Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review of Ebel 1911 Discovery Automatic Chronograph

Model # 1215794

Brand/Model:  Ebel 1911 Discovery Automatic Chronograph
Movement:  Swiss automatic COSC chronograph
Material:  stainless steel case and bracelet
Complications:  day/date display, chronograph timing up to 12 hours in 1 second increments
Price:  MSRP:  $4,500 USD; street price new $1,850 USD

Plenty of photos follow the review.  Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Ebel is a brand that seems to get passed up by many WISes because it is perceived as more of a fashion brand than anything else.  While this may be true in some regards, Ebel is capable of making some fine timepieces and the 1911 Discovery chronograph reviewed here is a great example of Ebel’s watchmaking expertise in a non-fashion style watch.

Ebel is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary as a true Swiss watchmaker, the name being an acronym of the founder’s names of Eugene Blum and his wife, Alice Levy - Eugene Blum Et Levy.  Ebel’s slogan is ‘the architects of time’ and refers to their dependence on style, overall design and engineering to achieve watches of extreme quality with fashionable looks while never losing sight of their Swiss origin.

The 1911 line has been around since 1986.  The current line-up of 1911 chronographs covers several different models, each with classic good looks and certain trademarks, like the real screws surrounding the bezel, that makes you realize the watch is an Ebel and no other brand.

The 1911 chronograph reviewed here starts with a sizeable 43mm case of beautifully brushed-finish stainless steel, a case that exhibits all of its edges and corners having smooth radiused edges, no sharp corners here!  The case is 14.2mm thick, with 22mm lugs.  The case back is secured by eight fine screws and is brushed as nicely as the rest of the case.  The case back protrudes out from the case somewhat, making the case sides lift off the wrist a bit.  The case back is emblazoned with the 1911 logo.  A note about the case, the left side of the case protrudes a bit because it bumps out at the 9 o’clock position (if measured from this bump out to the other side of the case, the case dimension is 44mm w/o crown, 49.2mm crown inclusive).  This doesn’t bother me, but it does make this watch wear even larger.

The crown is signed and screws down smoothly with four turns-to-lock.  The chronograph pushers, while they look like they should be screw down, do not screw down.  No biggie, but the faux aspect of this design seems to run counter to Ebel’s tradition of engineering and design excellence.  The 1911 chronograph is factory rated at 100 meters of water resistance.  There are a total of 17 real screws on the case, surrounding the bezel, securing the case back and attaching the bracelet to the case.  These screws give a real feeling of quality to the watch.

A flat sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating on both sides covers the dial and gives an incredibly clear view of the dial in all lighting conditions.  This watch is very easy to read.  An aluminum bezel with black tachymeter insert surrounds the crystal.

The dial is pure black with applied silver indices with small lume dots on the outside edge of the markers.  The hour and minute hands are silver with inset lume, the center chronograph second hand is silver with a red tip. 

The subdial set up is standard Valjoux 7750.  The subdial at 12 is the chronograph minute counter, the subdial at 6 is the 12-hour chronograph totalizer and the subdial at 9 is the main watch seconds hand.  The subdials are fairly straightforward, slightly dished inwards and have white markers.  The chronograph subdials have red hands, to go along with the red tip on the center chrono seconds hand, to more easily differentiate the chrono timing functions from the standard timekeeping of the watch.  More watchmakers seem to be doing this with their chronographs and I think it’s a good idea.  My recently acquired Seiko Flight Master automatic chronograph uses the same technique, except with yellow hands instead of red.

Lume quality is average, but rather minimal, as only the hour and minute hands and marker dots are luminous.

A quickset day and date display is located at 3, with the wheels a proper white on black that compliment the dial perfectly.  Minimal dial printing consists of the name ‘Ebel’, and ‘automatic chronometer.’  Overall, the dial layout, look and legibility are top notch on the 1911 chronograph. The markers tend to be a bit too shiny at times along with the Ebel name, but it’s a minor inconvenience to an overall superb dial.

And speaking of chronometer, yes, the movement in the 1911 chronograph is a top of the line Valjoux 7750 COSC rated movement (Ebel Caliber 750).  This is especially appealing given the price that these watches can be purchased for and adds a lot to the overall value equation of this model.  The COSC 7750 runs perfectly, winds and hacks with precision and turned in a fine 54 hour power reserve during my testing.  Accuracy meets COSC standards, consistently running at +2/24 hours under my tutelage.  The chronograph starts, stops and resets crisply and the pushers have a nice, firm action about them. 

The only odd thing I have noticed with this watch is the way the hands set through the crown.  There is no resistance at all, the slightest turn of the crown moves the hands.  I don’t know if this is a characteristic of the COSC 7750 because I don’t own any other COSC 7750s or just the way the watch is put together.  It is a bit annoying at first, I would prefer some resistance because it makes hack setting easier, but that’s really the only quibble I have with the movement. 

The bracelet is solid link stainless steel with a continuous link design without any exterior clasp or even a pushbutton release.  You have to yank on the clasp to open it up, very uncharacteristic of a company that prides itself on design and engineering and very inelegant in a fine Swiss timepiece.  Major demerits here from me, almost to the point that I did not even purchase this watch because of this fact.  It annoys me that much.  Even more puzzling is that the machined butterfly clasp is nicely polished and even has perlage on the inside of its small flat surfaces.  So if Ebel takes the time to add a tiny detail like this on the clasp, why can’t they add a pushbutton release?  Just doesn’t make sense to me.

The bracelet measures 22mm at the lugs and tapers to 19.7mm at the center of the clasp.  The finish is finely brushed with two polished middle links and matches perfectly the finish on the case.  The attachment of the bracelet to the case is a proprietary design and is secured with screws.  All well and good, the design works well, but precludes using any aftermarket straps.  You have to purchase a pricey Ebel leather strap if you want to go from stainless to leather.

Despite its fairly largish dimensions, the 1911 chronograph wears well and feels good on the wrist.  This is not a light watch, it has a good heft to it and a definite presence on the wrist.

Presentation is superb, a tan colored genuine leather covered box with a great feel and that real leather smell.  Kudos to Ebel for not skimping here.

The 1911 Discovery chronograph represents a true Swiss-designed and crafted watch from a watchmaker that takes pride in its job to deliver quality and style.  I would add value, as the price of admission for a COSC chronograph is quite affordable.
Pros:  COSC Swiss automatic chronograph, legible dial, superb case finish, overall great, sporty looks

Cons:  no pushbutton release on clasp, hands setting overly sensitive, proprietary bracelet/strap attachment to case precludes use of aftermarket straps

Verdict:  strong value in a COSC chronograph, solid feel, great quality, just add a pushbutton on the clasp and this watch would be almost perfect

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.



Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review of Rado Original Diastar Diver Automatic

Model # R12639163

Brand/Model:  Rado Original Diastar
Movement:  Swiss automatic
Material:  stainless steel case with tungsten-carbide bezel, stainless steel bracelet with titanium clasp
Complications:  date display
Price:  MSRP:  $1,475 USD; street price around $1,000 USD

 Plenty of photos follow the review.  Click on the pictures to enlarge.

My good WIS friend Paul has compared the Rado watch brand to the automaker Saab.  He feels that Rados are quirky, different and run to the beat of a different drum while exhibiting modern design.  As someone who owned Saabs for 30 years, I would agree, except that Rados should be compared to Saab pre-General Motors, but that is an entirely different topic and one that I won’t get into here.  Suffice it to say that a Rado watch is a unique piece of watchmaking expertise.

Prior to my acquisition of this Rado Original Diastar, I had just one Rado in my collection, a classic ‘Captain Cook’ diver from the late 60s.  A super cool watch, but one that doesn’t quite convey the quirkiness that Rado is known for.  I wanted the icon, the classic Rado, and that would be the Original Diastar, introduced in 1962, just five years after Rado was officially founded as a watchmaker in 1957, after being a boutique clockworks since 1917.  Rado has been part of the Swatch Group since 1983.

The Rado Original was billed as the world’s first scratch-proof watch and Rado has carried on this tradition ever since, producing a wide variety of scratch-proof watches and still making an incredibly varied selection of Original styles as well.

The secret to the scratch-proof characteristic of the Original is the use of what Rado calls a ‘high tech hardmetal’ bezel.  Bezel here refers to the part of the watch that surrounds the crystal, but in actuality, the hardmetal bezel on the Original caps about half the case, for a great amount of scratch-proof protection.

The hardmetal bezel is in fact tungsten-carbide, a hard metal on the order of 1400-1700 Vickers on the Vickers hardness scale.  You can visit the Rado web site for more info on how this bezel is formed at the factory and you will get an idea of just how robust it is, as well as appreciating the technology and manufacturing steps involved in achieving this unique component.

The hardmetal bezel is highly polished and due to the characteristics of tungsten-carbide, I wanted to point out a few interesting facts about it.  The bezel is signed on the left hand side and is also etched with the watch serial number near the lower lug.  The actual color of the bezel is a sort of cool, lighter gun metal grey and contrasts slightly with the stainless steel case and bracelet.  The contrast is subtle and doesn’t detract from the watch’s aesthetics.

Tungsten-carbide is also heavier than steel, and the weight of the bezel is evident when you handle the Rado Original.  I know there are watches on the market purporting to be made entirely of tungsten-carbide and while I have never handled or seen one, I would imagine the weight would be extreme.

Since the bezel is so smooth and highly polished, it is also a magnet for fingerprints, so if you own a Rado Original and caress its beautiful hardmetal bezel, be prepared to do a lot of wiping clean of the bezel to remove skin oils and fingerprints.

Lastly, due to the hardness of tungsten-carbide, this metal, while highly resistant to scratches, is also brittle and if it is struck hard enough or dropped onto a hard surface with enough impact, it can break or shatter into multiple pieces.  I have seen a picture of a Rado hardmetal bezel that was broken into several pieces.  Although I do not know the details of the impact, it illustrated the one negative aspect of this technology.  But don’t worry, in normal use, the hardmetal bezel should stand up extremely well to most abuse you can throw at it.

The Rado Original comes in three sizes, ‘S’, ‘L’ and ‘XL’ in their parlance.  The Rado Original diver adds 300 meter water resistance and a second screw down crown at the 2 position that turns the inner rotating bezel to the standard Originals features.  I love the overall look of this watch and the color combo of the dial, so that’s why I chose it.

The case on the Rado Original diver is stainless steel, with the hardmetal bezel pressed onto the top half, for a hunk of pretty serious metal.  Both parts of the case are fully polished.  The case measures 38.6mm in diameter without crown, 42.6mm crown inclusive.  Even though the bezel makes the case shape oval, it is not overly long top to bottom (46mm) and sits well on the wrist.  Case thickness is 12.6mm, bracelet width with the bracelet’s semi-integrated lugs measures 24.2mm.  I say ‘semi-integrated’ because the lugs actually pivot slightly to hug the wrist better where the bracelet hooks into the fixed center lug on the case.  I’m usually not a fan of integrated lugs, but this design works much better for me and I would refer to it as a hybrid design.

The case back is polished stainless steel, screws down and is stamped with the famous Rado ‘water sealed’ logo.  Both crowns are signed with the Rado anchor and both screw down.  I do find the main crown a bit hard to use when I wind the watch, as it’s polished and doesn’t have deep fluting, so it’s a bit hard to get a good grip on.

The dial is capped by a flat sapphire crystal without any anti-reflective coating.  Being flat, the crystal affords a clear view of the dial without any distortion.

Overall fit and finish on the Rado Original diver is excellent and is especially good when considering its relatively low price point for such a unique combination of materials.  Nicely done.

The dial is another focal point on the Original diver.  The center is a blue almost vaguely purple color surrounded by a black seconds track which in turn is surrounded by the inner rotating bezel.  The bezel is black, with the exception of the first 15 minutes, which is done in white.  The hands are done in a dark blue with white inset lume, the seconds hand is plain white (easy to see) and does not have any lume.  Lume quality is acceptable, but not super bright, partly because the lumed parts are rather small and narrow, there’s nothing big and bold with lume applied to it.

Small round applied lume dots are affixed at each five minute mark, while the bezel has corresponding rectangular lume bars, with small lume dots from the 1 to 15 minute marks and a triangular lume pip at the 12.  It’s a legible, clean and good-looking dial presentation.

A quickset date window is located at the three position, the date window being a trapezoidal shape with a white-on-black date wheel.  Minimal dial printing consists of the words ‘Rado,’ ‘Automatic’ and ‘300 M’

The final dial detail is the classic floating anchor symbol, located at the six position.  Sometimes I find myself looking at the anchor first, thinking it is the date window.  Rado places the anchor on the end of a pin so it floats or rotates with the movement of your wrist, rotating freely in any direction.  I always thought it would be cool if the anchor rotated in unison with the second hand, but alas, it does not.

Inside the Original diver beats what I am pretty sure is an ETA 2824-2 automatic movement, but I have not opened the back up to verify this and Rado does not list in detail the origin of their automatic movements.  Timekeeping has been excellent, running at +4/24 hours.  I have only seen 35 hours of power reserve, though, not the expected 42 hour minimum that an ETA automatic should produce, so there may be a slight problem with the movement in my watch, but at 35 hours, it is close enough for me not to mess with.  If it would suddenly drop to 24 hours or less, then I would rectify the situation, but for now, the watch remains as-is.

The Original diver’s bracelet is a solid link stainless steel oyster style with half-round links.  The outer links are polished, the center links are brushed.  The semi-integrated end links are solid.  The bracelet measures 24.2mm at the case and tapers to a rather slim 17.8mm at the clasp. 

The clasp is signed and polished and has a pushbutton closure that opens to one side like a standard deployant, but also has a one-third size deployant on the other side that you pull on to unhook.  When open, the clasp looks somewhat like an unequal butterfly clasp, which in essence is what it is.  The clasp is stamped titanium, which make this the third metal to be used in this watch’s construction.

There are no fine adjustments on the clasp, but the links are not too wide, so at least for me, achieving a good bracelet fit was not a problem.

Presentation is a nice, large black box that’s quite heavy and completely in keeping with a fine Swiss watch.

Overall, the Rado Original Diastar Diver is a unique watch that combines iconic modern design elements with a triumvirate of metals and Swiss quality to boot.

Pros:  unique hardmetal bezel, classic styling, Swiss automatic movement, cool dial, relatively low price point 

Cons:  hardmetal bezel a fingerprint magnet, crown hard to grip to wind watch, semi-integrated lug design precludes the use of standard straps

Verdict:  an iconic watch design that deserves a place in any collection, scratch-proof bragging rights are well-earned, strong overall value with an uncommon design mix

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.



Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review of Wenger Swiss Army Aerograph All-Black

Model # 72475

Brand/Model:  Wenger Swiss Army Aerograph
Movement:  Swiss quartz
Material:  black PVD stainless steel case, black leather strap
Complications:  wide-angle date display
Price:  MSRP:  $300 USD

Plenty of photos follow the review.  Click on the pictures to enlarge.

You’ll either love this watch or hate it!  This is the most impractical watch I have ever bought or have owned.  It’s a perfect example of function following form!  I think it’s incredibly cool and that’s why I pulled the trigger, but the cool-factor probably will wear off quickly (and it did, see my update below). 

I’ve been interested in these all-black stealth-style watches for awhile now, as Sinn, Hublot, Invicta, Swiss Legend, ORIS, Android and others all make their own versions.  The Sinn is the best in my opinion, but expensive. 

When Wenger introduced this vintage-style Aerograph all-black version a few years ago (it’s also available in orange, yellow and a few other combos), I was pretty sure I had found what I was looking for.  I had even considered trying to make my own stealth watch through modding, but locating matte black hands, a black dial and black case to put it all together isn’t as easy as it sounds, so I decided to let the Swiss do the work.

This black PVD Aerograph is all stainless steel, with a polished screwdown caseback.  The polished caseback does not detract, since it lays on your wrist and isn’t seen as you wear the watch.   The case itself is satin-finish PVD with a signed non-screw down crown.  Water resistance is rated at 100M.  Fit and finish is what you would expect from Wenger.

The case measures 41.5mm w/o the crown and is 11mm thick.  Lugs are the odd size of 21mm.  The domed crystal is mineral and makes this watch hard to photograph due to its tendency towards reflecting light.  An ant-reflective sapphire crystal would be awesome and not out of the question at the original MSRP.

Inside the Aerograph ticks a Swiss quartz movement, probably either ETA or Ronda, which has kept fine quartz time.  If it was an automatic, that would be awesome, but the watch would probably have to be larger.  Overall, the size is just about right.

The dial is black and the Arabics are a medium grey.  The large sub-seconds dial is great, but truth be told, it’s incredibly hard to see the black seconds hand!  The white-on-black wide-angle date wheel is actually easy to read and looks cool, with a small grey pointer indicating the current date.  The outer chapter ring and seconds track on the subdial are white, but this color does not detract from the all-black character of this watch.

One of the coolest features is that the hands and Arabics are actually luminescent!  See the last photo to see the green lume.  All I can say is black-colored lume is nifty because it doesn’t look like lume.

The strap is a smooth padded black leather with a signed PVD black buckle and twin keepers.  The style of the strap is nice with the folded over tabs near the lugs and exudes a quality look and feel, which is perfect for this piece.

Now for the price.  These Aerographs originally retailed for a pricey $300 USD when they first appeared a couple of years ago and since then, they have shown up at substantial discounts, presumeably because they were slow sellers.  If you can snag one for $150 USD or so, you’ve done okay.

Presentation is nothing to write home about, standard padded vinyl Wenger black box.

Overall, if you are intrigued by the stealth concept (which may be starting to wane, as it seems fewer companies are introducing them lately) this watch would be a good place to start.  It’s a quality piece that if bought right, won’t break the bank and still give you a unique watch that will definitely get some comments.

Pros:  Cool black lume hands, great dial layout, stealth looks, Swiss Army heritage, reliable Swiss quartz movement

Cons:  What the hell time is it?!? (ie:  overall practicality)

Verdict:  Black is beautiful!  Should definitely get some looks or comments, Impractical, yes, but still quite cool

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pics.




I sold this watch after about six months and since then have tried and sold at least two other all black stealth watches, which have also been reviewed on this blog.  The stealth concept is cool, but I seem to tire of it quickly.  But that still doesn’t mean that Sinn model is out of the picture!

-MCV, 12-1-11