Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Debaufre GMT 2 Review

On a waterproof leather band

The Debaufre GMT 2 represents a number of firsts for me. It is my first Debaufre for starters (since the name change from Steinhart took place). It is also the first watch I own with a GMT capability. Lastly, it is my first Swiss watch with ETA's 2893-2 movement. These three firsts combine to make for a very pleasing experience.

As I mentioned in my previous review of the Ocean One diver, Steinhart had to change its name under the threat of litigation from another company who thought that their names sounded too alike for trademark purposes (Steinhausen is reportedly the company that had a problem with the name). Rather than roll the dice on a lawsuit, Steinhart took the high road and changed their name to Debaufre, in honor of an early watchmaker who developed several innovations in timepiece design. (For more information about the historical Debaufre watchmakers, this article discusses them about halfway down) After clearing their old inventory, Debaufre has now launched under its new name and brings a variety of interesting and affordable Swiss watches to the market through their website.

The GMT 2 being reviewed here is one of Debaufre's new designs. The watch features a stainless steel case, a stainless steel solid-link bracelet with a branded flip lock and screw pins (that also, thankfully, include solid end links; hollow end links tend to rattle and bend over time), a good sized, easily gripped screw-down crown and a fixed stainless steel bezel with a twenty-four hour scale engraved into it. The GMT 2 is a big watch in keeping with today's trend towards large men's watches. The case and bracelet feature a combination of brushed and polished stainless steel finishes that result in a very handsome overall appearance without being flashy or gaudy. In terms of size, the GMT 2 is 42mm in width (not including the crown), 50 mm lug to lug, 13 mm in thickness and has a 22 mm band lug width. This watch is no lightweight either. At just under seven ounces, it feels very solid on the wrist. The Debaufre also features a sapphire crystal with a cyclops magnifier (the best material to ward off scratches) and superluminova lume on the hands and watch face (the best glow in the dark method available short of tritium tubes). Water resistance is rated at 300 meters, which is seriously deep by anyone's standard. Don't worry about getting this one wet.

The most obviously interesting feature about the GMT 2 is that large red fourth hand on the face. That is the GMT hand. (For an in-depth discussion about Greenwich Mean Time see this page on Timezone). In a nutshell, the ETA 2893-2 movement in this watch can essentially track time in two different locations simultaneously. The conventional three hands (hour, minute & second) mark time locally while the GMT hand can be independently set to the time at some other spot on the planet. Once set, there is nothing else for the wearer to do. The two systems will track their respective time zones as long as the movement has stored power (And since this is an automatic movement, all one need do is wear the thing for it to keep going. There is no battery to croak on you). If you travel regularly or even make long distance calls to folks overseas, this feature is a wonderful convenience.

The ETA 2893-2 movement is considered one of ETA's high-end models and can be found in many well known brands. (ETA incidentally is the largest of the Swiss watch movement companies. Until recently they sold many movements to other companies for use in their watches. It is my understanding that this practice will be ending soon and many watch companies will have to look to other suppliers for movements. ( Aside-This is not a concern for buyers though. If a jeweler in east nowhere can service a movement, it will be an ETA movement). Sellita seems to be a popular choice and their SW200 movement has been well received.) Technically speaking, the 2893-2 movement is a 21 jewel automatic that runs at 28,800 bph with a 42 hour power reserve. In addition, the movement allows for hacking and hand winding. Subjectively speaking, this is one of the smoothest winding movements I have ever encountered. As someone who collects Russian watches, I am used to movements that sound like they are grinding up rocks as they are wound. This thing is so smooth that I thought it must be broken at first. It is really a pleasure to wind it up. The accuracy of this example is impressive, currently running at + 2 seconds after twenty-four hours.

To wrap this up, the GMT 2 is an all around terrific watch. It is solidly built and its water resistance and stainless steel construction pretty much assure that it will last for a very long time. It is also, to the best of my knowledge, the least expensive watch available with its combination of features (2893-2 GMT movement, stainless steel case, 300 meter water resistance & sapphire crystal). If you want the feel and performance of a high-end watch without having to worry about your significant other threatening to kill you for spending the money on one, this is your watch. That it looks as good as it does is icing on the cake.

As an aside, there is a nice article in this month’s issue of Watchtime about the name change from Steinhart to Debaufre.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Vostok Ministry Amphibia Review

Bracelet detail

Caseback detail

The signed clasp

The subject of this review, the Vostok Ministry Amphibia is mechanically very similar to the previously reviewed Vostok Amphibia. Both watches feature 200 meter water resistance, a thick, domed acrylic crystal, Vostok's rugged 2416b automatic movement and the company's trademark crummy lume. Where these two models differ is in the case design. Both are made of stainless steel but that is where the similarity ends.

The Ministry Amphibia is much larger than previous Amphibia designs. The cushion case measures 40 mm in width (43 mm including the crown), 14 mm in thickness and 45mm lug to lug. Additionally, the band lug width of this model measures 22 mm instead of the usual Vostok 18 mm standard. The overall effect is a much more solid feel on the wrist. The stock bracelet on this model is a stainless steel folded link design. The overall quality of the bracelet is somewhat better than that of previous Vostok models. It’s still not great (nothing a nice Watchadoo couldn't improve on) but it suffices.

Ministry Amphibias aren't the most common type of Vostok and their availability can be hit or miss. I picked up this one on the global tag sale from Zenitar's store for a pretty reasonable price. If you are a Vostok or Russian watch collector, a Ministry Amphibia would make a fine addition to any collection to say nothing of a good daily wearer/beater.
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