A taste of the high life.
Quality dive watches are high on every man's wish list. These classic designs are elegant and amazingly versatile, formal enough to compliment business suits but not too flashy to be worn with jeans. They can be seen on the wrists of movie stars, billionaires, pilots, plumbers or mechanics. Original marketing was based on rugged durability, while these warhorses remain functional in marine and outdoor activity, lamentably, sacrificial beaters often take their place.
Rolex submariners in early Bond movies would have been where many of us first encountered quality dive watches. Accordingly, when I talk watches with the guys, the conversation usually works itself around to Submariners. I've owned several Rolex watches and can say, owning premium watches has its drawbacks. The majority of attention they get is negative. Unless you have all the other playboy accouterments, people will question whether it's fake rather than compliment you. However, you could say the same about most objects of desire. I don't base my purchase decisions on what is deemed politically correct. If you have worked hard enough to be able to afford what you want, then why deny yourself those just rewards?
Elite professions frequently used Rolex and Tudor dive watches because of their proven durability and reliability. Navy divers, special forces, intelligence operatives and airline pilots were all issued Rolex dive watches or customized derivatives. Ultimately, this practice was phased out due to spiraling costs. Rolex had become an exotic status symbol rather than a professional's working timepiece. Operatives were issued quartz analog substitutes. The Rolex Sub remains a classy, tasteful piece, which retains significant resale value dependent upon condition. Insurance is often covered under a home and contents policy. It's even possible to claw your outlay back, if you hang onto the watch for long enough and treat it with respect. In reality, purchasing a Rolex is actually quite practical in comparison to the running costs and depreciation incurred on motor vehicles, whether exotic or mundane.
Nothing sells like success; Rolex presently cultivates it's prestige through sponsorship of premier sporting events and successful individual competitors. Truthfully, prestige and exclusivity is what Rolex is charging for; the intrinsic value of their watches account for a mere fraction of the purchase price. They discourage on-line and gray market trade by revoking the warranty. Purchasing a new or "pre-owned" model through an approved dealer is highly recommended.
However, if branding isn't a priority, I recommend the Steinhart Ocean 1 and OVM submariner homages. They sport Germanic
build quality, featuring a sapphire crystal and proven Swiss ETA 2824-2 automatic movement, incorporating manual wind and
hacking. The bracelet features solid links, including solid end links. They won't warp and rattle like cheaper hollow link
bracelets. Screw link pins simplify sizing. Pressure rating is 300 M. All models ship with two year warranties. Essentially,
the specification is everything one could want at this price point. The distinctive Ocean Vintage Military (OVM) model is
particularly desirable among collectors. It's inspired by the famous British navy Mil-Sub, pictured above. (VAT sales tax
exclusively pertains to E.U. residents.)
Seiko Monster: Where Collectors Begin.
Nowadays, mechanical watches are worn for their character rather than durability or precision. Even the most exotic Swiss movements are delicate in comparison to generic Quartz analog watches. Typically, the shock of drop impact, knocks the escapement out of regulation. The watch subsequently begins to run dramatically fast. Collectors are fascinated by the exclusivity and craftsmanship of mechanical watches. They accept their vulnerability as part of the experience, somewhat like running a classic car. Guys who spend thousands on mechanical watches still give a nod of respect to Seiko's Monster. It hangs with the big boys in terms of durability and feeling special.
Most of Seiko's SKX variants were based on the same case and sported different color schemes. Seiko's release of the Monster certainly caused some ripples in the watch community. People either loved or hated its bold design. The thick triangular indices resemble movie monsters' teeth. The large one piece bezel ring had deep scallops for superior grip with gloved hands. The crystal was domed for less reflection under water. The bracelet was of the highest quality, superior to many more expensive watches. The luminous indices were the brightest on the market, a significant selling point for watch collectors.
Owning quartz models all their lives, many folks expect similar performance from mechanical watches and assume they are defective when it doesn't meet their expectations. The Monster's accuracy in the break in period will be +/- 8 seconds per day, increasing to +/- 4 seconds per day, particularly when worn regularly. Its relatively low rate of 6 beats per second and light rotor deliver high shock resistance and longevity at the expense of maximum off the shelf precision. Watchmakers don't charge much for regulation, which can make the little upstart extremely accurate, +/- 1 second per day. If your Monster ever ceases to function, don't assume it's trashed. Bring it to your watchmaker, it probably just needs a little lubrication. The second generation of Monster incorporates the venerable 4R36 movement, which further boosts reliability and out of box accuracy. Lay reviews are much more positive. The 4R36 movement also features hand winding ability and hack time set.
Seiko does manufacture the mid-tier Prospex automatic watches but is lumbered with a classic marketing problem. The
Monster already feels like a quality timepiece. People expect an even greater wow factor from the Sumo and Marine Master,
given that they retail for three and ten times as much. Trying one on may be an anticlimax. The only additional movement
features are hand winding and hacking, the ability to halt second hand for synchronization. Sapphire crystals and regulated
movements are notably absent. Seiko's Tuna and Darth Tuna, definitely feel special but may not be to your taste. The Turtle,
Sumo, Shogun, Marine Master and Tuna, are only officially distributed in Japan, where national pride buoys demand. The Prospex
series just can't compete on the western highstreet. Luckily, the gray market services niche demand on-line. The Turtle
is a classic reissue. However, featuring the 4R36 movement, it could be considered an upgrade from the popular SKX007.
Update: December 2016, Seiko has discontinued the Monster. Hopefully they will reconsider. It represented excellent quality vs price.
Citizen EcoZilla: True Perpetual Diver.
Quartz watch movements actually have a lot going for them. The high beat rate of the Quartz crystal delivers accuracy in the range of -/+ 3 seconds per month. Atomic clocks are the only devices with superior innate accuracy; try carrying one of those around on your wrist. Mechanical watch movements' accuracy varies but most need to be reset once a week, which can be an irritation if you own several examples. Quartz's relative lack of moving parts delivers inherent shock resistance. A Quartz will withstand hard knocks and the drop impact of falling from a desk and hitting the floor. Similar events will force a mechanical watch run dramatically fast or damage the mechanism's springs and balance shaft. Either way, it's going in for service, which can be painfully expensive with premium brands.
The drawback of Quartz technology has always been battery life, necessitating replacement every couple of years. Most guys don't want to bother with the case back wrenches, silicone grease and replacement gaskets associated with dive watch battery swaps. A trip to the jewelers is the only other option. This can be a real pain if owning several examples as they invariably go down at different intervals. This dilemma didn't go unnoticed. Seiko was the first manufacturer to release a self charging Quartz watch known as the Automatic Generating System. Ultimately, the design failed to live up to its potential even after swapping the troublesome capacitor for a rechargeable battery and re-branding as Kinetic.
Several years later Citizen debuted their approach; the Eco-Drive employed solid state solar charging that proved much more successful. No additional moving parts ensured shock resistance wasn't compromised. Seiko Kinetic owners could never maintain a full charge due to the number of rotor swings required; this caused their watch batteries to degrade. Eco-Drives charge up passively and have proven to function for a minimum of 20 years, if regularly exposed to light. This requires the owner to leave the box lid up during watch storage, to enable light ingress.
Citizen's EcoZilla was expressly designed as a diver's tool. Built like a Tiger tank, the stainless steel case and mineral crystal are thickened to withstand 300 meter depths. The domed crystal is protectively recessed under the unidirectional bezel. A threaded retaining ring prevents bezel detachment under impact. The crown is located at 9 o'clock to prevent snags that could rip it off. The minute hand sports hi-vis orange trim for cloudy diving conditions. Luminescence is excellent; energizing the blue scheme all night.
Pictured above, elegance and versatility are extended by installing Walter Alfarano's
fixed bar adapters. Remove the bezel retaining ring with clockwise rotation and
swab it with denatured alcohol to remove the uncouth black paint. The upgraded EcoZilla
wears comfortably and compliments smart attire. Alternate between leather or nylon Zulu bands
in seconds, depending on your schedule. Wear it under or over clothing. If you're into SCUBA, snorkeling,
surfing, kayaking or other outdoor pursuits, the EcoZilla is the watch for you.
Seiko BFK: The Automatic Quartz.
Seiko's Automatic Generating System (AGS) debuted with much fan fare in 1985 but truthfully, it was a bit of a dog. The objective was to obsolete both automatic and quartz watches. The core marketing played upon the inconvenience of quartz battery replacement. Ironically, the much vaunted capacitor had a shorter lifespan than automatic movements and was more troublesome to replace than a standard quartz battery. Seiko quietly swapped the capacitor for a rechargeable Maxell Ti-Li-ion battery and re-branded as the Kinetic.
Backlash is common in quartz movements, the gear train's inability to support the weight of the minute hand is evidenced by a backward wobble during vertical advance. This design artifact utterly devalued watch enthusiasts' ownership experience. In an effort to keep the lucrative collector market onside, Seiko skeletonized the hands to reduce weight and eliminated the issue. The BFK has subsequently established itself as a watch that can endure hard use with style and now baths in the glory of commercial success. The fit and finish is nothing short of superb.
Kinetic movements use a rotor, gear, gearbox and dynamo to convert human motion into electric current, powering the watches rechargeable Li-on battery. Use a vigorous 5" circular motion to gain a full initial charge. Daily motion or the standard Frisbee technique won't sufficiently drive the mechanism to full charge. To check the power reserve, wait until the second hand coincides with the twelve o'clock index. Then, press the button situated at the two o'clock index. The second hand will advance to indicate current power reserve; ticking will recommence after the appropriate interval.
The Big Freaking Kinetic has the prestige and character of a mechanical watch complemented by the accuracy of a quartz movement. Durability is superior to mechanical watches but less than a standard Quartz or Solar diver's watch. There are several reasons to buy a BFK, build quality, styling and an appreciation for the engineering under the dial. However, if you're considering purchase of a Kinetic as a means of escaping battery replacement, then think again.
The rechargeable battery has
a lifespan of five to ten years, which can be matched by standard quartz movements equipped with enlarged
batteries. Some critics argue that the concept is futile and incorporates the worst characteristics of
mechanical and Quartz watches. As demonstrated in the video above, Kinetic battery replacement
involves rotor and gear removal but remains within the ability of the average guy, employing the correct tools.
Vostok Amphibian: Rugged Russian.
Many enthusiasts recoil in horror when confronted by the Vostok Amphibian. In fairness, most models aren't that pretty, the 1967 model pictured, being the exception. However it's the most economical, functional, automatic diver's watch available. A little background knowledge of the Russian psyche is required to appreciate the design. Westerners cherish ergonomics; every actuation must reward the operator with smooth, secure sensations. The bear rejected this philosophy, dismissing our designs as decadent and materialistic. To them, ergonomics were a product of repetition, execute a rifle magazine change 500 times and it becomes instinctive, irrespective of the weapon's control layout. Rough edges become moot when hands develop calluses.
'Scuba Dude' Amphibians have acquired something of a cult following, thanks to the design's solid construction, unique features, quirky nature and affordable pricing. The crystal and case utilize depth pressure to compress and enhance the case seal. Field maintenance is supported by the two piece case back, which permits the reuse of the original O-ring; impossible with western designs. Stainless steel construction resists salt water corrosion if washed after use. The domed acrylic crystal flexes for shock resistance; even sapphire and mineral crystals acquire scratches over time but acrylics can be polished up.
The ergonomics of the Amphibian bug most people, the bezel is friction locked and bi-directional but still functional. Play between crown and stem feels cheap but promotes shock resistance. Advancing the date requires cycling the hands back and forth or through full rotation; there is no quick set. Hand wind is incorporated with overwind protection. The crown may appear vulnerable but the externally threaded tube works like a bottle cap and is actually more robust than a threaded stem. Accuracy is specified at -30/+60 seconds per day but most run much better. The movement can be regulated for a very reasonable price but not in advance of the three month break in period.
Luminescence is the only functional weak point, Vostok really should incorporate Superluminova markings, to support
nightlong visibility. The factory metal bracelets are uncomfortable, except for the newer 1967 model. A one piece
18 mm Zulu band gives comfort, wrist presence and retention, should a spring bar fail. Many Seiko's
divers ship with 'basic' rubber or metal bands. Vostok Amphibians are available from eBay vendor Zenitar,
at half the cost of the prolific Seikos.
Tools & Accessories.
First impressions count, presentation cases that accompany watches add to the ownership experience. They also assist future trade or sale. However, they do tend to get tatty very quickly. Pack your case and papers away and display your prized timepieces in a single level, eight compartment watch box. Invicta's Pelican style cases are preferred for storing and transporting watches in harsh conditions. The valve prevents the watertight case from warping in an unpressurized aircraft cargo hold. Hi-viz colors are useful should your case go overboard at night. The case also floats.
It's very difficult to source high quality solid wood boxes on-line. Solid 10 mm wood dividers and telescoping adjustable oval cushions are typical indicators of quality. Solid wood boxes often exhibit natural flaws in the wood, which adds character. I personally find burlwood to be particularly striking. A transparent lid does assist the charging of solar watches but constant exposure to UV can degrade the resin in polymer watches. Frankly, I find the feature detracts from overall aesthetic impact.
They are not to everybody's taste but I recommend buying dive watches equipped with Oyster style bracelets. It's easier to remove them than hunt around for a compatible model later on. A spring bar tool makes removal less frustrating. Bracelet links are connected by screw pins, friction pins or collared pins. A precision screwdriver is necessary for screwed bracelet links. Jeweler's screwdrivers are used for smaller movement screws. A pin driver removes both friction and collared pins. A small arrow is embossed on the inside of each link, indicating which way to drive the pin out. Remember to remove links on both sides of the clasp so it remains centered under the wrist. Keep the spare links in the presentation case. Fine adjustment is achieved by positioning a spring bar in locater holes in the clasp.
You will need to be able to open up your watch if you want to try your hand at regulation, gasket swaps or battery
swaps. Standard two prong case back wrenches have a reputation for slipping and scraping the watch. A professional
three prong wrench and case vice is much more stable. Case back detentes are not standardized. The wrench is supplied with the
appropriate interchangeable chucks.
Questions & Feedback.
Well, that's about it guys. I hope you found this guide useful. If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to contact me through the welcome page.
Ian ST John.
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