Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Review of Deep Blue Master 1000 Automatic Divers

Model # NA

Brand/Model:  Deep Blue Master 1000 Automatic Diver
Movement:  Japanese automatic (Seiko/SII)
Material:  stainless steel case, stainless steel bracelet or rubber strap
Complications:  date display
Price:  approximately $300 USD depending on exact model and options

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

The micro-brand movement has never been stronger in the world of watch collecting.  Micro-brands or boutique brands are usually watches manufactured in China using Chinese, Japanese or Swiss movements and sold direct to the consumer through the company’s web site.  For the buyer, these brands offer an array of styles and features for prices that are very attractive when compared to name-brand watches with the same features.

There can be downsides to purchasing a micro-brand watch, mainly in the area of warranty service or repair.  Many micro-brands produce their specific models in limited quantities and once that model is sold out, getting replacement parts in terms of a dial or handset could be difficult. 

The movements, if they’re Japanese or Swiss, usually won’t pose a problem for service, as any competent watchmaker outside of the micro-brand company’s repair facility should be able to service the movement.

Also, many micro-brands are sold on a pre-order basis, so buyers sometimes have to wait weeks or months for their watches to arrive, but if they are patient, the wait can be worthwhile.  One nice aspect of the micro-brand movement is that many of these watches get flipped by early buyers rather quickly for a variety of reasons, so buyers can pick them up at the same or even lower prices, without having to wait for the watch to be produced.

Overall, the micro-brand revolution has added a fun and exciting dimension to our watch hobby and most of the micro-branded watches I have owned over the years have proven themselves to be worth the price of entry and have been just as reliable as name-brand timepieces.

This introduction gets me to the subject of this review, the Deep Blue Master 1000 series of dive watches.  Deep Blue has been around since 2007 and offers a vast array of diver style watches with a seemingly endless array of features, dial colors, bezel materials, etc.  Their quality is strong and the brand has decent resale value.
Back in June of 2011, I reviewed the Deep Blue Master 2000 automatic diver, a watch I have since sold but now regret selling, as it was a solid, bold and great looking watch.

But since then, I have recently acquired not one, but two, Deep Blue Master 1000 automatic divers, which are being reviewed here.  I will deviate a bit from my normal format of reviews due to the fact that I am covering two watches instead of one, but the results will be the same, that is, a comprehensive look at both pieces.

To begin with, the things that are the same with my two examples:

-Model (Deep Blue Master 1000)
-Movement (Japanese Seiko/SII NH35A 24-jewel automatic with hacking and manual-wind capability)
-Case size and material (45mm stainless steel)
-Caseback (screwdown stainless steel with embossed diver and individual serial number)
-Crown and HEV (signed screwdown crown at 3 o’clock and manually operated helium escape valve at 10 o’clock)
-Crystal (very slightly domed sapphire)
-Luminosity (both blue lume, very average intensity)
-Complications (date display at 3 o’clock)
-Dial printing (Deep Blue name and logo under 12; ‘Master 1000’, ‘automatic’ and 300M/1000ft’ above the six position)
-Water resistance (factory rated at 300 meters)
-Bracelet/Strap (standard rubber/silicone strap; optional stainless steel solid link bracelet with solid end links and machined deployant with pushbutton double locking clasp)
-Presentation (zippered nylon hardback carry case)

And the differences:

-Bezel insert material and color (green ceramic vs. black/blue aluminum insert; the actual metal bezel itself is the same with both watches)
-Bezel lume (full lume bezel markings on ceramic vs. lume pip at 12 o’clock with aluminum insert)
-Dial color and markers (green with rectangular markers as part of the chapter ring vs. black with round applied markers rimmed in silver)
-Hand set (white sword style outlined in black vs. black stick minute and white hour hands)

The Master 1000 stainless steel case is nicely finished and fully brushed, with a smooth satin look and feel.  The watch does not wear overly large and due to the downward curve of the lugs, fits the wrist nicely.  The watches also have a good heft to them, which is something I appreciate, especially in a dive watch.  After all, if the watch can go to 300 meters deep, you want it to feel like it can go that deep and not be a delicate doily on the wrist.

Case dimensions are 45.1mm wide; with winding crown it measures 49.3mm.  Lug-to-lug measurement is 52.2mm.

The crown is perfectly sized, signed with the Deep Blue logo and knurled for an easy grip.  It screws down with about three full turns.  Small crown guards help protect the crown from accidental knocks and bumps without getting in the way of winding or setting the watch.

One nice thing about this watch, even though it is 45mm in size, it wears smaller and doesn’t feel overly large on the wrist, due to the curvature of the lugs as mentioned above.

Lug spacing is 22mm and thickness is 15mm.  The caseback is stainless steel, embossed with a diver logo and the Deep Blue name and individually serialized.  Of course, the caseback screws down to maintain water resistance.

A manual screwdown helium escape valve (HEV) is located on the left side of the case at the 10 position.  On both of these examples of the Master 1000, I found the HEV to be too tight, it was very hard to turn to open and close.

Overall fit and finish is excellent, especially for the price and the look and feel is one of solidity, quality and strength.

The Deep Blue Master 1000 is factory rated for 300 meters/1,000 feet of water resistance.

The real differences between these two Master 1000 models is in their dial and hand set presentation.

The green dial model has white sword style hands outlined in black with white rectangular markers that are integral with the white chapter ring encircling the dial, so in a sense, they are applied, but more like being overlayed on the dial, which is fine.  The seconds had is a simple black stick with a lumed circle towards the tip.

The shade of green on this dial is what attracted me to this watch.  Many people don’t care for green dial watches.  I like the color for a watch, but it has to be the right shade, as lots of green dials are too minty or too shiny for my tastes.  This Deep Blue green dial hits the mark perfectly for me.

Both watches have a quickset date window at the 3 position.  The date wheel is black on white and setting and alignment within the window is good.

Relatively minimal dial printing is present on both models and is identical, as listed above.

The black dial Master 1000 has a semi-sunburst black dial that has hints of grey in it, it’s rather a charcoal dial with a bit of shine.  This dial features applied round markers rimmed in silver tone.  The markers at 3, 6 and 9 are rectangular and the marker at 12 is an inverted triangle.  All the markers on both watches are blue lume and glow, but not that brightly.

A simple white chapter ring is printed on the black dial with hash marks for the minutes.

The handset on the black dial model is comprised of stick hands; the hour hand is smaller and white outlined in black, so it tends to disappear a bit on the dial.  The minute hand is white and outlined in silver tone and is wider than the hour hand to stand out more.  The seconds hand is the same as the green dial model, except that it is dark blue in color, and once again, save for the lume ball end, it tends to get lost a bit on the dial.

The bezels are also different on these watches.  The actual metal part of the bezel is the same, as is the 120-click unidirectional motion.  The bezels are fairly tight with a bit of backlash.

The green dial model has a sharp looking green ceramic bezel insert that has the perfect ceramic gloss to it.  Some watches as of late feature ceramic bezels, but are matte in finish and it’s hard to tell that they are actually ceramic (my Omega Planet Ocean 8500 is a good example of this).

The green bezel insert has lume-filled hash marks and arabics around the entire bezel and a lume-filled inverted triangle at the 12 position.  All-in-all, this bezel is a winner.

The bezel insert on the black dial model is much more plebian in nature.  It’s a standard aluminum insert that is half black (from the 45 to the 15 marks) and half dark blue (from the 15 clockwise to the 45 marks).  Obviously, this color combo was chosen to mimic the Rolex ‘BLNR’ watch has a blue and black ceramic bezel. 

The bezel here almost doesn’t look two-tone because the blue is so dark it blends into the rest of the black shades on the watch.  This isn’t a demerit so much as a disappointment.  If you’re going to make a two-tone bezel, make it stand out as such.  There is also a slight dimple at the 41 mark on the bezel insert, presumably a point that got missed in QC.  Not a huge issue, but again, the insert should be perfect.

The only lume on the black and blue bezel is the lume pip at the 12 position.

Covering the dials on both models is a slightly curved sapphire crystal that exhibits no distortion or undue glare.

My biggest disappointment with both of these Master 1000 models is the lume.  The quality, brightness and application all seem lacking, which is a puzzle since Deep Blue prides themselves on generous applications of luminous material to really make their watches glow.  I would rate both watches only average (and on the low end of average at that) in regards to their luminosity.

When it comes to the movement in these Deep Blue Master 1000 models, as stated previously, they both sport the hearty Seiko/SII NH35A automatic, which is the same as Seiko’s 4R36 movement. 

The NH35A runs in 24 jewels and beats at 21,600 vph.  The movement can be manually wound and it also hacks.  Much has been written about this engine and it is found in a wide range of watches and in many micro-brands. 

My only complaint with the various examples of this movement I have owned is that is varies quite a bit in accuracy.  Some examples run slow, others fast and still others more spot-on, which leads me to believe that if the time is taken to regulate it at the factory, it can keep very good time.

In the green dial Master 1000, the NH35A was timed by me at +15 seconds over 24 hours in the crown up position.  Conversely, the black dial Master 1000 ran at -3 seconds over 24 hours in the same crown up position.  See what I mean?

Power reserve on both watches is fine, the green dial at 44 hours and the black dial at 44.5 hours.  No complaints here.  Both movements wind and set fine and the crown action is good.  Overall, the NH35A movement in these Deep Blue models performs acceptably and I have no doubts about the reliability and durability of this movement over the long term.

Deep Blue sells most of its watches with a rubber/silicone dive strap and the stainless steel bracelet is sold as an accessory item.  The bracelet as seen on the green dial model is the same as the bracelet that came on the black dial Master 1000.  I removed the bracelet on the black dial and installed an aftermarket 22mm grey leather strap, but retained the factory signed buckle from the rubber strap that also came with the watch.

I found the rubber strap to be too bulky and not wrist hugging enough for my smaller wrist, mainly due to the fact that it’s one of those rubber straps that fits against the case as a bracelet with solid end links would, that is to say there is no gap between the strap and case.  This doesn’t allow the strap to flex downward enough for a good fit if your wrist is too small, hence the reason I installed the leather strap. 

One small note, the case is relatively well finished on the inside of the lugs and case sides that are normally covered by the bracelet end links or rubber strap ends.  The watch looks good on the leather strap with these areas exposed.

The factory rubber strap is of decent quality and is not scented (that you very much) and would work well for people of a thicker wrist.

The stainless steel bracelet is a quality item, with solid links, solid end links and a signed, double locking clasp with machined deployant.  The bracelet measures 22mm at the lugs and tapers to 20mm at the clasp.

The bracelet is brushed in the same smooth satin finish as the case and it looks great.  The links are held in place by standard split pins and there are three micro-adjustment holes in the clasp to achieve a good fit.  Sizing of the bracelet posed no problems.

If you’re thinking of getting a Deep Blue, the relatively small amount of extra money for the bracelet is dollars well spent, as it’s a good piece.

Presentation as noted above is a hard-back black nylon zippered case, with the strap inside (if you order the bracelet, the watch comes on the bracelet with the strap inside the case), along with the instructions and warranty.  The case would make a nice travel case if you choose to use it that way.

In summary, both of the Deep Blue Master 1000 divers reviewed here are quality, affordable watches that are true divers, I wouldn’t hesitate to get them wet.  Given the variety of designs Deep Blue offers, this brand should have something for every aficionado of dive watches.  The green dial and black dial Master 1000s are nifty watches that come highly recommended.

Pros: nice case finish and good case size, quality accessory bracelet, Seiko automatic movement is solid, affordability

Cons:  lume could be a lot better, its application and brightness leaves something to be desired, accuracy could be a bit tighter in some examples, HEV valve was very hard to turn open or close

Verdict:  very good quality and modest price equate to value and Deep Blue brings that equation home with the Master 1000 series.  Good looks and solid construction contribute to a tool watch that is a strong piece, even if you don’t get it wet.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pics.



Thursday, December 15, 2016

Review of Seagull 1963 Chinese Air Force Chronograph

Model # NA

Brand/Model:  Seagull 1963 Chinese Air Force Chronograph
Movement:  Chinese manual wind column wheel chronograph
Material:  stainless steel case, nylon NATO-style strap
Complications:  chronograph timing in one-fifth second increments up to 30 minutes
Price:  approximately $200 to $300 USD depending on exact model and options

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

The ‘retro’ movement in material goods is still in full swing.  By ‘retro’ I mean products (watches, cars, furniture, clothes, etc.) that feature styling from years past being reintroduced in current times with the same look, features, etc. but also often times updated a bit with different color combinations, sizes, features or more modern techniques.

The challenge is to find a product that is truly retro in its appearance and function.  Too many watch brands bring back a retro line, only to dilute the retro portion by jazzing things up in one way or another and somewhat ruining the retro idea to begin with.

Not so with the watch being reviewed here.  The Seagull 1963 Chinese Air Force Chronograph holds amazingly true to its beginnings over 50 years ago in China.  Yes, the current production of this watch is offered in two case sizes, with options for a display caseback; acrylic, mineral or sapphire crystals; two different dial color combinations and striped NATO straps, but if you order right, you’ll be rewarded with a watch that looks and feels straight out of the cold-war era.

The Seagull 1963 chrono that I bought is what I consider to be the best reissue of the bunch.  It has a perfectly sized 37mm case, solid caseback, acrylic crystal and solid olive NATO strap, all like the original and best of all, this configuration is the least expensive of the current 1963 chrono offerings.

First, a bit of background on this unique and affordable watch.  In 1962, the Tianjin watch factory was tasked with developing a chronograph watch for use by the Chinese Air Force.  After receiving approval by high-ranking government officials, a run of 1400 watches were produced in 1963 and upon their reissue as a retro timepiece in recent years, the rest as they say in horological circles, is watch making history.

This 1963 Air Force chrono starts with a 37mm stainless steel case (39.8mm including the crown) that is fully polished.  Thickness is 14.2mm and lug spacing is an odd 17.5mm (but there would be no problem fitting an 18mm strap to this watch).
The caseback is brushed stainless steel and screws down, with ‘1963’, an Air Force logo and some Chinese language characters stamped into the caseback.

The crown is simple and sized perfectly for manual winding duties.  The chronograph pushers are a bit small, but are simple pushbutton style and operate with a satisfying ‘crunch’ when depressed.

Overall fit and finish on this watch is completely acceptable, especially given the humble origins and low price of entry.

The dial is a unique goldish hue.  It looks great and is easy to read.  The markers and arabics (2,4,6,8,10 and 12) are applied and are gold in color with super simple blued stick hands that are long and very slender.  A full 60-second chapter ring encircles the dial, with small arabics every 5 seconds.  Overall, it’s a superb presentation with a quality that belies its price.

One demerit, but in keeping with the original design, this watch does not have any luminous material on the dial, markers or hands; it does not glow in the dark.

The chrono seconds hand is a long red stick that tapers slightly to the end.  There are two subdials; the subdial at the 9 position is the watch seconds hand and the subdial at 3 is the chronograph’s 30 minute totalizer.  Both subdials have full minute tracks, with the seconds subdial featuring a longer blue hand with tailpiece, while the totalizer hand is also blue but without a tailpiece.

Below the 12 position is an applied red star rimmed in gold (a beautiful touch) and below the star ’21 zuan’ (21 jewels in English).  Above the 6 position are Chinese language characters.

Capping the dial is a perfectly retro and super cool high-dome acrylic crystal that is slightly curved across its top. 

Again, the overall look is spot-on and totally awesome!

The watch is factory rated at 30 meters of water resistance, but judging by the construction, I would not want to get this watch wet.

Another thing that makes the 1963 Air Force chrono so nifty is its high-quality movement.  Based on the famous Venus manual wind column wheel chronograph movement and now made by Seagull with modern equipment, the ST19 movement features 21 jewels (19 jewels in some iterations of this watch) running at an acceptable 21,600 vph with complete shock protection. 

Much has been written about this modern version of the Venus movement and I have owned several examples of this movement in recent years and it’s always been a quality piece that operates as it should.

The watch manually winds perfectly but does not hack, so measuring timekeeping accuracy is a bit of a challenge, but my best estimate is probably less than 30 seconds a day variation.  Power reserve is excellent at 49-3/4 hours with my example.  All the chronograph functions work well, starting, stopping and resetting properly.  Overall, no complaints with the movement or its operation, especially at this price and also being that it’s a column wheel design, which would usually be found only in more expensive watches.

At first I was disappointed with the NATO strap on the 1963 Air Force chrono, but I went into this figuring this would be a low point of the watch (much like buying a Vostok and knowing the strap will be pretty crappy), but I have since changed my mind despite not being a NATO guy.  Yes, the NATO on this watch is thin and a bit rough, but it’s the optimal shade of olive green and harmonizes with the watch and completes its look perfectly.  It’s also more comfortable than I thought it would be.

The NATO is very long, so if you have a small wrist as I do, you will have to contend with the long end sticking out a bit, but it really hasn’t been a problem.  The strap measures 17.5mm wide from lug to buckle.  The buckle is a polished stainless steel type with standard pin, not the complicated wraparound style sometimes seen with NATO straps, so that is nice.  There are two keepers, both metal and both are fixed.

The watch also has standard spring bars, so changing out the NATO for something else will be no problem should you choose to do so.

Presentation consists of a metal circular tin with the same markings as are on the caseback emblazoned in red and black on the tin’s lid.  Nothing to complain about here, you don’t buy a watch like this expecting to be blown away by the packaging.

All in all, the Seagull 1963 Chinese Air Force chronograph hits the bullseye in regards to a true retro look and feel.  Moreover, it’s a useable piece, with a quality movement and an undeniable cache to wearing it.  At the price point these can be purchased at, it’s really a no-brainer if you want real retro style through and through.

Pros: true retro style as it was 50 years ago, quality column wheel chronograph movement, superb dial appearance, 37mm is the ideal case size, retro price

Cons:  no lume, virtually no water resistance, somewhat flimsy NATO strap

Verdict:  No-nonsense, real retro feel and one-of-a-kind looks come together to create a functional and stylish watch that will get noticed, from the cockpit to the kitchen.  You’ll be hard pressed to do better at this price.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pics.