Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review of Girard Perregaux Sea Hawk II Pro

Model # 49941-21-631-HDBA

Brand/Model:  Girard Perregaux Sea Hawk II Pro
Movement:  Swiss automatic (in-house)
Material:  titanium case, leather strap
Complications:  date display, power reserve indicator
Price:  MSRP:  $9,800 USD; can be found regularly at discounted prices


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

If you like ‘tool’ watches, dive watches that can go to ridiculous death-defying depths or just a watch that you won’t see on every other WIS, the Girard Perregaux Sea Hawk is for you.  The Sea Hawk line dates back to the 1940s (out of 220 years of watch-making experience from the house of Girard Perregaux-‘GP’ for short), when water resistance was something new to watches.  According to GP’s web site, the Sea Hawk line evolved into a specific line of dive watches during the 60s and 70s and into the current iteration we have today, on market since 2002 in a variety of styles.

The Sea Hawk is currently available in both 1000 meter and 3000 meter versions, with rubber or leather straps, stainless steel or titanium construction and slightly different dial configurations, with either a subdial seconds hand or center seconds hand, all depending on which model you choose.  For this review, the ‘big daddy’ of the Sea Hawk line takes center stage, the 3000 meter, titanium cased monster. 

Since this watch is rated at an unbelievable 3000 meters of water resistance, the case is titanium, because if it was stainless steel, it would weigh too much for most people to tolerate strapped to their wrist, although GP does make one model of the 3000 meter Sea Hawk with a titanium case and pink gold bezel.

The case is brushed and polished titanium (the look of polished titanium is nifty), measuring about 44mm without the crown and 50.3mm crown inclusive.  GP defines the case shape as ‘generously sized’ which could be looked at as an understatement, but in reality, this watch is not as big, bulky or clown-sized as you might think.  The crown guard is referred to as ‘ergonomic’ and gently flairs out from the case at the top of the crown and utilizes the lower right hand lug to protect the other side of the crown, a pretty slick setup.

One thing that initially made me consider if I should even get this watch is its massive case thickness, which is an honest 20.1mm thick.  But, and I emphasize this, it is not 20.1mm at all points on the case, as the case back is convex and the case lugs do turn down fairly sharply to hug the wrist, so the Sea Hawk is not the top-heavy beast you might think it is. 

The impressive thickness is of course a result of the Sea Hawk’s super deep water resistance rating, and the case back and crystal are each on the order of 5mm thick.

The 5mm thick case back is screw down of course, convex as just mentioned and is brushed, with a polished embossed sea serpent logo in the center, just class all the way. 

The sapphire crystal is very slightly domed and anti-reflective treated but does not exhibit any distortion or weird bending of light due to its thickness.  Quality through and through.

The case on the Sea Hawk also has not one, but two automatic helium escape valves (HEV).  The debate rages as to the actual functionality of an HEV, but since you’ve got one of the deepest diving watches around in the Sea Hawk, you’ve also got bragging rights on the most HEVs.  One HEV is at the 9 o’clock position on the case side, the other is located between the 10 and 15 minute mark on the right hand case side.  They both fit flush and are unobtrusive.

The bezel is a heavily notched polished and brushed affair crafted of solid titanium, with polished raised numbers and a lume pip at the 12.  A 120-click unidirectional unit, the bezel turns easily (almost too easy?) and compliments the lines of the case perfectly.

The case lugs are 22mm, but due to the size and shape of the case, they appear smaller.  The tops of the lugs are polished and set off the rest of the case beautifully.  GP really got the style down on the Sea Hawk, as it’s a true diver rugged down to the last meter of water resistance but has style and showmanship as well.  Nicely done.

The crown is signed and screws down, with deep fluting for an easy grip.  The crown itself is 8mm in diameter.

Inside the Sea Hawk is GP’s in-house caliber GP033R0 automatic movement.  Beating at 28,800 vph, this is either a 26 or 27-jewel movement (GP lists both for this caliber).  Stated specs are a 46 hour minimum power reserve.  In testing, my Sea Hawk achieved a fine 50.25 hour power reserve, running at +4 seconds over 24 hours.  The power reserve indicator I am happy to report is also very accurate in showing the amount of running time remaining.

GP uses this movement in a variety of its watches and it also appears in a number of Jean Richard models as well, as JR is a sub-brand of GP.  The movement was designed to be a platform movement, which means it is used as a base that many complications can be added to in the form of micro-modules.  The modules sit on the dial side of the main plate, which accounts for the deep date aperture, as the more modules, the deeper the opening.  The neat thing about this design is that the movement has been designed from the start to accept these modules as opposed to a DD chrono module being added on top of an ETA movement.  Thanks to my WIS friend Paul for this lucid description of the GP movement.

The dial on the Sea Hawk is a deep black with sort of a matte slightly speckled finish.  All the markers are screened on in Super Luminova.  The hands are very legible, but not too big, with the hour hand an arrow type and the minute hand a broad sword style.  The second hand has a rectangular end with a small red tip on it.  All the hands are white and are generously applied with Super Luminova and needless to say, the lume is nuclear on this watch.  Probably the best or in the top three of any watch on the market.  Superb!  Even the power reserve hand is lumed.

The quickset date is located at a rather odd position between the 5 and 10 minute marks and due to its depth, is a bit hard to read at times.  The date wheel is black on white.  The power reserve meter is located in the lower half of the dial, with clear markings showing the reserve, ‘up’ being all the way to the right and ‘down’ in the red section on the left.  I’ve always liked a power reserve indicator on an automatic as I think it is a very useful complication and when it’s as accurate as the one on the Sea Hawk, all the better.

Now, you may be wondering, why in the hell GP would outfit this model of the Sea Hawk with a leather strap, a strap that is not marked ‘waterproof’ or ‘water resistant’ anywhere.  I have my theories, but I look at it this way.  How many people are really going to get this watch wet?  Not me.  If you were to get it wet, you’d switch to a rubber strap that GP equips other models of the Sea Hawk with.  The leather strap is for everyday, landlubber wear and not for diving duty, which is fine with me, as I love the look of a big diver on a leather strap.

The strap is smooth medium brown leather, not padded and reasonably thick with a single fixed keeper.  It has slightly off white contrast stitching and measures 22mm at the lugs and tapering to about 18.5mm at the clasp.  A fairly severe taper for a watch this size, it probably would have looked a bit better to taper to 20mm instead.  The strap is nice, but not in keeping with the price point on this watch, it would be expected to have a more supple, smoother leather, but again, it is a tool watch.

The clasp and deployant are satin finished stainless steel and they actually appear rather dainty compared to the rest of the watch.  No pushbutton release, just a friction release (which doesn’t hold all that tight, either).  The deployant is machined and signed, but is rather thin.  Demerits from me here.  You’ve got a big hefty case and a more finely crafted clasp.  Doesn’t jive.

Presentation is impressive, with a large cardboard outer box, faux suede/leather covered inner box with a GP medallion on the top and a separate folded cardboard document holder.  A weighty package indeed.

Overall, the GP Sea Hawk II Pro is arguably the ultimate dive watch.  Deep, deep water resistance, true Swiss tradition in watchmaking, a look like none other and a price to match.  Remember, I said arguably, so if you disagree, that’s fine.  The Sea Hawk is a tool watch to be sure but one with style and a bit of panache, too.  You certainly couldn’t go wrong with it.

Pros:  3000 meter water resistance rating, titanium construction, power reserve indicator, in-house movement, great looks 

Cons:  in-house movement (service can get expensive), dainty clasp compared to rest of watch, leather strap will bother some that expect rubber, price of entry, deep date window a bit hard to read

Verdict:  just for the bragging rights, this watch is worth it.  Well executed, works both as a daily wearer or occasional watch, high quality with true Swiss heritage.  The Sea Hawk is a winner.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.



Monday, November 28, 2011

Review of Tag Heuer Monaco Chronograph “Steve McQueen”

Model # CW2113-0

Brand/Model:  Tag Heuer Monaco Chronograph
Movement:  Swiss automatic chronograph
Material:  stainless steel case and bracelet
Complications:  date display, chronograph timing in one second increments up to 30 minutes (factory states 1/8 second increments, but in reality, one second is more like it)
Price:  MSRP:  around $4,000 USD



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

There are plenty of iconic watches around in the 21st century (Rolex Submariner, Omega Seamaster, Zenith El Primero just to name a few) and the Tag Heuer Monaco chronograph is another watch that fits this moniker perfectly.  This model was made famous in 1970 when Steve McQueen wore it during the film ‘LeMans.’  And the rest, as they say, is history.  The Monaco chronograph reviewed here is the second most recent iteration of this classic watch and I feel it bears more resemblance and authenticity to the original versus the latest version.  Let me explain.

The newest version of the Monaco chronograph features a slightly larger case (by about 1mm width and height), a sapphire crystal, a display caseback, more dial printing and higher water resistance.  While these are all nice features and add more value to the watch, these features were not on the original. 

The newest version also has a slightly fancier movement with more decoration (55-jewel Caliber 12), but is still a bi-compax chrono module design.  I could go on and on about all the differences, how the watch has evolved over the years, etc., but it would be too laborious and not terribly exciting unless you have a fetish for Swiss automatic movements.  Suffice to say that the Monaco is a classic and that you should buy one at some point.

Another nice thing about the Monaco series is that it comes in a variety of styles, both chronograph and non-chrono versions, in different color dials, straps, etc. plus models for the lady in your life as well.  The limited edition Gulf model from a few years back is super cool if you can find one.

My Monaco has a base ETA 2892 movement with the Dubois Depraz chrono module for a total of 37 jewels, called the Caliber 17 by Tag Heuer (ETA 2894-2 in ETA’s parlance), and none of the other features just mentioned on the newest version.  The slightly smaller case size, the plastic/plexi crystal, modest water resistance and solid caseback harkens back to the originality this model possessed in 1970.  Don’t get me wrong, either version of the Monaco is superb, but I do like mine better.

Measuring 38mm square, the Monaco is a near perfect size in this age of overly large timepieces.  A square watch usually wears bigger than a round watch of the same size, but the Monaco does not wear large, it just sort of plants itself on the wrist in the perfect spot for admiring glances from WISes and civilians alike.  It’s a great fit.  Lugs are 22mm, case thickness is 12.9mm.  I got mine on the stainless steel bracelet for a couple of reasons, although this does not jive with my penchant for the 1970s version, as that one came on a strap. 

If I have the choice between buying a particular model watch on a bracelet or strap, I prefer to buy a watch with its OEM bracelet (if offered as such) because it is always easier to take off the bracelet if I decide I don’t like it and get the OEM strap or a high-quality aftermarket strap, whereas getting an OEM bracelet can be very expensive (the Monaco bracelet goes for around $500 USD).  Oftentimes, the cost difference between the strap version and the bracelet version of a watch is much less than having to buy the bracelet separately afterwards.  And aftermarket bracelets just don’t do it for most watches and you’ll most likely have problems fitting the end links to the case with an aftermarket bracelet.

The Monaco’s stainless steel case is brushed and polished and has great angles and thicker lugs that compliment its square shape.  The caseback is also brushed and polished stainless steel and is secured by four small screws.  The Tag Heuer logo is engraved on the caseback along with the word ‘Monaco.’  The quality of the case finishing is top notch, with beautifully smooth brushed surfaces and an overall good heft and feel.

The bracelet is a relatively simple seven-link design that has brushed and polished features, with a signed pushbutton clasp with signed machined deployant.  There are no micro-adjustment holes on the clasp due to its design, but the bracelet links are narrow enough (almost half-link in size) that a good fit should be fairly easy to achieve.  The narrower links and their multi-piece design also give the bracelet more wrist-hugging capability for a better fit.

The end links are solid and there is almost no taper to the bracelet, it measures 22mm from the lugs to 21.4mm at the clasp.  I like the look of the bracelet on the Monaco, while others may prefer the strap versions.  You can also argue that this watch screams for a rally-style strap, which I will agree with.

The crown is signed with the Tag Heuer logo and does not screwdown.  The watch is factory rated at a rather modest 30M water resistance.

The square crystal is plastic/plexi and has a mild curvature to it with slightly beveled edges.  So far it has remained scratch free even though it protrudes above the case by a millimeter or so.  I baby my watches and don’t wear them often enough to get much in the way of wear on them, so I’m probably not the best spokesperson for those who tend to scratch their crystals.  I could see the advantage of the sapphire crystal on the newest model, as I’m generally not a big fan of plastic or acrylic crystals, but on this watch, the plastic works for me and adds to the retro feel.

The dial is a stunning shade of blue with silver hands with inset lume.  Lume quality is very good, as it should be at this price point.  The quickset date display is at the bottom of the dial at the six position.  The date window is not large by any means and sometimes the date numerals seem to just fit inside the opening. 

Simple silver markers are applied around the dial, except at the quarter hours, where small lume dots are found, with a double lume dot at the 12.  The white chronograph subdials are square and are fairly easy to read, due to their slightly larger size and vivid red hands.  The subdial on the right is the watch seconds hand, while the left subdial is the chronograph’s 30-minute totalizer.  A red center seconds hand is the chrono’s second hand.  The chrono pushers are rectangular and have a great look and feel, as they have a firm, audible click to start, stop and reset the chronograph.

The Caliber 17 movement can be manually wound and hacked and during testing, it turned in a fine 48 hour power reserve with exceptional accuracy, running less than +2 seconds per day and at times since, even zero seconds per day.  Impressive! 
Presentation is standard Tag Heuer, with a black leatherette inner box and black cardboard outer box, with a leatherette document holder.

Overall, the Tag Heuer Monaco is an icon among Swiss chronographs and if you like icons, racing, Steve McQueen, square shaped watches or just a quality, cool looking watch, the Monaco will fill the bill for you.  Recommended in every way.

Pros:  iconic watch, classic style, Swiss quality, perfect execution of design

Cons:  plastic/plexi crystal on older models a detriment for some, modest water resistance on older models, pricey

Verdict:  I keep saying it, but it’s an icon, a classic and a damn good watch!

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.