Sunday, January 29, 2012

Review of Seiko 5 Sports Automatic

Model # SNZJ55

Brand/Model:  Seiko 5 Sports
Movement:  Japanese automatic
Material:  stainless steel case and bracelet (photos for this review show the watch on an aftermarket leather strap)
Complications:  day/date display
Price:  MSRP:  $300 USD; Street Price:  $155 USD

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

Seiko has a huge line of their venerable Seiko ‘5’ models as well as an extensive range of more deluxe Seiko 5 ‘Sports’ watches.  The Seiko 5 Sports pieces tend to be larger, have more complex case designs and other tweaks that fit with their higher prices.  But that being said, most of the Sports models are still quite affordable and represent a good overall value.

This brown-dialed Seiko 5 Sports kind of appeared out of nowhere.  Several months ago, I was browsing Seikos online and noticed this particular piece and since I didn’t currently have a brown dial in the collection, I was intrigued.  The orange accents and overall look of this watch sat well with me and that’s why it’s now in the collection.

This watch comes standard on a stainless steel bracelet, with the pushbutton, double locking clasp that seems to be omnipresent across most Seiko models.  The bracelet appears to be a solid link design, but upon closer examination, it is and it isn’t.  It’s one of those Seiko designs that actually is a folded link bracelet, but the links are one solid piece that gets folded over under great pressure and then polished on the edges, so all that is seen is a faint line where the fold is.  This works pretty well in most instances, but why they just don’t use real unfolded solid links is beyond me.

Anyways, I felt a tan leather strap would look perfect on this watch and that’s what I got, an aftermarket honey-brown perforated leather strap that compliments the watch to perfection.  All the photos in this review show the watch on the aftermarket strap that I installed.

This Seiko 5 Sports starts with a nicely finished all stainless steel case that is fully polished on the sides, with the tops of the lugs being brushed, along with a brushed fixed bezel with knurled edge.  The case measures 41.8mm without any of the crowns, 47mm with either of the two crowns included.  Both crowns are knurled and signed with the iconic Seiko ‘5’ logo and neither crown screws down.

The caseback is a screw down display type that is polished stainless steel, with printing on both the stainless steel outer edge and on the mineral crystal display back.  Case thickness is a rather thin 12mm; lug width is 22mm.

The watch is factory rated for 100 meters of water resistance.

The dial on this Seiko 5 Sports is a very pleasing shade of brown, sort of copper-like in some light, but more like tarnished copper.  It looks classy.  The inner rotating bezel is controlled by the crown at the 9 position.  The inner bezel itself is a darker brown color, with orange numbers and markers for the first 15 minutes, with white numbers and markers for the remainder of the hour.  An orange inverted triangle marks the bezel’s 12 o’clock position.

A note about the inner rotating bezel.  The crown that controls the bezel has no resistance to it whatsoever, it spins almost entirely on its own.  This causes the bezel to creep around the dial as you wear the watch, which can be very annoying, at least to me. 

This design flaw has been mentioned by other owners of this model.  Other than living with this flaw, I have wound some strings of elastic around the crown stem between the bottom of the crown and the case side.  The elastic is springy enough not to compress too much and has definitely added some friction to the crown, which is what is needed to prevent the creep of the bezel.  It also springs back enough so it hides itself completely under the crown, so you can’t see the elastic while wearing the watch.  Kudos to my watch friend Paul for suggesting this nifty fix.

Some owners have resorted to using dental floss, but with a resulting ugly tied end hanging out of the crown, which is totally unacceptable to me.  The elastic seems to be the fix of choice.  But here’s an even better idea.  Why doesn’t Seiko either make the crown screw down, so it locks the bezel into position or design the mechanism so it has enough internal friction on its own to prevent the bezel creep?    Or relocate the bezel crown so it doesn’t sit flat on your arm, where it easily contacts your arm and causes the creep.  I know it all has to do with cost, but this is a serious enough design flaw in my opinion to keep some people from purchasing this watch.  Seiko, are you listening?

Also, the location of the bezel crown at the 9 position on the case makes the case appear pretty large and somewhat unwieldy on the wrist, given that there is also the main watch crown on the other side of the case at the 4 position.  With the crown guards on both of these crowns adding additional visual bulk to the case, the look is at times unbalanced and ungainly.  Why not put the bezel crown on the right side at the 2 position, that would make more sense to me and also help eliminate the bezel creep previously discussed.

Now, back to the dial.  There are small white printed arabics on the dial at each five minute mark, with white hash marks between the numbers.  A larger applied marker is found at the 6, 9 and 12 positions, with inset lume.  The Seiko name appears at the top of the dial, with an applied ‘5’ logo and the wording ‘Sports’ directly below it.  At the six position, the wording ‘automatic’, ’23 jewels’ and ‘100M’ appear on the dial.  The dial is capped with a flat Seiko ‘hardlex’ mineral crystal.

The hour hand is white and infilled with Seiko’s Lumibrite luminous material.  The minute hand is orange and filled with Lumibrite.  The seconds hand is black with an infilled orange arrow tip.  This color scheme gives a bit of diver watch panache to this piece, even though this watch is not diver material.  Lume quality is very good, as is to be expected with Lumibrite.

The crown at the 4 position is used to set the time and adjust the quickset day and date display at the 3 position.  The day/date window is framed with a silver bezel, with the wheels being white on black for a cooler look.  The day wheel is bilingual, in both English and Spanish.  Alignment of the wheels within the window aperture is fairly spot on, as this can be a point of contention with Seiko 5s from time to time.  Overall fit and finish on this model is very good.

Inside this Seiko 5 Sports is the tried and true 7S36B automatic movement with 23 jewels and no handwinding or hacking capability.  While Seiko has brought out a hacking and handwind movement in some of their lesser priced models, it would be nice if they jumped on the bandwagon with Orient and Citizen (Miyota), both of which are including hack/handwind movements in a variety of pieces these days, more so than Seiko.

The 7S36 is nothing special to look at, but it should run for years.  Timekeeping has been fine, but since it doesn’t hack, I have not attempted to measure its daily variance.  Suffice it to say that it performs like a Seiko 5 should.

I’ve already discussed the bracelet on this model.  I am very pleased with the aftermarket strap I installed on this Seiko 5 Sports and it really makes this watch a pleasure to wear.  It’s a great weekend casual watch and is also something that should get some attention in a crowd with its unique brown dial and orange accents.  Overall, despite the bezel creep issue, this Seiko 5 Sports is a winner.

Pros:  nifty brown dial with orange accents, nicely finished especially for the price point, reliable automatic movement 

Cons:  no friction on bezel crown causes bezel to creep while watch is worn, no hacking or handwind capability, semi-solid bracelet is a head-scratcher

Verdict:  a unique look for a decent watch in the Seiko 5 Sports range, low entry price, looks better with an aftermarket strap 

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.



Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review of Momo Design Pilot Series Automatic

Model # MD097-RB-01BK

Brand/Model:  Momo Design Automatic Pilot Series
Movement:  Swiss automatic
Material:  satin finish stainless steel with black ion-plate stainless steel bezel; rubber strap
Complications:  date display
Price:  MSRP:  $1,995 USD; Street Price:  $500 to $900 USD

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

Momo Design is similar to the Porsche Design studio.  Two well-known and well-regarded companies that design various items on contract for retail sale around the world.  Momo is perhaps best known for accessory steering wheels for cars, but has branched out into alloy wheels for cars, tuning accessories, racing equipment and the like.

Regarding watches, the Momo Design studio has quite a range of both quartz and automatic timepieces that exemplify the Momo Design credo; that would be modern, clean designs that are stylish, functional and unique.

I have been interested in acquiring a Momo Design watch for quite some time and when this Pilot Series automatic came along at the right price, I took the proverbial plunge and emerged with this piece in my hot little hands.  I don’t know who assembles these watches for Momo Design, the movement is Swiss, but the watch is marked ‘Made in Italy.’  Fit and finish is top-notch.

This Momo Design automatic appealed to me because of its square shape and super clean, modern appearance.  The case measures 40mm square around the bezel without the slim, signed screwdown crown (43.4mm across crown inclusive) and 44mm in height from the inside of the lugs (51mm lug tip to lug tip).  Thickness is 13.5mm.

The case is beautifully crafted in satin finish stainless steel that looks similar to titanium, with its light grey tone.  The square bezel is black ion-plated stainless steel, as is the crown.  The caseback is held in place by four fine screws and is a display type, showing off the workings of the Swiss ETA automatic movement with Momo-signed rotor.  The watch sports a modest water resistance rating of just 50 meters, so swimming is not advised with this piece.

The dial is a great flat black color and is highly legible due to minimal printing and great contrast.  The word ‘automatico’ is a great and cool touch.

The dial has a square raised chapter ring that has the markers and arabics on it, spaced at five minute increments, with arabics at 12, 3, 6 and 9.  On the side of the chapter ring, there are small arabics marking each five minute increment (05, 10, etc.)  On the dial itself, there are screened minute marks, with larger marks at each five minute mark.  This layout may sound busy, but trust me, it is not and makes this watch a pleasure to look at.

The hands are silver with red tips, with two-pieces of inset lume in each hand.  The seconds hand is red.  The quickset date window at the 3 position features a fairly small frameless window with a black on white date wheel. 

The hour and minute hands, along with the arabics and markers on the top side of the chapter ring and the markers on the dial are all luminous.  Lume quality is superb and looks super cool.

The dial is protected by a slightly curved sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating on it.  The crystal does have some of the anti-reflective purple tint to it and is a fingerprint magnet.  This is unfortunate because the satin finish case hides fingerprints.  The crystal is beveled slightly on the edge and is fit into the case evenly.  Due to the curvature of the crystal and the anti-reflective coating, it is hard to get a clean dial photograph of this watch.

Inside this Momo Design automatic is the ubiquitous Swiss ETA 2824-2 25-jewel automatic movement that hacks and manually winds.  Performance has been very good, achieving 41-3/4 hours power reserve and a superb +1 second/24 hours timekeeping stat.  The watch winds, sets and runs perfectly.  The crown is rather thin, but has plenty of fluting on it for an easy grip.  It screws down smoothly and is signed with the Momo logo.

While I’m not a fan of rubber straps, the rubber strap on this Momo Design Pilot Series is in keeping with the overall svelte design of the watch.  The strap is thin, flexible and smooth, with mild grooves on the topside and is tastefully signed on both sides.  The strap fits in perfectly flush at the lugs for an integrated look and feel. 

The clasp is satin finish stainless steel and is a butterfly design with a machined deployant.  The free end of the strap is held in place by the stainless keeper on the clasp and by the single floating keeper on the strap.  The stainless keeper is signed.

This clasp does not have a pushbutton release on it and this is usually a bone of contention with me.  But since there is a free end of the strap to grab onto and pull gently, the clasp is easy to open, so I give this one a pass.  The strap is 22mm at the lugs and tapers to 19.8mm at the clasp.

A note about the strap…I tried to fit a leather strap on this watch and due to the placement of the springbar holes (fairly far towards the case on the inside of the lugs) and the rounded inside corners of the lugs where they meet the case, I was unable to do so.  I’m sure you could find a leather strap somewhere that would fit, but in most cases, you will probably not be able to replace the leather strap with something else.  I have learned to live with the rubber and being the only watch in my collection with a rubber strap, I actually enjoy this one.

Presentation is nice, with a large black cardboard outer box with removable signed lid and a reasonably impressive inner box made of matte black plastic with chromed plastic hinges, signed on the top with a plastic embossed ‘Momo Design’ inset.  It all feels a bit too plasticky, but is still a presentable design.

The Momo Design Pilot Series automatic comes in several different variations using the same case shape (chronograph, skeleton dial, etc.)  This watch presents itself well, features top-quality fit and finish and has a timeless, clean design that will never go out of style.  If Euro-chic is your thing or you just like a clean, easy-to-read well-made watch that has a look all its own, this Momo Design automatic is definitely worth a look.

Pros:  clean, sleek design, great quality, square shape has style, Swiss automatic engine 

Cons:  no pushbutton release on clasp, due to case design, hard to fit aftermarket straps, modest water resistance rating

Verdict:  a cool, clean and comfortable watch with Italian panache and Swiss practicality.  You won’t see this one every day and it will still look great 20 years from now.  Bellissimo!

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.



Thursday, January 5, 2012

Review of H3 Tactical Field Ops

Model # H3.202351.09

Brand/Model:  H3 Tactical Field Ops
Movement:  Swiss quartz
Material:  black ion-plate stainless steel case, ‘digital camo’ print leather strap
Complications:  date display
Price:  MSRP:  $360 USD; Street Price:  $159 to $270 USD


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

I really don’t know very much about the H3 brand of watches other than that they contain Swiss movements and are made with tritium tube technology from MB Microtec of Switzerland.  The company claims to be the supplier of watches to the Swiss Army.  Tritium tubes continuously glow without needing any light to activate them and have a claimed useful life of 20 years or so.  Sometimes tritium tubes are referred to as a ‘permanent self-activated illumination system.’ 

This is the fifth tritium tube watch I have owned.  If you’re not familiar with this technology, it is handy to have in some circumstances (like being in a movie theater), but I tend to look at them as still being kind of gimmicky.  The glow is not nearly as bright as super luminova or similar applied glow-in-the-dark coatings.  The tritium tube glow is softer, which can be both a positive or negative, depending on the situation.

One nice thing about tritium tubes are the colors they are now available in, mainly green, orange and blue (plus others), which can all be used on watches and can add some interesting contrasts to a watch dial.  Another bit of information to know about tritium tube watches, since the tubes themselves are thicker when compared to standard watch hands with super luminova, the dials have to be set deeper into the case, especially if all three hands (or more) are equipped with a tritium tube.  A deeper dial is something not all people will appreciate.  It could also potentially make the watch case thicker, again, depending on how many tritium tubes are used in a particular watch’s construction.  There are also new flat tritium tubes being used by some watch companies which should make the dials less deep.

This H3 Tactical starts with a brushed stainless steel case that is black ion plated for a smooth, cool look.  The ion plate is evenly applied and so far has held up to abuse. 

The case measures 42mm without the screwdown crown, 45.7mm crown inclusive.  The case back is standard brushed stainless steel (not ion plated) and screws down.  Case thickness is 13.1mm, lug width is a nice standard 20mm, which makes it easier to find suitable replacement straps, which you may want to do to replace the rather garish ‘digital camo’ print overly thick leather strap that comes standard with this H3 model.

What drew me to this particular watch was its unique yellow-toned dial that is sort of yellow, but sort of tan, beige or khaki at times, too.  It was hard to photograph and the true yellowish tone of the dial didn’t really come through in the photos. 

The dial has printed black arabics from 01 to 12, with a smaller 13-24 hour military time inner track.  There are 12 horizontally installed tritium tubes on the outside of each arabic, the one at 12 is orange, the rest around the dial are green.

The hands are black with wide arrow pointer ends, the hour and minute hands both have one green tritium tube installed along with standard luminous material applied to the arrow ends.  The seconds hand is orange with an open arrow tip.  There are orange vertical hash marks between each five minute arabic, but due to the size of the horizontally installed tritium tubes, there are only two hash marks between each arabic and none at the bottom of the dial from the 05 to 07 markers, due to printing at the bottom edge of the dial.  It would be a bit hard to use this watch for various counting purposes due to this design.

The quickset date is located at 3 and has a white on black datewheel.  A flat sapphire crystal covers the dial and is surrounded by a black 120-click unidirectional bezel with a simple silver numbered insert with timing marks around the entire circumference of the bezel.  The bezel is fairly easy to turn, but has a large amount of slop or backlash on it when turned against its unidirectional rotation.  This means the bezel has to be tweaked to line it up at the top of the dial.  The simple insert also looks cheap and out of character on a watch with a retail of $360 USD.  Demerits here from me.

The dial has minimal printing on it, with just the H3 Tactical logo and ‘100m/330 feet’ printed on the lower center.  Which brings up a curious point.  The dial says this watch is water resistant to 100 meters, while the case back says the watch is water resistant to 20 atm (200 meters).  A big discrepancy and important to someone who would want to actually use this watch for swimming or diving.  So which is it?  I have no idea, but for a company that makes a pricey, sports-oriented watch and supplies the Swiss Army, this discrepancy is unacceptable and calls into question the QC aspects of its manufacture.

The movement is Swiss quartz.  I have not cracked the back to see if it’s an ETA, Ronda, ISA or something else.  The watch keeps acceptable quartz time, running about +10 seconds a month.  The movement sets fine and the quickset date works fine.  The second hand does an approximate job of hitting the two hash marks between each arabic on the dial.

The strap is a 20mm genuine leather ‘digital camo’ print strap with greenish stitching on the top side, while the inside of the strap is plain light tan leather with off-white stitching.  The strap is almost a continuous width of 20mm from lug to buckle, tapering to just 19.4mm at the buckle. The buckle is black ion plate stainless steel and is signed ‘H3 Tactical.’  There are two keepers on the strap, one fixed and one floating. 

There are two problems with the strap.  First, you really have to like camo print to appreciate the strap.  If you don’t, you will think the strap is garish and looks kind of stupid on the watch.  Also, and this is a bigger problem, the strap is overly thick.  This fact, coupled with the rather cheap leather used to make the strap, makes it feel rubbery and very hard to use and insert the tang of the buckle through the rectangular holes in the strap.  The strap is also an XL size, so there’s too much strap that overhangs the other side and again, since it’s so thick, it makes the watch ungainly on the wrist.

Since I use this watch as a knock-around watch for yard or garage work, I have retained the stock strap, but I don’t think I’d be caught dead in public wearing this watch with what I consider to be a hideous looking strap.  That’s my opinion; if you like camo and drive a camo-patterned car, have a hut with camo on it or have a camo-decorated dinner service, great, you’ll love this strap.

The H3 Tactical is just an average watch with no real attributes that make is stand out in my opinion.  There are better constructed tritium tube watches on the market for the same price as this watch (ie:  Luminox).  If you get this watch for around $150 USD, you’ve done okay, but pay any more for it and it’s really not worth it.  H3 does have some better looking watches in their line up without camo straps, but their prices are too high in comparison to what else it out there.

Pros:  black ion-plate case, sapphire crystal, tritium tube illumination, unique dial color

Cons:  sloppy, cheap looking and feeling bezel, hideous camo strap, what’s the real water resistance rating?

Verdict:  great for working in the yard, but this watch won’t make it into my standard rotation

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.