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Living With My Watches, 2nd Edition

by MJ

10-August-2000 (updated 30-Jan-2008)
©1996-2008 by Marc Rochkind. All rights reserved.

Introduction

(Update, 30-Jan-2008) I got an email from someone a few months ago saying that he wanted a watch like my Ventura but couldn't find one, so I sold him mine, as I was wearing it only a few days a year.

I originally wrote this article in November, 1998. I've decided to update it because a lot has changed since then. I've acquired a couple of new watches, and sold a few, including one of the new acquisitions. What follows is my original text, with updated information in green.

Between February and July of this year [1998] I bought 11 watches, all new. I've mentioned most of them in various TimeZone posts, and written reviews of the JLC Reverso Duo, the Chronoswiss Opus, and the Lange 1. I also wrote a piece about how I came to buy the Lange. These are the watches, listed in the order in which I bought them:

1 Rolex-sm.jpg (3187 bytes) Rolex Explorer II (SS)
2 Tag-sm.jpg (3467 bytes) TAG Heuer 1500 (SS)
3 Breitling-Aerospace-sm.jpg (3031 bytes) Breitling Aerospace (Ti)
4 Breitling-Chronomat-sm.jpg (3335 bytes) Breitling Chronomat (SS)
with Hirsch sharkskin trap
5 JLC-sm.jpg (3735 bytes) JLC Reverso Duo (SS)
with ostrich strap
6 Ventura-sm.jpg (2957 bytes) Ventura v-matic (Ti)
with water buffalo strap
7 Zenith-sm.jpg (3013 bytes) Zenith Chronomaster (SS)
with Hirsch strap
8 B&R-sm.jpg (3037 bytes) Bell & Ross Space Two (SS)
9 Chronoswiss-sm.jpg (3225 bytes) Chronoswiss Opus (SS)
with crocodile strap
10 Lange-sm.jpg (3263 bytes) Lange 1 (rose gold)
with Camille-Fournet alligator strap
11 IWC-Aquatimer-sm.jpg (2921 bytes) IWC Aquatimer (Ti)
12 Master Geographic JLC Master Black Geographic
13 Revue Thommen Cricket 1997
14 Fortis Pilot Automatic

To see large pictures of these watches, click on the small picture or click here. (The download will take at least 3 - 4 minutes at 28.8K.)

As several TZers have commented over the past year, I bought these watches rather quickly, sometimes buying a new watch before I've even had a chance to get to know the last one. Sometimes I bought two at a time. And, for most of the watches (numbers 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9), I bought them without first seeing them, let alone handling them, in person. (A major error which I will say much more about later.)

Why I did all this is potentially the subject of another article. This article is instead about my feelings about these watches now, after having lived with most of them for the better part of a year. I'll start with some general comments, and then discuss each watch in turn. Just for fun, I'll give each watch a letter grade, which should be interpreted as indicating how much I like the watch. Please don't take these grades as an indication of how "good" a watch it is, in any sense of the word.

Naturally, everything here is just my opinion. Anyone is, of course, free to disagree, but that would just be giving your own opinion. My opinion is still my opinion, right?

General Comments

All eleven watches worked fine when I first got them, and have continued to work. I haven't had anything requiring service at all. So, I can't comment on my experience with various service organizations, as I have none. (As of August, 2000, I still haven't had any watches require repair. 30-Jan-2008 update: Still haven't.)

For the most part, I rotate among the watches, with two kinds of exceptions:

1. The Breitling Aerospace and TAG Heuer are out of the rotation because they are quartz watches, and I like the mechanical watches better. However, that's not to say I never wear them. In fact, I wore the Aerospace today, and it's on my wrist as I write this.

2. I consider the Lange and the JLC to be dress watches, and I seldom wear them because I seldom dress up.

For the most part, I'm very satisfied with my choices, although I admit I bought them much too quickly, a mistake I'm unlikely to ever repeat. (I haven't bought any watches in almost four months.) I'll indicate later which watches I would just as soon have done without.

It would be tempting to say that my ability to choose watches that I'll continue to like and wear increased as I moved from #1 to #11, but that's not really what happened. Watches 1 through 8 consist of both good choices and bad ones. Watches 9 through 11, however, are good choices, and so I think I may have finally learned how to do it, thanks in good measure to what I've learned on TimeZone. Watch 13, the last one I bought, was a poor choice. I remember well the night I bought it from an internet site, and I know I wasn't thinking clearly.

I keep the automatic watches (except for the Bell & Ross, as explained below) on a Windmill 10 winder (click here and here for Bulletin Board articles). The two manuals I wind about every week or two, unless I wear them during that time, in which case I wind them then. That is, I let them run down when I'm not wearing them. The Windmill 10 has since broken, and I haven't gotten it fixed. So, I no longer keep any watches on a winder. Instead, I make sure I wind them at least every couple of weeks. Unfortunately, not keeping the Zenith on a winder has made wearing it a nuisance, because setting the time, triple date, and moonphase usually seems more work than it's worth.

Rolex Explorer II

This was my first good watch, after about six years of wearing an Eddie Bauer field watch. Like many people, I wanted a Rolex for my first good watch. I knew of a few others back then and looked closely at Tag and Omegas, but I wanted a Rolex. (This was before I discovered TimeZone and before I starting reading about watches.)

The Explorer II continues to be one of my favorites, a watch I always look forward to wearing. I like the overall styling, especially the bracelet and the face. It's not too big (only about 38mm), and not too heavy (120 grams). Since it has a bracelet, I don't worry about it getting wet. (I sometimes take off a strap watch if I start perspiring.)

Now that I've become more knowledgeable about watches, I'm pretty sure I'll never buy another Rolex, but I'm very glad I have the one I have. Besides, Rolex's reputation was forever tarnished for me by the revelations in Walt Odets's recent review of the Explorer I, all of which I assume applies to the Explorer II as well. I now think of the Rolex as... a tool. Maybe that's why Rolex calls them tool watches?

Likability Rating: A

Reading the above nearly two years later, I wouldn't change a word. I still like wearing the Explorer II a whole lot.

TAG Heuer 1500

I bought this one, for less than $500, as my "I don't care" watch to wear if I think I'm going to an unsafe place (e.g., certain resorts), if I'm going swimming, or if I think the watch might get beat up. (I would never swim with my Explorer II or Aquatimer, even though they have high water-resistance ratings.) (Update: I do in fact swim with the Explorer II and the Aquatimer.)

The case and bracelet are outstanding, and the dial is surprisingly attractive, with a gray pebbled surface.

Now that I have this watch, I'm glad I do, but if I had to do it over again I might not get one again. I would get a Citizen or Seiko diver's watch instead, for half the price. Or, maybe not... a TAG at least has a certain prestige value at those resorts and, despite what the more sophisticated TZers say, I'm not entirely immune to this consideration.

Likability Rating: B

I still like the 1500, and I'd give it the same grade. However, I wear it less than I thought I would in 1998 because I'm much less protective of my other sports watches.

Breitling Aerospace

This one was certainly a mistake. The watch looks OK, except for the gold tabs on the bezel. The face is very readable. But the "repetition minutes" and alarm features are of no use to me, as my hearing is too poor to hear anything. The watch has a lot of features, but so do a zillion cheap watches these days.

Some good points: The Aerospace is thin and has a large diameter, so it really hugs the wrist, without looking like a dress watch. It's very light, too, and consequently very comfortable.

So, I don't really dislike the Aerospace. But, at $2000+ list, it's ridiculously overpriced. At, say, $750, I might actually recommend it.

Likability Rating: B [Rating doesn't take (lack of) value into account.]

I sold the Aerospace in August, 2000. Turns out the buyer had read this article and quoted my $750 figure back at me during the price negotiations. So, writers, watch what you write--someone might remember your words!

Breitling Chronomat

I went overboard with this one, and on purpose. I think most of the Breitlings are rather gaudy anyway, so I decided to make this a strength, rather than a weakness, by getting mine with a blue face and gold subdials. Breitlings come without a strap, and the dealer didn't have one I liked anyway, so I stopped on the way home at a shopping mall and bought a Hirsch blue sharkskin strap that goes great with the watch.

This is my most casual watch, so extreme as to be almost comical. Yet, it's a real watch, so I can have some fun and still have a nice timepiece on my wrist. I find I'm liking this Breitling more and more as time goes on. It's become my Saturday watch, although it comes off if I'm going out for the evening.

The only real negative is the dial, which is very poorly designed. Not only are the hands hard to pick out of the messy background, but the subdials impinge on the markings around the dial, making the watch hard to set precisely.

I practically never use the chronograph, so I consider that mainly just part of the styling of the watch, rather than a functional feature. This comment applies as well to my other mechanical chronographs: Bell & Ross Space Two, Zenith Chronomaster, and Chronoswiss Opus. (Although, as a skeleton watch, the Opus has a special reason for being a chronograph.) The Aerospace is also a chronograph, but in this case it doesn't add to the styling, as the chronograph function appears as just some additional letters and numbers.

Likability Rating: A

I like the Chronomat even more now that I did in 1998. My young daughter knows it as the "shark watch."

JLC Reverso Duo

This is a watch that I respect rather than like. Its workmanship and design are impeccable.

For the first 6 months I owned it, I think I wore the Reverso only twice. Lately, I've been wearing it more, but I sometimes wish I hadn't bought it, because I don't look forward to wearing it as much as I think I ought to. It's rather more like, "OK... I think I'll wear the Reverso, I haven't worn it for a while." Perhaps it's just that I don't care for rectangular watches.

As I mentioned in my review, I should have gotten the Reverso in gold as long as I was going to get it. Because so much of the cost of the case is in the machining, the incremental cost of gold over SS is less than for practically any other watch. As it is, I have a dress watch, but it is not a gold dress watch, so it's not really a dress watch at all, right?

I should also mention that one reason why the Reverso will never ascend to #1 on my small roster of dress watch is that that place is held by the Lange, and I don't really see the Reverso (in SS, bear in mind) beating out the Lange. So, more often than not, when the tie goes around my neck, the Lange, and not the Reverso, goes on my wrist.

Note that, as I mentioned above, I bought the Reverso without first seeing it and trying it on. Don't do this! I know I never will again.

Likability Rating: C

I've worn the Reverso maybe 5 more times since the above was written. It's currently for sale. Certainly a great watch, but just not for me. (30-Jan-2008 update: I sold it a few years ago. Just noticed that I forgot to update this page.)

Ventura v-matic

I also bought this one without first seeing it, but in this case the surprise was entirely pleasant. I ignored the Ventura for several months while I was buying lots of new watches, because I always favored the latest acquisition. But, now that the dust has settled, I find that the Ventura is slowly moving up the ladder to the elite group of my favorites. Cream rises.

Here are the Ventura's good points:

1. Elegant, modern design, but without the gaudiness of most designer watches.
2. Light weight.
3. Extremely readable dial.
4. Accurate. It's a COSC-certified chronometer, and it keeps time like one.
5. The most comfortable strap I own. I never knew I would think so highly of a water buffalo.
6. 200M water resistance, with a screw-down crown.
7. Display back.
8. Hardened-titanium case, using a process that I assume is similar to what the IWC Aquatimer uses.
9. Relatively inexpensive.

A further comment on the dial: Except for the hour and minute markings, it's nearly all black. All writing (e.g., "chronometer") has been banished to the back. Only a "v" appears. The hour and minute hands are very thick, but the minute hand has a thin projection at its end to aid in telling the time precisely. I wish other watch designers would study this, and learn from it. (The Aquatimer has no such aid.)

I can't think of any negatives at all, other than that this watch doesn't look like an expensive one. Come to think of it, this can be an advantage, too--I chose the Ventura to wear during a recent deposition at which, for obvious reasons, I didn't want to appear to be wearing a nice watch. (I was, though!)

So, while some other watches I have aspire to be superstars (the Lange, the Chronoswiss, and the IWC Aquatimer), the Ventura simply makes do with excellence in all the important qualities that a perfect watch ought to have. It doesn't need flashiness, because it has the real thing.

I saw one of the new quartz Ventura v-tronics when I was in New York back in June, and was very impressed. Unlike my v-matic, that one has a convex sapphire crystal that looks sensational. And, it's even cheaper than the v-matic. Maybe I should get one. (From Paris 1925, of course.)

There's a review (by Paul Schliesser) of this watch in the TZ Archives, which he begins by saying that he loves the watch. Me, too.

Likability Rating: A

I still like this watch a whole lot. (Since sold; see top.)

Zenith Chronomaster

I like this watch fairly well overall, but not the dial, and the dial is a rather important part of any watch. It lacks contrast (it's silver on white), it lacks tritium, and the markings are silly. Because there's so much going on (3 subdials, triple date, and moonphase), there's hardly room for numerals. So, do they skip the numerals? No, they do not. They don't even use compact Arabic numerals. All they have room for is I, IIII, V, VII, VIII, XI, and XII, and that's all they include. This makes no sense at all. (I've seen a picture posted on TZ of a newer Zenith watch that looks like a replacement for the Chronomaster, and its dial is superb.)

Other than this, the watch is OK. For me, it has some special attributes that caused me to want to add it to my collection and to want to keep it there:

1. El Primero movement.
2. Display back, so I can see the movement.
3. Not available in the US (it may be now)--I got it from Switzerland. This "feature" appeals to me.
4. My only moonphase watch. My young daughter loves the little moon.
5. My only triple date (month, day, date).
6. A rather refined chronograph, in case you need a chronograph but don't want an out-and-out sports watch.

Actually, having just made that list, I no longer believe that items #5 and #6 are important. They were at the time, though.

The Chronomaster came with a black croc strap that was much too dressy for me, so I replaced it with a rugged-looking, very thick Hirsch strap. I think I like that strap more than the watch. But, now that some time has passed, I no longer think that strap is right for the watch. I should go for something thinner, like the strap I have on the Lange 1 (but maybe at one tenth the price).

To summarize all of this: The Chronomaster is an admirable, important watch, but I don't actually like it very much.

There's a review, by Justin Time, of the Chronomaster in the TZ Archives.

Likability Rating: C

As I mentioned above, the Chronomaster is too time-consuming to set if it's wound down, so it really needs to be on a winder if it isn't worn regularly. I sold mine in August, 2000.

Bell & Ross Space Two

This watch has one very important property: It's the only mechanical chronograph I have, or have ever seen, with a readable dial. The four time-telling hands are the color of tritium (pale green), and the three chronograph hands are red. All the markings are clear, and the contrast is excellent.

The Lemania movement used in this Bell & Ross has a central minute chronograph hand, unlike most other chronographs which use a subdial for the minutes. The Lemania design is far superior, in my view.

So, the good feature of the Space Two is its dial.

Here are the bad features:

1. The bracelet meets the case at an awkward angle, so the edge of the case scratches the first link. The watch has two permanent creases in the finish at those points.
2. The watch is very heavy. At 150+ grams, it's uncomfortable to wear. So, I very seldom wear it. (There may be other heavy watches that are comfortable to wear because of their case design, so I'm not necessarily saying that all heavy watches are uncomfortable. Only the ones I know about.)
3. It winds in only one direction, so it has to stay on my Windmill 10 winder longer than my other watches. Since I don't want to overwind the others, the Space Two stays off the winder. Also, it won't wind on my MTE winder (a model that goes only in one direction) at all unless I put it on backwards with rubber bands. I can't strap it around the springy holder.
4. The case shape isn't especially attractive.

I think the Space Two is a very good watch. It's just not a watch for me. Too darn inconvenient.

Oh yeah, almost forgot... I bought the Space Two without seeing it first. Should have sent it right back, but didn't.

Likability Rating: D

I think I would give the Space Two a somewhat higher letter grade today. The weight no longer bothers me as much--perhaps I've developed my arm muscles since 1998. However, I'm selling this watch anyway, as I haven't worn it in about a year. (30-Jan-2008 update: I sold it a few years ago. Just noticed that I forgot to update this page.)

Chronoswiss Opus

See the review for my opinions of this wonderful watch. Here's an update:

1. I said some nasty things about the case in the review. Actually, I like it just fine. I was a bit premature, maybe.
2. The watch and the strap go very well together. I like the strap a lot.
3. It's too unreadable for me to wear the watch if I really need to know the time at a glance. I can usually see the hands OK, but I can't always tell which is which. Sometimes I have to remove my glasses so I can put my eye right up to the dial. What I find myself doing is reviewing my daily schedule before wearing the watch, to try to predict whether I will at any point have to know the time.

Someone suggested I paint the hands red. I don't want to have that done, because I don't want anyone opening the watch, and because I want to keep it in its original condition.

Even Chronoswiss considers this to be a novelty watch, and I would agree with that.

Likability Rating: A

The Opus is still a keeper. Maybe I'll wear it more often this winter--it's too hot right now to wear a watch with a fine leather strap.

Lange 1

Not much to add to my review, except that I like the watch more and more as the weeks go by. I really look forward to wearing it, and I sometimes just wear it to work (with jeans, too), though I do consider the Lange 1 to be a dress watch.

The readability of the dial hasn't been the problem I thought it would be, as long as the light is reasonable. There's no need for the dial to be any larger.

One more thing... I really like the rose gold (copper-colored, really) a lot, much more than yellow gold.

Likability Rating: A

Alas, I very rarely wear the Lange, as I rarely dress up. I've stopped wearing it with when dressed casually. But, wearing it is still a treat.

IWC Aquatimer

This is a wonderful watch, as several of us have mentioned in TZ posts and BB articles. (I don't think there's a real review yet.) Here are its good points (one more time!):

1. Outstanding bracelet, both in shape and in the link-adjustment mechanism, which is brilliant.
2. Superb dial.
3. Bracelet and case merge into an integrated whole that makes the whole package a joy to look at and to wear.
4. Titanium really is scratchproof. Great color and sheen, too.
5. It's LARGE.

Alas, although the Aquatimer feels OK on my wrist, its large size is proving to be somewhat inconvenient now that I'm wearing long sleeves.

Likability Rating: A

One of my favorites--it's on my wrist right now. When in New York City last summer, I slipped on the steps leading to the restroom at the Carnegie Deli. The bracelet scraped the concrete walls and got some very deep scratches. Fortunately, on this watch they just add character.

JLC Master Black Geographic

This was my last significant purchase, in March, 1999. I like the Geographic a lot, and wear it pretty often, but not in the Summer, as sweat would damage its strap. Turning the time-zone dial is lots of fun, and occasionally actually useful. I think the dial is absolutely stunning, and so is the case and strap. An outstanding watch.

Likability Rating: A

Revue Thommen Cricket 1997

For my thoughts on this watch, see my review. As some others have mentioned, winding this watch is really irritating. Worse, it's not automatic, so you have to wind it every day. The alarm is great, though. I'm in the process of selling this watch. At the price I was asking ($300), there were a lot of takers. Perhaps I should have asked a bit more.

Likability Rating: C

(30-Jan-2008 update: I sold it a few years ago. Just noticed that I forgot to update this page.)

Fortis Pilot Automatic

I won this watch in a TimeZone writing contest (click here to read my entry). When I got it I posted some comments, and I still agree with those. I wear this watch every now and then. I highly recommend it as a fine, great-looking watch, for not much money (even if you pay for yours). I wouldn't have bought it, but I'm glad I own it.

Likability Rating: B

Comments on Readability

I've commented here and there about the readability of the various faces. This is an important feature of a watch, of course. After all, being able to tell the time by looking at your wrist is the primary reason wristwatches were invented.

In my view, here are the factors that affect the readability of a watch:

1. Contrast between hands and dial.
2. Tritium or other illumination, so the watch can be read in low light.
3. Size of the face. The bigger the better.
4. Thickness of the hands.
5. Absence of clutter on the dial.
6. Clear markings on the dial hours and minutes. Numerals aren't necessary.

Because of #1 and #2, a black dial and white (or pale green) hands is the best combination. Because of #5, mechanical chronographs are, as a group, going to be much less readable than non-chronographs.

Anyway, considering my list of the 6 factors, here's how I would rank my 11 watches in terms of readability.

The most readable is the Aquatimer. It is a textbook example of all 6 factors. Close behind are the Ventura and the Aerospace.

Next would come the Bell & Ross Space Two. That it is a chronograph is a tribute to its outstanding face design.

Next would be the Tag Heuer. Its design is fine, it's just smaller that the others.

I suppose I'd put the JLC Reverso next. In good lighting, the white (front) face is extremely readable, but not in low light. The back side has tritium hands on a black background, but the face is very small.

The Explorer II would come next, or maybe it should even be tied with the Tag Heuer. Its problem is white hands on a white dial. For readability, I would think the black-dial model would be a better choice.

My remaining watches are much less readable. The Lange 1's gold hands are sometimes difficult to see, partly because they are rather small and thin. The Breitling Chronomat's dial is much too cluttered. The Zenith is cluttered, and lacks contrast as well.

Finally, the Chronoswiss Opus comes in last, as you would expect.

To update the above, I'd put the JLC Geographic just below the Explorer II, the Cricket maybe tied with the Tag Heuer, and the Fortis up with the Ventura and the Aerospace.

Conclusions

Here are some conclusions from living with my eleven watches:

1. I bought some of them without doing my homework, and as a result made some mistakes.

2. A few watches have emerged as the ones I just love to wear: Lange 1, Rolex Explorer II, IWC Aquatimer, Ventura v-matic, Breitling Chronomat, and Chronoswiss Opus.

3. I'm sorry I bought the Bell & Ross Space Two and the Breitling Aerospace.

4. I wish I liked the JLC Reverso more than I do. Maybe I will learn to like it...

5. The Tag Heuer has a specialized role in my collection, and I'm glad I have it.

6. The Zenith Chronomaster is turning out to be a disappointment, much to my regret. Maybe I should try a different strap.

7. The Revue Thommen Cricket was a mistake. I really didn't need an alarm watch badly enough to warrant buying this one, even though it looks great and has a loud alarm. Maybe the problem was just that it had too much competition in my collection.

8. I'm glad I bought the JLC Geographic, and I'd do it again.

In August, 2000, I put five watches up for sale: The Bell & Ross, the Breitling Aerospace, the JLC Reverso, the Zenith, and the Revue Thommen Cricket. These clearly were the least favorites in my collection. I don't plan on selling any of the others.

(30-Jan-2008 update: Those 5 watches did sell a few years ago, maybe even in 2000--don't remember. Just recently I sold the Ventura; see top.)


Updated 30-Jan-2008


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