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.