Sunday, December 16, 2012

Review of Fortis Cosmonaut Automatic

Model # 610.10.11 M
Brand/Model:  Fortis Cosmonaut Automatic
Movement:  Swiss automatic
Material:  stainless steel case and bracelet
Complications:  day and date display
Price:  MSRP:  $1,475 USD (2009 pricing)

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

Fortis is a unique Swiss brand that is currently celebrating its 100 year anniversary as a watch maker.  They have several claims to fame including producing the world’s first automatic chronograph alarm as well as a long heritage (since 1992) of supplying European/Russian space station cosmonauts with watches that have endured the rigors of space travel on the international space station.  There are reams of information regarding the space connection on the Fortis web site.
Many of the watches Fortis makes are fairly iconic in their designs, that is, relatively simple, clean and functional pieces that could be considered tool watches to most WISes.  They also make some arty models that deviate completely from their basic mission of reliable, good looking pieces, but don’t worry, no arty-farty Fortis watches will be reviewed here.
The subject of this review is the simple, functional and great looking Cosmonaut automatic, a watch that was still a current model in the Fortis lineup as recently as 2009.  This watch represents a strong value and almost everybody that sees it thinks it is a classic.
The Cosmonaut automatic starts with a stainless steel case that measures a rather demure 39mm, but don’t worry, it wears more like a 40mm watch.  The proportions on this one are nearly perfect.  With the signed, screwdown crown included, the Cosmonaut is 42.4mm across.  The case is fully brushed and plays the part of a tool watch quite well. 

The caseback screws down and displays an embossed logo depicting the emblems of the space authorities that Fortis is associated with.  Lug width is 20mm and case thickness is 12.2mm.  Crown guards protrude from the case to protect the rather smallish crown; it is a bit hard to wind this watch due to the smaller crown.  Not a super big deal, but duly noted, as I prefer a large crown.
The dial is a perfect matte black and due to the flat sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating on both sides, it looks like there is no crystal on this watch, as the AR coating makes the crystal disappear in various light, making this watch super legible and super easy to read.  Yes! 

Whitish green hour arabics are screened onto the dial, with small lume dots on the outer edge of each arabic, small lume squares at the 3, 6, and 9 and a lume triangle at 12.  Between the hour arabics are white hash markers, with even smaller minute arabics at each five minute mark, you almost don’t realize they are there.  The hands are fully lumed in a light green, with the stick style seconds hand being orange.  The larger arabics are luminous and lume quality on everything on the dial is superb.
The dial bears the Fortis name and logo below the 12 and above the 6 resides small printing with ‘official cosmonauts’ and ‘automatic 200M’.  The day and date wheels are white on black and look great on the dial.  There is no divider between the day and date wheels, so the window is one rectangular space.  Wheel alignment is good and the day/date readout is fairly easy to read at a glance.  The day wheel is in both English and German.
As indicated on the dial and caseback, the Fortis Cosmonaut is factory rated for 200 meters (20 bar) of water resistance/pressure.
A brushed stainless steel 120-click unidirectional bezel frames the dial.  The bezel has full minute markers, with engraved arabics at each 10 minute mark and a flush inset lume triangle at the 12.  Bezel action is tight with just the slightest tad of backlash.

The Swiss automatic movement inside the Cosmonaut is the venerable ETA 2836-2 running at 28,800 vph with 25 jewels.  It has performed well in my testing.  Accuracy has been -7/24 hours with the standard power reserve of 41-1/2 hours.  The movement hacks, manually winds and runs fine, just what you expect from an ETA movement and a reliable tool watch.
The bracelet on the Cosmonaut continues with the overall tool theme of this watch.  A three-link oyster style design with solid links, non-solid end links and a signed double locking clasp with machined deployant works well.  A stamped steel diver extension folds out from the clasp.  There are four micro adjustments on the clasp.  The links are secured with screw pins and adjustment was quick and easy.  The bracelet measures 20mm at the lugs and tapers to 17.9mm at the clasp.
Presentation is a simple black padded box of faux leather, with a separate document holder inside, a presentation appropriate for this watch and price point.  No-nonsense, just like the watch.
Overall, the Fortis Cosmonaut is well worth seeking out, since it appears to have been discontinued.  There are enough of them in the marketplace that finding one shouldn’t be too hard.  This watch also comes in a blue dial, if that tickles your fancy better than the black dial.  The Cosmonaut is a great piece that fits the tool watch bill perfectly.
Pros:  near perfect dimensions, great lume, reliable Swiss engine, good fit and finish, super legible
Cons:  crown too small, entire watch might be a bit too small overall for some tool-watch aficionados
Verdict:  a superb watch from a nifty brand that has true Swiss heritage, the Fortis Cosmonaut automatic is a fine addition to any collection

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Review of Baume et Mercier Capeland Automatic Chronograph

Model # MOA10004
Brand/Model:  Baume et Mercier Capeland Automatic Chronograph
Movement:  Swiss automatic chronograph
Material:  stainless steel case, leather strap
Complications:  date display, chronograph timing in one second increments up to 12 hours
Price:  MSRP:  $4,350 USD, discounted regularly

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

This is the second Baume et Mercier (‘B&M’ for short) watch that I have purchased.  For many WISes, B&M is considered more of a fashion brand, albeit a high quality one, but the company also makes some very good and interesting sport and semi-dress watches that bear closer examination. 

The new line of Capeland chronographs from the company harkens back to a simpler time.  These watches come in a wide variety of dial colors and feature certain retro touches (the design of the chrono pushers, the simple fonts used for the dial printing, the more traditional dial colors) with the only non-retro cues being the case size (42mm) and of course, the price!
To be honest, when you first handle the Capeland chronograph, it does not really feel or look like a $4,000 USD watch.  The heft isn’t quite there (partly because there’s no bracelet) and the finer details of other watches in this price range are lacking (applied markers, more/better lume, interesting case angles), but it does grow on you rather quickly.  This watch is certainly worth in the $2,000 USD range and you can pick them up brand new at this price point, so there’s still good value to be had with this model series.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a quality watch with very nice finishing.
I think that any serious watch collection should have one copper dialed watch, because copper looks so cool as a dial color and does bring back the olden days.  Some copper-colored dials tend to be more tarnished copper in color or more brown, but the B&M Capeland nails the copper color perfectly.  It simply radiates a beautiful shade of copper and looks smashing on the wrist.
The B&M Capeland chrono starts with a beautifully polished and brushed 42mm stainless steel case.  The signed non-screwdown crown is fairly large, which makes winding easy, but it is not very thick, another nod to the retro aspects of this piece.  It looks great.  Case diameter with the crown included is 45.6mm.  More kudos for the chrono pushers; they are the somewhat larger old-fashioned type that look like plungers, with their larger heads and smaller stems.  The ends of the pushers have a rounded button-like look to them with a machined circle.  A superb look.
The caseback is held in place by six small screws.  The caseback is polished and has horizontal lines that add a bit of style, with the ‘Capeland’ wording imprinted on the caseback.  Case thickness is 15.3mm and lug width is a perfect 20mm, making the installation of aftermarket straps, if desired, easy and the selection, plentiful.
The Capeland is factory rated at a modest 50 meters of water resistance, so best not get this watch near any water at all.
The copper dial, as previously mentioned, really shines on this model.  Although everything is printed on the dial (there are no applied markers or such), it still radiates a quality aura and a look of yesteryear.  The hands are simple silver with white inset lume.  The chrono and subseconds hands are plain silver and the chrono seconds hand is silver, but tipped in red. 

The ‘tricompax’ layout of the subdials are another more traditional touch with the Capeland model series.  The subdial at 9 is the watch seconds hand, the subdial at 3 is the 30-minute chrono totalizer and the subdial at 6 is the 12-hour chrono totalizer.  Each subdial has very subtle circular patterning that adds a bit of panache, but you really have to look hard to see it.
A quickset date at 4:30 has a black on white date wheel.  To quickset the date, a small flush pusher is located at the 10 position on the upper left side of the case.  You should use a plastic pointer to set the date to avoid marring the finish on the case, just make sure you are nowhere near 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. so as not to damage the movement.  There’s no external frame for the date window, but the window is inset slightly from the dial with a chamfered edge, a small but enticing detail.  The date is pretty easy to read and alignment in the window is fine.
A black tachymeter ring (in black) and telemeter ring in kilometers (in red) form the chapter ring on the dial.   Printed hash marks for the markers and arabics complete the dial, with the exception of minimal dial printing consisting of ‘Baume & Mercier,’ ‘Geneve’ and ‘automatic.’  Nicely done, leaving the dial clean and with a fairly open feel. 

There are also no hacked off or partial arabics, which is another pet peeve of mine, so congrats to B&M for this as well.  One final accent are the red arabics at ‘60’ on each subdial.  Very subtle.  Lume is only on the hour and minute hands and there are also small lume dots at each quarter hour mark on the dial.  Lume quality is average.
The dial is covered with a domed sapphire crystal that exhibits no distortion, but has no anti-reflective on it.  Under 8X loupe examination, a clean build was noted with no dust or errant specs anywhere and the print quality of the dial was very good.  The simple fixed bezel is flush with the crystal and matches the overall look of the watch.  This was a difficult watch to photograph because the crystal picked up many reflections.
Powering the B&M Capeland chronograph is the tried and true Swiss Made Valjoux 7753 automatic movement.  This movement hacks and can be manually wound and with the exception of the quickset date pusher being located on the case side, functions pretty much the same as a Valjoux 7750. 

I have the 7753 in my Omega Speedmaster and performance between the B&M and Omega is remarkably similar, especially since the Omega is COSC rated.  The B&M ran for a respectable 54 hours on a full wind and kept time at +4 seconds/24 hours.  No complaints here.  Chrono action is good, with start, stop and reset all functioning like they should.  A strong movement as a base for a quality watch is always a nice feature to have.  And to note, I did not detect any 7750 ‘wobble’ while wearing this watch.  You will hear the rotor spin every now and then, but without any undue undulations on your wrist.
The strap on the Capeland is a nice piece of work.  It’s moderately padded and has a subtle but great looking grain to it and compliments the copper dial perfectly.  The strap is dark brown leather with white semi-coarse contrast stitching and measures 20mm at the lugs and tapers to 17.7mm at the polished and signed deployant style buckle. 

The buckle is rather interesting.  It is signed and from the outside looks like a standard tang-style buckle, but it’s actually a butterfly deployant style.  You have to tug on the strap to open the clasp (why no pushbutton?) and you also have to be careful when initially adjusting the buckle, because the tang part of the clasp is made as a hook type tang that securely seats itself into the hole on the strap and it is a bit difficult to get it snuck in properly, but once it’s in, it’s in.  And the buckle does look slick on the strap.
Presentation is a sturdy two-piece outer box on the outside with a large-ish foldover box designed to look somewhat like a book on the inside.  You undo the strap to open the inner box.  The inner box is covered in a soft dark brown faux leather and could easily be used as a portable watch carrier, given its easy open design.  An entirely acceptable package for this watch and price point.
Overall, the Baume et Mercier Capeland chronograph is a great watch.  It’s not frivolous in anyway, has the right amount of retro-ness and oozes tons of style and panache without being swishy or overly fashion conscious.  In a word, superb.
Pros:  great copper dial, reliable and accurate Swiss engine, nice retro touches without going overboard, good looking strap
Cons:  could use a bit more lume in spots, no pushbutton release on the clasp, somewhat fussy clasp to adjust initially, pusher to set date could be a turnoff for some
Verdict:  buy this one for looks, dial color, chronograph functions or even the name, but buy it because it gets the job done and does so with style and an understated elegance that many watches lack these days

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Review of Magrette Moana Pacific Chronograph PVD

Model # Moana Pacific Chronograph PVD

Brand/Model:  Magrette Moana Pacific Chronograph PVD, Limited Edition of 1000 pieces
Movement:  Chinese manual wind chronograph
Material:  PVD coated stainless steel case, leather strap
Complications:  chronograph timing in one second increments up to 30 minutes
Price:  $545 USD direct from Magrette; $30 USD shipping

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

This is the second Magrette watch I have owned and reviewed, the first being the Magrette Moana Pacific PVD diver I talked about last year.  This Moana Pacific Chronograph intrigued me because of its fairly original design and strong feature set. 

This model is a Limited Edition as are all Magrette watches.  This model is limited to 1000 pieces.  I pre-ordered this watch via Magrette’s web site (the only way to get a new Magrette) over the summer and took delivery in late September.  Communication during the wait period was good and shipping from New Zealand to the U.S. took about five days, so no complaints here.  The watch arrived in perfect condition.
The Moana Pacific Chronograph PVD starts with a brushed and polished PVD coated stainless steel case that measures 43.5mm without the large, signed screwdown crown.  With the crown, it’s 47.7mm across.  Large, yes, but surprisingly, not too unwieldy on the wrist.  Thickness is 15.5mm, lugs are 24mm. 

The caseback is polished stainless steel, that screws down and displays the nicely finished manual wind column wheel chronograph movement.  Why the caseback is not PVD like the rest of the watch is a mystery, because even though you really can’t see the caseback while you’re wearing the watch, it still seems jarring to have an all black watch case with a silver caseback.
The chronograph pushers also screw down, as they should on a watch that is rated at 500 meters of water resistance.
The application of the PVD is excellent, being evenly applied in all areas and the way parts are brushed (matte) and polished (glossy) is nice to look at, although the polished parts are a bit of a fingerprint magnet.
The dial on the Moana Pacific chronograph is black, with raised markers and arabics.  The layout is classic two-register chronograph, with a subdial at 3 and another subdial at 9. 

The oversized arabics and the zero in front of the single digits are a Magrette design trademark.  There are so many watches on the market these days with oversized arabics, either all over the dial or at certain positions that look, quite frankly, stupid.  But the way Magrette does their two large arabics gives their watches a modern, clean and cool look.  Especially on a larger watch like this, the design of the larger arabics works well.
The hour and minute hands are black with inset lume.  The black end tips of the hands tend to get lost in the black of the dial, not a huge distraction, but something to be aware of.  The markers and arabics are luminous, along with the hour and minute hands and chronograph/seconds hands in the subdials.  Unlike the Magrette watch I reviewed last year, the lume on the Moana Pacific Chronograph is C3 SuperLuminova and is outstanding, like it should be. 
The subdial at the 3 position is the 30-minute totalizer for the chronograph and the subdial at the 9 position is the watch seconds hand.  The chronograph second hand is a thin black hand with a lume tip.  This hand is really too small and tends to get lost in the dial as it rotates.  It needs an arrow tip or a wider stance to work better.
The chapter ring has arabics at each five minute mark, with hash marks between the arabics.  The arabics at each quarter hour are red, as is the inverted arrow at the 12 position.  The red makes a subtle but nice accent.
Regular readers will know that I am not a fan of excessive dial printing and thankfully, Magrette complies here, with just ‘Magrette’ and ‘chronograph’ appearing on the dial.  Nicely done!
The dial is capped with a double domed sapphire crystal with anti reflective coating.  The crystal fits flush with the edge of the bezel.  And speaking of the bezel, this is another feature that attracted me to this watch.  Ceramic bezels are all the rage these days, with Rolex and Omega leading the charge and seemingly every other watch company coming out with a ceramic bezel of their own.  Just so you know, the ceramic part is really just a thin insert that replaces a traditional steel or aluminum bezel insert.  
The ceramic bezel on the Moana Pacific Chronograph is polished and has engraved arabics at each quarter hour, minute marks for the first 15 minutes and markers every five minutes thereafter.  The bezel does look very cool, but is a bit hard to read due to little contrast between the polished and engraved parts and the only lume being a lume pip at the 12 position. 

Bezel action is a 60-click unidirectional type.  The bezel rotates smoothly, but alignment could be better, as it is just ever so slightly off at the top.  This seems odd, seeing that Magrette watches always seem to exhibit very good fit and finish.  Not a major distraction, but improvement is needed here.
Inside the Moana Pacific Chronograph is the Chinese made Seagull TY-2901/ST1901 manual wind column wheel chronograph movement.  This is the Chinese copy of the Venus 175 movement.  I had this movement in an Invicta several years back and found it to be a high quality unit.  My feelings remain with this movement in the Magrette.  It winds smoothly, runs great and the chronograph functions are crisp and accurate.  And the movement is superbly decorated, with blued screws, Geneva stripes and polished parts abounding, so it’s no wonder Magrette chose to install a display back on this watch.
In testing, my Moana Pacific Chronograph ran about -2 seconds/24 hours; it’s a bit hard to time since the movement does not hack, but timekeeping has been excellent.  Power reserve is equally strong, with 51-1/2 hours on a full wind.  I believe that this movement is one of the best movements coming out of China at this time, too bad it’s quite large, because something like this in a 42mm or smaller watch would be super cool.
Magrette gives buyers a choice of straps when they order their Moana Pacific Chronograph PVD, ranging from black leather with black stitch, black leather with red stitch, rubber or the chocolate brown leather shown here.  The dark brown with the black PVD is a smashing combination.  The strap is well constructed, measuring 24mm at the lugs and tapering to 22mm at the brushed PVD buckle.  There are two large keepers, both floating.  If you have a smaller wrist like I do, you may want to consider removing one of the keepers to make the watch less fussy while wearing.  
The strap is rather thick, but flexible and has larger coarse style stitching in a slightly lighter shade of brown.  The lugs are drilled to make strap changes easier.
Even though this is a large watch with a wide strap, it wears well on my 6-3/4” wrist.  The keepers are a bit large, but otherwise, the watch is a looker.  Just remember to unscrew the chrono pushers before using them and to lock them back down if you plan on getting the watch wet.
Presentation is Magrette unique, with the watch coming in a cloth/canvas roll placed inside a simple slide-top wooden box emblazoned with the Magrette logo.  The warranty paperwork is hand signed by Dion Wynyard McAsey (founder of Magrette), adding a bit of personalization to this timepiece.
Overall, the Magrette Moana Pacific Chronograph PVD is not a watch everyone will have, so if being exclusive is something that appeals to you, this could be the watch for you.  It’s quite large and in-charge and will garner looks because of its bold black case and unique dial layout.  Quality is pretty much first rate and while the price may seem a bit steep for a Chinese movement based watch, the feature set and limited edition nature of this watch compensate somewhat for the origin of the movement.
Pros:  nifty black PVD finish, classic two-register chronograph layout, great lume, nice dark brown strap, ceramic bezel looks cool
Cons:  why the silver caseback on an otherwise black watch?  bezel could align better, large size won’t suit all comers
Verdict:  unique, quality piece from a boutique watchmaker that strives to deliver originality and value.  You can’t really go wrong with the Magrette Moana Pacific Chronograph PVD if you want a large two-register chrono in your collection

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.