Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Vostok Amphibia Tonneau Diver Reissue Review
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.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Citizen Eco Drive Nighthawk Review
It is easy to understand why Citizen is the number one watch company in the world after wearing the Nighthawk for the last few weeks. Citizen's unique combination of quartz accuracy, solar charging, water resistance and overall solid build make it just about the most convenient daily wearer I've ever owned.
The Nighthawk model seen here is an all stainless steel (including an all solid link bracelet thankfully) aviator/military/navigator style watch that features an independently settable 24 hour secondary hand. The watch measures 42mm in width. Water resistance is rated at 200 meters (which is plenty deep) and the crown screws down. An internal chapter ring can be moved via the second crown to allow for world timer capability. The lume is of excellent quality, a cool blue color that is very long lasting. (It isn't quite in a Seiko Monster's league but it's close) Additionally, the Nighthawk's second hand can be hacked if that feature is of importance. The crystal on this watch is made of hardened mineral glass. The choice of that material, as opposed to synthetic sapphire is the only disappointment I could find with this watch. Mineral glass is reasonably scratch resistant but nowhere near as good as sapphire.
The Nighthawk's most impressive feature to me, one shared by many other Citizen models, is the Eco Drive system. Most folks are familiar with the periodic chore of changing our watch batteries when they poop out. It is an acceptable compromise in exchange for the superior accuracy that battery driven quartz watches provide over their mechanical counterparts. Citizen, however, found a way around this problem by building a solar cell into the watch face that continuously charges the battery. Once fully charged, the watch will run in darkness for up to six months. The result is a watch that, in theory, should never need servicing.
Friday, February 01, 2013
Vostok Amphibia New Murphy Bezel mod
Like Murphy's previous bezel design, this one is also a solid piece of stainless steel that should prove much more durable that the stock bezel. I personally like how it gives the Amphibia the clean look and feel of an old fashioned 1940's vintage diver/military watch.
Removing and reinstalling a Vostok bezel isn't terribly hard. A description of the process can be found here.
Friday, June 15, 2012
TW Steel 50mm CEO Canteen
Now, having gotten that bit out of the way, on to the review. A few years back, I had another canteen crown monster of a watch. That one was the giant Russian Zlatoust diver. At 75mm from end to end and with a thickness that was bigger than the diameter of many watches, it was just too much for me. I loved the look of it but there was simply no way to wear that sucker. Off it went to the sales forum and a new home. (I can picture Shrek the ogre enjoying it to this day). Still though, I really did like the look of that Zlatoust. My solution for a comfortably wearable replacement is the watch you see here, the TW Steel CEO Canteen.
This is my second TW Steel watch. My first, the Icon, is their entry level model. The CEO Canteen, seen here, falls in the middle of their range. TW Steel is a Netherlands based company which specializes in big watches. For the most part, their models measure in at either 45mm or 50mm in diameter. Their line runs the gamut from quartz to automatics and from chronographs to aviators.
This version of the CEO Canteen (there are smaller 45mm models too) measures 50mm in width (60 mm with the crown), 14 mm in height, 58 mm lug to lug and has a 22 mm band lug width. It features a beveled, hardened mineral glass crystal. 10 atm water resistance and a thick, high quality leather band. The crown and caseback are of the screw-down variety and the canteen crown is sealed with its own gasket. Lastly, the dial indicators and hands are lumed. The lume on this iteration of the CEO is nowhere near Seiko quality in terms of brightness or longevity unfortunately but is isn't in the terrible league like that found on Vostoks for example. If you aren't a lume junkie, you should find the CEO's night time visibility acceptable.
Internally, the 50 mm CEO is powered by a Miyota 2405 quartz movement. The movement features hour, minute and second hands along with day and date functions. Accuracy is excellent as is the case with most quartz movements.
As watches go, the CEO Canteen has sort of a split personality. Canteen crown watches are meant to keep out water. The CEO doesn't disappoint in this category. It features a 100 meter water resistance rating which isn't bad at all. Additionally, that canteen crown isn't just for decoration. I was pleased to see that it really is a gasketed screw down crown whose purpose of keeping out water hasn't been diluted in this modern iteration. The split personality part though stems from the watch face and band that, to my eye at least, more closely resemble an old style aviator watch. Under most circumstances, I would find it unlikely that these two features could tastefully coexist on one watch. TW Steel, to it's credit, has managed to make these features work nicely together though.
Overall, the TW Steel CEO Canteen feels like a keeper to me. The build quality seems excellent and it's a real looker to my eye. While this is obviously subjective, I also happen to love the brown color of this example too. In a world where high end luxury is increasingly becoming both unattainable and difficult to justify, watches like TW Steel's CEO Canteen look better and better. I found this example on sale for sub $200 as a birthday present (officially from my wife, nudge...wink) and other great deals can be found with a little patience. I am looking forward to many happy years with it.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
New old stock Sea-Gull ST5
There seem to be enough of these new old stock (NOS) Sea-Gulls floating around on the world wide garage sale that I figured a review of one couldn't hurt, so here goes. Note-For another review of these ST5 Sea-Gulls, look here.
The watch you see above is a Chinese Sea-Gull model from the 1970s. Despite its age, it arrived in flawless condition (a feat that some new watches I have owned couldn't manage btw). The watch did not ship with a band so a trip to the parts box produced the combination in the photos. These old Sea-Gull models are, ahem, traditionally sized men's watches which is to say, small by today's fashion standard. The watch measures 35mm in width (37mm with the crown), 42mm lug to lug, 10mm thick and uses an unusual 19mm band lug width (You can probably squeeze a 20mm model on though). Despite the smallish measured dimensions however, this model wears a bit bigger than it is thanks to the high crystal and the thick, elongated lug design. As a dress watch, it is really quite good looking.
I was pleasantly surprised at the fine build quality on this model. Unlike many watches from the seventies which still used plated brass watch cases, Sea-Gull was already using a nicely polished stainless steel case on this design. That decision to go with the more durable metal no doubt contributes a lot to this watch's age defying looks. The hands appear to be polished stainless steel as well and the dial features raised metallic markers. The crystal is the only visual clue that this is an old design. It is a raised flat-topped acrylic type unlike the mineral and synthetic sapphire units common today. (For what it's worth, I happen to like acrylic crystals. Minor scratches can be polished away easily with a cotton ball and a little toothpaste. Try that with a scratched mineral glass crystal). The hands and face have no lume which is fine for a dress watch. While the case back screws down against a rubber gasket, I wouldn't trust any older watch near water so assume no waterproofing here.
Internally, this oldster is powered by Sea-Gull's ST5 19 jewel hand wound movement. The movement is a sight to behold. It features hand striped decoration on the bridges and plates. The workmanship of this striping is very well done and not at all the sort of thing I would associate with a socialist economy. A lot of pride clearly went into this little engine. In terms of accuracy, my example is gaining about 15 seconds daily which I can live just fine with. One thing that did surprise me is how stiff the crown is. You really have to grip it tightly to wind it. It's not a bad thing as far as I can tell but it is something to consider. For what it's worth, the mechanism is loosening up a bit as I use it. Could be just some old oil gumming things up. In addition to all the decoration btw, the movement also features what appears to be a polished, internal anti-magnetic shield. Yet another nice and unexpected touch.
All in all, I'm quite satisfied with my journey into Chinese horology so far. On two occasions now I have both been pleasantly surprised and had my prior assumptions challenged. I have a familiar feeling that these two Chinese watches (see the review before this one) will not be my only ones. I think a new watch box may be in order first though...
Wednesday, February 08, 2012
Sea-Gull M185S Review
Let me start off by saying that I have been uneasy about getting a Chinese watch for some time now. It isn’t that I have anything personal against the Chinese people or nation per se, far from it in fact. It’s just that, in my mind, the phrase “Made in China” has always meant cheap, not quality. Cheap is fine for a pair of socks or a plastic toy for my kids. However, buying a “cheap” watch (as opposed to an inexpensive but otherwise excellent watch) was never something I was interested in doing. Well, an odd turn of events not long ago made me realize that I was looking at China through a poor filter that was screening out a lot of good things.
As is the case in many places of business, employees in my office give one and other gifts, cards and other tokens of appreciation during the holiday season. Nothing new there for most of us. This year though, one of my co-workers gave me a very fancy box of tea. Not Twinnings or Teavana or Harney but Chinese green tea in an unreadable (to me) Chinese box. I love tea. I honestly have not met a cup of tea that I don’t like. (As an aside, my mother was and avid tea teetotaller and teapot collector. She had at least one hundred teapots at one time. We used to joke that if the Royal Navy stopped by for high tea one day, we could handle it). This particular Chinese tea was truly excellent. It had an almost nutty flavor that I’ve never experienced before. My only regret is that I have no idea what it is called or where to get it. That being said, it warmed me up during the worst of this winter’s cold spells (so far) and got me thinking, if China can make good stuff like this, what else have they got that I’m ignoring? And that, of course, got me wondering about Chinese watches. Was there a Chinese watch that was the equivalent of fine tea? Thanks to Google and a number of watch forums, it quickly became apparent that one such Chinese watch company was really very well regarded, Sea-Gull.
Sea-Gull got its start in 1955 when the Chinese government established a watch factory. The story apparently goes that four watch repairers were instructed to find a way to build a watch domestically. They supposedly started with a simple Swiss movement, modified the design to suit their needs and built China's first real watch, largely by hand. From this humble start, the company has since made a variety of watches varying from simple, utilitarian types to mechanical chronographs to some very fancy (and pricey!) tourbillions. While Sea-Gull watches have been sold outside of China since the early 70's, in the last few years, the company has begun an international expansion with sales/service locations in the U.S. and the European Union. For more on the history of Sea-Gull, see here.
In addition to watches themselves, Sea-Gull movements are sold to other watch companies for incorporation into their products. As of 2005, Sea-Gull was manufacturing approximately 25% of the watch movements in the world. Fossil and Timex, among others, have taken this approach with apparent success to date. Some Sea-Gull movements are even being put together in Switzerland apparently under the name Claro-Semag. These Swiss/Chinese watch engines are apparently modified somewhat in Switzerland to allow them to legally carry the label Swiss Made. Bizarrely, there have even been reports of fake Sea-Gull watches that have been assembled by unscrupulous vendors with real Sea-Gull movements. I think it's safe to assume that you've got a quality product when it's worth it for someone to try to make money off a copy. Imitation may not be the sincerest form of flattery in this case but it suggests that the real thing is quite good.
It also bears mentioning that there is apparently a notable difference in quality between a Sea-Gull branded watch and many of the watches that have one of their movements. EBay is crowded with watches that have Swiss and German sounding names. Many of them fall into a gray category commonly called "mushroom" brands, so called because they pop up in no time and vanish quickly too. It is not uncommon to find a Sea-Gull engine in these watches. The problem with them though is that there is little, if any, in the way of service, support or quality control behind them. Their watches may, in fact, work just fine but, ultimately, their products are built to earn a fast buck and deceive their buyers into believing that they are something they are not.
With all of this in mind, I decided to take the plunge and make a Sea-Gull my first new watch of 2012. The model you see above is the M185S. I liked this one for its classic looks and blued hands. I didn't see it in stock at Sea-Gull USA so I used the global tag sale after pestering an expert at the Poor Man's Watch Forum as to the authenticity of the watch. (Ebay seller was trusthonestman btw. Apparently pretty well thought of. The watch shipped in the original box with Chinese language documentation. Seller included a photocopy of some basic English language instructions as well. According to a friend, the watch carries a one year warranty and will achieve full power from the auto winder after six hours of wear on average). Sea-Gull uses this same case design for several other models as well. The main difference between the M185S and the others is the addition of a Chinese language day complication in addition to the date window. (I can't read it, of course, but I think it looks cool). In terms of dimensions, the watch measures 39mm in width (43mm with the crown), 47mm lug to lug, 14mm in thickness and has a 20mm band lug width. As this is a dress watch, there is no lume on the hands or dial. The hands are blued and the overall appearance with the large onion crown is one of classic elegance. Water resistance is rated at 3atm which is fine for a dress watch. The M185S uses a domed mineral glass crystal. The lugs are curved downward and the leather band and buckle are Sea-Gull branded and appear to be of very good quality. The case-back is held to the watch case with screws, which is a little unusual these days but it certainly seems to function adequately. Lastly, the watch features a display back through which the decorated automatic movement can be observed.
Internally, the M185S is powered by a Sea-Gull ST16 21 jewel automatic movement. The ST16 is one of many in-house movements manufactured by Sea-Gull. It is technically interesting in that it borrows the Seiko "magic lever" automatic winding system design while following the overall layout of a Miyota automatic movement. The ST16 hacks and hand winds as well if those abilities matter to you. The movement is considered sort of an entry level, work horse model in the Sea-Gull line. It has been around for a long time and the Sea-Gull branded watches equipped with it (as opposed to other "mushroom" brands that may use it) have a good reputation for reliability. The movement is nicely decorated with machined striping on the rotor and bridge plates.
Subjectively, the watch wears very nicely. It has that solid feel that I generally associate with a well made piece. The included band both is fairly long and reasonably thick so it should fit a large range of wrist sizes. I particularly appreciate the "China Made" identifier at the six o'clock position on the watch face. Unlike the mushroom brands with their Germanic and Swiss sounding names, this Sea-Gull is not pretending to be anything other than what it is. In light of how well it appears to be built, it's makers should be proud to state it's place of origin clearly.
I started off this review by admitting my unease with the idea of a Chinese watch. It seems clear to me though that the Chinese watch industry is following the well travelled trajectory of both the Japanese and Swiss watch industries. Initially, both of them were considered merely cheap imitators of other nations quality timepieces (Yes, I did say the Swiss. Their early efforts at watch production were considered low quality knock-offs of then American made watches). I think we all know by now how things worked out for the Swiss and Japanese in this industry. From the looks of my Sea-Gull example, China has entered these ranks as well. Now I just need to save a few grand ($) for one of those amazing looking tourbillions of theirs. One day...