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Review of the Revue Thommen Cricket 1997
Marc Rochkind (MJ)
From the first inkling that I wanted this watch to its arrival on my doorstep, things went pretty quickly. I decided I wanted an alarm watch, and I knew about the Cricket, but I had always thought they were dress watches, somewhat on the small side. But then I looked in a Cricket brochure that I picked up in New York last summer, and found this beauty. Sporty, large without being way oversized--looked like just the thing. What's more, it's one of the few watches with 12 unobscured Arabic numbers--perfect for teaching my young daughter to tell time.
But, I wondered about the alarm, having never seen (or heard) the watch in person. So, I posted a query on TimeZone and got a few favorable reports. I had found the watch NIB ("new in box") at Bernard Enterprises for only $690. Since I was planning to go to New York in early June, I decided to hold off until then, so I could check the watch out in person. I didn't think they'd suddenly become unavailable.
Well, naturally, later that night, I sent a fax to Bernard's and ordered the watch!. So much for being cautious. I held out for a total of 5 hours. And, this after I had promised myself months ago that I would never again buy a watch sight unseen. I told myself this could be an exception, since Bernard's has a 3-day return privilege, and an outstanding reputation here on TimeZone.
Anyway, I got the watch the following Tuesday, just as Bernard's promised, opened it up, and found it just wonderful. Looks like I'm keeping it!
About the Cricket
The Cricket was introduced by Revue Thommen (RT) in 1947. It was the first acoustic alarm watch. To quote the RT brochure:
My hearing's not good enough to hear a conventional alarm watch--electronic alarms are completely inaudible unless I hold the watch to my ear. I have no problem with the Cricket. Not only is the alarm loud, but, because it's mechanical, the whole case vibrates, so you can feel it as well as hear it. Once I had the watch on its side on a table when the alarm sounded, and the vibrations knocked the watch over on its back! I tested the alarm while sleeping, at a baseball game, and on a noisy bus, with good results.
The Cricket is also known (in RT advertising, anyway) as the "Presidents' Watch," because it was used by Eisenhower, Johnson, and Nixon. The August 31, 1964, issue of Newsweek magazine cover photo shows President Johnson wearing the watch, and RT used this photo in ads that ran (I suppose) during that period.
From 1947 until 1975 RT kept introducing new models of the Cricket: larger models (38mm), rotating-bezel models, date models, women's models, and an underwater model. For 10 years the watch was no longer produced, as RT struggled with the quartz revolution. In 1986 they reintroduced the Cricket, using designs from the 1947 - 1954 era.
In 1997, RT introduced two new models to celebrate the watch's 50th anniversary: an Anniversary Platinum, and the Cricket 1997, which is the one I have. It's available with black, blue, or copper dials, and in classical (Roman numerals at 3, 6, 9, and 12, and thin hands) and technical styles. Mine is the technical style with copper dial. As you can see from the photo above, it features large numerals and very thick hands, with lots of tritium. In the dark, the numbers are faintly visible, but the hands really stand out. Even the second hand has a rectangle of tritium on it.
I thought from reading the brochure that the movement in my watch was NOS ("new old stock"), leftover from the heyday of mechanical movements, when I imagined that RT has produced tens of thousands that they didn't use. It said the watch had an "original movement," which is why I suspected NOS.
I decided to email RT, using an address on their Web site. Much to my surprise, I got this response a week later, which I quote in its entirety:
(Score one for RT... I love to buy watches from manufacturers who take care of their customers!)
Now I know that this watch has an in-house movement, so it joins that small group of other such watches I own (JLC Reverso Duo, JLC Geographic, Lange 1, Rolex Explorer II, and Zenith Chronomaster).
I don't know a lot about movements, but the number of jewels and the beat seem to be tip-offs that this is an old design, dating from the days when economical mechanical movements were the workhorses of the industry. Nowadays, mechanical watches are luxury items, but not in the 1940s.
I haven't bothered to check the accuracy of the watch. Because I don't wear it every day and, being manual, it can't benefit from my winder, it stops between wearings and I have to reset it anyway.
The only problem with the movement, and, indeed, the only problem with the watch, is that it's too hard to wind the time-keeping spring, both because the spring is somewhat stiff and because the crown is fairly small--mostly the latter. This is pretty annoying. (The alarm has its own spring, and winds with little effort.) Maybe this will loosen after a while. After winding the Cricket, it's a revelation to wind my Lange 1. Wow!
It's usually obvious how to wind and set a new watch, but not so for the Cricket. Here's how it works:
There appear to be two crowns, but the one at 2 o'clock is just a pusher. Even though you can get a grip on it, you're never supposed to pull it out. To set the time, you pull the main crown (at 3 o'clock) out all the way (it has three positions) and turn it to set the time clockwise. Turning it the other way does nothing, so you have to be careful not to go past the correct time. The second hand keeps moving while you do this ("non-hacking"). When you're done, you push the crown all the way in. At that point you can wind the time-keeping spring by turning the crown one way (fairly stiff, as I mentioned), and wind the alarm by turning the other way. It's important that each function has its own spring, so the watch doesn't wind down when the alarm goes off.
If you stop there, the watch will function as a normal watch, but, if the alarm is wound, it will go off at whatever time it's set to. To set the alarm, you push the alarm pusher all the way in, which pops the main crown all the way out. You can then set the alarm hand. The crown is in the same position--all the way out--that it was in when setting the time, but now it is setting the alarm. Then you push the main crown all the way in, and, as I mentioned, the alarm is engaged. The alarm pusher pops all the way out.
When the alarm goes off, you push the alarm pusher in halfway to stop it. This takes a little practice, as it's easy to push it all the way in by mistake, but I mastered it pretty readily. This pops the main crown to its middle position. Or, you can disengage the alarm at any time by pulling the main crown to that position.
To summarize, the main crown has three positions: (1) Winding and alarm engaged, (2) alarm disengaged, and (3) setting. The pusher also has three positions: (1) alarm setting, (2) alarm disengaged, and (3) alarm engaged.
Case and Bracelet
Both are stainless steel, and polished to a high luster. I prefer a satin finish, but shiny is OK. I like the styling of the case, and the bracelet. My only quibble is that the horns are fairly wide when viewed from the top, so the round dial appears to sit on a massive rectangular platform. I think the watch would be a bit more graceful if the horns were thinner and more tapered. Again, this is a minor point, and you might even like it better the way it is.
I do like the size of the watch. It's physically large enough, and appears even larger because of the thin bezel.
The watch is water resistant to 50 meters, which is not very water resistant at all. It will withstand some splashing during a rainstorm or when washing your hands, but I wouldn't shower with it, and definitely wouldn't swim with it. Part of the problem is that the normal main crown position is halfway out.
The inside of the bracelet isn't as polished as the outside, but it's still very smooth, making the bracelet very comfortable. As is typical of mid-priced watches, the adjustment links are held in with cotter pins. They seem to be firmly held in, and I happen to have the right tool to press them out, but screws are easier to deal with by the average owner who wants to adjust the bracelet, and maybe more reliable, as well. (The best design is, without question, the one IWC uses on their GST watches, but that's too much to ask, I guess.)
The bracelet has only full adjustment links, and no fine adjustment on the deployant clasp, which is unfortunate. Luckily for me, the watch fit perfectly after I removed three links.
The clasp is a butterfly (or four-hinge) design. This minimizes the length of the solid part when the clasp is closed, allowing the bracelet to flex around your wrist. (Three-hinge deployant clasps tend to have too large a solid piece for my wrist. This keeps the bracelet from fitting properly, as the curve of the clasp doesn't match the curve of my wrist. My JLC Geographic has this problem worse than my other watches. It was only partially solved by reversing the strap from the way I got it.) It takes a little practice to pop the small part of the clasp loose, but I got the hang of it after a while.
The black (and, I suppose, blue) versions are much more readable, but I got copper anyway because I already had a bunch of black-dialed watches, and thought that copper would add something different to the mix. Because the numerals and hands are so bold, the copper is quite readable, so I think I made the right choice. Nothing special is done to the copper in the way of engraving, other than a very slight radial brushed pattern. It looks terrific in bright sunlight.
The whole dial is recessed into the case, creating a very obvious wall along the inside of the bezel. A nice effect, I think.
The markings between the hours are for the benefit of the alarm. There are 6 ten-minute divisions, with the numbers 10, 30, and 50 on three of the 5 markers. Nice for the alarm, but not so good for setting the watch to the minute. You have to wait for an appropriate time (multiples of 5 minutes being easiest), do some slightly more complicated arithmetic (e.g., wait for a multiple of 2.5 minutes), or just guess. I'm usually tired from winding the watch and just guess.
The Cricket 1997 is a fine watch, with an outstanding alarm function. Here's a summary of the pros and cons:
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