watch this space

Back when I used to blog in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the tagline of Best Let or Get was:

       good works 
nifty gadgets
wild thoughts
+ {my} life

{William Alba}

Seeking to blog frequently again, I will indulge myself occasionally and write once more about nifty gadgets. I’ll start with wrist watches. My children say I have too many, but really I have only three: the automatic I inherited from my grandfather, a quartz watch with a 24-hour dial, and my newest lovely acquisition from Christmas. (They say I have a fourth — my Fitbit Charge 2. which does flash the time on my right wrist, but I count that instead as a fitness tracker.)

My grandfather’s watch is a Seiko Sea Lion M44 manufactured, according to its serial number, in April 1964. My mother believes he bought it on a trip to Japan sometime that year. She’s not certain because she had already immigrated to the US by then.

P1040493

I remember admiring this watch as a child. When Grandpa visited the US for the first time, sometime around 1970, he placed it against my ear so I could hear the ticking. That’s the same trip when he blew smoke rings up towards the ceiling of our South Bronx apartment, and when he knocked insistently on the bathroom door to tell Grandma that it was snowing. It was a few flakes dancing slowly from the sky and I said, “It’s just snow, Grandpa,” but he had never seen it falling down.

This Seiko looked so enormous to me. I couldn’t imagine my own wrist ever wearing such a large object. He gave it to me sometime in the mid-1970s. I remember him handing it to me, telling me to take it. “But it’s your watch, Grandpa,” I said, completely puzzled. “I want you to have it,” he said. Seeing the tears in his eyes, I didn’t understand, so I refused. He instead gave it to my mother for safekeeping. He was well, as far as anyone knew. Yet that was the last time I saw him.

I didn’t see or wear the watch for decades. As a younger child, I wore a Mickey Mouse Timex where the hands were Mickey’s arms. For a while as a teenager, I wore a pseudo-diver’s watch from an outfit like Sears or Montgomery Ward. Then for many years I didn’t want anything to restrict or confine my hands. I could see the time on wall clocks or computer screens. In the 1990s and 2000s I sometimes carried the time with me on a clever little TimeTag that was simply a metal clip attached to an LCD, or on a portable device like a PalmPilot, iPod Touch, or iPad.

Then in 2015, somehow I thought I wanted a watch again, to know the time during classes and meetings. I ordered a Casio quartz from Amazon. Small, thin, light, accurate, inexpensive, with 24-hour markings, I thought it would be perfect. But it disappointed me greatly. There was no heft to it, the watch band was uncomfortable, it had no spirit. I sent it back and looked for Grandpa’s watch, stored away in a wooden box in my bedroom. 

It started right up. As an automatic watch, the simple act of picking it up wound the mainspring and the second hand began sweeping, the gears began ticking. It was smaller than I remembered, with a case width of 38 mm, small by today’s standards. But it fit my narrow wrist perfectly after I removed a couple of fine links.

I love the clean dial. Okay, so the time drifts into inaccuracy from day to day, and its power reserve doesn’t last through half a weekend, but what is a watch for?, I asked myself. To remind me of the passage of time.

But after a while, I found I did want something more accurate. A watch that I didn’t have to check against the oven clock before I left for the bus every morning. I had been admiring the Eone watches that I missed getting on Kickstarter, and especially the new Bradley Element, with its ceramic ridges and valleys. I thought this would be a great way to know the time by touch, to tell the time more discreetly.

BradleyElement 3Q 1024x1024

But I kept this watch for less than a week. It felt too self-indulgent. I loaned it indefinitely to my mother, suffering from macular degeneration, so she could tell the time better.

Later in 2017 I bought the Fitbit Charge 2 for myself. It’s a good activity tracker, and the app is convenient for tracking water intake and sleep. I switched in a magnetic “Milanese” strap. But it’s not a watch.

With a fascination for 24-hour time, last fall I purchased the Svalbard Glacier.

Svalbard Glacier AA19B 02

It is certainly more accurate than Grandpa’s Seiko, and it has a sense of itself. My main complaint is that it wears large for me at a case width of 41.5 mm. And while I thought the 24-hour markings on the face would intrigue me, I found myself doing mental calculations too often to interpolate between the hour markings.

So last November I was still looking for a watch that I could call my own. Something understated yet distinctive, accurate, low-maintenance, rugged, easy to view. Preferably a watch that helped me perceive and change time across time zones. And something that I could proudly leave to a grandchild.

I found the Casio Oceanus OCW-S100-1AJF:

IMG 1902

There is so much that I love about this watch, my Christmas present from my wife this year: its atomic radio accuracy (which can also sync to the Clock Wave app if I’m beyond range of six transmitters in the US, Japan, China, Germany, and Great Britain), coupled with quartz precision. A solar-powered battery, world time settings accessible through the crown, perpetual calendar and automatic DST adjustment, shock and water resistance, and clean dial with lume. I can wear it for work or play, although I do take care not to scratch the titanium case and band, or smash the sapphire crystal. The case width is spec’d at 41.5 mm, yet it sits perfectly on my wrist.

I don’t know why I would buy another watch anytime soon. There’s so little I would change about it. I wish the 30 time zones on the face were just a bit more legible while remaining unobtrusive, and that the words “TOUGH MVT.” were on the caseback rather than the dial. These are incredibly minor issues. At the moment I consider this my BIFL (Buy It For Life) watch, one that suits just about every 

 …

So what other watch could I possibly ever need? I can think off a few categories:

  1. A beater watch, inexpensive and easy to replace. Currently I take off my watch instead, if I’m doing something like trying to uninstall the dishwasher. One possibility: for my son’s upcoming birthday I purchased an Alba watch, cased in China with a Japanese movement from Seiko. It doesn’t have all the features of the Oceanus, but it does have a clean dial, date and day window, and solar power, and it lists at about one-fifth the price of the Oceanus.
  2. A GPS watch. While these are more immediately responsive to time-zone changes, all current models are too large. Casio, Citizen, and Seiko make good watches in this category.
  3. A black-tie automatic watch, something very dressy. I would consider a Grand Seiko watch like the “Snowflake” for the smooth and accurate Spring Drive, or a Credor Spring Drive (another Seiko sub-brand). A Rolex (maybe the Sky-Dweller but there are other attractive models), or a Patek Philippe with marvelous complications also falls in this category. Okay, so the last two are not terribly original choices – I don’t dwell much on four- and five-figure watches.
  4. A completely silly and playful watch, like those by Tokyoflash Japan.
  5. A watch loaded with astronomical data, like the YES Equilibrium. But the Equilibrium LCD looks pixelated, the ring is too cluttered, and the case is just too large.
  6. A watch that has a desirable timekeeping feature I currently lack, such as vibrating alarm, illumination, or day-of-the-week. But not a Casio G-Shock – those things are monsters.
  7. A second Oceanus watch, because I like this one so much.
  8. A Dick Tracy watch. I still have a flip phone instead of a smartphone, and I’m ready to use one but don’t want to carry it around. Currently an Apple Watch needs to be tethered to an iPhone to use its communication features. Why this limitation? I don’t understand why we don’t yet have Dick Tracy watches.

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