Saturday, April 20, 2013

Review of Citizen Signature Series Grand Classic Automatic

Model # NB0040-58E

Brand/Model:  Citizen Signature Series Grand Classic Automatic
Movement:  Japanese automatic
Material:  stainless steel case and bracelet
Complications: date display
Price:  MSRP $999 USD

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

Every now and then, I get the itch to explore the high end offerings of the Japanese watch brands like Seiko and Citizen.  For quite some time, Citizen did not have a high end automatic in their U.S. lineup.  Most of their high end pieces consist of Eco-Drive quartz or high accuracy quartz models, so I was pleasantly surprised and pleased when as part of their new Signature Series that Citizen included three automatic models on their high end available in the states.  

The Signature Series are watches that display a high degree of detail and hand-craftsmanship, whether they be quartz or automatic.  The Grand Classic automatic that is the subject of this review comes in three flavors, the black dial seen here, a silver/white dial with blue hands and a silver dial with silver hands on a leather strap.  I chose the black dial because it is the most traditional and is a versatile piece that can play the dual roles of sporty and dressy.

The Grand Classic automatic starts with a nicely finished all stainless steel case that is both polished and brushed, with a polished fixed bezel.  Diameter is 41.5mm without the crown, 44.5 mm crown included.  

The crown is a suitable size and tapers inwards slightly towards the case, a subtle but nifty touch.  The crown does not screw down nor is it signed.  I really enjoy signed crowns and I would think that because this is the high end of Citizen’s line that they would have taken the extra time to install a signed crown on this watch, but unfortunately, they did not.  

Surrounding the crown is a slightly chunky crown guard that is held in place by two rather large screws, the heads of which are clearly visible.  This design element seems a bit out of character on this watch, as while it has sporting pretensions, it leans more towards the dress side of things.

The case back is a display type and is held in place by four small screws, one at each corner.  The display back shows some nice detailing and shows off the beautifully decorated automatic movement.  Case thickness is 12.1mm and lug width is 22mm.  The overall case design and dial are somewhat reminiscent of an Omega Aqua Terra.

The Grand Classic automatic is factory rated at 10 bar of water resistance.

The dial on the Grand Classic has the kind of subtle detailing that befits a watch of this price category.  The dial is a gloss black, with the outer portion having a fine graining to it that runs from the chapter ring to just past the applied luminous markers.  The circular inner part of the dial is plain gloss black.  The silver hands have inset lume, while the seconds hand is a plain silver stick with a stylized tail.  Lume quality is very good and glows the cool Citizen blue.

The quickset date resides at the three position and is surrounded by an asymmetrical window frame that adds a bit of additional style to the dial.  The date wheel is white on black and compliments the dial perfectly.  Wheel alignment within the window is fine.

A slightly domed anti-reflective sapphire crystal covers the dial.  Under examination with an 8X loupe, the dial showed no dirt or imperfections.  Overall fit and finish on the Grand Classic is quite good.

Inside the Grand Classic beats a Citizen/Miyota Caliber 9010 24-jewel automatic movement.   One of Citizen’s newest automatic movements, this engine hacks and handwinds.  Timekeeping has been fairly tight, at -5/24 hours and with a good power reserve of 45.5 hours.  The movement sets, hacks and handwinds perfectly.  I particularly appreciate the level of finishing Citizen invested in this movement, with Geneva stripes and a very cool stylized rotor on display through the caseback.

While the watch is made in Japan, the bracelet is made in China, as stated on the clasp.   Nonetheless, the bracelet is a quality piece with solid end links, multipiece solid links that are polished and brushed and a pushbutton signed clasp with a machined deployant.  If I had any complaints, the feel of the clasp seems a bit cheap.  Link adjustment is via screw pins and bracelet adjustment was a breeze. 

The bracelet measures 22mm at the lugs and tapers to 19.9mm at the clasp.  There are no microadjustments on the clasp, but a half-link is provided, so a decent bracelet fit should be able to be achieved.

Presentation is fairly typical Citizen, with appropriately sized inner and outer presentation boxes, et al.  The inner box is a dark blue padded leather-look box which is pretty nice.  One might expect something a bit more special due to the Signature Series standing at the top of the Citizen line, but this is a minor quibble.

The big question here is:  Is this watch worth the almost one-thousand dollar suggested retail price?  Well, it’s no Grand Seiko, but Grand Seikos go for three to four times the MSRP of this Citizen.  If you’re looking for a high-end Japanese automatic that looks good and will undoubtedly be a reliable and durable timepiece, then yes, it’s worth the price of admission.

Pros:  quality at the high end of Citizen’s line, nicely decorated automatic movement, clean dial layout, cool blue lume

Cons:  dial a bit hard to read at times, clasp a bit cheap, crown should be signed

Verdict:  a worthy addition to the Citizen lineup, the Grand Classic automatic is a perfect piece if you want a high-end automatic Japanese watch without spending Grand Seiko money

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.



Sunday, April 7, 2013

Review of Alpina Extreme Sailing Limited Edition Automatic Diver

Model # AL525X4V6
Brand/Model:  Alpina Extreme Sailing Limited Edition Automatic Diver
Movement:  Swiss automatic
Material:  stainless steel case, stainless steel mesh bracelet
Complications:  date display
Price:  MSRP:  $1,500 USD

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

Alpina is a Swiss watch brand that I have been interested in for quite some time now.  They’re not a huge, top-of-the-mind brand name, but they do have a legitimate Swiss history of producing a wide array of watches since 1883.  The company prides itself with several innovations, ranging from the actual working environment of the watch factory to various quality control initiatives throughout the years.  The entire story is laid out on Alpina’s web site.
Since I like dive watches, the Extreme Sailing line was my focus in acquiring an Alpina and I decided to go with the Extreme Sailing Limited Edition (but at 8888 pieces total, ‘limited edition’ doesn’t have a lot of meaning).  I liked the look of the factory mesh, the clean, legible layout of the dial and the history of the Alpina name.
The Extreme Sailing Series ships in the largest watch box I have yet to see, measuring about 10” high, 11” wide and 8” deep.  Inside this ginormous box is a model of a catamaran sailing boat along with dedicated space for the watch.  The sailing boat model can be unscrewed from its base and displayed anywhere you wish.  An interesting addition to a unique watch.
The Extreme Sailing diver is a bit of an enigma.  This watch looks huge and by a reading of its dimensions, certainly sounds large.  Yet surprisingly, it does not wear all that big.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a big piece, but if I can pull it off on my smaller wrist, I am sure you can, too!
The Extreme Sailing diver starts with a solid brushed and polished all stainless steel case that measures 44.4mm without the large signed screwdown crown; 48.6mm crown inclusive.  Since the case is squareish in shape (a bit cushion like) a corner-to-corner measurement yields the dimension of 48.7mm and lug-to-lug of 49.3mm, mainly because the lugs are rather short.
Lug spacing is 22mm and case thickness is 13.1mm.  The caseback is brushed and a display type, showing off the cool-looking black Alpina signed rotor.  
The crown has a black rubber/plastic ring around it and is signed with the Alpina triangle logo in red.  The crown is easy to use and has a reassuring feel about it, requiring about four turns to lock.  I wish more screwdown crowns had this many turns on them.
The Extreme Sailing diver is factory rated for 300 meters of water resistance.
The dial is extremely open and clean on this watch and is a cinch to read under just about any circumstance.  The dial itself is a matte black with applied luminous markers that are part of the chapter ring.  The hands are silver with inset lume and are appropriately wide enough without looking goofy.  The center seconds hand is red/orange with a white triangular tail.  The seconds hand is not luminous, a detriment for a watch that purports to be a true diver, but it does look good.  Another demerit for a dive watch is the rather weak lume, it should be much brighter on this piece.
A quickset date is at the 3 position, with a white on black date wheel that looks great with the black dial.  Quickset action is good and alignment within the window is also spot on.
The Alpina name is rather large, located under the 12 position on the dial, with a smaller ‘Geneve’ printed underneath.  Above the 6 position, ‘300m/1000ft’ and ‘Automatic’ are printed and that’s the extent of the dial nomenclature. 
The dial is surrounded by a wide, flat topped bezel that is coated in what I believe is sapphire.  I have not been able to definitively confirm this, so let’s say it’s probably sapphire coated.  It’s a unidirectional 120-click affair with good action and minimal backlash. 

The first 20 minutes of the bezel track has a grey line underneath the arabics and minute markers.  The remainder of the bezel has arabics at the ‘fives’ every ten minutes (25, 35, etc.) and plain white markers at the other five minute steps.  One more demerit for a dive watch, there is no lume anywhere on the bezel.
Capping the dial is a flat sapphire crystal with a superb anti-reflective coating.  It’s one of those AR coatings that imparts a purple/blue tint to the crystal in certain light, but it also is one of those AR coatings that makes the crystal practically disappear in certain light.
Inside the Extreme Sailing diver is our friend and cohort, the ETA 2824-2 workhorse automatic.  It hacks, manually winds and sets just fine and has performed extremely well, running about -1 to +1 seconds over 24 hours during my testing.  Power reserve is 42 hours, as it should be.  I am glad that Alpina took the extra care to put their own stylized rotor on the movement.  The black color, the asymmetrical design and the Alpina lettering make a nice display back presentation.
Since one reason I ordered this watch was to get the factory mesh bracelet, I was excited because I think the mesh looks great on this model.  I was slightly let down by the bracelet for two reasons:  overall size and quality of finishing.  The edges could be finished smoother in a couple of spots (especially for a watch at this price point), but as a consolation, the edges are capped at the lugs and there are solid textured links on both sides of the clasp for sizing, which is easy if your wrist is large enough.
This was the first watch in literally hundreds I have owned that with all the removable links taken out, I still could not get a tight enough fit.  If you have a large wrist, this watch will be perfect for you.  The clasp is a pushbutton double locking type with a machined deployant featuring a perlage finish (a nice touch, as I have noticed more and more watch companies putting perlage on their clasps lately).  
The clasp has a slider adjustment for the slider-type (glide lock style) microadjustment.  It’s the type of slider that extends from the rear of the clasp to enlarge or shorten the clasp, either for microadjustment or for use as a dive extension.  I’m not a huge fan of this type of microadjustment because I don’t like the way the slider extends from the rear of the clasp and makes it longer and ungainly on the wrist. 
In order to get this watch to fit me properly, I had to remove the slider adjustment mechanism and fit the bracelet directly to the clasp.  This worked, but left the clasp with two gaps (one on each side) where the slider grips used to fit.  Not the most elegant solution, but since I wanted to retain the mesh bracelet and not put a strap on this watch, this was the only solution for me.  So if you have a 6-3/4” wrist or less, the Alpina Extreme Sailing diver with factory mesh bracelet will be too large for your wrist without putting on a strap or some sort of other bracelet option to replace the factory mesh.
The mesh bracelet measures 22mm continuous width from lugs to clasp.
Presentation is as previously discussed.  A huge box that houses the watch and the catamaran model.  It’s actually too big, but first impressions do count for something I guess.
Overall, I would say the Alpina Extreme Sailing diver is a watch for those of a bigger wrist.  It’s just about on the border of being too large if your wrist is 7” or less in size.  The watch does look good, appears to be well made and carries a true Swiss heritage, so that definitely counts for something these days.  And the catamaran model is pretty cool.
Pros:  clean, easy-to-read dial, large crown with plenty of turns to lock, nice hand set, great AR on sapphire crystal, looks great on the mesh bracelet, bonus sailboat model
Cons:  quality and application of lume needs improvement, mesh bracelet edges could be finished better, mesh bracelet too large for a smaller wrist, slider type microadjustment kind of clunky
Verdict:  a dive watch for a bigger wrist or for someone who wants an easy-to-see and easy-to-read dial with clean, yet somewhat bold looks

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.