Thursday, July 19, 2007

Casio G-Shock MTG-900 Review

The last time I had a new digital watch, digital watches were themselves a new idea. I can't remember what brand it was but I do recall that it had a green LED display and the batteries didn't last very long. You had to push a button to read the thing and it couldn't do much more than display the time but it was pretty neat for its day. Digital watches have advanced just a bit since then. The G-Shock being reviewed here is, without a doubt, the most sophisticated watch I own and Casio has even more advanced models available.

The Casio G-Shock line has earned an amazing reputation for durability over the last twenty-five years or so. The stories of abuse that these watches can take are really remarkable (see this thread at According to the Wikipedia, the G-Shock was originally designed to be at least capable of surviving a 10 meter fall, 10bar water immersion and have a ten year battery life. The basic premise is that the watch employs a series of shock absorbers within the case that keep impacts from damaging the movement (called a module in Casio-speak). In addition to the ability to resist shocks, the case is also sealed against water and dust. As good as those original specs were, the current line goes even further when it comes to ruggedness. If you are tough on your watches, get a G-Shock-plain and simple.

The MTG-900 being reviewed her is a truly amazing piece of equipment. It has the usual G-Shock impact/shock protection and is water resistant to a depth of 200 meters, which should be deep enough for anyone. But, in addition to its toughness, this model has a two features that really make it special. First off, the watch is solar charged. The user need only wear the MTG-900 and its batteries will be kept alive through exposure to light. Like Citizen's Eco Drive line, the batteries in the MTG-900 should never need to be changed. As if that wasn't a nice enough plum though, this G-Shock goes it one better-it has atomic clock accuracy. No, there is no radioactive isotope decaying in the case. Instead, the MTG-900 has a tiny radio receiver inside it that picks up signals from the U.S. Atomic clock in Colorado and resets itself to atomic time automatically four times a day (it can also be reset to the atomic clock's signal at any time by pressing a button should you really be concerned about accuracy). As a consequence of owning a watch like this, I can now honestly say that I really know what time it is for the first time in my life.

Externally, the MTG-900 measures 44mm in width, 50mm lug to lug, and 15mm in thickness. The bracelet is integral to the case and tapers from 22mm to 17mm in thickness. The crystal is made of mineral glass and is recessed below a chrome plated bezel. The stainless steel bracelet of this G-Shock is unusual and very well done. It is not a solid link design but actually looks and wears like one albeit with a lighter weight which actually makes it very comfortable. There are cut-outs on the inside of each link to make adjusting the bracelet's size by removing links very easy and I do wish that other manufacturers would adopt a design like this. The clasp appears to be very strong and well-designed. Like most G-Shocks, the actual watch case is made of impact resistant plastic which on this model is colored to match the stainless steel color of the bracelet.

Timekeeping, as you can imagine with a watch like this, is flawless. For the heck of it, I opened up the page and compared it with the time on the G-Shock-spot on. The default display gives you the day, date (whose calendar is pre-programmed until the year 2039), month, hours, minutes, seconds, battery charge status and atomic time synchronization status. In addition, to the main screen (for lack of a better way to describe it) the MTG-900's other controls support 29 time zones (set by city location), 4 daily alarms and a snooze alarm, a time recorder that can remember 30 different time records, a stopwatch and an hourly time signal. If for some reason you keep this watch in the dark for extended periods, the battery will last for eleven months without light once fully charged (The watch goes into a power save mode which appears to shut off the display. Pressing a control will wake it up). Lastly, the watch face has a backlight that can operate in one of two ways. It can be manually activated by pressing the large "G" button below what would be the 6 o'clock position on the watch case. Additionally, the watch has a sort of smart light sensor built into it that will activate the backlight in low light conditions if the wearer quickly pivots the watch towards him/herself. Basically, flick your wrist and the light will turn on for a few seconds.

The MTG-900 is one of the most distinctive looking watches I have ever seen. It truly looks like nothing else out there while still managing to look very good, albeit it a high tech way. (One friend commented that it looked vaguely Klingon in style. I wouldn't disagree with that. The styling is both tough and aggressive). I would not recommend wearing a watch like this under a dress shirt (it is thick enough that the cuff button might not close) but, other than that situation, this G-Shock has no downside. It really does it all very well.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Steinhart/Debaufre Ocean One Review

The subject of this review, the Ocean One, is the first Swiss made automatic diver I have owned. (The previously reviewed Sandoz was only water resistant to 100 meters and thus was not fully a diver’s watch.) The watch came to me by virtue of a big sale that the folks at Steinhart are holding. The reason for the sale is related to that second name in the review title-Debaufre. It seems that another watchmaker(Steinhausen-whose watches are, to my knowledge, powered by Chinese made movements and look nothing like Steinhart’s) apparently felt that the names of the two companies were too close for trademark comfort, so to speak. Rather than spend lots of time and money defending themselves against a threatened lawsuit (and suits of this nature can drag on for years) Steinhart chose to change the name of their company. The name they went with (after making sure there would be no similar trade name issues) is Debaufre. Peter Debaufre was a watchmaker in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries who developed a new type of escapement mechanism and was the first watchmaker to set moving parts into jeweled pivots to cut friction and improve durability. The Steinhart folks feel that this is a fitting name that honors a largely ignored detail of watch making past. It’s a gutsy move on their part and isn’t without risk, the good will and P.R. that they have built up so far is now on the line. I personally wish them the best of luck as I have been a big fan of their watches. Anyway, with the change, the newly named company had an inventory of watches on hand that still had the old name and now needed to be to be sold off. Thus the aforementioned sale, which I think is still going on at the time of this writing. I won’t say what I paid for this one but the price was substantially lower than what it was a few months ago, and that original price was pretty good then.

On to the watch itself. The Ocean One is a big stainless steel watch, stylistically modeled on the Rolex Submariner but larger all around. The watch measures 42mm in width (46mm including the crown), 51mm lug to lug, 22mm band lug width and 14mm thick. The crystal is sapphire (best to ward off scratches) and includes a cyclops magnifier over the date window (the first I have owned that actually provides useful magnification). Internally, the Ocean One is powered by ETA’s 2824-2 25 jewel automatic movement, a proven workhorse known for its durability and accuracy. The lume on the hands and face is white superluminova, the best type short of tritium tubes. In my observation it remained visible for a few hours in darkness, more than adequate for most users. As for water resistance, the Ocean One is rated at 300 meters, which is more than high enough for just about anyone. 300 meters is seriously deep. The bezel rotates in a counter-clockwise direction only, with a nice firm action and has an embedded luminous marker. (The bezel on a diver’s watch should never move in a clockwise direction. If knocked out of position underwater it could accidentally extend a dive time past the safe limit of available air in the tank). The watch uses a heavy, solid link bracelet which thankfully included solid end links. (I am not a big fan of hollow end links, they tend to rattle and bend). The clasp is a flip lock design, that while not the best one of its type that I have seen (the adjustment range could be better), does get the job done well enough. (I have heard from the folks at Steinhart/Debaufre that the new models have an improved bracelet). Lastly, the watch can be hacked and hand wound and includes a nice sized, signed crown.

The Ocean One wears very comfortably despite its large size. In my opinion, anyone who appreciates nice watches would find a lot to like here . If, like me, you admire the looks of a Rolex diver but don’t have the coin for one (my kids and my $ go to private school I’m afraid) but don’t want to buy an obvious Rolex copy, the Ocean One is an excellent choice. It looks great, is quite accurate and should have no trouble surviving extended exposure to water. Best of all, it won’t break the bank. Grab one while you can.
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