Monday, June 18, 2012

Review of Tag Heuer Aquaracer 500 Automatic

Model # WAJ2111.BA0870

Brand/Model:  Tag Heuer Aquaracer 500
Movement:  Swiss automatic
Material:  stainless steel case and bracelet
Complications:  date display
Price:  MSRP:  $2,850 USD

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


It seems many people these days consider Tag Heuer to be a ‘fashion’ brand, due in part to their advertising with various celebrity-type and athlete-based endorsements.  But, don’t worry, if you’re a true WIS, Tag still has plenty of serious watches, some with fascinating movement technology that continues to push the envelope of what can be done with a mechanical watch movement.

What I appreciate about Tag Heuer is that the brand has a true Swiss heritage and continues to produce great dive/tool watches, iconic models like the Monaco and the aforementioned bleeding edge movements to showcase their technical expertise.  And to be honest, before I became a certified full-blown WIS, I always thought Tags were overrated.  Not until I bought one did I come to appreciate their build quality, accuracy out of the box and overall design aesthetic.  I currently own three Tags, which is the most of any one brand in my collection.

The Aquaracer line is large and varied and I was drawn to the 500 meter models because of their unique looks and no-nonsense features.  Fashion watches these are not!  The Aquaracer 500 reviewed here starts with a fully brushed stainless steel case with angled sides that give the watch a bit more presence and heft.  Case diameter is 43.5mm, but it really doesn’t wear that large.  With the crown, the measurement is 48.2mm.  Lugs are 21mm, case thickness is 13.3mm.

The main screwdown crown is beautifully executed, with large, wide knurls for an easy grip and a black inset Tag logo.  Crown guards extend from the case to protect the crown.  On the opposite side of the case at the 10 position is the automatic helium escape valve (HEV), which has a knurled collar around it.  Unlike some HEVS (Rolex SeaDweller and Doxa Sub) that are flush fit with the case and unobtrusive, Tag (like Omega) chooses to have their HEV protrude from the case side.  To each his own.

The caseback on the Aquaracer 500 is a screwdown display type with a sapphire crystal showing off the suitably decorated Caliber 5 automatic movement.  Some think a display back on a true dive watch is superfluous, but I don’t mind seeing the movement, especially when the time has been taken to decorate it like Tag has on the Aquaracer 500.  And of course, the watch is rated at 500 meters of water resistance, so this is a serious dive watch.

Tag has made the 120-click unidirectional bezel easy to turn while diving due to the rectangular pieces that extend slightly on the bezel every 10 minutes (Tag refers to them as ‘studs’), starting at the ‘five’ mark.  The bezel does indeed turn easily, but doesn’t have a super high quality sound or feel to it and also has a very slight backlash.  Not anything to deter one from purchasing this watch, but not the precision you might expect at this price point, either. 

The black inset on the bezel is matte paint and not a rubber piece; it looks good and gets the job done.  At the five minute marks on the bezel sit stylized stainless steel screw heads, while stainless arabics are found at each 10 minute mark.  A small lume pip sits in the triangle on the bezel at 12.

The dial is what really attracted me to this watch.  I love the silver/grey shade and the vertical ribbing that adds dimension and appeal to this watch without looking novel or gimmicky.  The markers are hand applied and luminous, as are the black outline hands.  The seconds hand is black with an orange luminous tip.  Lume quality is excellent, as it should be for a serious dive watch.

A magnified quickset date resides at the 9 position, 180 degrees opposite the standard 3 position where most dates are placed.  This unique placement works fine and the external cyclops does a fine job of magnifying the black on white date wheel.  Both the cyclops and date wheel are properly centered.

Minimal lettering on the dial includes an applied Tag Heuer logo below the 12, along with the model name ‘Aquaracer.’  Above the six is ‘Caliber 5’ and ‘Automatic.’  Next to the date window at the 9 position, a silver escutcheon sits between the date window and the hand pinions with ‘500M’ printed in black.  This is a bit stylized, but doesn’t detract from the overall functionality of this watch. 

To reiterate, I think the dial execution on the Aquaracer 500 is first rate and a joy to look at.  The design of the markers and hands makes this watch very legible, and as I get older, I appreciate legibility more and more.

A flat sapphire crystal covers the dial and is very slightly raised above the bezel.  No distortion has been noted with the crystal.

Inside the Aquaracer 500 beats Tag’s Caliber 5 automatic movement.  As far as I know, this is a decorated and modified base ETA automatic, with 25 jewels running at 28,800 vph.  One thing I really enjoy about the three Tag Heuers I own is their accuracy right out of the box.  Even though none of the Tags I own are COSC rated, they all keep chronometer time well within COSC standards.  Impressive!  And the Aquaracer has been no exception, running almost at zero deviation over 24 hours on the bench and during wearing at about +2/24 hours.  Power reserve is the expected 42-1/4 hours (Tag specs power reserve at 38 hours).

Tag has decorated the Caliber 5 with Cotes de Geneve stripes on the signed rotor and various plates and bridges on the movement decorated with perlage.  Overall, a nice presentation and a bit unexpected in a serious tool watch.

The bracelet is typical Tag quality, meaning very good.  It sports brushed solid stainless steel links, with the center links being slightly raised above the outer links, one of Tag’s signature styles.  Solid end links, a pushbutton signed clasp and a signed machined deployant complete the features.
Demerits for the rather cheap stamped steel diver extension.  There are three microadjustment holes on the clasp and link adjustment is accomplished via a pin and collar system which did not present any problems.  The bracelet measures 21mm at the lugs and tapers to about 18mm at the clasp.

Presentation is standard Tag with a black heavy cardboard outer box and black padded hard inner box with separate leatherette instruction and warranty holder.

Overall, the Tag Heuer Aquaracer 500 combines a serious diver watch with just enough style to make it a great daily wearer.  It looks neither too purposeful or too fashionista, which is a good thing.  A great choice for the pool or the daily scrum.

Pros:  solid build quality, true 500 meter dive capability, awesome ribbed dial, accurate Swiss movement, great lume

Cons:  needs a machined dive extension, bezel could have slightly more precision, date at 9 may throw some people off

Verdict:  a perfect watch for work and play, it can take what you dish out while looking the part of a Tag, stylish and functional at the same time.  Superbly executed!

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.



Monday, June 11, 2012

Review of Momo Design Pilot GMT Automatic Limited Edition

Model # MD095-DIVMB-01BK

Brand/Model:  Momo Design Pilot GMT Automatic Limited Edition
Movement:  Swiss automatic
Material:  titanium case and bracelet
Complications:  date display, independently adjustable GMT hand
Price:  MSRP:  about $3,495 USD; street price as low as $800 USD

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


This is the third Momo Design watch I have purchased and I still own two of them.  I have found them to be well constructed, great looking designs with reliable Swiss engines and when purchased at a discount, to represent strong value.

This Momo Pilot GMT is about the largest size watch I can safely wear for my approximately 6-3/4 inch wrist without looking like a clown or street performer trying to get attention.  Even though this watch has a rotating bezel, it is an internal rotating bezel, so the watch does wear as large as it is, with a rather large expanse of sapphire crystal covering the dial. 

Luckily, the thickness of the watch and the thinness of the bracelet links help to minimize its bulk, which is also dimished because the entire watch is crafted of lightweight titanium. A black PVD fixed bezel adds a bit of contrast to the case.

The Momo Pilot GMT starts with a beautifully finished totally satinized titanium case that measures 46mm without the signed screwdown crown.  With the crown, the case is 50.2mm across.  Substantial to say the least.  Thickness is a rather trim 12.4mm, lugs are 24mm. 

From lug tip to lug tip vertically, this watch comes in at 57mm and while the lugs are not overly long, they don’t curve down too much, so keep this 57mm dimension in mind if you are considering this watch and have a smaller wrist like I do.

The display caseback is also satinized titanium and screws down, showing the ETA Swiss automatic movement.  The display back’s crystal is countersunk a bit from the rest of the caseback, perhaps for more comfort while wearing the watch.

The movement is largely unfinished except for a few blued screws and the striped and Momo-signed rotor.  A more highly finished movement would be nice, given the absurdly high retail price of this watch, but since they can be had at a discount, the movement is fine as-is.

The Momo Pilot GMT is rated for 10 atm of water resistance.

Where this watch really shines is in the dial department.  Given its large overall dimensions, the dial is relatively uncluttered and easy to read, combining good looks with functionality.  The dial is black, with an internal rotating timing bezel on the outer side of the dial, performing the function of a chapter ring.  The bezel is controlled by the black, unsigned and non-screwdown crown located at the 10 position on the case.

I was concerned about the dreaded ‘bezel creep’ that sometimes occurs with watches than have an internal rotating bezel and a non-locking crown that controls the bezel.  I had this problem with my Seiko 5 Sports, where there was no resistance on the bezel crown, so the bezel would creep slightly around the dial as the watch was worn.

I am happy to report that bezel creep is not a problem with the Momo Pilot GMT due to two factors, the location of the bezel crown and the internal resistance of the crown.  Having the bezel crown at 10 largely keeps it off the wrist, so arm movement cannot rotate the crown.  There is also sufficient resistance built into the crown, so the crown does not rotate freely.  There’s just enough resistance to keep the bezel from creeping.  The crown is easy to operate and moves the bezel in either direction with no detents.

Just inside the timing bezel is the 24-hour GMT chapter ring.  This ring is fixed, so this watch can track only one extra timezone.  The hands are satin silver with red tips and inset lume, the seconds hand is red and the GMT hand is silver with a red arrow tip with inset lume.  This design makes time reading and GMT functions easy to see and use.

The hour and minute hands and the GMT hand tip are luminous, along with the arabics on the timing bezel and the five minute markers on the dial.  Lume quality is good on the hands and average on the markers.

The dial has a fair amount of printing on it, but the font size is small, so it doesn’t intrude that much on the legibility of the dial.  Under the 12 position, ‘Momo Design’ and ‘Made in Italy’ are printed.  Above the six, ‘Swiss Automatic,’ ‘GMT’ and ‘Limited Edition,’ along with the limited edtion number are printed.  I don’t know how many watches comprise this ‘Limited Edition’ but it is probably less than 1000.

A quickset date is located at the 3 position, with a simple black on white date wheel.  Alignment within the window could be a tad better, but really is nothing to fret about.  The timesetting crown is black PVD and sets the time, date and moves the GMT hand in one-hour increments.

The dial is capped by a very slight domed sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating.  The crystal exhibits no distortion, something to consider with a watch dial this large.

The Momo Pilot GMT is powered by the venerable and highly-regarded Swiss-Made ETA 2893-2 automatic movement, with 21-jewels and handwind and hacking capability.  Sporting a ball-bearing rotor and beating at 28,800 vph, this movement is a reliable and consistent time keeper.  During testing in my atelier, the Momo Pilot GMT has run at +2/24 hours and at least a 42 hour power reserve.

One quality control note, when I received this watch, I inspected it, ran the hands through a 24 hour cycle, wound it fully and set it to atomic time as I do all my new watch acquisitions.  About five minutes later, I looked at the watch only to see the seconds hand had fallen off!  I had the hand reset by one of my watchmakers and all has been fine since.  Not a serious problem, but again, at the MSRP of this watch, unacceptable.  For the price I paid, I could live with this QC glitch.  The other two Momos I have owned have been fine in the QC department.

The bracelet on the Momo Pilot GMT is all titanium, with the same satinized finish as the rest of the watch.  The bracelet has solid end links and a pushbutton butterfly clasp with machined deployant, with one link on the clasp signed ‘Momo Design.’  The bracelet links, as previously mentioned, as rather thin, so they don’t add extra bulk to this watch.  The bracelet is 24mm at the lugs and tapers about 20.8mm at the clasp. 

No half links are included, but the links themselves, in addition to being thin, are rather short, so it’s a bit easier to achieve an acceptable fit despite the lack of microadjustments on the clasp.  Standard split link pins secure the bracelet links and adjustment was quick and uneventful.

Presentation was the same as my other two Momo Design purchases, a black cardboard outer box and black plastic inner box.  It looks rather impressive, but the inner box is sort of cheap in its construction, so don’t get too excited.

Overall, the Momo Design Pilot GMT is a clean looking, modern design, that while being quite large, looks great on the wrist and is easy to use.  The titanium construction makes it light and gives it an understated look of both elegance and functionality.

Pros: reliable Swiss movement with true GMT capability, beautiful satinized titanium case and bracelet, clean, easy to read dial

Cons:  watch is too large for some, butterfly clasp with no microadjustments may make a good fit difficult, slight QC problem out of the box, crazy MSRP

Verdict:  buy this one at a discount and enjoy Italian design and Swiss accuracy rolled into one

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.



Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Review of Seiko Flight Master Automatic Chronograph

Model # SBDS001

Brand/Model:  Seiko Flight Master
Movement:  Japanese automatic
Material:  titanium case and bracelet
Complications:  date display, power reserve meter, chronograph timing in one second increments up to 12 hours
Price:  MSRP:  about $4,500 USD; street price around $3,500 USD

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


Watch aficionados always enjoy something different, and many times that means acquiring a watch that is not sold in the market they live in.  In the U.S., it could be getting a Tudor, or some other Swiss brand that is not officially sold in the states.  Many times, getting a Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) watch fits the bill.  

Japanese watch companies like Seiko and Citizen make an entire range of very cool watches that are not officially sold outside of Japan proper, so getting a JDM watch can be a source of pride for many a WIS.  In my case, I wanted a Seiko Flight Master automatic chronograph ever since I first saw pictures of one many years ago and the stars finally aligned to enable me to purchase one.  Even though it’s not a Spring Drive or a Grand Seiko, I feel it’s one of Seiko’s finest pieces.

The Flight Master packs a lot of features into a relatively compact watch.  Loaded with a 12-hour chronograph, 48-hour power reserve meter and date display, along with a timing bezel with compass function, about the only thing the Flight Master lacks is a GMT hand.  But I’m not complaining.

The Flight Master sports a nicely polished and brushed all titanium case (I love the look of polished Ti) that measures 42.4mm without the longish signed screwdown crown.  With the crown included, diameter is 48.3mm. 

Case thickness is 14.9mm, lug width is 20mm.  The caseback screws down and is a display type, showing the intricacies of the 40-jewel column wheel chronograph movement.  The movement really isn’t decorated, but the finish level is acceptable and the rotor is signed.

Since the Flight Master is crafted of titanium alloy, the entire watch is fairly lightweight, but not too light.  It’s a nice balance of svelte and presence combined.  It does tend to sit a bit high on the wrist, but not in an annoying way and being titanium, it is not top heavy.

The Flight Master is factory rated for 100 meters (10 bar) of water resistance.

The 120-click omnidirectional rotating bezel sports Breitling-esque rider tabs at the 12 and 6 positions, with six small screws on the side of the bezel at each 10 minute mark, again, very Breitling-like in design.  The bezel itself is finished in black ion plate and is fully marked in white with either hash marks or arabics.  A small compass track with degree markings is located on the inside of the bezel between the timing marks and the crystal.  These markings are very small and pretty hard to see, if you need reading glasses, better bring them! 

A small lume pip is located in the center of the rider tab at 12.  Bezel action is a bit disappointing, rather loud and gritty feeling, not nearly as smooth and crisp as I would expect at this price point.

As a design element, Seiko has two black ion plated tabs that fold down over the sides of the case, between the crown and chrono pushers and on the opposite side of the case, on either side of the 9 position.  This design gives the effect of the bezel sort of snapping over the top of the case, with each of the four tabs being secured by a small screw.  An interesting if questionable detail.

The dial on the Flight Master is all business and a great example of clarity and legibility, given all the functions of this watch.  The hour and minute hands are silver with inset lume, as are the applied markers at each five minute mark (there are no markers at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 positions).  The dial itself is a perfect matte black.

The subdial at 9 is the seconds hand for the watch.  The subdial at 12 is the chronograph minute totalizer and the subdial at 6 is the 12-hour chrono totalizer.  Both these subdials have yellow hands, to match the chronograph’s center second hand, which is in yellow as well and makes it easy at a glance to read chronograph timing.  Nicely done!

A quickset date window is located at 4:30, with a proper white on black date wheel that aligns perfectly in the window.  The 48-hour power reserve meter resides between the 2 and 3 position and is very easy to read as it sweeps through a roughly 60 degree arc. 

Lume quality is excellent, as Seiko’s Lumibrite is always expected to be.  Small tasteful lettering directly below the power reserve meter, with just the wording ‘Seiko,’ ‘Flight Master,’ and ‘Automatic’ appearing on the dial.

The Flight Master has a mildly domed sapphire crystal that is slightly recessed from the top of the bezel.  The crystal has a very effective anti-reflective coating on it, it’s one of those watches that looks at times to be missing its crystal.  This helps in making the dial very easy to read in most all lighting conditions.

The main time and date setting crown, as previously mentioned, is fairly long, so it’s easy to grip and is signed with an engraved ‘S’.  The chronograph pushers have a positive, smooth feel to them and one unique aspect is they lock in opposite of most screwdown pushers.  When the pushers are screwed in against the case, the chrono can be activated.  To lock the pushers, you have to unscrew them away from the case.  This is opposite of how my other watches with screwdown pushers operate.  Nothing wrong about it, but an interesting feature to note.

Inside the Flight Master is Seiko’s Japan-made 40-jewel automatic column wheel chronograph movement.  It winds and sets well and all the chrono functions start, stop and reset as they should.  I was a bit disappointed in the daily accuracy of this movement at first, as it was running at +16/24 hours, although as time has passed, it has been getting better, currently at about +8/24 hours.  I would have expected more accuracy from the factory at this price point, but it could probably be regulated even tighter than it is now if need be.  Although the power reserve meter only goes to 48 hours, the Flight Master has returned a superb 53-1/2 hour power reserve, so no complaints there.

The bracelet on the Flight Master is solid link titanium that is polished and brushed.  End links are solid and the clasp is pretty much standard-issue Seiko, that is signed, with a pushbutton release and fold over safety clasp, although the deployant is a proper machined type.  There is no diver extension and five micro adjustment holes on the clasp. 

The bracelet measures 20mm at the lugs and tapers to 18.7mm at the clasp.  Sizing was straightforward and with the number of microadjustment holes provided, a good fit is all but assured.

Presentation for the Flight Master is typical Seiko Prospex series, a rather unexciting box emblazoned with the brand lettering in yellow.  I think a watch this special deserves a nicer box.

Overall, the Flight Master resonates with me because it is unique, hard-to-find and accomplishes so much in a well designed package that represents the capabilities of Seiko and their upper end series.  Ask most people on the street and they would scoff at spending several thousand dollars on a Seiko, but when you see the Flight Master in person and look at its craftsmanship, you know you have something special to justify the price.

Pros: lighter weight titanium design, super looking dial, excellent functionality, great in-house Seiko movement, added bonus of power reserve meter on a chronograph 

Cons:  fairly shallow water resistance rating, bezel action should be smoother, clasp could be higher grade to better match price point, uninspired packaging

Verdict:  a superb all-around chronograph with great quality and features, some could probably get by as having this be their only watch, an awesome high-end Seiko

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.