Just finished up a preview of the Tangramatic Alpha 39 'California'. Hope you like the review! It's a hell of a deal on an interesting design.
I got an email this morning from Vlad Millerman that sent me to his website, www.navitaswatches.com. He has made a very cool and unusual watch based on the design of the throttle repeater of a ship:
Here's a picture of mine, from the USS Midway. This is one of the four boiler rooms on board:
Notice the Chelsea clock - that was what I wanted to note and research later. Turns out they're too expensive, ahh well. In the lower left if the throttle repeater, like the Navitas.
It doesn't look like the Navitas is for sale yet, which is a pity. I'd love to see one up close.
There's also a women's model and this version with inverted colors:
42mm, polished steel case, ETA 6498 movement with multilayer dial and custom hands.
His 'about page' is worth a read; I can sympathize!
This trial and error approach was very costly and frustrating, but I had no choice. I was going to make my watch the way I wanted it or not make it at all. Pretty soon, my creative endeavor had led me to develop my own vacuum dial holder and video positioning fixture for my CNC mill. Because it was impossible to find, I took a deeper dive and designed and fabricated a heavy duty dial printing machine with a laser guide for precise cliché/dial setup. That helped me start building dial printers for other watchmakers to offset the cost of the watch development.
People like Vlad are why I wrote and maintain the Design and make your own watch page.
(Image credit: Apple PR)
So a couple of days ago, the Apple Watch was announced. I was watching the video feed, and while I wish I could have been there, here are some thoughts and opinions.
I've got what I immodestly think is a nearly ideal background to evaluate the Apple Watch. I'm a watch expert, I've consulted for another quartz-based smartwatch, I've written dozens of watch reviews for ablogotwatch.com, watchreport.com and watchotaku.com, and I'm also a software developer with an app in the Google app store and a personal-project iOS app running on my iPhone.
Moreover, I've written about the Cartier/IWC strap system that is consider the closest to the Apple Watch. Also (very) relevant is my post about Veblen goods and marketing. I'm a runner, albeit a very slow and uncommitted one. I have a competing activity monitor, the Misfit Shine, had a Pebble from Kickstarter and just RMA'd my TomTom Runner Cardio.
Hodinkee did their usual excellent writeup, though when you read it it helps to remember that Hodinkee is primarily "Watches for bankers" and other rich men. His example is a white gold Patek perpetual! Even if he got a killer deal, that's tens of thousands of dollars; that's not the Apple Watch market. So it's an excellent evaluation of Apple vs the high end, but I think that's a bad comparison; a better one is Apple versus G-Shock MRG / Seiko Astron / Yes Watches / Suunto Elementum / Omega X-33.
Another one worth reading is Ariel's take on ablogtowatch. Less of the super-rich perspective, but as you'll see I have a few differences with his take.
The two viewpoints: Function and Signaling
From a functional evaluation, the Apple Watch excels with the strong exception of autonomy. It does a great deal, it does it well, and I'd certainly take it over the current Android wearables. I fully plan on buying one when they ship. That strap system - yes please!
There are a few drawbacks I see as major:
- No GPS. This limits its utility as a running / fitness tracker. My Misfit is pretty accurate at calculating distance, but I run with RunKeeper on the iPhone because then I get maps, elevation, training plans and quite a bit of analytics. Similar issues with the lack of a barometer.
- Battery life. I've debated this quite a bit, as most mechanical movements have a power reserve of 38 to 42 hours, meaning that if you put it down Friday night it'll be stopped before you got sleep on Sunday. If the presumed 1 - 1.5 day of the Apple watch is correct, then that's not much less. However. In the case of a mechanical watch, you can quickly wind and set it, and be on your way in a minute or two. If your Apple Watch goes flat, it needs to be connected to a charger for some unknown amount of time, likely to be at least an hour or two. (I did a bunch of research on rechargeable Li ion batteries and the charge and discharge rates have to low and carefully controlled to prevent failure. So you can't charge them quickly.) You also have to pack the charger when traveling. And forget doing multi-day hiking unless you have a solar-panel backpack.
- Water resistance. I've written my Secret Decoder Ring Page for this before; the key bit here is that any watch not rated for 100m or more is not a sport watch and should be kept as dry as possible. I know this is confusing, and the watch industry needs to be taken to task on it, but any rating less than 100m means keep dry. If, like me, you want to be able to jump in a pool or lake, this is a problem. Or if you just don't want to take off your expensive sport watch before you use the shower in the gym.
- Autonomy. This is a combined question of 'how useful is it by itself?' How many features require the phone? And how far away from a phone and charger can I get? Impossible to answer with the information currently available.
So those are what I see as the problems, given of course the enormous caveat that I'm working from other writers' reports and the pre-release information from Apple. #2 and #3 are perhaps addressable before release, though given the presence of a microphone I have my doubts on #2.
From a signaling evaluation, it's a titanic struggle and I'm making popcorn to watch the show. Rolex has spend untold millions of dollars over a period of decades selling their brand, and it works. If you walk down the street in the Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon) side of Hong Kong, on every single block you'll have a verbal offer to buy a fake Rolex, even on the block with the genuine Rolex dealership. Advertising works, and no one does more of it than Rolex. Patek Philippe is also superb, in particular their 'you never on a PP' campaign. Together, they have sold damn near the entire world on the idea that a Rolex shows your wealth and success, and that mechanical watches are required to demonstrate superiority.
Please take a moment now to read my post on Veblen and Rolex if you would. We are pack animals, and we all want ways to show our rank. The watch industry has succeeded in establishing mechanical watches as status markers.
What's the one company who's better than Rolex at advertising? Yeah, exactly. Apple's brand value greatly exceeds any watchmaker or conglomerate, even the titans like LVMH and Richemont. Apple just might be able to out-market Rolex in establishing the crucial mental association between the product and your social status.
This works especially well in societies where the social ranking is changing rapidly e.g. China. A possession, mannerism, accent or clothing that marks you as high-status is enormously valuable. Think gold iPhones, the Omega Constellation, the Mercedes logo, and of course any Rolex. A watch is perfect because you always have it with you. Anyone you interact with can (and is supposed to) notice this conspicuous luxury good and infer from it your high status. Apple's unparalleled publicity and status work here, allowing the company to nearly-instantly establish the status and desirability of an Apple Watch. If, as I suspect, the gold Edition comes in around $2,000 - $3,000 then I think it'll become the premiere aspirational luxury good for millions of people.
So I think there is a Christensen-type risk here for the current watch industry. Their current success depends on
- The unstated "mechanical watches mark high status" association
- Decades of advertising to produce the necessary product recognition
- The selling point of "mechanical watches are heirlooms".
A gold Apple Watch with a never-discounted price of $3,000 hits hard at #1. #2 is trivial for Apple; their PR is unparalleled. And #3 is easily countered with the argument of "Apple Watch does more for you, now."
Here I think they have a long way to go. It can't track a run without a phone. (Doable with the arm harness I have now). I can't track how I play Ultimate (The TomTom worked for that, though for me the pulse sensor failed as soon I perspired). I use my Misfit because I can wrist-mount it for any sport including volleyball and lap swimming, and it gets decent data.
I also like the sleep tracking in the Misfit. I'm not sure if the data is useful, but as with any experiment you never know what you might learn. If the Apple Watch has to charge every night it can't track sleep.
A barometer would have been nice to track elevation during the day and for workouts.
It's gotta be more waterproof. There's no way I'm leaving my watch unsecured in a public locker room while I shower post-workoout.
I can't take it hiking or camping without carrying a single-purpose charger. Ditto for trips like a conference, where it'd be super useful for tracking schedules and maps.
Bottom Line (TL;DR)
(Image credit: Hodinkee)
I'll buy one. This model, probably, steel with link bracelet, plus a rubber sport strap for running.
I think they've done well is making watches for both the functional and the luxury buyers and that they'll sell millions of them.
I think that the strap system is superb and really look forward to other brands licensing / adopting it. YES PLEASE.
It will take time for their luxury good to compete with the established brands. They have to convince people that their 'does more for you' luxury good is a better idea than 'lasts for decades' pitch for mechanical watches, really. Current watch brands will benefit from the comparison shopping but should be prepared to explain how they compete and why they are better.
I want to write an app for 'Find and map my kids' for it. And another one to display the home electricity usage I'm measuring now. Nice dashboard.
Switzerland should be worried but probably won't take it seriously enough. Seiko, Citizen, Casio, Suunto and similar brands will take a big hit and will need to reduce prices on some of their high-end watches to compete. Boutique quartz brands like Yes are at risk of being replaced by Apple Watch apps. Entry-level quartz (Tag Heuer for example) are at risk.
I look forward to the PR battle and expect Apple to win, and rapidly. The Swiss have a new 'Quartz Crisis' on their hands.
... due to spam. Hate those bastards, and apparently Atlassian's CAPTCHA is busted.
I go back and forth on the black watch trend, but this is pretty damn good looking.
Available November 2013, $1,695. Email email@example.com to get on the list.
Same specs as the Tyndall - ETA 2895 movement, hidden lugs, and I do like the white-hands, green-accents design. The carbon fiber texture appears to be subtle and not just visual clutter.
Yep, scored a grail - Tudor Pelagos! Arrived today, expect lots of content about it. Just fantastic.
The Story Until Now, and What I'm looking for
I've had decidedly poor luck with my quest for the perfect desk clock. I want a mechanical clock, preferably with an audible tick-tock, with an 8-day or greater power reserve. I want to have the enjoyable routine of winding it Monday morning and starting off the work week happy. It needs to not lose more than 2-3 minutes per week, otherwise I'll miss phone calls. This is totally a desk toy, so budget is limited.
This started when my wife's mother gave us a ship's clock her father bought in 1954, but it needs a $400 service and isn't going to keep time very well. (More of a change-the-watch clock than a navigation chronometer). It gave me the idea of a nice clock, though, dang it.
Next I bought and enjoyed the Omega calibre 59.8D 1940s clock
but have gone through hell with it too. It initially kept OK time, but after a few weeks starting gaining or losing minutes per day, and even finding someone who'd service it was very tough. In the end, Chelsea Clock was willing to service it, but quoted me $900 to do so. I love that clock, but really not sure I'm willing to spend that much on it.
I talked to the nice people at Timekeepers locally, who tell me that Omega a few years stopped selling parts to non-Omega watch and clockmakers. BOO OMEGA. YOU SUCK.
Especially since I've emailed Omega and they're unwilling to service it, for any price. DOUBLE BOO OMEGA. QUIT BEING DICKS.
A New Hope
Timekeepers has a large stock of Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos clocks, which I would totally adore as a mantle or desk clock. The unfinished-case models are $650, and refinished ones around $1,100 so I'll wait and ponder that. I've also looked into carriage clocks, and deck watches, but hadn't found anything good. Most were too worn, needed expensive servicing, or were too expensive.
As I've said before, for a while I was a student pilot at the Fox Flying Club in Illinois. Had a grand time flying Piper Archers like this one:
Check out the dash:
I've left that image huge so you can see details.In addition to the flight-specific bits, there's a nice legible clock in the upper left. If you think about it, aircraft clocks need to be robust: There's a ton of vibration and temperature variation. Modern ones like this are quartz, but they were mechanical for decades...
An eBay search for "vintage 8 days" eventually led me to buying this one.
It's made by Waltham (squint and you can see the name on the dial), a famous now-bankrupt American brand better known for pocket watches. I would guess that they used modified pocket watch movements for these but that's purely speculation right now.
This one is mil-spec for the US Navy, which should mean super-tough and reliable. Model number 22809-A, military part number AN5743-1. 9 jewels!
Visually, I'm in love. Uncluttered, two colors, great contrast and legibility, zero extra. Perfect.
Read the listing, and it gets much better:
Clock was completely dis-assembled, all parts cleaned very well, re-assembled and lubed properly with 5 kinds of Moebius oils. The best! All clocks I sell are GUARANTEED to keep good time.
Yay! That's what I want. At $199 it's incredibly cheap for a fully serviced 8-day clock.
Did a bit more research and bought a cheap acrylic stand too. Different seller, $15:
A Turn for the Worse And Then Better Again
Clock bought, paid, arrived in two days flat... and it won't start. WHY?
Contacted the seller (quiche_le_poodle on eBay), a very nice guy, who promptly offered to fix it free:
Hi. Should have been running when you got it. Yes, return it. I don't know
why it quit so soon! Usually they last a long time, many years. I have sold
hundreds of them with no problems. Sorry about that.
So it's headed out today. I will post a followup. I'm optimistic, but then aren't I always?
Update 8/1/13 - Ray got the clock and reports
Hi. Got the clock. Mainspring busted. That is very uncommon on this model.
Will send it back with new, not used, spring installed tomorrow.
Update 8/5/13 - Got the repaired clock today, running and looks perfect. Ray even tucked $12 in the box to cover my shipping! Now that is a nice guy. Highly recommended.
Learn More and Things To Know
Aircraft clocks seem to be as-yet-undiscovered. There's not a lot of info on the net, and prices are quite modest for what you get. They come in different sizes and different function sets. I got the most-basic, as that matches what I want on my desk, but I've also seen 24-hour dials, timers (chronographs), dual-time, ones with 5VDC dial lighting, etc, etc. Prices go from $200 for this one to $1000 for a Breitling from United Airlines with all sorts of coolness:
This page has a comprehensive listing of clocks, part numbers and most-basic specs, but that's it. Like I said, there's not much information out there. I think this Waltham dates from the mid-1940's, which is pretty darn cool.
Ray notes that these are calibrated to run in the vertical position. So make sure and get a stand or make one yourself.
Ray seems to be an excellent seller - his home page shows that this is his hobby, along with electronics, so his margins are probably tiny. I love finding a kindred soul in it for the love. (I can say that; after all this site is free!)
Start with Ray. Make sure anything you bid on is fully serviced, cleaned, lubed and warrantied to keep good time. And do leave a comment here if you have information to share, please.
I've posted about Greve before, and earlier this week Christian emailed me with the news that Greve now has a nice 5-link bracelet sourced from Fricker:
Price is 729 Euros, for VAT area I assume, probably cheaper to non-EU.