Oyster Upgrade

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One way to make a good watch into a great watch is to upgrade the bracelet. A watch I really love is my Seiko Pepsi. It is one of the first watches I purchased and looks awesome on the wrist. The downside is that is came on pretty flimsy folded link bracelet. It looks okay, with a brushed top and polished sides, but it rattles, squeaks, and sometimes pulls hairs. It is also a complete bear to take extra links out. Shame, really, the actual watch is pretty fantastic.

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For the past few years, this have had this watch mostly on leather or NATO straps, but to get the original submariner feel to it, the watch deserves a heavy, quality bracelet. So, I decided on an “oyster” style bracelet. It matches what originally came on the watch, and closely mimics the modern bracelets used on Rolex submariners. For a non watch collector, spending $40 to $50 on a bracelet seems crazy, but when it is just a fraction of the price of a new, quality watch, it is worth it. To put it all in perspective, a single link on a solid gold watch costs over $250!

Putting the bracelet changed the whole feel of the watch. From too heavy at the watch, to well balanced. The squeaks and rattles went away, and the whole watch now has a very solid, expensive feel to it. The whole bracelet is brushed, but that’s okay in my opinion. It is easy to re-size and moves well with my wrist. The only compromise I had to make was is I had to use the original end links that came with the watch, the ones that were included were intended for Seiko SKX real diver’s watches, not this diver’s style, SKA.

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The deployant is push-button with safety clasp. The bracelet has 3 adjustment holes. The overall fit and finish are very good and truly change an ordinary watch to an amazing watch. I wish the end links were solid, but, for the price point, it was perfectly acceptable. The ability to upgrade a bracelet is by no means limited to diver’s watches, you can just as easily update a dress watch is a solid bracelet or fine leather, or take a casual watch and make it dressy. Try it if you want to save some money, but want a whole new look.

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Vintage vs. Modern

Vintage Vs. Modern

As you may have noticed, my collection of watches is split between modern and vintage pieces. Why? The are many reasons, cost, style, practicality, and general coolness sums up why I have both types.

Why modern?

With a modern watch, you get a watch with features that are lacking in a vintage piece. A big difference is the amount of water resistance of modern watches. Even dress watches now have a 5ATM/50M water resistance, with 100 and 200M being very common on very inexpensive watches. It’s nice to know that if you are caught in a rainstorm, or a flood for that matter, you don’t have to worry about your watch. Another nice thing is the robustness of modern watches. Modern automatics generally have more shock protection and robust components than many vintage pieces. Quartz watches, even more so. Luminous or electronic luminescent material is another feature you will only get with a modern watch, unless you get the watch re-lumed. Modern glow in the dark material are light years ahead of what used to available.

Another aspect is the some people prefer modern styling (read BIG watches). Most watches are at least 38mm, with up to 54mm not uncommon. Vintage watches are usually 34mm for men’s and just plain tiny for women’s. Finally, modern materials have an advantage over vintage pieces. Most watches are all stainless steel, with base metal watches only on the very bottom end of the market. An all stainless steel vintage model is a rare fine.

Why vintage?

Style , movements, and price. Many modern pieces try to emulate styles of the past, and often cost a lot of money. You can pick up the inspiration for a fraction of new. A nice 70’s funky watch costs less than $10. With movements, the build quality and finish of even mid priced pieces is excellent, exceeding modern, machine made movements. When all there was was mechanical movements, the manufactures got really good at making them small and accurate. Hand wound only movements are particularly thin, rivaling or exceeding the thinness of quartz movements. Even the cheap Timex automatic movements were remarkably thin and very robust.

If you want a complicated watch, like a mechanical chronograph, look into vintage. A Seiko 12 hour 1/5 of a second, day and date, automatic watch can be had for less than $200, where a new Seiko with the same features will cost you over $2,500. Same goes for Swiss movements. If you want a modern, all metal, automatic movement, you are looking at $ 300 or more, whereas in vintage it will be less than $50. My most expensive vintage pieces set me back $20. Try to get a modern, Swiss made mechanical for that price. Even a Swatch automatic will set you back at least $100 and some of the components are plastic.

What should you buy?

If you want a watch you can wear every day and not worry about it, buy modern, heck, even a quartz. If you want affordable style and classic looks, go for the vintage. If you a budding watch collector, the thrill and challenge of finding working mechanical pieces is a big part of collecting. A word of warning, avoid vintage quartz, if possible. Starting from the mid 70’s to the mid 90’s, there was a lot of junk made, particularly in the 80’s. The cell (battery) may be hard to find, or if it was not replaced in time, may have leaked and destroyed the quartz module.

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Watch Buying Guide (on the cheap)

Just because you are buying an inexpensive watch doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect some quality.

Here is what you should look for when buying any watch at any price:

  • When buying a watch, pick the watch up and feel the weight. Does it feel dense, or does it feel too light for it’s size? If the watch is plastic, it will feel quite light, but this can be desirable. A steel watch should feel solid. Sub $30 will often feel light, that’s ok, since they have to cut corners somewhere. Anything over $50 should feel pretty solid.
  • Look at the fit and finish. Is the watch polished well? Even on a $10 watch, it should have no gaps and everything should line up. The quality of the fit and finish should increase proportionally to about $500, above that, you get really diminishing returns. That being said, a $200 watch can have a better finish than a $2000 watch.
  • Flip the watch over, read the back of the watch case. This will usually tell you a little more about the watch. An important thing to note is they will often state ‘stainless steel back’ with a ‘base metal’ case on watches less than $50. What is ‘base metal’? I don’t know, but I know it rusts/corrodes. The crown on my Timex now looks like dull brass. Better watches have stainless steel cases, and should never rust or corrode.
    • The back of the watch will also usually tell you what type if replacement battery, country of manufacture, and water resistance.
  • Ignore the name, look at the watch. Many watches are made by the same company. Do you like the watch? Nothing else really matters if you don’t like the watch. I have looked at Rolexes, and I just don’t like the style.
  • Know what you are getting. This is a big thing. Watches can be separated into some price points:
    • $10 to $50. These are the least expensive watches you will want to buy. Timex dominates this market along with many store brands. Expect some corners to be cut in materials. You can find some hidden gems in this range, but almost all are quartz watches, stainless steel back only. They tell time and my $30 Timex is about 13 years old now!
    • $50 to $150. A heck of a lot of nice looking watches in this range. Expect to see Fossil, Skagen, lower Seikos, Citizens, and myriad of makers fighting for this market. You should expect to see all stainless steel and some titanium watches in this range. These watches will often have excellent build quality.
    • $150 to $300. You are now entering the mid tier of watches. Build quality should be very good, rivaling much more expensive pieces. Cases will be stainless steel or titanium. If they are not, run away. Watch bracelets should be solid, not folded links. Seiko and Citizen are the dominant brands in this arena.
    • $300 to $500. Firmly in the mid tier. Seiko, ESQ, Tissot, and other Swiss watches can be had at this price range. Build quality is superb. Materials and finishes are equal to or better than watches costing 10x as much.
  • Look at the warranty, but beware. Fossil watches may have a 11 year warranty, but remember, if you have to claim a warranty, the cool watch you have will no longer be made. You also can’t fix inexpensive quartz movements. You can always (within reason) repair a mechanical watch. If you are lucky, the movement be replaced entirely. A quartz movement usually costs less than $20 to build. (This is why watch collectors look down on Quartz movement. A $3000 Quartz Tag Heuer has a $30 movement inside.)
  • If you are looking at a Quartz watch, look at the second hand. It will be ticking once a second. The second hand should like exactly with the minute markers. Some watches do, some don’t. It’s a minor detail that not all makers aspire to. If you are looking at a mechanical movement, the second hand should sweep smoothly across the face. An inexpensive Seiko or Citizen beats at 21,600 beats per hour, or 6 beats a second. A Swiss ETA 2824 based watch will beat at 28,800 beats per hour, or 8 beats a second, resulting in an even smoother sweep. There are some Chinese movements out there, such as one used on the Armitron automatic. I believe this moves at 18,000 beats per hour, or 5 beats per second. Regardless of movement, each motion of the second hand should be equal. As a side note, most sales people have never dealt with an automatic watch before. To start the watch, take it in your hand and gently rock it back and forth about 4 inches about 10 to 20 times and it should start. If it doesn’t start in 30 seconds of rocking, you are dealing with a hand wound watch; or a piece of junk.
  • Autowind a watch

    Work in progress…

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