Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Wristlet-The Beginning of the Man's Wristwatch






This review is more of a history lesson than it is a true review. The reason for that is because the subject of this post is a watch band, not the watch itself.  I got the idea for this review while idly searching on the world wide tag sale for Russian Molnija pocket watches. I have something of a soft spot for a nice pocket watch on an Albert chain and the old Russian Molnijas are, in my experience, rugged, affordable and pretty good looking too. (As an aside, for those folks who believe that Russian watchmakers could make only crude, undecorated movements, have a gander at the 1949 Molnija in the pic above. To my eye, it doesn't get much nicer than that. Pretty good work for a country that had been devastated just a few years earlier in the war and had not yet even remotely recovered. And it still keeps perfect time by the way) Anyway, while clicking around on ebay and gawking at the wares, I came across a Polish watch band maker who was selling some very strange looking watch bands for Molnija pocket watches. At first, I thought I was looking at some sort of strange bund style strap (the kind with the leather pad under the watch) Upon closer examination though, I saw that the band was really a sort of wrist mounted case for a pocket watch. Intrigued, I ordered one up and began to do some research about the design.

Long ago, before the 1870s, a wrist watch was considered a ladies accessory only.  Women, or women of means more likely,  had been wearing wrist watches apparently as far back as the days of Queen Elizabeth I. For men though, the situation was very different.  The notion of a wrist watch for a man was considered effeminate and thus completely inappropriate. Men were supposed to carry a proper pocket watch on a chain. Pocket watches were considered more accurate than a ladies wrist watch (which was probably true in the past given the nature of watch making) and a pocket watch was much safer in a man's vest pocket where it would be less subject to being banged around (this was in the days before shock, water and dust protected movements after all).

Where things began to change when it came to a man's wrist watch was in the area of combat.  At one time, coordinating a cavalry charge meant getting all the horses and men into position and then sounding a horn or making some other sort of loud noise as the signal for the attack to begin.  As time keeping technology improved though, soldiers realized that it was possible to coordinate complex attacks by designating the exact time for the armies to engage.  This had the advantage of keeping the element of surprise for the attacker by eliminating the need for sounding a horn and thus tipping off the other side that trouble was coming.  There was one problem though. Fumbling around with a pocket watch on a chain while on horse back (you are holding the horse's reins, and a weapon after all) was not a great idea.  The solution was the leather contraption that you see in the pictures above, the wristlet.

The basic idea for the wristlet was certainly simple enough.  Stitch a tough leather pocket to a leather strap. Leave one end of the pocket open so a pocket watch could be squeezed in and put a slot on the other side for the band to fit through to hold the watch in place. This way, a mounted soldier (either a cavalryman or a dragoon) could see the time easily without having to stop his horse and pull out a pocket watch.  Another plus, from a soldier of that time's perspective, was that you could take your pocket watch out of the wristlet and return it to your chain and vest pocket where it properly belonged (and thus not be though of as effeminate, God forbid).  The first instance where this was used, to my knowledge, was during the Third Burma War of 1885.  (For more historical background on this whole subject, see The Evolution of the Wristwatch and A Brief History of the Wristwatch.

From the field of battle, the wristlet got its introduction to the civilian world in the 1890s when people discovered the joys of bicycling. Bicycles were a lot cheaper than horses for getting around and, as a novelty, were very popular at the time. However, like the mounted soldiers before them, a pocket watch was quickly found to be unwieldy when used while riding a bicycle.  A military style wristlet was perfect though. And so, through cyclists, a second exception to the notion of a man's wrist watch being effeminate was made.  However, also like the soldiers before them, a cyclist was expected to return one's pocket watch to its proper chain after a ride.  It was not until WWI, where millions of soldiers, sailors and airmen strapped on wrist watches, that the idea of a man's wrist watch for regular wear took hold.  As such, the half step solution of the wristlet was now unneeded as modern wrist watches were now built for men with fixed lugs for permanently attached bands.

I find this odd timekeeping accessory fascinating.  It is another little window into the past that history fans like me cannot resist. The wristlet also gives me another way to wear my Molnija pocket watches beyond using a fob or chain.  I wouldn't recommend using a wristlet as a daily wearer as it is certainly a little odd looking. And there is no getting around the reality that an errant knock while wearing this could put a pocket watch out of action pretty quickly.  Still, I'm glad I have a wristlet now. It is a nice addition to my collection with an interesting story behind it.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Vostok Amphibian SE GMT





I haven't been as active on this site lately as I was in past years.  Part of that is just life getting the way and part of it was simply finances.  After the fall of our economy in 2009 and the non-recovery that has followed for the past few years, I was hurt financially as were many others.  I didn't lose my job thankfully but times were not what I would call great.  Between that and seemingly nonstop demands on my time, I had to step back from this hobby.

While I cannot promise a large number of reviews per year, I do plan to try to be more active now.  And with that thought in mind, I present you with a new Vostok model, the GMT. The official designation for this model according to Meranom, a good online vendor for Russian watches, is the Amphibian SE 150520S.  I'm sticking with just calling it the GMT though. 

This watch is very much a traditional vostok model in most respects.  The typical Vostok heavy stainless steel case, complete with their signature two-part case back is still used.  The thick, domed acrylic crystal is still here as well.  Vostok's traditional "wobbly" (it is supposed to do that) screw-down crown is employed. And the Vostok luminous paint on the hands and face is still inadequate. All pretty well known stuff. 

There are a few departures from the usual Vostok way of doing things though.  The first addresses one of the complaints that many Vostok owners have had over the years.  The bezel on the GMT, while still bi-directional, is now made of stainless steel instead of the old chrome plated brass. That's a big plus that should allow the bezel to look nice and shiny for a long time. Another welcome change is that the watch actually ships with a good quality rubber diver's band. This is, quite possibly, the first Vostok I have encountered whose stock band did not need to be switched out and immediately disposed of. They are definitely learning. 

The big news with this watch, of course, is the movement.  The GMT is fitted with Vostok's 32 jewel 2426 automatic movement.  This is a derivation of the workhorse 2416b automatic movement that Vostok has built and relied upon for decades.  The big difference is that now, in place of a date function, Vostok has added a fourth hand to allow for simultaneous time keeping in two time zones.  

The 24 hour GMT hand on this watch is not independently settable.  That means that in order to use it, the wearer must rely on the 24 hour bezel to set the time in a different time zone.  As such, this is not a "true GMT" as watch collectors would say. However, this is a well known method for GMT watches to be used and it does work just fine here too. For a good explanation as to how to use a GMT btw, see here.  I am personally finding this feature to be really useful of late as my son now lives overseas.  It's great to be able to see what time it is for him with just a glance at my wrist before calling or texting him.

In terms of style, Vostok brought back its old 1970's version paddle hands for the GMT.  I think it looks terrific. Additionally, the watch now has a subdial at the 10 o'clock position for the seconds hand.  The case back has the image of a cosmonaut, possibly Yuri Gagarin, wearing a spacesuit helmet with the letters CCCP (the Russian way of saying USSR) across the top.

As for the detailed specs, the watch is 42mm in width (45mm with the crown), 14mm in thickness, 46mm lug to lug and has a 22mm band lug width.  The 32 jewel automatic movement has an approximate power reserve of 33 hours and is rated as accurate from -20 to +40 seconds daily.  In my experience, Vostok movements usually do better than that out of the box.  Water resistance is rated at 200 meters and the watch can be hand wound, in addition to using the automatic mechanism, but not hacked.  

Visually, the bezel is polished stainless steel while the watch case has a brushed finish. The hands appear chromed and the crystal is domed acrylic. It should be noted that while acrylic crystals can scratch easily, it is also very easy to polish out even big scratches with a cotton ball and some toothpaste. 

All in all, the GMT is a good looking and well made watch that should give many years of service. It works equally well on the stock rubber band or on an aftermarket bracelet as shown in the pictures above. It is also a very good buy.  $140 for an automatic GMT with high water resistance is really hard to argue with.     

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Brathwait Classic Slim Wristwatch Review





Brathwait is not a household name in the watch industry. They are, in fact, a recent start up with an unusual idea. Transparency.

Brathwait makes mens dress watches.  They have a quartz model (in gold plate and stainless) and an automatic model.  On their website, they give a detailed breakdown of the parts and prices that they pay to put together a watch. Their idea is this, you will get a watch from them that uses substantially the same components as watches that cost significantly more for a low price.  You will enjoy this benefit by dealing directly with the manufacturer and avoiding the various levels of retail markup that other good watches are subject to.

This is obviously not a new idea when it comes to product marketing. It is the first time I've seen it in the watch industry though.   Few people, even watch collectors, really know what the component costs are in a watch.  The bottom line is that the markup is pretty steep in most cases. And, while that is not a surprise, seeing the numbers in black and white on the Brathwait page is illuminating nonetheless.

Now as interesting as the business end of putting a watch together is, it wouldn't really matter much if the final product was not appealing.  Fortunately, that isn't an issue with the Classic Slim model. Visually, the Brathwait is a very clean and attractive design. The face is easy to read and the overall look of the watch suggests high quality. It is hard to quantify it but this watch has that certain feel that you get when you are holding something that is really well done.

By the numbers, the watch measures 40mm in diameter (but wears much larger thanks to the slim bezel), 7.5mm high and has a 20mm band lug width.  The crystal is domed anti-reflective sapphire fitted to a gold plated stainless steel case (Brathwait explains that their gold plating is 6 microns thick which should last a very long time).  There is no lume on the face or hands which is fine for a dress watch. Internally, this model is powered by a Swiss Ronda quartz movement, something of an industry standard that should work for a long time. Water resistance is rated at 100 meters which is honestly more than any dress watch needs but is nice to have anyway.  Brathwait sells this model on a pretty nice leather band (pictured above) with a matching gold plated deployment clasp or on a nylon band (which you might think wouldn't work with a dress watch and yet it does).

All told, for $150 to $185, the Brathwait Classic Slim is a pretty good deal. It is very handsome and made from quality components. Google around a bit and you will see that Brathwait has gotten some favorable press coverage for its efforts so far.  By the way, the company is named after Richard Brathwait, the 1631 author of The Complete Guide to the English Gentleman.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

LIP Nautic-Ski Electronic 1967 (2014 Reissue) Review






Most watch collectors when asked what a diver's watch looks like would have no trouble answering. Why they look like a Rolex Submariner, a Seiko SKX007, or an Omega Seamaster is what you would likely hear.  And for the most part these days, that is perfectly true.  A typical diver's watch has a heavy stainless steel case, a stainless steel bracelet or rubber diver's watch band and features a large bezel that rotates around the watch crystal. It doesn't really matter who makes them, from ten feet away they all look pretty much the same.

There was a time, however, when diver watches could look quite different from the typical example of today. Back in the mid 1950s, a diver watch design that looks very much like the example in the pictures above was created.  This type of diver watch was collectively known at the time as a compressor (or super compressor) watch.

Rather than go into a long-winded discussion of what constitutes a compressor watch, take a look at this excellent post over at Worn & Wound.  The gist is pretty straightforward. In a compressor, the rotating bezel is generally under the crystal and is operated by the second crown.  The watch type gets its name, compressor, because it uses water pressure itself to increase its water resistance by compressing the case seals. In a nutshell, a compressor's water resistance increases as the water pressure increases (up to the point of case failure of course).

At one time there were a dozen or so brands that manufactured compressor style diver watches. Today though, they are both pretty rare and not very wallet friendly.  The one exception (To the wallet friendly part at least. They are still hard to find) is the Lip Nautic-Ski.  First released in 1967, Fred Lip (then the head of Lip) named the watch after both water sports (Nautic) and his daughter Muriel's love of skiing (Ski).

The watch itself is available in both quartz and automatic versions.  While most watch collectors, myself included, would go for the automatic version of any watch if available, this is one of the rare occasions when the quartz version is closer to the original 1967 design and thus preferable in my view.  The original Nautic-Ski of the sixties used an unusual battery powered electro-mechanical movement that sort of split the difference between a modern quartz watch and a conventional spring driven movement.

The original 1967 Nautic-Ski measured 36mm in diameter, not including the crowns.  The re-issue you see above has been increased in size to 38mm in diameter (40mm including the crowns).  That may sound small by today's big-watch standards but the Nautic-Ski wears much larger than it is thanks to the narrow bezel (almost an all-dial design) and the 14.25mm case thickness which makes for a pretty tall watch.  The band lug width is 18mm, also narrow by today's standards but in keeping with the original design.

Internally, the Nautic-Ski is powered by a Ronda 515 quartz movement, a single jewel movement with a 45 month battery life and a day indicator. The crowns have cross-hatch decoration (like the original) and screw down.  The watch hands and face indicators are lumed but the duration of the lume in the dark is not great.  Not Vostok terrible mind you but the lume could be better. The crystal is a thick, domed mineral glass type and the case back screws down.

Visually, the Nautic-Ski is very attractive to my eye.  The combination of the domed crystal, the rotating bezel/chapter ring and the raised face markings create a watch with a lot depth to its look. It is available from Lip with the striped nato band pictured above or a leather band.  I think it would work well on a rubber diver band as well.

Finding a Nautic-Ski on this side of the pond is a bit tricky.  I picked up this example at a jewelry store on Rue de Commerce in Paris on a recent vacation.  The retail price was 350 Euros but my seller was willing to bargain that day so you may do better as well.

I really like the Nautic-Ski.  It is a very unique looking watch combining old style design elements with modern manufacturing. It appears to be solidly made and should make a good daily wearer.

As an aside, Lip has an interesting history as a watch company.  It was founded in 1867 by Emmanuel Issac Lippman in Besancon, France.  They were the first company in France to offer paid holidays to their employees.  Lip is supposedly the originator of the world's first electric watch. During the war, when France was occupied and the factories were seized, Fred Lip continued to develop new watches in the unoccupied southern half of France and was apparently very active in the French resistance. His parents, sadly, were arrested and deported to Auschwitz. Lip played a large role in getting the Russian watch industry off the ground by providing the Russians with the designs to what would become the movements for the Pobeda, Szvesda and Molnija watch models. The company was doubly battered by both the arrival of quartz watch technology in the seventies along with some very tumultuous labor problems.  In 1990, after going through a number of different reorganizations and bankruptcies, the company was purchased and is now apparently stable.  They are still located in Besancon despite all the ups and downs.  More about Lip is available here, here and here.






Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Breil VD54 Chronograph Review

 
 
 


I first became aware of the Breil brand a few years ago when my sister-in-law returned from a trip to Europe with one. I was sufficiently impressed with the overall build quality of hers to put Breil on my "one of these days list." The example you see above is their VD54 Chronograph. I was initially drawn to it for its unusual sort of Bell and Ross looks and the solid looking bracelet design. I also like the fact that it doesn't have a date function as my phone gives me that information these days and I'm not thrilled about having to regularly reset the date on my watch anymore. Since Breil is not all that common in the US I think that a little background is in order.

When I first saw my sister-in-law's Breil, I assumed that this was more of a fashion piece than the product of a serious watch company. I was very wrong about that as it turns out. Breil is an Italian watch company that has been around since 1939. They have been producing a variety of men's and women's models that run the gamut from dress watches to automatics to quartz chronographs to sports models. Additionally, they have since added a jewelry line to compliment their timepiece offerings.

Visually, this Breil chrono is a very attractive watch to my eye.  The blend of angles and curves is an unusual look but Breil made it work well.  The watch case is stainless steel with a screw down caseback and an all solid link stainless steel bracelet that has good heft to it.  The crown and clasp are signed and the clasp feels solid and sturdy. The hands and hour indicators on the watch face (including the big 12) are lumed with what appears to be superluminova and low light visibility seems pretty good. The back of the watch case is angled to fit the curvature of the wrist resulting in a very comfortable wearing watch. Size-wise, the watch is 42mm in width (44 with the crown), 12mm in height, 50mm lug to lug and the bracelet is 28mm at the case. The crystal appears to be conventional mineral glass. Lastly, the water resistance is rated at 10atm which should be fine for most folks.

Internally, this model is powered by a Miyota JS00 quartz chronograph movement. Like pretty much all Miyota (Citizen) movements, it should prove to be a solid, trouble free, performer.  The three face chrono subdials are minutes at 9, seconds at 6 and a 24 hour counter at 3. The central seconds hand functions like that of a non-chrono, i.e. running at all times.

I'm a pretty happy camper with this watch.  It seems both well made and I really like the look. Breil now has a US distributor which should help increase their visibility a bit here.  Prices seem reasonable for what you get as well. If you are in the market for a stylish watch that isn't run of the mill, give Breil a good look.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Adi Hebrew Dress watch

Just a simple analog quartz dress watch that I picked up on a trip to Israel. Seems pretty well made. Should be good for work. Not a fancy watch at all but the Hebrew lettering on the face is unusual enough to be worthwhile to me. Adi is an Israeli watch company located on a kibbutz in the south of the country.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Vostok Amphibia Tonneau Diver Reissue Review

The watch you see pictured here is the second factory reissue of the classic 1970's Vostok Tonneau cased diver. The first such reissue from a few years ago was pretty expensive in my opinion and reportedly had some issues with crystal durability. This second reissue uses Vostok's tried and true acrylic crystal and, at $100 shipped, is easy on the wallet.

The original 1970's Tonneau Amphibia measured 40 mm in width (44mm with the crown), 45 mm lug to lug, 14mm in thickness and had an 18mm band lug width. The new version has been upsized slightly. It measures 48mm lug to lug, 43mm in width (47mm with the crown), 15mm in thickness and uses a 22mm band lug width.

Another significant change from the original model is the movement. The original used a hand wound 2214 movement. It's successor now sports a 2415d automatic movement. From a water resistance standpoint, this is a good change as the crown need not be opened very often for winding purposes.

Visually, Vostok did a good job of updating things without giving up the watch's old style charm. Like the original, there is no date window. The dial design is similar to the old 300 meter version of the original Tonneau Diver and the bezel is similarly designed as well. The case actually resembles that of the now hard to find 300 meter version so much that I am wondering if that was the inspiration here. (Note-The new reissue here is rated at 200 meters water resistance, just like all other modern Amphibias) Like all Amphibias, the case back and crown screw down and the case back relies on the traditional Vostok two part screw down system.

Like most Vostoks, the watch does have two trademark quirks. First off, the stock bracelet (see picture above) is of so so quality and should be replaced with a higher quality band or bracelet. Don't get me wrong, it can be sized by a jeweler and used, but it is not up to the quality of the watch otherwise in my opinion. It should be noted that the clearance beneath this model's hooded lugs is pretty tight. A thick replacement rubber band or bracelet will likely not fit. Substituting thinner spring bars for the stock models (which are quite thick) frees up enough room for a nato or leather band like the Hirsch Trapper pictured here. The other subpar feature of all Vostoks, this one included, is crummy lume. Expect no more than one hour of visibility in darkness.

For $100, the Vostok Tonneau Reissue is a very good deal. It a solidly made automatic diver that should give many years of good service. Vostoks are renowned for their durability and this example with its heavy stainless steel case and acrylic crystal (whose scratches can be easily polished away with a little toothpaste and a cotton ball) should be no exception. As readers of this blog know, I have always been interested in this company's offerings. While not perfect by any means, they reflect an engineering perspective that places maximum emphasis on low cost and long term durability.
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