Holeshot Horror Story

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:

This is what’s advertised as the 10th Mountain Division.

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.

Actual Holeshot

This is what you actually receive.

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

Edit: I am officially an idiot. I’m going to leave the original text that I wrote, but line through the parts are not applicable. Why aren’t they? Because it turns out the “issues” I was having with the watch could be set and corrected by the user. The instructions to do so are on page 10 of the user manual. But even though it was my fault, Oakley kept bringing my watch back in. Finally, they set it for me, but over the phone one of their wonderful customer service reps told me what my problem had been. They put up with me being a real jerk and moron and STILL took care of me. I’ve meant to update this entry for a while to reflect that but forgotten, so thanks to the recent comments motivating me to get these corrections made.

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 first time my watch came back from "repair".

The first time my watch came back from repair.

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:

Second time back from warranty just means a third time out for a claim...

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.

[Ed. - The following has been re-written for accuracy.]

Conclusion-

If you want to spend the money on an Oakley watch, knock yourself out. It’s your money and fashion sense, and they take care of their customers. I recommend the following three tenets, but Oakley really is okay in my book.

  • If you want a fashion watch try a Fossil 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.
Both hands still visible when stacked, due to hollow cut in their body.

Both hands still visible when stacked, due to hollow cut in their body.

Sorry, Oakley. I’m sorry for wrongfully slandering you in this blog post for the past few months. I’m mostly outgrowing Oakley’s design sense and want something a little more classic and tasteful, but 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. And as far as Oakley’s design goes, the Holeshot is pretty conservative. The hands are easy to read, and the cuts in them make the face easy to read even when they’re stacked atop each other. Brilliantly thought out. Taste is subjective, and most of Oakley’s other watches are way too garish and over the top for me, but this is one watch I’m surely glad is in my collection. I’ll be wearing it for a good, long while.

*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.

watchuseek

My love of wristwatches can be traced back to 8th grade. Dad bought me a watch for my junior high graduation, and though I’m sure it was nothing special I thought it was the coolest thing in the world at the time. It was likely just a Timex but it had a stainless steel case, a brown leather band, and was instantly a thing of masculinity that was mine. I developed the philosophy that the only jewelry a man should wear is his wedding ring and a nice watch, and I’ve pretty much stuck to that with exceptions granted to ’80s hair metal bands. And when Dad bought me my first nice watch (a Seiko Kinetic with a two-tone bracelet) for my high school graduation, the seeds for horological love were firmly set.

Gotta love the 80s! Swatch guards and big wheels on skateboards!

Gotta love the 80s! Swatch guards and big wheels on skateboards!

As a kid in the 1980s, watches were cheap quartz, and the cool ones had LCD screens with a stopwatch and alarm. The really cool one was the calculator watch advertised in comic books if you signed up for some program and sold enough crap door-to-door. As if elementary school kids are just itching to do more math, right? Heck no! It was a nifty gizmo, and one that my fantasies said would enable me to cheat on my math tests! And of course there were Swatches and the Swatch guard… But as a ten year old boy I was convinced those colorful things were for girls. (Who knew all these years later I would love them for their sense of whimsy?)

dashtronicBut the watch that finally got me hooked was a little thing too beautiful to ignore: the Stauer 1930 Dashtronic. Seriously, just look at it! What soulless monster wouldn’t love that piece of art deco beauty? I saw this thing advertised in Popular Mechanics all the time, but the ads also sounded too good to be true (they sell Stauer items in Sky Mall, so there’s an indication of the level of quality we’re talking about here). So I did a little bit of Google searching for owner reports and before I knew it, my eyes had been opened to a whole new world.

watchuseek.com has now become one of my more frequently lurked websites, and the knowledge there is simply amazing. And while that Dashtronic beauty turned out to be a Chinese made knock-off trying to pass as high-end goods (that’s what Stauer does), the guys on watchuseek actually seem very fair about them. I’ve been able to learn a little bit about everything from $5,000 and up TAG Heuers to the “lowliest” of the Casio G-Shock line. These guys simply love watches, and once you understand the caveats of whatever watch you’re currently eyeing, it’s just a matter of enjoying it for what it is.

I think I find this so refreshing because, really, a wristwatch is almost 100% personal adornment and extraneous. Coming from doing the Handgun Podcast almost full time, with a focus on personal defense and concealed carry instruction, everything was much more critical in my eye. I was constantly looking for faults or hangups that could become potentially lethal pitfalls in a life-or-death situation, and trying to explain to a budget-only minded person that Uncle Mike’s holsters and a Hi Point C9 are unacceptable compromises just got old. It became very tiring, and constant research was like slamming my head against a wall. But this? Wristwatches (and pens, which I’m sure I’ll write more about later) are something I can simply enjoy. Cheap, accurate quartz watches and the ubiquity of cell phones have made fretting over a time piece irrelevant. Now it’s purely something to enjoy.

I bought one later as field watch for first deployment as a gov't contractor.

I bought one later as field watch for my first deployment as a gov’t contractor.

While I was still doing the podcast, I began to lust after an Oakley Holeshot 10th Mountain Edition. I think it was $300 or $325 at the time. It was still pretty recent that I’d discovered watchuseek and the truth about Stauers, when one of my friends and I were talking about the Holeshot. “I mean, I’m a watch guy,” he said, “But $300 on a watch is just outrageous!” I couldn’t help but laugh a little bit, then told him about Stauer, this crazy watch forum I’d discovered, etc. And the price of a Rolex, or a Tag Heuer. I told him not to take offense, but that I knew just enough to think that he and I weren’t really “watch guys”.

At the time, I didn’t even know about brands like Patek Phillipe or Panerai. No matter how much more I learn, the one thing I just keep trying to remember is that there’s still so much I don’t know. But even though I’ve since bought a several thousand dollar wristwatch (a TAG Heuer Grand Carrera Calibre 17, CAV511B.FC6225), one thing I have come to believe is that you don’t have to spend that kind of money to be a “watch guy”. All that moniker really requires is a little bit of knowledge, and loving what’s on your wrist. I love the Fossil watch my wife bought me that was only just over $110, and as I type this I’m wearing a Timex Expedition purchased from Amazon for $46. You don’t have to spend megabucks, just love what you have.

So what kind of knowledge have I picked up and think a jeans and t-shirt watch fan should share? Really, just the basics of quartz vs. mechanical watches and how to recognize them.

Quartz watches are cheaper and more accurate than mechanical and since that’s a win/win situation the conversation is over, right? Not so much. For everyday use, I can’t really think of a valid argument against a quartz, but because they’re so cheap to buy they also don’t have much in the way of heirloom quality or repair support. They’re disposable. When they break you chuck ‘em out and get a new one, and many times CAN’T be repaired because there simply aren’t parts made for them anymore. But they’re also hardy and will last for years. If it’s electric, it’s a quartz watch and derives its timing from the oscillator that’s regulated to a very precise frequency by the quartz crystal. You can recognize these at a glance in even analog watch faces because the second hand will jump very distinctly from one second to the next. One, pause, two, pause, three, etc. Even in more expensive watches like a Bulova or an Oakley. So you’re paying for the name, fashion, and maybe materials but not a “fine timepiece”. There’s nothing wrong with that, just be aware.

Mechanical watches on the other hand are driven purely by, well, the mechanical force of a wound spring. They’re not as accurate and more costly (and from what I’ve read, it’s recommended they be serviced about every two years), but a good jeweler should be able to keep them running forever. If you have an automatic watch, it’s typically a self-winding mechanical and the tell-tale sign is a second hand with a much smoother sweeping movement of several very tiny ticks between each second. Don’t be fooled by thinking that more “jewels” means it’s a nicer watch- the jewel is just the bearing that parts pivot in for the complications (added features like a chronograph or day/date window). A six jewel Swiss watch could easily out-price a 17 jewel Chinese watch. And the term chronometer is supposed to be reserved for watches of a certain precision standard, but outside of Switzerland (where they’re certified by the COSC) it’s really up to the scruples of the watchmaker.

The last two paragraphs are nothing new to the die-hard watch aficionado, and odds are if you found this blog by Google you already know all that or even have suggestions to improve, correct, or clarify the info. But I felt like I should at least put the basics out there.

So from there, what’s the point? Well, while it broke my heart to discover that Stauer were mostly just Chinese movements (the motor, if you will, that powers the watch), it set me on a few years’ journey of discovery that led right back where I started. I’m just accepting of it now. My Fossil is an automatic and almost certainly a Chinese movement (Fossil started life importing and re-branding inexpensive watches from the far east) but I don’t care; I simply love it. My Oakley Holeshot that touts a Swiss 4-jewel movement is quartz. These may just be “fashion watches”, but who cares? My TAG is something I’ll pass down to my kids, even if the cognoscenti tease that it’s more a marketing firm than a watch company these days. But in the meantime I’ll enjoy it, and anything else in my collection just for being the marvelous little works of art that they are.

Confession: I do find myself eschewing quartz watches these days except for necessity (like now, while I’m deployed in Afghanistan). I really like the detail and complexity of all those little gears and after growing up with jumping second hands, the smooth sweeping of a mechanical just fascinates me. My Holeshot has been plagued with problems for a future blog post, so spending serious cash on a quartz watch is nothing I’m inclined to do again. I think a mechanical watch appeals to any guy who likes tinkering under the hood of a car or on a motorcycle, so I’m pleased there are actually affordable options out there. Check out Xetum, for example. I highly encourage any gearhead to go mechanical if they can (an old Omega was dependable enough for a zero-G trip to the moon, after all). And if you get up some serious scratch to spend on a watch, check out Panerai before plunking your bank down on a Rolex (edited after more learning a bit more) you’ll never go wrong with a Rolex Daytona.