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.



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