less bad, and it all looks fine if you do not scrutinize. The only glaring oddity is that a very large opening has been machined into the 9:00 side of the case, and then filled with black epoxy. Perhaps it's a misguided attempt at decoration. More likely is that this same case is used for other models where it serves a function, but here is just filled in. Not sure, but it still looks fine at a distance, especially with the strap I'm using.

The watch came on the usual PU leather croco-grain strap, but I purchased a cheap rubber strap separately to replace it. It's great and suits the watch, which is very comfortable on it. The watch I like, but this strap I love.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fuyate #2

I received another direct-from-China watch, once again branded Fuyate. I've found several Fuyate-branded watches on eBay that are more stylish (or at least, less ugly) than most of their kin, and they're very inexpensive. This one was $12.50 shipped.

Seller pic.

It is flieger-styled, with a fluted coin-edge bezel, black dial, medium-large numerals, and upright triangle index at 12:00. It's just 40mm across but feels a bit larger, probably because the bezel is thin and the dial large. An unadorned automatic Chinese standard movement may be seen through the display back. The timekeeping is decent. It winds perfectly and the date quick-set works, though the autowinder is dodgy. I actually like that the rotor is marked with a small Chinese communist star, which others have found as well in watches from this brand.

It looks good from a distance, but is a very cheap watch. The crystal and case back window are both plastic, and the base-metal case is not well finished. The dial looks cheap. The indices have some spots and marks, and the triangle at 12:00 has a slightly bent corner, though the hands are decent and even lumed. It came on the standard Chinese croco-grain PU leather strap, which I replaced with a Bond NATO from my parts box. It's a fetching combo, really, and makes for a fine-looking beater. It's not perfect, but it's really not bad. Not bad at all.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I made mention the other week of WW2-era aviator watches, the most classical and pure examples being those used by the Germans and called Beobachtungsurhen. I linked out before to one short description, but here is a fuller overview from an old watch review on Equation of Time by Mort Schwartz (now archived on PMWF):
    The Beogachtungsuhr model, often referred to as the “B-Uhr,” used a design specified for the German Luftwaffe and was produced by IWC, Lacher & Co. (Laco), Stowa, A. Lange, and Gerhard Wempe. A standard common movement was not used by the contractors. Stowa, for example, utilized a movement based on Unitas that included a swan neck regulator. Lacher used a Durowe cal. D5 movement, while Lange used its own cal. 48/1 movement and Wempe used a Thommen (Waldenburg) cal. 31 movement. And all of these watches were manual wind.

    The translation of the term, Beogachtungsuhr, strictly, is “Observer’s” or “Observation Watch,” but many collectors agree that a more descriptive label is “Navigator’s Watch,” and I have seen some mention of it as a bombardier’s watch. Interestingly, the watch was not issued to navigators and possibly to other members of the air crew, as part of their regular uniforms and equipment allotment, but, instead, “loaned” to them just before they went out on a mission. The watch then had to be returned if they returned. One can wonder how the watches faired in plane crashes. The watches were fitted with extra long leather straps because they were often strapped over the sleeves of leather jackets just as has been done more recently for the same kind of reason with some of the watches provided to astronauts. They, of course, would strap their watches over the bulky sleeve of a space suit.

    The model most commonly referred to in my research is the mammoth IWC “Large 52 S.C. Calibre Pilot’s Watch.” S.C. is the abbreviation for “second au centre,” central seconds hand, or what we usually term a sweep seconds hand. I have never seen the actual model, but the literature indicates that the size of this watch was about 55mm, which is the same size as the watches produced by the other four suppliers. IWC took its manual wind Cal. 52 pocket watch movement, with 16 jewels and 18,000 beats per hour, and a swan neck regulator, to produce this wristwatch. As just indicated, the conversion also included adding a center sweep seconds hand.

    Other features, as with the ones produced by the other four suppliers, included an extra large crown to facilitate setting time and winding and hacking. IWC added an inner plate to shield the movement against magnetic fields. The history of this model does not end here. This same movement was used in wrist watches made for the British forces, and I have read that they were used by the British navy as a deck watch. The models made for British use were designated with “Mark”, and we see that same label used in early and current production runs of IWC, such as the Mark X and XV. Jaeger-LeCoultre also produced these or similar watches for the British armed forces.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Daily Beater

Choice can sometimes be a burden when you have a drawer full of watches, so every enthusiast has a watch or two that you reach for by default when you just can't be bothered to give it any thought. The criteria are probably the same for most of us. The watch has to be comfortable, versatile and, frankly, one you are unconcerned about damaging. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a beater.

Right now I have three beaters that together are found on my wrist more than half the time, probably much more. The first is my one dollar mechanical on a green NATO strap. It's my true beater beater, perfect for mowing the lawn or working on the garbage disposal. It keeps good time, looks decent, is extremely comfortable and all but worthless.

My second beater is my Seiko 6309-7290 diver. For such a top-heavy watch, it's surprisingly comfortable on its current Jubilee bracelet. As Seiko divers go, it's nothing special, but even the lowliest Seiko diver looks great and goes great with anything from a sport coat to swim trunks. Of course it's waterproof, and probably bombproof.

But one of my most worn watches remains my very first mechanical, an Invicta 8926 (review). This is Invicta's single most popular wristwatch. It's an homage of the Rolex Submariner, though the most recent version (mine) has adopted a scalloped bezel like the Omega Seamaster.

The Invicta's Miyota 8215 automatic movement keeps great time and is very robust, one of the best basic automatic movements made (comparable to the ETA 2824-2). Its solid link oyster bracelet balances the substantial 40mm case quite well. It's heavy (ca. 150g), but not too heavy; big, but not too big; a bit blingy, but unlike most Invictas, not too blingy. My only complaint is that the polished center links on the bracelet get scratched up in no time. But that might almost be seen as a desirable feature, because once you scratch up your watch, you're no longer afraid to really wear it. To make it a beater.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

There Is Leather, and There Is Leather

I've purchased four cheap Chinese mechanical watches lately that have all come on virtually identical black, crocodile-grain leather straps. All are stamped identically, "Genuine Leather." If I compare them to a similar Hamilton strap—most certainly genuine leather—they are much more glossy and in other obvious ways dissimilar to it. And if I compare them to a junk croco-grain vinyl strap, all are similarly slick and glossy on the croc side. But otherwise, the "Genuine Leather" straps seem in comparison to indeed be sort of leather. To confuse things more, some listings call them "PU leather." Huh?

L-R: Genuine top-grain Hamilton croco-grain strap; a PU (or, bycast) leather croco-grain strap; and a vinyl croco-grain strap. (Now that is a boring picture.)

Turns out there are degrees of leatherness. My Hamilton strap, on both its front and back sides, is some version of top grain leather. Top grain is just what it sounds like, leather taken from the outside top (hair side) of a leather hide. It's the outside of the hide that contains the grain, "the pores, wrinkles and other characteristics which constitute the natural texture of the leather." Most top grain leather has been sanded down to remove blemishes and "corrected" through dying and imprinting a new grain, like the croc grain of my Hamilton strap. But even though it is heavily corrected, this top grain strap quickly started breaking in, conforming to my wrist, and developing some patina on the wrist side.

But tanners can make a hide go much further by splitting it horizontally, which may be done as many as four times. So split leather is the "lower (inner or flesh side) layers of a hide that have been split away from the upper, or grain, layers." Split leather of course has no grain and is not as tough as top grain. It is often napped and used as suede.

PU leather, more commonly called bicast/bycast in the West, is split leather that has been bonded with a surface layer of polyurethane, into which may be molded a grain like (here) crocodile. So PU or bycast leather is just plastic with a leather backing. This is why my PU leather and my vinyl straps are almost identical on the outside. Some countries do not even permit manufacturers to label bycast as leather.

So in the UK, New Zealand and elsewhere, my PU (bycast) leather straps cannot legally be marked "Genuine Leather." Bycast leather is better seen as an imitation leather that contains leather byproducts. Bycast is very inexpensive, as little as $1.00 per square meter. If you own a cheap leather chair, it is almost certainly bycast. Same for Payless-grade leather dress shoes, etc. I would not say bycast is evil, but my bycast straps are only minimally wearable. They look and feel plastic because they mostly are plastic. In shoe terms, they are most certainly Payless specials.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mirror Image

I'll do another dedicated post sometime on the topic of "fliegers," or WWII aviator watches. But here is a bit of watch trivia I just came across.

Very few watches are true-blue fliegers, but flieger styling is very popular. A rare but interesting feature of some fliegers is that they have minute/second numbers printed in reverse on the inside ring of the dial. Forumer Pawl_Buster on WUS posted an example and explained the reason for them.
    This is a feature used by WW2 pilots and Rocketeers. Basically, the watch is held underneath the mirror cavity on a sextant and the numbers then appear in the eye piece along with the other important info about trajectory etc. This allows the pilot/rocketeer to view all the info without having to look away at his watch then back at the sextant.

Watch and photo by Pawl_Buster.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Green Shoes

I put my one dollar military-style mechanical on a olive drab NATO strap. It's now one of the most comfortable watches I own, and the combo works well together. I'm really a big fan of these straps. They're cheap and come in a large number of both plain and striped styles and colors. They will not balance a top-heavy watch, like the Seiko SKX007 diver. But on this watch, perfect.

It even matches my T-shirt. More or less.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


I ordered an Elgin watch off of the 'Bay, and it landed yesterday. Elgin is a grand old American watch company that went belly up in the '60s. The name was purchased by jewelery bottom-feeder MZ Berger and the current line is made in China. They are just a step up from the lowest tier of Chinese watches. Basically Elgin is now a nice Wal-mart watch, with a few jewelry-store models on the top end.

The model I purchased (FG8030) is a generic sport watch. It has a solid bracelet with a fair bit of heft, but probably everything but the case back is plated mystery metal. It is skeletonized and shows off nicely a Sea-Gull TY2807 (=ST-16) movement. The movement is why I bought the watch. Sea-Gull, generally speaking, makes the best movements of all Chinese companies. I got a good deal. Ordering the bare movement from a parts house would have cost me as much as the whole watch.

So I was extremely disappointed that it arrived non-functional. It runs, and the second hand moves, but the minute hand does not. I only noticed this after I had resized the bracelet. The seller has rightly agreed to take it back. So I put the links back in. Annoying.

But the biggest annoyance is having to hassle with a return. Of course I'll eat the postage, and then do a wait-and-see, hoping that I get my refund. My first Chinese DOA, and with a Sea-Gull movement no less. That's something of a cold bucket of water.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fakery and Homage, Pt. 2

There are a great many "homages" of iconic timepieces, watches that replicate their style but not carrying their name. Some homages, in fact, look virtually identical to the originals, lacking the name only. A few watches—especially Rolexes—are so commonly imitated that stylistic borrowing has passed from homage to horological commonplace. Conversely, a couple of styles are still so distinctive and fresh that even modest imitation constitutes homage. For example, almost any dive watch with an orange bezel references an Omega Planet Ocean, and it seems you cannot reference the Panerai style at all without creating an homage (a PanHom).

Panerai homage by paulorbvalley. I own one, but no pix yet.

Fakes violate trademark laws are cannot be sold, for example, on eBay. Homages do not violate trademark law, since however much they imitate a style, they lack any infringing branding. Since they may only differ in the name on case and dial, fakes and homages are often made in the same Chinese factories on the same lines. The fakes go to street stalls and replica shops, while the homages go to legit vendors and eBay. This practice is of course not unique to wristwatches.

A curious byproduct of their common manufacture is that sometimes the infringing branding of fakes finds it way, carelessly or accidentally, into replicas. This can be as overt as a branded case back being put on an off-brand homage.

Longines in an entry-level luxury brand of the Swatch Group. The face of this watch is branded Fuyate ("Swiss Made," of course) and looks very little like a Longines. Maybe this case back found its way onto the watch from a run of fakes on the same line. It's a 15$ watch. I'm tempted to buy one just to see if it really comes as depicted, but possibly it doesn't. The item description contradicts: "See through back case."

This is a rough homage of a Breitling Navitimer. Without doubt this homage came off of a fake watch line, with only the face and back changed. The giveaway is the second hand. The counter end (circled in red here) bears the anchor and stylized "B" of the Navitimer. This is every bit as infringing as the Longines case back, even if less obvious.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fakery and Homage, Pt. 1

Watch enthusiasts have very strong opinions about replica/fake watches. The only difference between a replica and a fake is whether the owner knows at the time of purchase that his gold Rolex is not gold and was not made by Rolex. Most watch forums ban all discussion of replicas, both because they are illegal and a scourge to buyers, and also because "anyone who (knowingly) wears a fake is a fake."

I've had two embarrassing encounters with fakes. In the first instance, I had a colleague from Hong Kong who wore a Rolex. I knew nothing about watches at the time, but everyone knows Rolex. I admired it and asked him about it a couple of times, but he was never forthcoming about it. I once asked yet again and he finally said, in a low voice, "It's not a real Rolex. It's a fake." Awkward.

Some years later I was living in Washington, D.C. I was walking just outside the Russell Senate Office Building one day and approached a street vendor with a tray of watches. I didn't have a watch at the time, and could use one, so I bought a TAG Heuer S/el from him. I'd never even heard of TAG Heuer. It never occurred to me that I was buying a fake luxury watch right outside a senate office building. It leads one to wonder how many senators wear fake luxury watches.

The TAG Heuer S/el, introduced in 1987 and continued today in the Link series. Much faked in its day, proving that watches are faked for their fame and not their beauty.

It was a terrible quality fake. The plating quickly wore off the bracelet and it starting turning my wrist green. But I also attended church with an ACLU lawyer who knew something of watches and asked me, a poor grad student, how I came to have that on my wrist. I don't recall the particulars of our exchange, but my reply was confused, and I learned it was a fake. Again awkward.

Fakes and replicas today come in all different grades, but at the top end, both the quality and precision of detail is very high. You can buy replica Rolexes with Swiss movements and sapphire crystals that are more than fair imitations of the genuine article. They are sold on replica watch websites that operate quite openly and cater to middle-class buyers with a taste for luxury. For watch enthusiasts, though, they are generally seen as in bad taste. "Homages" are another story (next post).

I understand all the reasons I should despise replicas, but in fact, I could see myself buying one again, this time knowingly. A beautiful watch is a beautiful watch, and most debranded variants (homages) make changes for the worse. The real problems for me are that replicas effectively cannot be resold, cannot be displayed or discussed in forums, and when worn in public, you always risk a gotcha if someone recognizes the watch brand and asks about it. The gotcha factor is the biggest problem for me, because in fact, I agree: Only fakes wear fakes.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


By most accounts, Swatch saved the Swiss watch industry. "In a few short years [in the late 70s], the value of Swiss watch exports was cut in half, the Swiss share of the market dropped from over 50 to 15 percent, and competition from Asia slashed the number of watchmaking jobs in Switzerland from 90,000 to fewer than 25,000. Swiss watchmakers were suddenly an endangered species." Long story short, the Swiss watch industry hired a consultant name Nicholas Hayek to figure out how to save it; he proposed selling hip, plastic quartz watches for cheap to ramp up volume; and almost 400 million have been sold since 1983, spearheading a massive Swiss revival. The Swatch Group now also includes a number of Swiss brands that, all together, dominate the low- and mid-range Swiss watch market.

Swatch, of course, is thought by many people of as primarily a youth brand, since Swatches are wacky and plastic. That's not altogether wrong, but in fact, adults do most of the buying and a lot of the wearing. Ownership must taper off in the over-30 demographic, but many models, in both price and design, are squarely aimed at aging hipsters. I owned a fantastic Swatch mechanical a couple years ago. I ended up trading it off because it was too small for my fat wrist. But I've always expected more Swatches would find their way into my watch locker.

My most recent Swatch instead was purchased as a gift for my daughter. We got talking watches the other week, Swatches came up, we looked at a few online, and she fell in love with some striped models. Used Swatches are abundant and can be had cheap. This one is a vintage (1984) "Miss Pinstripe" kids/ladies model. Almost certainly someone in my high school was wearing it's sibling the year of it manufacture. Swatches were everywhere back then. This one cost me $14 shipped. The crystal is cracked at about 4:00, but it's not too visible, and my kid will put more cracks in it forthwith. But for a 27-year-old plastic watch, it's in great shape and keeps perfect time. And she loves it.

I'll probably pick up another Swatch or two for myself sometime. Just 'cause I'm a watch guy. But this Swatch I'll enjoy the most. Swatches and teens, they just go together.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Under the Knife

My favorite daily beater lately has been a Seiko 6309-7290 diver. I bought it well used but restored—new hands, dial, bezel insert and crystal, and heavily buffed. It came on a rubber dive strap, which I first changed out for a cheap and uncomfortable oyster bracelet, and more recently for the Jubilee bracelet that came on my Seiko SKX009. It's now very comfortable.

My 6309-7290, with its original shoes on.

I have low expectations of my mechanicals in terms of timekeeping. If they are no worse than +/- 1-2 minutes per day, they are usable. I've never had a mechanical that was worse than that, and most are much better. My 6309-7290 was easily doing that, until just lately. Now it seems to be loosing maybe 30 sec per hour. Completely unusable.

I have not found a local watchmaker, but anyway, I'm not keen to send it out for regulation. This is not an expensive watch. So I thought I'd try to regulate it myself. In theory, it's not that hard. But putting a watch under the knife for the first time caused me a few jitters. This is no longer the shallow end of the pool.

Luckily the case back, as with all divers, is a screw down, and easy to get off. The regulation lever was a bit stiff, but I gave it a good nudge. How far do I turn it? No way to know, without a timing machine. It's all trial and error. Watching it over the last couple hours, it still appears to be very slow. The lever cannot move that far. I'll give it another good tweak, but it's quite possible that my baby will need some professional attention. Hopefully it just needs to settle in.

I was interested to see that the case back had a number of inscriptions on the inside. They are light and hard to make out, but there are clearly some dates—Jan 8/94, and also the years '88, '89 (less certain) and '97. These might be service dates. Alas, one more may soon be added to them.

Addendum: Right now, the day after, my watch seems to be running about -1.5 minutes per day. That's decent. The only downside to my first home surgery is that I put two big scratches in the case back while tightening it down. The result of cheap case tools and my having five thumbs.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Shallow End of the Pool

I've always wanted to try my hand at watch repair and modification. I've been collecting projects for while, and even bought a little cheap (in every sense) watch tool kit. But up to now, I have not tried to do anything more complex than changing a battery or watchband, or shortening a bracelet. Definitely the shallow end of the pool.

Though changing watch batteries is, in some cases, no easy thing. On a good quality watch, snap on case backs may be fitted very tight. I have a couple different kinds of case opening tools, but even so, I've gouged some terrible gashes in watch backs in trying to pry them off. I have a couple of dead watches whose backs I just cannot remove. I'll either have to take them in to a proper watchmaker (I only know of one in state, not close) or buy me a case crab (not cheap).

Yesterday a simple battery change took me into whole new territory. I needed to put a new cell in my Zodiac Sea Dragon. The movement is a gilt ten-jewel Ronda 5012.D. The tricky bit was that the battery is held down by a metal tab secured by a watch screw. This screw is a typical watch screw, meaning, impossibly tiny. Meaning, one thousand per teaspoon tiny.

Five-jewel nickle version of the Ronda 5021.D.

Luckily I had a screwdriver that was small enough, though as soon as I unscrewed it, the springy metal tab it secured flipped the screw into the ether. A stab of panic. But it landed right by the watch. Long story short, trying to resecure it, I did the same thing three more times. One little screw, lots of trouble.

But I liked it. A simple little job, but I felt like this gave me my first real taste of what watchmaking requires. Slow and careful work with microscopic parts. A true craft. Let's call this a modest start.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chinese Skeleton #1

A week behind my previous, a second Chinese mechanical just landed, this one a skeleton. My very first skeleton, in fact. Last post, I probably fudged a bit in saying that my first Chinese mechanical was just a buck, since in fact it was $18 shipped. But this watch, also a mechanical, was $6.50 shipped. Yowzah, my Chinese friends, how low can you go?

Click image to embiggen

My first Chinese mechanical was unbranded, but this one is branded Fuyate. It has a 38mm case—as big as I like for a dressy watch—and weighs a very modest 52g. The case is chromed mystery metal and the display caseback is stainless, badly polished. Otherwise the fit and finish is excellent for the money. It came on a black patent leather strap with contrasting white stitching. The strap is less crappy than that of the previous watch, and is surprisingly wearable. I think I'll stay with it.

A skeleton watch has a see-through dial and case back which reveal a movement that (usually) has been carved to reveal its escapement and train, and often is engraved or otherwise decorated. This watch is not highly skeletonized, but for its absurd price it is very nice, even sporting some blued screws. The movement is another Chinese standard, but compared to my previous, it lacks the date wheel and the auto-wind module actually appears to work. It seems to keep decent time, but the crown is stiff to wind and the stem very difficult to pull out. This is my only disappointment with it.

Click image to embiggen

I like this watch. Most cheap Chinese skeletons look tacky. Even expensive skeletons can often look like they are just trying too hard to be noticed. This one is comparatively restrained. Even the my wife and daughter dig it, which is a real seal of approval. Usually they could care less what's on my wrist. And watching that escapement working away, every time I glance at my wrist, is great fun.

And for the price of lunch at McDonalds? Yes, I'm already shopping for a second.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A One Dollar Mechanical

I have some other watches made in China, but this is a Chinese Chinese watch, purchased straight from the mainland. (There is yet a third level of Chinese watch, but let's not get into that.) I bought it for £1 + £10 shipping (about $18 total).

Yes, I like fine watches. But I became intrigued by cheap Chinese mechanicals a while ago. Mechanicals typically demand a price premium. My cheapest new mechanical previous to this was $50. A dollar mechanical is in effect the talking dog of watches. That it works at all at that price is a wonder. I decided to buy the least ugly example I could score for a buck at auction. £1 seemed close enough, and the candidate actually looked decent. So I went for it.

Seller image

eBay sellers often refer to this model as an M-12, but it is unbranded. I might wish that the maker had also dropped the bogus dial copy that claims the watch has a co-axial escapement (an extremely exotic technology) and is a limited edition. Uh, sure it is. It is an automatic, true enough, but the auto-winder does not actually work. That's typical for this grade of watch.

It has a 40mm case that the watch back claims is all stainless. Possibly. And it's fairly substantial (66g). The dial is a black mil-style with surrounding tachymetre bezel, all looking very Speedmaster, though the skeleton hands and red-tipped sweep second are right off a Seamaster. Amazingly, they are lumed. It's weak, but it works. The crystal is nicely curved and made of quite thick glass, but is a fingerprint magnet.

Seller image

Through the display back you can see the basic Chinese standard ordinary-grade automatic movement that has been made by the millions. It has a date wheel (at 3 o'clock) and, as a minor cosmetic upgrade, the rotor is decorated with a cross-hatch design. It handwinds (alas, only handwinds) and has a quick-set date. It runs well and and keeps good time. For a buck, that it runs at all is a marvel.

The "Genuine Leather" strap that came on it went straight in the garbage. The lugs are 20mm. I put it on a black nylon Seiko "tough band" that really suits it. The band is a bit short and abrasive, though, and I may buy an olive drab NATO for it. The watch is not uncomfortable, otherwise, though it sits high on the wrist. Here is a (terrible) video of the ensemble.

Overall the fit and finish is not great, and the bezel is a low point. Very cheap. But it was a dollar, it's mechanical, and it's totally wearable. No complaints.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


It's been 2.5 years since my last post. Reasons? At that same time I started a general blog, I couldn't really maintain two, and I enjoyed the other one more. Also, I have not purchased a new watch in 2.5 years, and when I stopped collecting watches I stopped blogging watches. I had been quite seriously in the hobby for about 18 months by then, but I was both burning out on it a bit and, more crucially, I lost a small second income that had sustained it. Finally, I've had some wrist problems that often makes wearing watches uncomfortable. Couldn't buy them, couldn't wear them, quit blogging them.

I'm still on a modest budget and my wrists are still often tender. But I still like horology, I've always liked what I'd written here, and it seems like it's time to blow the cobwebs out of the old blog. My interest has been rekindled, too, by the completion of my PhD. I've always thought that as a reward-to-self for that accomplishment, in lieu of some gaudy class ring, I would get myself a "grail" watch, specifically an Omega Speedmaster Professional. I am in no position financially to do that right now. But a couple of dramatically cheaper stand-ins are in the mail, and with that, this blog is back in business.

In my inaugural post I said, "I want to create in blog form something like a Consumers Report, or a Dummies Guide to Wristwatches. This is less another blog for enthusiasts (though it will be that too, in part) than a guide for the wristwatch perplexed." Now that interests me much less. This is straight-up an enthusiast's blog, not a buyer's guide. I also said that I would be focusing on entry-level affordable watches. That will probably prove to be true, but I'll go wherever my interests roam: junk watches, vintage, history of horology, watchmaking, book reviews, haute horlogerie, etc.

I've updated my post on presidential watches. New content coming soon. À les montres! À l'horlogerie!