Boarding the plane from Atlanta to Dubai was a bit like living an Oakley product placement. The average military contractor hasn’t a clue what “low profile” means, and the gate was awash in desert tan cargo pants, coyote brown backpacks, and ballcaps that were carefully selected to look as if they’d just been grabbed at the last minute. Most contractors perform support functions like janitorial, fire fighters, chow hall management, or communication but apparently we all want to look like bad-asses and Delta operators. That means wearing Oakley sunglasses. And Oakley backpacks. And Oakley ballcaps, boots, and beanies.
I was in a Land’s End green hoodie and Guess jeans hoping to look like a dude-bro that hadn’t quite been able to leave his frat behind. Oakley backpack, Oakley beanie… Okay so far. But wearing my Oakley “assault” boots gave me a sudden urge to look even more like an Oregon hiker next deployment and less like a Spec-Ops wannabe.*
Mental Note: Change up my gear next time. Also, maybe call it “stuff” instead of “gear”.
So why do contractors festoon themselves with so much Oakley product? Because Oakley makes good stuff and gives a 50% discount to military, cops, firefighters, EMTs, etc. through US Standard Issue. And they generously extend that offer to contractors with a military ID.
Which leads me (finally) to the point of my story: a review of the Oakley Holeshot watch. Spoilers: it’s not going to be a great review. But despite that, I still want to commend Oakley up front for the generous discounts they provide to men and women in uniform. Oakley makes quality products and it’s a very honorable thing for them to slice profit margins so significantly for folks willing to risk their own lives to protect ours without much pay in return.
My story begins over a year ago, back in October of 2011. I was headed out for my first deployment as a civilian field tech for satellite equipment. I hadn’t done much research about my destination and really didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I didn’t want to take the Seiko Kenetic my dad bought me into anything described as “field conditions”. So I finally ponied up the cash and ordered the lust-worthy Oakley Holeshot 10th Mountain Division I mentioned last blog entry. (A quick aside: I’m pretty sure this is the first watch I ever bought for myself.) It was backordered, so I had it sent to my parents to forward on to me once I was “in country”. I was so anxious to get it! I couldn’t believe I’d spent $325 on a quartz watch, but it was a Swiss movement! Surely that carried some cachet.
Being my first “serious” watch, I was a little taken aback when it arrived and I tried to start using it. For one, the 10th Mountain Division looked like this on their website:
But the case (actual body of the watch that houses the movement) I received was the same standard black any Joe Schmo could order through Oakley Custom on the civilian side. Disappointment #1.
I’m not going to lie, that was a pretty big let-down. But then I actually had to read the manual, because the chronograph function really threw me for a loop! See in the above images how the large second hand would appear to be moving, while all the sub-dials are fixed at 12 o’clock? In reality, that’s not even a little bit close to the truth. The large second hand in the main dial stays resolutely as 12 o’clock and the small sub-dial at the 6 o’clock position is the functioning second hand for the clock. It took me twenty minutes of pushing buttons on the watch trying to make it function as I thought it should before I finally caved in and read the instructions.
Once I got this all figured out however, the watch was GREAT. It took me some getting used to the rubber strap, but I really enjoyed the weight of the watch. It felt like something of substance on my wrist. And since men’s watches had been getting larger and larger since my last new one in 1997, I liked the larger case. It looks good aside from the color misrepresentation and the 47.5 mm case isn’t so large as to be gaudy (opposed to most of Oakley’s offerings). I find tachymeter scales to be a bit silly since they require known distance points in order to function (and if I had those, I’d probably have a speedometer or GPS already), but it’s unobtrusive. And since my deployment was in the Seychelles I got to put the 10 bar water resistance to the test and took the watch scuba diving. It holds up. More than that, the hands are so wide and luminous material so effective that was extremely readable whether at night or 30 meters underwater. The sub-dials for the chronograph don’t move while it’s timing, but once you hit “stop” or “lap” they quickly spin into place for an accurate reading, and rotate back to “0″ when you reset. And once reset, the main second hand and top two sub-dials point straight at their respective zeros, looking like some kind of awesome trident.
I liked this watch. I get buyer’s remorse before even buying things: I walk around with clearance priced BluRays for 10 minutes and put them back on the shelf. So to have had no regrets spending $325 on a quartz watch is really saying something for me. Sure, I was bummed enough about the case color that I’m mentioning it for a third time already, but aside from that I enjoyed the watch so much I planned on buying more from Oakley and even contemplated buying them as gifts for friends and family.
Then the start/stop button for the chronograph feature quit working. I couldn’t really understand why, since I’d carefully rinsed the watch with fresh water after every dive along with the rest of my equipment. And it didn’t quit working until six months after I’d returned to the states! For lack of a better term, there simply no action in the button press. No distinctive click. It was just dead. The lap/reset button still operated properly, but without a functioning start button, what good does that do? So I looked up the warranty information, contacted Oakley, and here’s where the story gets really bad…
Oakley’s customer service people are great. I’ve harassed them at least three times now (keep reading) and they’ve been responsive each and every time. It’s wherever these things are getting “repaired” that’s inexcusable. When you contact Oakley, they send you a form to fill out describing the problem. They request you return this form, a picture of the problem, and proof of purchase. Once they have this (to determine if it’s actually a warranty issue rather than abuse, I imagine), they send you a UPS packing slip. If there is a warranty issue, Oakley pays for shipping both ways. Writing this review is almost painful in some ways, because I really do think they want to take care of their USSI customers.
Obviously, if Oakley is paying shipping as a courtesy to their customers they’re not spending extravagantly for overnight service. Between that, their backlog of work orders, and actual repair time my watch was gone for almost a month. That’s a small price to pay for a free repair, except my watch came back looking like this:
The 1/10th second sub-dial now zeroed or reset to something like eight and four fifths! Aside from the hand being off by 1/10th, and aside from the hand never actually aligning with an actual digit, this is something that should have been obvious at even a cursory visual inspection! This isn’t some hidden, internal issue or a fault that only appears “when you do this”. This was careless workmanship on a watch I’d paid good money for, with the understanding it would be a working product. I was ticked. I emailed Oakley again about this issue and sent them a photo within five minutes of unpacking the watch they’d sent me. (I also mentioned the case color being wrong on my first RMA slip, but I guess that didn’t warrant correction). So they sent me a new UPS packing label, I sent my watch back to be repaired from the first repair, I waited another few weeks and they sent it back like this:
Now the sub-dials functioned correctly (remember, the one at 6 o’clock is always moving as it counts seconds for the clock), but the second hand on the main face that works for the chronograph zeroed on :59 rather than :00! Argh!!! Again, the watch had been sent back to me with an obvious flaw that would have been caught if there was even a cursory inspection before sending it back out! What gives here?!?! Maybe I heard the phrase “Attention to detail, Airman!” shouted too often when I was active duty, but this just sent me over the edge. Twice now, all it would have taken was for somebody to have looked at the face of the watch and seen the three hands weren’t zeroed before they called it good-to-go. I don’t know if I’m willing to call it shoddy workmanship (the mechanisms at least functioned like they should), but the attention to detail was appalling. This obviously isn’t a place where the jeweler is going to be signing their name to validate their work. Of course for only $325 I don’t really expect that kind of treatment. But for a company with the audacity to sell a quartz watch (Minute Machine) for $1,500 and $3,500 for a special edition?!?! A little pride in workmanship wouldn’t be out of line.
If you want to spend the money on an Oakley watch, knock yourself out. It’s your money and fashion sense. My plans to buying another have been derailed and I suggest the following, instead.
- If you want a fashion watch try a Fossil, Michael Kors, or even a Swatch. Don’t exceed $500 when spending under $200 is easy.
- If you want a tough watch buy a Casio G-Shock or similar.
- If you want an inexpensive Swiss Mechanical, buy a Xetum.
Sorry, Oakley. I’ll still buy your sunglasses as long as I’m a contractor and want to fit in with the cool kids. I still love my gray knit beanie (perhaps the most tasteful one you’ve ever made) and my tan SI Assault gloves will stay next to my AR-15 because they make me look all tacticool. But our little wristwatch experiment is over.
*To be fair, The North Face is the second most, if not the most spotted brand name at the Afghanistan camp I’m writing this. But it still doesn’t scream, “Guess what I do!” to the entire Arab community while in transit.