Sunday, October 21, 2012

Review of Zixen Vintage Diver Nitrox II 500 M

Model # NTXDSR
Brand/Model:  Zixen Vintage Diver Nitrox II
Movement:  Swiss automatic
Material:  stainless steel case and either mesh or link stainless steel bracelet or rubber strap
Complications:  date display
Price:  MSRP: $995 to $1095 USD depending on strap/bracelet selection

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

Usually, I am not a fan of ‘boutique’ or ‘micro-brand’ watches for several reasons.  Many times these watches are not very original in their designs, suffer from poor resale value or just don’t exhibit the quality finishing or details of a higher-end name-brand piece.  But when I saw this Zixen Vintage Diver for sale, the overall look of the watch really struck me and wouldn’t let go.  I had to have it.  I bought it and have been very pleased with its accuracy, build quality and unique looks.
Zixen is one of a myriad of companies these days producing watches (primarily diver watches) that are not associated with a huge Swiss watch conglomerate or a mass-produced brand like Invicta, hence the ‘micro-brand’ moniker bestowed upon them.  While their watches are not cheap, I have been impressed with what Zixen has to offer, at least with the Vintage Nitrox that I purchased.  The company’s slogan is ‘Made by a Diver for a Diver©’.  They also claim to have a rigorous design and manufacturing process, ensuring that their watches will live up to their stated water resistance depths and perform well under a variety of extreme conditions.  That’s good to know.
The Nitrox comes in several iterations and colors, and Zixen is continually introducing new models and styles, so a visit to their web site is a must if you’re interested in what they have to offer.
This Zixen Vintage Nitrox starts with a large, fully brushed stainless steel case measuring 44mm without the large (but not overly so) signed screwdown crown; 48.7mm crown inclusive.  Lug tip to lug tip is 53.9mm.   The back is brushed and screws down and is emblazoned with the Nitrox logo.  Case thickness is a substantial 16mm, with lug spacing of 24mm.  Surprisingly, this watch does not wear large or feel unwieldy on the wrist.  Another check mark in the plus column. 

Case finishing and overall fit and finish is very good.  The straps and bracelets are secured by screw-in lug bars instead of spring bars for an added measure of security.  It’s also nice to have a brushed finish on a tool watch for a change; sometimes the polished bits showing up on divers these days is a bit much.

Zixen states that their watches are made with an anti-magnetic system that exceeds DIN 8309 and ISO 764 standards.
The dial design is what really captivated me about this Zixen Nitrox diver.  To me, it has a 1960s shortwave radio look to it.  I know this seems like an unusual comparison, but to me it fits. 

The dial is silver, with black minute markers all around and arabics printed at each five minute mark.  The hour hand is a short black arrow with generous lume, while the minute hand is a slender stick style in bright orange and plenty of lume.  A simple black seconds hand looks good and has a small section of lume on its tail, so a diver can see that the seconds hand is moving so they know their watch is running while they are diving.  This is important if they are timing their dives using the bezel.  Overall lume quality is excellent.
The dial also has square lume markers at each five minute mark just under each arabic and a yellow/orange marker at the 12 position.  The overall combination of colors, styles and designs on the dial really works and does exhibit a vintage look while still having a clean, semi-modern feel to it as well.  Nicely done!
There’s a quickset date window at 4:30.  The date window is frameless and rather small, making it hard to see the black on white date wheel at certain times.  Otherwise, alignment of the wheel inside the window is fine. 

Minimal dial printing consisting of the Zixen name and ‘automatic’ in the upper left of the dial, and a fish logo with ‘500M’ in the lower right of the dial complete the presentation.  There’s also a black crosshair that divides the dial into quadrants.
The dial is capped by a slight domed sapphire crystal that’s anti-reflective and 4.5mm thick, to resist the 500 meters of rated water resistance the Nitrox is capable of.
The bezel is another winner on this watch.  A 120-click unidirectional design with an inverted lume triangle at the 12 and arabics and minute markers that encircle the entire bezel.  The bezel is done in a grey/grey blue with a sapphire coating that looks and feels cool.  The bezel’s markings are also fully luminous.  Superb!
So far, it seems like I’m being pretty nice to this watch, especially from a guy who doesn’t really embrace boutique divers.  Beating inside the Nitrox is a tried and true ETA 2824-2 25 jewel automatic movement that hacks and manually winds.  Familiar to most WISes, this movement is ubiquitous in the watch world and can’t really be faulted. 

In the instructions, Zixen makes mention that all their watches leave the factory within +10/-6 seconds per day accuracy. While not COSC certified, the ETA 2824-2 inside my Zixen Nitrox runs at nearly ZERO gain or loss per day!  Certainly the most accurate non-COSC 2824-2 I have yet to encounter.  Absolutely amazing. 

Power reserve is the expected 40 or more hours (41-1/4 hours to be exact).  Overall performance (winding, setting, running) of this watch is perfect, so nothing at all to complain about here.
I purchased my Zixen second hand and the watch came with all three bracelet/strap choices.  I sold the multi link bracelet (straight solid end links, machined deployant, solid links) and the rubber strap and retained the stainless steel mesh bracelet. 

The mesh is super and looks great on this watch.  It has straight ends, which work well with the size and heft of this watch.  The mesh is 3.7mm thick and nicely finished.  The clasp is double locking and signed, with a machined deployant.  Curiously, there’s no diver extension on the clasp, another odd omission for a true diver watch. 

The bracelet’s design is one that has several solid links on each side of the clasp for sizing purposes, with five microadjustments on the clasp as well.  The mesh bracelet measures 24mm at the lugs and tapers to 19.5mm at the clasp.  The mesh is tight and smooth, so there’s no hair pulling or discomfort while wearing.

Presentation is a black cardboard outer box with separate lid and a wood-grained inner box with hinges.  The watch and documentation fit inside, along with an insert showing the exploded diagram of how the watch is constructed and two micro screwdrivers for changing out the strap/bracelet.  It’s a decent representation for this watch and price point.
Overall, the Zixen Vintage Diver Nitrox II is an outstanding effort from this micro-brand.  The quality is there and if they take the amount of time that was taken to adjust the automatic movement inside my watch on every piece they make, all the power to them.  It’s small but important details like this that help make a brand stand out from the crowd, and coupled with the great looks this watch offers, Zixen has produced a winner with the Vintage Nitrox.  Congrats!
Pros:  unique, vintage 60s looks, excellent legibility, great sapphire coated bezel, nice mesh bracelet, super accurate ETA automatic movement
Cons:  why no lume on the seconds hand and no dive extension on bracelet for a serious dive tool watch?, date window too small, fish logo on dial looks a bit cheesy
Verdict:  a solid, no-nonsense dive watch with great looks, an automatic Swiss engine and its own personality

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Review of Victorinox Swiss Army Alpnach Automatic Chronograph

Model # 241527
Brand/Model:  Victorinox ‘Swiss Army’ Alpnach Automatic Chronograph

Movement:  Swiss automatic chronograph
Material:  PVD coated stainless steel case, nylon fabric/leather lined strap
Complications:  day/date display, chronograph timing up to 12 hours in one-second increments
Price:  MSRP  $2,295 USD

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

Big.  Bold.  Black.  Heavy.  Unique.  These are just some of the adjectives that can be used to describe the Victorinox Swiss Army (‘VSA’ as an abbreviation)  Alpnach automatic chronograph.  This is the newest design in the Alpnach series, which has been around for a few years now.  The watch takes its name
from a Swiss village that is set alongside Lake Lucerne, located at the foot of Mount Pilatus.

There are several variations of this newest Alpnach, with differences in the dial, case and/or accent colors.  I’ve always liked a bit of green accenting on a watch, so that’s why I chose this variation.  The grey dialed versions look good, too (and come with orange accents).  VSA says this Alpnach is the ‘best timepiece for showing its passion to aviation.’  Okay, whatever you say.  Personally, I really don’t get too much of an aviation feel with this watch.
A word to the wise (and to the smaller-wristed amongst us, like myself); this Alpnach is a big boy, rather top-heavy when on the wrist and a watch that not everyone can successfully pull off.  The fabric strap is a curiosity on this piece; if it sported a stainless steel bracelet, the top-heaviness of the watch would be somewhat lessened and perhaps a bit more comfortable to wear, albeit more heavy.  But it’s only offered on the fabric strap, so unless an aftermarket bracelet is added, the watch will continue to be somewhat lopsided.  I’m sure on a larger wrist, it won’t be so top heavy, but you’ve been warned.  
Victorinox has really stepped up their game in the past couple of years, producing some really great, high quality watches that can be found at decent discounts if you look hard enough.  This Alpnach starts with a large 44mm diameter case (not counting the crown or pushers) that is constructed of solid stainless steel then coated with black PVD.  The consistency of the PVD coating is first rate, smooth, evenly applied and perfectly black.  The case measurement with crown is 49.3mm. 

The crown does not screw down and is grooved on the sides instead of being fluted and has a rubber insert on the end with the VSA logo.  For some reason (at least on my watch) the crown is very hard to pull out, despite its rather large size.  I don’t know if all Alpnachs have a crown that is hard to pull out, but it is a bear to do and can lead to bent fingernails and a lot of swearing.
The pushers are rather unique on this watch.  The upper pusher (starts and stops the chrono) is a conventional round pusher.  The lower pusher (chrono reset) is rectangular and is curved to better fit your finger.  This pusher is also clearly labelled in white with the word ‘reset’ on it.  No confusion over what this pusher does!
The caseback is secured by six small screws and features a partial or ‘peek-a-boo’ mineral crystal display window that is designed to show the signed rotor as it rotates around to wind the watch.  The caseback is signed with the Swiss Airforce logo.  Overall, the case and caseback present a solid, well-made look and feel to this watch.  Case thickness is 15.5mm and lug width is 24mm.  One nice thing, due to the overall large size of the case, the equally large 24mm lugs do not stand out as such.  You will look at this watch and think the lugs are smaller.
The watch is factory rated for 100 meters of water resistance.
The dial is one place where this watch excels.  The dial is a matte black with subtle green accents for the chrono functions and on the chapter ring.  The hands are black with inset white lume.  The chronograph hands are solid white with no lume and the chrono seconds hand is a split (skeleton) white design with a green tip.  Lume quality is good, but really nothing better.  Minimal dial printing is another nice touch, with just the VSA logo, ‘Victorinox’, ‘Swiss Army’ and the words ‘Chronograph’ and ‘Automatic’ printed in a rather small point size on the dial.
A quickset day and date is at the three position.  The day and date wheels are white on black and harmonize perfectly with the matte black of the dial.  Wheel alignment within the day/date windows is good and the quickset mechanism works fine, although a bit lacking in tactile feel, ie:  as you spin through the day or date, there’s not much resistance to let you know you’ve changed the setting.  Not a big deal, but something to be aware of nonetheless.  A small divider separates the day and date windows respectively.
The subdial at the nine position is the watch’s seconds hand and is a ‘propeller’ design, with four hands equally spaced, with three of the hands painted black and one hand painted white.  This is really nothing more than a design element, but it does look pretty cool.  A simple chapter ring encircles the dial with green accents at each quarter hour.
The subdial at 12 is the 30-minute totalizer for the chrono, while the subdial at 6 is the chrono’s 12-hour totalizer.  This is the standard and familiar Valjoux 7750 configuration.  Both chronograph subdials are clearly marked in a combination of white hash marks and white arabics and have raised rings at their outer edges with white triangle markers that draw your eye towards the green circles immediately surrounding the subdials.  It sounds busy, but it’s not and it works quite well. 

Overall, the dial is very legible and easy to read, although the hour and minute hands are a bit thin, they could be a millimeter or so wider.
The bezel is a unidirectional 120-click variety with an inset lume triangle at the 12 position and is set up as a countdown bezel, with the numbers running the opposite of a standard timing bezel, that is, clockwise on the bezel starts counting down from 60 instead of counting up.  Again, there’s no real reason for this, just another design element. 

The bezel itself is black PVD with inset white paint for the markers and arabics and also sports heavily knurled grip bars at each five minute mark, which makes is very easy to turn this bezel.  There’s also a fix tachymeter ring just inside the bezel, between the crystal and bezel.  The inset markings and arabics on the tachymeter are all black.
The Alpnach has a triple coated anti-reflective flat sapphire crystal that effectively banishes reflections.  This certainly made taking pictures of this watch much easier.  The crystal has a slight anti-reflective (bluish) tint to it.
Inside the Alpnach beats the well regarded and reliable Valjoux 7750 automatic chronograph movement.  The movement sets well, hacks and manually winds and apart from the sensitive day/date setting and hard to pull out crown previously mentioned, is a workhorse of an engine.  The chronograph functions start, stop and reset crisply.  In testing, my Alpnach ran at +7 seconds/24 hours with a very fine 55 hour power reserve.  You really can’t complain about a 7750-based chronograph.
The strap on the Alpnach is somewhat of a letdown to me.  VSA refers to this strap as ‘hi tech’ but I don’t see it.  It is black nylon, relatively thick, with black leather accents on the top and a smooth tan leather lining.  The pushbutton clasp is black PVD with the VSA logo, while the deployant is machined and is standard stainless steel color.  There are two keepers, one fixed and one floating.

Instead of the fabric strap, I would prefer a standard high-quality leather strap (especially on a watch that sports an MSRP of more than $2K like this one does) or a nice quality stainless steel bracelet.  The fabric strap just looks kind of cheap and is not the most comfortable, partly due to the butterfly style clasp, which never works too well for me on any strap.  Strap width is 24mm at the lugs and tapers to about 20.5mm at the clasp.
Presentation is standard VSA, a rather simple inner and outer box of average to slightly larger size.  Nothing fancy, nothing cheap, pretty much middle of the road.  I have said this before, for their price point, I feel Victorinox should improve their boxes.  Now I know that many people say ‘you don’t wear the box, you wear the watch’ which is true, but if you charge $2K+ for a watch, the quality of the box should match the price point.
Overall, the Victorinox Alpnach chrono is a large, heavy, cool watch that has great functionality and unique looks without being over the top in any way (well, maybe just a little).  Put a high quality leather strap on this puppy and you’ll really steal the show.
Pros:  quality construction, well-regarded Swiss engine, subtle and bold looks at the same time, unique reset pusher design
Cons:  lume could be better, a bit top heavy on smaller wrists, fabric strap has to go, crown hard to pull out
Verdict:  large and in charge, the VSA Alpnach represents a good value when purchased at the right price (think half of MSRP) and will do the job while going the distance.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.