Seiko 5

The problem with being a watch geek is two-fold. First, it completely invalidates anything I say if I feel like teasing my wife about how many shoes she owns. Second, mechanical watches tend to be much more expensive than their quartz counterparts.

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Enter the Seiko 5.

We’ll just have to keep hoping that link remains active, because Seiko’s website is fairly awful. (So is Casio’s site for G-Shock watches, with no feature filter to help you through hundreds of styles.) As a matter of fact, if you just go to Seiko.com (USA, anyhow), you can’t even find any mention of the Seiko 5’s existence. But a quick Google search led me to the microsite for the 5 and it’s 50th anniversary. 1963 was a very busy year, with James Bond movies also celebrating their 50th, “I have a dream”, and JFK’s assassination- but I digress. Let’s talk about the watch.

My favorite thing about a mechanical watch is the rapid ticking, like the opening of a 60 Minutes episode, as the second hand makes several discrete jumps between each second rather than the inelegant full second clunk of quartz.

While all mechanical watches I’m aware of share that attribute, the Seiko 5 is unique in a few ways. First is the extremely low cost. MSRP on the watch is $185 USD, but they can be found on Amazon.com for $50-60 all day long. The movement is made in Malaysia and I’m guessing that’s for cost savings. The crystal watch face is a lower grade of Seiko’s proprietary “hardlex” which is a mineral crystal, just not sapphire, to keep the price low. Second is the crown, which leads into how the 5 was named.

  1. Automatic winding
  2. Day/date displayed in a single window
  3. Water resistance
  4. Recessed crown at the 4 o’clock position
  5. Durable case and bracelet

These five attributes were unique for the time and, considering these watches were devised and cost effective before the Quartz Crisis/Revolution took place, I can’t help but imagine they were the ultimate sports watch for a five to seven year window of time.

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My initial impression of the 5 was shock at how small it is. Honestly, it’s about the same size as most watches I grew up with, but the fashion in recent years for men’s watches has been a larger size (which I think is played out and they’re getting smaller again). But since 37mm doesn’t mean much to me without comparison, here are some photos.

US quarter, the 5, and Kinetic Dad gave me when I graduated high school. Click to embiggen.

Right to left: US quarter, the 5, and Seiko Kinetic my Dad gave me in ’97.

The quarter is 24.11 millimeters. All measurements were taken with Mitutoyo digimatic calipers. There were various decimals but most measurements were within 0.15 mm so I rounded to the nearest whole number with three exceptions.

TAG Heuer Grand Carrera 17, Seiko 5, Oakley Holeshot

Right to left: TAG Heuer Grand Carrera 17, Seiko 5, and Oakley Holeshot.

For the face I measured the diameter of the crystal and you can see on the Oakley that’s not truly representative of the clock face part of the display. (The Oakley’s odd case also skews those figures.) The cases’ diameters were measured based on their radius (again, see the Oakley, who claim 47.5mm), then again including crown, and finally from bracelet stem-to-stem across the face. That explained, the watch sizes are as follows:

  • Seiko 5 – 29mm face, 37mm case, 38.5mm w/crown, & 43mm stems.
  • Kinetic – 29mm face, 38mm case, 40mm w/crown, & 43mm stems.
  • TAG – 37mm face, 43mm case, 47mm w/crown, & 50mm stems.
  • Oakley – 31.5mm face, 45mm case, 49.8mm w/crown, & 50mm stems.

For thickness, the 5 is 10.5mm, Kinetic is 10.3, TAG is 15, and Oakley is 11.8. A US mint quarter is 1.7mm for comparison. I can’t imagine wearing anything larger than the TAG without it being ridiculous and tacky (cough, cough, most Diesel and Oakley), but it also feels just about perfect. It’s been so long since I’ve worn my Kinetic that going back to a smaller size felt like I was wearing a ladies watch at first, but that feeling passed quickly and now it’s like the perfect daily wear timepiece for a jeans and t-shirt guy.

The look (as if you can’t see the face from the pictures) is simple and relatively clean. I like the geometric design, and the hands are large enough that the luminous material is legible in the dark on all three. The case is stainless steel, but in a flat finish. The watch is small enough that this is a non-issue anyway, but the crown being recessed and at 4 o’clock precludes any rubbing or irritation on the back of the wearer’s hand. While the case of the watch is water resistant, I have no desire to stress the cloth band and do not wear this watch in the shower.

The exhibition case back is really just to prove this is a mechanical watch as you watch the balance wheel cycle back and forth. Otherwise, the movement isn’t that fancy and doesn’t have any jeweling on internal parts. The text printed on the back crystal is disappointing, but you’re almost never going to be looking at it.

Excess strap is held in place by two metal loops, one captured within the weave of the band and one sliding free to adjust as you need.

It’s about as basic a watch as you can get, save for the day/date complication. And of course, because it’s mechanical it won’t be quite as accurate as quartz. But who cares about that when we all have mobile phones in our pockets anyway? For just slightly more than a Timex Weekender (an excellent pick for quartz and style) you can own a mechanical watch. No more batteries to die or change. Granted, a mechanical watch should get serviced every now and again to keep it within tolerances, but wouldn’t you love to brag to your friends that your watch is EMP proof (even if it’s not strictly true)?

The short of it is this: in my limited writing on watches I’ve never recommended one. My TAG is too pricey to say “everybody should own one” and the Oakley looks too dude-bro frat boy. As of the date I write this, I’m on a WordPress.com site with no Amazon affiliate link. That means I gain nothing when I tell you this, gentle reader: if you’re interested in watches at all, you owe it to yourself to pick up a Seiko 5. The black model is fifty bucks and free shipping if you’re Prime member. The holidays are over, so you’re free to buy things for yourself again without ruining somebody’s gift plan. (And big, BIG thanks to my wonderful wife for tolerating and contributing to my watch obsession!)

There is quite literally no reason to not own one.

Twist & Shout

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As it turns out (see what I did, there?), Fossil Twist watches are still just a quartz fashion piece and not an inexpensive mechanical. Not even a cheap Chinese movement. Rather, the actual movement of the watch is battery driven while the “Twist” winds a strictly decorative mechanism. Disappointing, but still a handsome watch and not a bad choice for good looks at a fair price. They make a “Grant” model that’s damned handsome in rose gold and a black/charcoal face. Just don’t be fooled by their advertising parlance, it is strictly the look of an automatic watch.

Feeling like New Coke*

PAN03The first time I ever saw a Panerai, I was dumbstruck by it’s beauty. It was a billboard advertisement in the Forum Shoppes at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas and the simplicity and elegance stopped me cold. Being relatively new to high end watches, I’d never heard of the brand and snapped a photo with my phone for a reminder to Google more information when I got home. When the Panerai Boutique opened a month later, I had small pangs of regret that my expensive wristwatch was a “lowly” TAG Heuer and had so much brand awareness. The appeal of a watch that was lesser-known somehow made it seem that much more exclusive and prestigious.

As did the fact that the model I loved was about 50% more expensive than my TAG.

PAN02The Panerai Luminor 1950 3 Days GMT Automatic (PAM00320) just grabbed my imagination and wouldn’t let go. I love that little clasp over the crown. I always thought that was such a cool touch watching it close during the montage during the opening of Eraser. I wanted a watch like that and at the time had no clue what it was. After becoming obsessed with them and knowing that Sly Stallone is a big fan, spotting a Panerai on the wrist of Terry Crews in a fraction of a second during Expendables 2 was easy. And Hodinkee got me looking at other models like the PAM0233, further fueling my passion.

The little detail over the crown stood out to me even as a teenager.

The little detail over the crown stood out to me even as a teenager, though I thought “Luminor Marina” was the brand name back then.

Unfortunately, not everything is rosy in the world of Officine Panerai and in the eyes of several horology aficionados the brand is considered somewhat gauche these days.

  • First are the accusations that the brand has never really contributed all the much in the way of new developments, or has much place of note in the annals of horological history.
  • Second, and perhaps worse, is that hardcore watch folks enjoy being a bit of an esoteric circle and celebrity attention like Stallone’s bring these brands to the public eye. The actual brand may become more valued as more people seek it out, but the feeling of knowing about something special gets taken away. Part of me wonders if Panerai’s acquisition by Richemont in 1997 had the watch otaku declaring Panerai’s best days were past. (Similar to Heuers from the pre-TAG era still being well regarded, and the ads featuring celebrities scorned.)
  • Third. Any Top Gear fan, Jalopnik reader or fan of F1 racing knows that Ferrari is a bit of a whore when it comes to licensing their logo and willing to slather it on anything for sales. General rule for a person of good taste is to run away from anything bearing a Ferrari logo short of a vehicle actually developed by Maranello. And guess who’s logo adorned a Panerai line for five years? Yup. They didn’t sell well and were often found deeply discounted. The license was not renewed.
  • Fourth, and probably worst offense was the 318 scandal. If you type “Panerai 318″ into Google, auto-complete offers “scandal” to finish you up. The one thing you should really be getting if you’re spending this kind of money on a boutique watch is an “in-house movement”. The watchmaker should actually be producing the motor of your timepiece. The 318 shipped with a closed back- no glass window to look through and see the pretty innards. It got even uglier when the truth about that watch’s movement got out into the open.

Reading about Panerai’s bad rap really bummed me out. I mean, there are some Rolex owners saying those guys are elitists! I was suddenly afraid these watches I loved were standard issue to tasteless knuckleheads like the cast of Jersey Shore, or those Russian guys that think velvet track suits and gold jewelry are acceptable formal wear. /shudder

But it's so pretty! How could it be so derided?!?!

But it’s so pretty! How could it be so derided?!?!

And then, what was probably said in jest or mocking of Panerai over the 318 made all the sense in the world to me (paraphrased):

If they’re not even going to do an in-house movement, why buy the real thing? What makes it any better than a replica?

My jaw hit the floor. For the past year I’ve been doing research on various brands, learning where to get the real deal and how to avoid knock offs and forgeries while still saving money. I learned about grey market dealers, and warranty support, and how to get a bargain but ensure the purchase is the genuine article. Never had it occurred to me, this wild and silly idea, to intentionally seek out a knock-off!

And why shouldn’t I? Aside from being one of Van Damme’s more eyebrow raising career choices (I really hope he doesn’t wonder how his career went straight-to-video), some of these knock offs are really close in their approximation. To the point that we call them “replicas” now. (Insert my bemused laughter here.) But it’s a really good point. Why pay $9,000 for a watch from a brand that isn’t thought of particularly well? I already have my genuine TAG for an heirloom watch, and these Chinese replicas are just as handsome and still a mechanical movement.

And then the deciding factor hit me. I’m going to buy a replica Panerai on purpose. I don’t care about owning the genuine article because really, I just want it as a fashion piece. And I’m going to buy this knock off PAM 320 (Heehee! Spaces instead of the double zeroes!) with the same confidence and for the same reasons I select my cigars, motorcycles, pens… or even write this blog. I’m going to buy it because I like it, and don’t care about anybody else’s opinion on the subject. I know what’s real and what’s not, and I’ve decided that this suits my taste and the price is appropriate for what it actually is.

It’s funny, because I loathe Japanese V-twin motorcycles as a false representation of what the bike is. I love the CB750 because it’s genuine. It’s not an American V-twin and doesn’t pretend to be. It’s true to the culture that created it**, and wonderful because it’s different. And now I want to buy the Honda Shadow of wristwatches. It’s an odd feeling, but then I tell myself: what if Harley had been busted using somebody else’s engine? Obviously Harley never pulled that kind of garbage. But Panerai did. And suddenly my guilt and fretting over wearing a copy simply melts away.

*Coca-Cola Classic advertised “Can’t Beat the Real Thing” from 1991-1993 in the US.

** I suppose my counter argument could be that the far east has a rich and storied culture of creating counterfeits and rip-offs. Haha!

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.