Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Swatch Irony Review (Struggler)

Since most of us are a bit poorer these days, I thought it made sense to explore one of the brands that is really equated with both value and quality, Swatch. Oddly, I have never owned a Swatch until now. But, when my local jeweler came into a number of NOS (new old stock) models at discounted prices, I decided to take the plunge. My initial thought was that a Swatch would make a terrific year end gift to a co-worker who had been wistfully eyeing some of my other toys. (I got him a "Wealthy Star" model chronograph if you are interested). What I wasn't expecting was to like it enough to want one for myself.

The model you see above is called the "Struggler". It dates from 2001 and is one of Swatch's Irony models. Being a NY Mets fan, the colors immediately appealed to me. (Come to think of it, the name makes sense too) Swatch, as most of us know, made its name in making fashionable plastic Swiss watches. The Irony takes this concept and extends it to stainless steel. The result is a solidly made man's wristwatch that frankly seems to be a relative bargain, even at today's list price. (The Swatch Group incidentally is the powerhouse in the Swiss watch industry. The story behind this company is a good read if you are interested. See here or here as well as this Wikipedia entry as well).

The watch itself measures 40mm in width not including the crown (Swatch says 39mm but my ruler says 40 so I'm going with that number), 14mm in thickness 47mm lug to lug and has a 22mm band lug width. Internally, it is powered by a 4 jewel ETA G10.711 quartz chronograph movement. Water resistance is rated at 30 meters and the lume, despite this example's age, is quite good. The bracelet on this Irony is especially worthy of praise. For what is marketed as a consumer/fashion watch, it is a heavy solid link design with a nicely made signed clasp. As watch bracelets go, it is better than many others I've encountered. Lastly, the watch case is also interesting with drilled lugs and a one-piece design with an access point only for the battery.

All told, there is really no downside to a Swatch Irony. It is affordable, even in these awful times, very well made and looks terrific (albeit by my eye). If you are looking for a good solid daily wearer or a nice gift, you really can't go wrong with a Swatch.

As an aside, I got this one at Watch Station located at the Third Avenue entrance to the Lexington Avenue/53rd street subway station in NYC. The shop is one flight down at the back of the news stand. Raphael, the owner has a number of these new old stock Swatch models available and I got the impression that the prices were negotiable. (He has some beautiful vintage pieces too by the way) It’s worth checking him out.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Suunto T1c Review

A few months ago I decided that it was time to start exercising to get back into shape. Like many folks these days, I had simply enjoyed stuffing myself too many times. Now the reason this introduction has some relevance to watches is because exercise works better if you keep track of your progress as you do it. And that brings me to the subject of this review, the Suunto T1c. You know the way those digital meters on an exercycle keep tabs on your pulse, time and calories burned, well, the T1c does that too.

A little background first, Suunto is a Finnish company that makes a series of digital watches that are all very advanced in their capabilities. Some have GPS capability, some can measure altitude, some can track the weather and some seem to be capable of doing just about everything. Overall, the company’s products are geared towards an active, outdoor lifestyle. If that describes you, these folks have something you'll appreciate.

On to the T1c. The watch is in many ways a typical digital watch. It gives you the time, the day and date, it has an alarm, a backlight and it can handle another time zone. So far, nothing special although the reverse contrast display and the sweeping seconds indicator (a digital dot that orbits the dial) are pretty cool. It measures 44mm in width (including the pushers) and 12mm in height. (Mind you, the T1c seems to wear smaller that its dimensions would suggest. I think it’s because of the integrated band.) The watch band is plastic and can be replaced when it wears out. The case is plastic as well with a stainless steel back. Water resistance is rated at 30 meters. All really quite conventional so far. Where things get interesting though is when you press the Mode button and unpack a curious accessory in the Suunto box.

Before you get started, there are a few preliminaries to take care of. The first thing you have to do (after setting the date and time) is to enter some information about yourself. The watch needs to know your age, weight, gender and approximately how active you are based on a scale (included in the manual and online). Don't be put off by this step by the way. The controls are intuitive and it only takes a minute to set up. You are now ready to put the T1c to work. Pressing the Mode button puts the watch into Training mode where it is now ready to start measuring you as you exercise. The accessory I mentioned gets used now too. In the box, you will see what looks very much like an elastic belt, which is exactly what it is. This belt contains a small wireless transmitter that, when worn across the chest, tells the watch how you are doing. The belt is thankfully soft and unobtrusive so wearing it for an hour or so is no problem. One caveat, there are two pads on the inside part of the belt that need to be moist to work. A little hand cream seems to do the job nicely. (The belt is washable if you are concerned btw). Suuunto does tell you to wet these pads but the importance of this step is great. The belt will not detect your pulse otherwise. (Suunto warns that people with pacemakers should not use this device by the way).

I wore the Suunto T1c while riding my recumbent exercise bike. The bike itself has a computerized digital display that measures calories burned among other things so I was able to gauge how accurate the T1c was. It did pretty well, coming in within 5 percent of the bicycle computer's reading. (For all I know it may be the more accurate of the two). That seems pretty good to my reckoning and more than informative enough to be used to track one’s workout. In addition to tracking an individual workout, the T1c also stores the results of your workouts for later reference should you want to check your progress over time. You can also set the watch to measure your progress as a function of your heart rate using the heart rate zones feature.

Overall, the T1c is a pretty slick piece of equipment. It really is an exercise computer that happens to have a watch on board. Mind you, the T1c would do fine as a daily wearer. It is comfortable and its timekeeping functions are excellent. Its utility as a workout tracker though is very helpful indeed if you are serious about getting into shape. Wearing the T1c (and its sensor belt) effectively puts an electronic monitor on any exercise routine you choose to do. That makes tracking both your heart rate and the all important “calories burned” very simple. I wasn’t sure if I would like using a watch like this while exercising but seeing those totals come up after a workout is addictive to me. If you are into exercise or thinking about starting an exercise routine, consider the T1c a recommended accessory.

P.S.-Before anyone asks, I have dropped 33 lbs in the last 7 months and now weigh 179lbs. Getting there :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Adi Model 221 Diver Review

On a Modena rubber diver strap

The subject of this review, the Adi Model 221 is another one of the company’s watches that is marketed to the Israeli armed forces. (For those of you who feel like poking around in Adi’s website, model numbers 220 through 229 are purchased by the ministry of defense according to a company representative.) This one came to me by way of Israeli Products.Com. One detail to note if you are considering one of these is that the dial’s logo print has changed from the image on the seller’s website. The word “Adi” is now in a script font as opposed to the block letters in the website image. I like both styles so it doesn’t really matter to me.

This Adi measures 42 mm in width (not including the crown), 13 mm in height, 43 mm lug to lug and uses a 22mm band lug width. Unlike the previously reviewed Adi IDF watch, the lugs on this model are conventionally designed and switching bands is quite easy. They are also quite short in length and make the watch wear smaller than it actually measures. The watch shipped with a rubber diver’s band that has a wind velocity chart printed on it. (In some of the shots above, the watch is pictured with an aftermarket Maratac nylon military style band. I think it looks quite good.) The Model 221 is quartz driven by an otherwise unremarkable Miyota movement that can be hacked if that is important to you. The movement also includes day and date functions. Water resistance is rated at 200 meters which is more than sufficient. Interestingly, the 200 meter water resistance rating is achieved without using a screw-down crown. The lume on this diver is really very good. I would put it on the level of a Citizen automatic diver if you are familiar with them. It apparently uses superluminova paint that was both bright and long lasting in the dark. The crystal is mineral glass set flush with the bezel. Lastly, the bezel is a counter-rotating design with a very firm action.

Visually, the Model 221 has a sort of shrouded case style, that looks a bit like a Seiko Tuna can diver, albeit on a much smaller scale. The watch wears quite comfortably thanks to the short lugs. Accuracy, as is to be expected with a quartz watch, is excellent.

All in all, the Model 221 is an interesting military watch that would make for a good daily wearer/sports watch and should last a long time. It is apparently well made and its high water resistance should allow it to stand up to whatever most of us will encounter. At $85 from the previously mentioned vendor, it’s a good choice too in these budget conscious times.
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