Review: Weiss Field Watch

Weiss Feature

As a watchmaker and a supporter of all things USA-made I have often found myself with incredibly limited options when it comes to watches that fit the criteria of affordable, mechanical, and at least partially actually American made. There are several brands that are trying to do similar commendable things such as assemble in the US, but Weiss is the only one that makes and finished their cases in the US. While I like Shinola, and have a huge respect for what they are doing (and will eventually pick up one of their pieces,) I wanted a mechanical not a quartz. Of course there is RGM (I will hopefully be adding one of his pieces to my collection in the near future) but other than him there have been no young watchmakers attempting to onshore mainstream mechanical watchmaking until Weiss and the Field Watch.

The only thing not American-made in this watch is the movement. Making a fully in-house movement is a herculean undertaking, and is far out of the reaches of a start-up. It takes a dollar figure with several zeros and many years to develop, prototype, and manufacture. While I hope that Weiss will begin making their own components I was more than happy to obtain my first piece of theirs just to support the USA-watchmaking cause. After having this watch on for a number of weeks however I found myself going from a supporter to an advocate.

The movement is a Swiss ETA 6497. To give some context to its utility, Panerai is one of the many companies who use this base movement. It is also the main base-caliber for watchmakers to use when they make their own components.

Weiss finishes, assembles, regulates, and tests all their movements in the US. This is an added amount of care and work that deserves to be appreciated, and is really a task that can only be done by watchmakers. All too often companies will order their cases, order their movements, dials, and hands and then have an assembler slap them together and ship them out. Weiss puts in the extra effort that for me sets it apart from some other companies using a standard caliber. They also have their cases made in the US, and hand-finish those as well. Finally, they make their dials in the US as well. Other than RGM and KM Independent they are the closest you can come to American-made in the watch world. The affordability of the work they put in makes this a must-have piece for anyone supporting the growing talent and abilities of US-based watchmakers.

Weiss Movement Weiss Movement Close Up

I bought the field watch set as they are limited and come numbered. The packaging is very well executed. It arrives in a wooden case with a spring-bar tool (also USA made) and an extra band. While I have not used the extra band, as I am such a huge fan of the one it came on, it’s still a nice extra. For me the green canvas is (perhaps unintentionally) reminiscent of some of the greatest American timepieces made for our military such as the A-11. The lining makes it an incredibly comfortable and quick molding band.

Weiss Band

I was initially worried about the 42mm, but it wears small for its size. It is one of the few watches over 40mm that you can forget that it on your wrist. The case sits very well and that combined with the padded band makes it incredibly comfortable. The case details are aesthetically great. The combination of a brushed steel middle case sandwiched between a polished bezel and polished side of the case back manages to pull of both an industrial American-made feel with a just enough polish to exude the particular refinement one expects of a piece crafted with the care that Weiss puts into each one. It also allows for the watch to be worn well with jeans or a jacket.

Weiss Case Finish Weiss Case

All together this is a purchase that I have zero regrets about. There are certain times where we make a choice to sacrifice for a principle, like when you pay extra for ugly organic produce, or when you pay extra for fair trade chocolate that tastes slightly more chalky than a piece of velvety Valrhona. After a good deal of time with this watch, I can say it is a rare instance where I sacrificed nothing for a principle that I support wholeheartedly, and I can’t wait for what they put out next.

Weiss Crown Down Weiss Crown Up

Review: Swatch Sistem51

Sistem51 Black Front  Sistem51 Red Flat

After a few weeks with the Sistem51 I am ready to write my final opinion on the piece. As a fan of innovative mechanics, I was incredibly anxious to get this watch on my wrist. Fortunately I have some wonderful family in Geneva who helped me out in this quest. While we unfortunately live in a world where people don’t get excited too excited over reasonably priced watches, and “innovation” usually comes with a price tag of over $20,000, it is refreshing to be able to write (positively) about a new piece that every watch lover can (and should) enjoy.

At first glance these watches, packaging and all, are indistinguishable from regular Swatches. Initially I expected more, but then again, most people don’t really care for the innovation, they just want an automatic Swatch. Only nerds like me really care about the movement inside. I will first cover the nerdy parts and then delve into hands on experience of the watch. Should you not care for the engineering part you can go right down to the section titled “On The Wrist.”

For those who do not know the details, the Sistem51 is the first mechanical watch assembled entirely by machine. In this day and age that sounds like an odd concept, but when one sees the intricacy of mechanical watches, it becomes clear just how tough of a feat this was to accomplish. Watchmaking is one of the few industries where people are absolutely necessary for the very fine and iterative micromechanical movements needed to assemble a watch. Wheels and pinions need to be precisely aligned, the balance wheel needs to be lined up perfectly in the pallet fork, and several tiny compound movements are required to assemble and properly fit mechanisms. Because all the parts are dynamic no two assemblies are exactly the same, making the process nearly impossible to automatize. What is further impressive is that Swatch included a date function on the watch, meaning that there were several functions back and front to be assembled by a machine. All of these components are held together by a single screw visible on the back. This whole package is then hermetically sealed. There is no way into the watch for service. It is expected to run for 20 years without intervention.

Sistem51 Red Rotor Sistem51 Black Rotor 2

Engineering aside, this movement solves a growing problem for the Swiss watch industry. As price points for mechanical movements decline mostly due to the low costs of labor in Asia, Swiss manufacturers find themselves in a market where they cannot compete for mass quantity cheap mechanical movements. In a world where cost has won out over quality, the Swiss have found themselves in a losing battle, but this new low-cost, high-quality mechanical movement that allows a fashion watch to say “Swiss Made” has the potential to change the market entirely. Because the movements are made without human hands, they can achieve scale without offshoring or needing to up labor costs drastically. While this is total speculation, this is my hypothesis for why this movement was finally made. As there is no more valuable single attribute to a watch, the Swiss are banking on their name and some innovative manufacturing to recapture a market in which they have lost ground. As Swatch CEO Nicholas Hayek said in an interview with watch insider (found here: http://www.watch-insider.com/reportages/conversation-nick-hayek-ceo-swatch-group/) controlling the lower market segment allows for a better command of the middle and upper segments (as well as making your business much healthier.) As the most dominant force in all market segments, he clearly understands the importance of his company’s creation. The Sistem51 will hopefully allow them to truly recapture this segment from further international encroachment and give consumers a confidence in the quality of lower cost automatic watches. The precision and quality of Swiss manufacturing has been the gold standard for centuries, and the more that that quality can be brought to the broader market, and accessible to all, the better.

On The Wrist

When I first got this watch the first thing I did was to check all the functions. The manual wind spins in the opposite direction one would expect but there is nothing bad about that, it just takes some getting used to.  The quickset date is always a great function and works perfectly. The only thing I noticed that was consistently off (I got three watches) was when the date changed. The date flipped more than one hour and 40 minutes late. This was a frustrating thing to be so off. The movement is entirely sealed there is no way to change this problem. Looking past this however there is plenty to like about this watch.

The rotor is clear allowing for an unobstructed view of the mechanics. Swatch also made the rotation visually stunning by adding patters to the back of the movement and the perimeter of the rotor creating a very nice sight as the rotor moves. The constellation patters on the dial makes for a unique and eye catching front as well.

Sistem51 Black Rotor

Sistem51 Red Dial Close-up   Sistem51 Black Flat

The size of the watch is normal by today’s standards and is very well suited to both a man’s wrist or a woman who prefers timepieces on the larger side. Because of the plastic construction (Similar to the Tissot 2250) the weight is incredibly light. The slight downside to this low weight is that vibration is very easily detectable on the wrist and as a result you can occasionally hear and feel the rotor winding

Sistem51 Rotors

The band comes in either leather or on a silicone. The latter is unbelievably comfortable. As an everyday or a sports watch it wears lightly and comfortably. The slightly dressed up black version that comes on a leather band has a less pronounced constellation design on the front making it blend well in a more dressy setting.

Sistem51 Black Angle

The Sistem51 is the most wearable piece of horological innovation in a long time. If you don’t care for innovation, it is still an attractive and comfortable Swatch. While its not super fancy, its innovation definitely makes it a staple for any watch collection. With a price tag in the $200-300 range this watch is affordable on almost any watch budget.

Sistem51 Red Angle   Sistem51 Black Angle

Review: Thomas Earnshaw Watches (The Admiral and The Astor)

My experience with Earnshaw watches was Interesting. Within one brand and two watches I found a diversity of design. One represented a modern sports/diver watch while the other was a more simple and elegant everyday watch that drew its design inspiration from a marine chronometer.

The Admiral:

Earnshaw Admiral Feature

As soon as I put it on my wrist I knew the Admiral was not for me. While I liked the dial design, and the overall styling, it was simply too thick for my wrist. At about 14.5mm thick it was just too much. This watch needs to be on a wrist far larger than mine to feel comfortable. While the width of a watch is something one can get used to, the depth is one of those things that either works for you or it doesn’t.

Earnshaw Admiral on Wrist

Pros:

Beyond my initial resistance to it based entirely on my opinion, there are some good attributes to the watch. The dial is very well designed and while busy manages to be very legible. They opted to have mostly hollow hands with just the tips filled which allows for greater legibility of the functions such as the date and the power reserve. The case is and feels very solid, and has a nice weight to it that you sometimes do not get with watches of this type. The button above the crown activates the date function (the sub-dial in the upper right, and while it seems like a bit of overkill to have such a pronounced design feature just to set the date, it was oddly reminiscent (in a good way) of setting the date on an aircraft clock. It also runs reliably on its Chinese caliber CH-TY2714.

Earnshaw Admiral Dial  Earnshaw Admiral Movement

Cons:

As with all watches there are some problems. The one-directional bezel feels somewhat puny in construction quality to the rest of the case and the click of its rotation does not feel like it is fitting of the case construction. Additionally, the crown is not centered on the crown guards, which is an odd oversight, but an annoying one at that. Finally, the date changes consistently early (about 4 minutes.)

Earnshaw Admiral Crown

Conclusion:

All in all, it is a good-looking, hefty watch that happens to be too thick for my wrist. If you are into larger, sportier watches then this is definitely an option. While the listed retail price at $680 is a very high price to pay for this watch, it is routinely available at much lower price points. Places such as Gilt and Overstock.com have sold out of this watch in the $120 range, which I would say is a fair price.

Earnshaw Admiral Width Earnshaw Admiral Buckle

The Ashton:

Earnshaw Ashton Feature

The second watch I tried was the Ashton. I have very little negative to say about this watch. It is a comfortable wear, has a great weight, and a well executed combination of different design elements from the marine chronometer inspired dial, the porthole styled bezel, and the brushed steel band with polished streaks.

Earnshaw Ashton Side

Earnshaw Ashton Band Earnshaw Ashton Crown

Pros:

The dial is very legible with the prominent roman numerals and the elegant and simple chapter ring. The Breguet hands fit very well with the style of dial. Built with what looks to be a member of the Chinese CH-TY25xx family it is a solid automatic movement for the price.

Earnshaw Ashton Movement

Cons:

The problems I found with this watch were that the power reserve continues to move forward past the full indicated 40 hours and can look empty even though running. The Roman numerals while fitting well into the watch design are stamped on the dial as opposed to being made separately and inserted in. This has the unfortunate effect of making the dial look a bit cheap at certain angles. Additionally the band, while well finished on the outside had cut marks on the less seen sides. Finally, the clasp is a bit tough to work until it loosens a bit.

Earnshaw Ashton Buckle Earnshaw Ashton Band Cut Marks Earnshaw Ashton Numerals

Conclusion:

I thoroughly enjoyed this watch. It was comfortable to wear, looked great, and is well executed. The listed retail price at $600 is high for this watch, but was listed a while ago at Gilt for $200, and I am sure will pop up again at a similar price. In that range it is a good value.

I think it is worth clarifying that although Thomas Earnshaw was a major contributor to the world of horology with his pioneering in the field of Marine Chronometers, the current brand that bears his name has no resemblance to the legacy of the man himself or his contributions to horology (even though their marketing would indicate differently.) They are instead a modern incarnation that puts out large production watches using mass-produced movements. Judged against the legacy of Earnshaw, one is likely to be let down, but judged as its own different brand, Earnshaw produces some well-styled watches worth seeking out if you are in the market and can find them at the right price.

 

Review: AVI-8 Watches

The mid to high-end of fashion watches is littered with either watches made to look like much pricier brands or with pieces that are simply too plain to stand out or justify their pricing. UK-based AVI-8 Watches has managed to break this mold with a bold series of designs inspired by military aviation. In a short period of time they have managed to roll out an extensive line of original timepieces with a particular attention to detail and a definitive flight-inspired look.

I was given two pieces from them to get a feel for their Hawker Hurricane line and their Lancaster Bomber line. Convinced on the merits of those two, I have since added a piece from the Flyboy collection to my own collection.

From left to right: Flyboy, Lancaster Bomber, Hawker Hurricane

From left to right: Flyboy, Lancaster Bomber, Hawker Hurricane

As a sucker for canvas bands, I was immediately drawn to the Hawker Hurricane Ref. AV-4017-04. The shade of green on the band is definitively vintage military. While it is a pretty large watch at 44mm, with a substantial thickness, it wears lighter than one might expect. The dial is easy-to-read and the Arabic numerals are very well selected for the time period they are trying to represent. The outer 0-60 index ring fits in very well around the prominent numerals, and I am always a fan of a second sub-dial at 9 o’clock. The thickness of the case is used to create a very well executed sense of depth between the crystal and the dial. The lugs have a small flare that helps to distinguish an otherwise plain (but well built and finished) steel case.

AVI-8 Hawker Hurricane Side  AVI-8 Hawker Hurricane Front  AVI-8 Hawker Hurricane Dial

Small but noticeable flare on the lug

Small but noticeable flare on the lug

It runs well on what I originally thought to be a Japanese Miyota (Citizen) Automatic movement, but a little further digging by a reader revealed that contrary to the literature claiming this to be a Japanese Automatic, it is actually a slightly cheaper Chinese automatic movement.  It includes a quick-set date as well as a hack function (which almost feels obligatory on any timepiece that is aviation-related.)

AVI-8 Hawker Hurricane Movement

There are a few very minor things I might highlight as issues. Firstly, the date display is set very low in a small porthole at 3 o’clock that can be difficult to read. For such a large-featured watch the date is a bit lost. Secondly, the hand design differs between the second hand and the hour and minute hand. The latter are sharp and angular while the second hand is more of the round style seen in Panerai sub-dial hands. Finally, while I love exhibition backs the canvas band obscures this one. This is not true with any of their other automatic models that utilize leather bands.

Slight stylistic mismatch between the sundial hand and the large hands

Slight stylistic mismatch between the sundial hand and the large hands

With the canvas band on the movement is hidden

With the canvas band on the movement is hidden

The date size is relatively small for the watch

The date size is relatively small for the watch

All in all these design issues are minor, and do very little to detract from the overall beauty and utility of this piece. It’s a comfortable wear, great style, and can be had at a reasonable price point. While their listed retail price is perhaps higher than it should be, a quick search online and you can find this watch at a price point that makes it well worth the purchase.

AVI-8 Hawker Hurricane flat

Retail Price: $520 (Currently available at Amazon.com for $141.75 at that discount its hard to pass up on this watch)

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00FR713RA/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me=&seller=

While many of AVI-8s collections are extensive and diverse (the Hawker Harrier line has 33 references), the Lancaster Bomber stands out as the exception. They have just done one design in five different dial/case/band variations. The Lancaster Bomber was an iconic warplane for the RAF and unquestionably the most legendary of the British fleet during WWII. It holds a similar place in aviation history as the Boeing B-17 and B-29. They were the “flying fortresses” that won the war

AVI-8 Lancaster Bomber Feature   AVI-8 Lancaster Bomber Front

The presence on the wrist matches the grandeur of this aircraft. While it is smaller from lug-to-lug than the Hawker Hurricane reviewed above, it feels and wears noticeably larger. The crown proudly displays the logo and the colors of the RAF, which is a small but fantastic detail on the watch. Its hands are very much like those found on aviation instruments and setting the time feels like setting a gauge in a cockpit (in a good way.) They recapture the distinctive “bubble” underneath the cockpit with a pronounced date magnifier, and add an interesting “riveted” side to the case. All together it is a very well thought out and executed tribute to the aircraft it is based off of.

AVI-8 Lancaster Bomber "rivets" AVI-8 Lancaster Bomber RAF Crown

There are only two things that I found issue with on this watch. Firstly, the disproportion between the date magnifier and the date window is slightly off-putting. Secondly, such a legendary aircraft tribute should have a movement to match. Quartz seems to detract from the image of the Lancaster Bomber. Other than that it is a very nicely designed piece that is definitively not a dress watch and definitively not a casual sports watch. It is a watch that would go very well with a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up.

AVI-8 Lancaster Bomber Dial AVI-8 Lancaster Bomber Back AVI-8 Lancaster Bomber Side 2

Retail Price: $320

After handling and wearing some of their watches I think AVI-8 is a brand with great promise. Their watches are unique, well conceived, and well executed. They stand out against the backdrop of the myriad of other watch companies competing in the “fashion” watch market that they do. The one thing I really wish they had was better movements. At the end of the day, the meticulous design detail that they put into their pieces is not matched by the quality of movements they utilize. Fortunately that is something one can add in due time. You can always add better movements to great designs, and with AVI-8 the combination of their design acumen with a high quality ébauche would make these truly amazing pieces. An ETA would change the class of these watches entirely. Wether or not this is a place they want to go, I am unsure, but they have an attention to detail that appears to be unmatched in the market segment they compete in, and they would be more than qualified to make the step from fashion to collectible. I for one am hoping they choose to fly into that stratosphere, and will certainly keep an eye on what they keep churning out.