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Is the New Omega Speedmaster Professional Too Enthusiast Focused?

On the first “Speedy Tuesday” of the year, Omega announced a major upgrade to the Speedmaster Professional “Moonwatch.” This is a watch that Omega doesn’t update often, and this particular update was the biggest in decades. Most notably, the new reference 310.30.42.50.01.001 has a Master Chronometer certified Co-Axial movement, a new bracelet, and some great nods to vintage Speedmaster references. Overall, I love it. They’ve taken a great watch and made it significantly better. That said, I have a few gripes with this timepiece. There is ambiguity around its qualification for manned space missions, and I think Omega misstepped in focusing so hard on pleasing the enthusiast watch segment.

I’ll get into my grievances in a second, but first, the goods. The biggest upgrade is, of course, the movement. Omega has upgraded from the long adored caliber 1861 to the OMEGA Co-Axial Master Chronometer Calibre 3861. Being a Master Chronometer means not only can this watch endure more than its predecessor, but it’s also one of the toughest and most accurate watch movements on the market. Architecturally the 3861 is very similar to the 1861, like the 1861 was to the 861 and the 861 was to the 321. It’s still a manual winding—with 50 hours of power reserve—lever and cam switching chronograph, and the general structure is unchanged. But now, it has a co-axial escapement and the silicon balance spring and is highly resistant to magnetism. For the average wearer, this just means a more accurate, tough, and reliable watch.

OMEGA Co-Axial Master Chronometer Calibre 3861

The watch’s inside was not the only thing upgraded as there is a handful of conservative but meaningful design changes. The bracelet is now five links instead of three and is finished differently depending on if you get the Hesalite or Sapphire crystal model. The move from three to five links means this bracelet should be more adjustable and comfortable on the wrist, but it also gives the watch a more vintage and slightly more dressy vibe. The Hesalite version is fully brushed, while the sapphire model has an alternating polished and brushed finishing. While I like the new bracelets, the clasp overshadows them.

Drool.

The twin-trigger clasp has a gorgeous vintage design inspired by the clasp on the first gold Speedmaster reference BA145.022-69. It’s my favorite detail on the new model. Other vintage inspired queues added to the watch include the coveted dot over 90 on the bezel and the pie pan style stepped dial. The stepped dial for me is a significant visual improvement, the dot over 90 I couldn’t care less about, but I get that many other enthusiasts will love it. The sapphire model now comes with an applied logo, while the Hesalit models’ are still painted on. The logo difference further delineates the two and, in my mind, draws a clear line in the sand. The sapphire is now more of a vintage reissue, and the Hesalite is the purist model.

Dot over 90, stepped dial, chef’s kiss.

All of these updates I love, and I should. I’m a watch guy, after all. Now we get to my grievances. Before this update, a Speedmaster Professional cost $5,300 and was arguably the best value proposition in watches. Not only was it a fantastic entry into the Omega brand but luxury watches in general. Few if any watches could compete with the Speedmaster Professional’s story and legendary design and movement. It had everything you could want in a great watch for most people, and at $5300, most people could aspire to own one should they choose.

With this new model and its litany of upgrades, Omega saw fit—justifiably—to increase the watch’s price to $6300. I know this is not an insane price increase, and I still consider this watch a good value for the money. But again, I’m a watch guy. All of the updates to this watch matter to me, and I’m the minority. The Speedmaster transcends the watch enthusiast world and is one of Omega’s most popular watches. Increasing the price one thousand dollars higher when most people who would buy it won’t notice or care about the updates seems like a dangerous move. The watch is now in Rolex Explorer territory at this price, which I consider a very similar watch in spirit. Omega had such a killer advantage with the previous model. Their flagship, their most legendary watch, was less than essentially any Rolex, and I’m sure that fact alone gained them many buyers. That advantage is now gone because of a lot of details that only enthusiasts will love. Case in point the picture below shows the previous model on the left and the new updated model on the right. Pretty similar even for a watch nerd.

New Caseback with Co-Axial Master Chronometer and “in 1965” added

Now to the issue of the flight qualification. On the back of this watch, Omega has conspicuously changed the engraving from “Flight Qualified by NASA for all Manned Space Missions.” to “Flight Qualified by NASA in 1965 for all Manned Space Missions.” This might seem like a small detail, but the former indicates the watch is currently flight-qualified, and the latter seems to imply it once was. I’m not sure if this is why Omega added the qualifier of “in 1965” or not, but I consider this a key detail of this timepiece. Per Fratello watches, the two previous Moonwatch generations with the 861 and 1861 movements were not actually tested by NASA but rather Omega according to NASA’s parameters, and those still received the qualification from NASA. With this model, Omega says they’ve tested these new watches accordingly, but there doesn’t seem to be any official word that NASA recognizes them as qualified for spaceflight. For now, we’ll have to wait to see whether Omega clears things up or wait and see if it ends up on an astronaut’s wrist—hopefully, both.

Again, I love this watch. I’ve been waiting for it to get a Co-Axial METAS movement for a few years now. I love the new dial, I love the new bracelet, I love all of it. I’ll probably buy one in the near future. But I’m also exactly who this watch was made for, and for every watch nerd like me, there are thousands of people who just want a nice watch, people who will now be cross-shopping this Speedy with some steeper competition than it’s used to. Time will tell if the Speedmaster is up to the task like it has been so many times before.

All images from omega.com

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Rolex 2020 Releases

So, Rolex released some new watches this last week. Let’s dig in. I’m not going to get into the weeds with specs and measurements. If you want that kind of article, there are a lot of them. I’m guessing that if you’re reading this take on the new releases, it’s because you’ve finished what the rest of the internet has to say on them. This is just my thoughts on the new timepieces and what the releases mean for the watch world. 

The Bell of the Ball

Rolex Submariner ref. 124060 image from Rolex

Let’s start with the elephant-sized oyster in the room, the new Submariner. I know some were unhappy with the slight size increase, but I don’t mind it. To be honest, the only way we were getting slimmer lugs was with a bigger watch. A simple reduction of lug size could be seen as a step backward or maybe even an admission that they messed up with the original maxi-case design. This increase in size is in line with Rolex’s constant pursuit of progress and allows them to improve the watch’s lines significantly. I haven’t had a chance to wear the watch yet, but from all accounts, it wears better than the previous generation, and from photos, it appears to be more curvy and elegant, both pluses in my book. As an owner of a five-digit Submariner, I previously would not have entertained getting a modern maxi-case Submariner. I felt with the beefiness of the case they lost the ability to be worn with anything and everything from a shipwreck to a wedding. First impressions of the new generation are that those elegant lines and legendary versatility are back.

The Rolex Submariner ref. 126610LV image from Rolex

The case changes, while impactful, are subtle. More noticeable are the updates to the green steel “Hulk” Submariner and the white gold blue “Smurf” Submariner. Rolex has decided to get rid of the color-matched dials on both watches. This is a very welcome update on my end as it makes both watches less loud and again makes the timepiece more versatile. I would much rather wear this new green bezel black dial Submariner than the Hulk. Also, we need new nicknames for both watches. The Green Hornet, The Riddler, Robin to go with the GMT’s Batman? Maybe for the blue bezel, the Blueberry Sub, Boysenberry, Dr. Manhattan, if we want more superheroes, Sonic if we don’t? 

With these aesthetic improvements comes a movement upgrade as well. The Calibres 3230 and 3235 will replace the Calibre 3135—introduced in 1988—and 3130—introduced in 2001—both of which were well overdueThis is a big upgrade that can not be overstated. It removes yet another blocker for me, and I’m sure others, regarding the acquisition of a modern Submariner. It’s hard to consider a brand new watch with essentially a thirty-year-old movement. The 32xx series is a thoroughly modern Rolex caliber. It’s significantly more durable and efficient than it’s predecessor. The biggest highlights that will be noticed day to day by the wearer are the now 70-hour power reserve, resistance to magnetism, and shock resistance. 

I couldn’t be happier with these updates, and I think the Submariner’s changes will be long-lasting. The maxi-case design was a huge departure for the model and had a short run as far as Submariner designs go. The previous case style stayed intact for decades remaining relatively unchanged since the 5512 in 1959. This new case design better embodies the watch and is here to stay. Like it or not, I believe this new case shape will define the next few decades of the Submariner, and the maxi-case will be seen as a bulky blip in the Submariner story.

The Show Stealer

Oyster Perpetual 41 image from Rolex

But the Submariner is not the only watch to get an upgrade this past week. In fact, I think the Oyster Perpetual 41 and 36 stole the show. The dials got a very loud revamp, but also Rolex really upped the value proposition of this line. The Oyster Perpetual line receives the same new movement as the no-date Submariner and now comes with the folding Oysterclasp with the Easylink 5 mm comfort extension link. This addition of the comfort extension link was surprising but exciting. It’s a generous feature added by Rolex. We were all at peace with the Easylink being excluded from OPs. It was written off as something you just didn’t get on the OP because it was their cheapest model. This shows that while this is Rolex’s entry-level watch, the Oyster Perpetual compromises on little to nothing. 

Oyster Perpetual 36 with Turquoise dial image from Rolex

Honestly, now looking at the Rolex lineup, it would be hard to pull the trigger on a Milgauss or Air-King, which a lot of people thought would be discontinued. I adore both of these watches for the record, and their style is totally my speed, but both are time-only watches still using previous generation movements. Unless you’re someone who is around professional-grade magnets or are buying just based on looks, the Oyster Perpetual is an objectively much better watch for less money. 

The dials I admit are a love-hate thing, but this line has always consisted of mostly loud dials with a few subdued ones. I love the silver dial with gold indices and hands as well as the turquoise and pink dialed variants, the rest I’ll reserve judgment till I see them in person. Either way, I suspect the “less loved” variants will follow the current Air-King cycle by being disliked until they aren’t and then becoming collectible. As a side note, RIP White dial OP39.

The Rest

New Rolex Datejust with green dial image from Rolex

I’m indifferent about the Datejust 31 updates, but I do like the new green dial. The Sky-dweller line received some updates as well. The watch remains essentially the same, but now with precious metal versions, you can add the Oysterflex bracelet. I’m not a huge fan of this combo, but in general, I like the Oysterflex and like seeing used in more watch lines. I love it on the Yacht-Master, and I think I might like it more on the Daytona and Sky-dweller if they didn’t have metal end links. Call me crazy but I like the gap from the strap to the case. Either way, that’s a taste thing and to each their own. 

The Rolex Sky-Dweller ref. 326238 in yellow gold with Oysterflex

Overall I’m about as please as I am every year with Rolex’s release. I’m head over heels in love with some of these pieces and very meh about others. The brand has shown it can still keep everyone on their toes as well as pump out hits. Being a Rolex fan is kin to loving a sports team, lots of highs, and lots of lows. But if the 2020 releases have you down, take solace in a phrase that perpetually gives sports fans hope, there’s always next year.

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The Ultimate Dad Watch-Revisted

With Fathers day upon us I figured this would be a good time to revisit this article and the list of great Dad watches. I hope you enjoy and I hope you have a good fathers day.

So, you’re a new Dad, or you know one, and you’re in the market for a watch. Watches are great gifts for a myriad of reasons. They can be heirlooms, they’re a fashionable accessory, and they’re a tool with a practical use case. Dads are likely in need of something that fills all those roles. Being a new Dad you start thinking about your legacy and what you are going to leave behind for your child, hence an heirloom, check. New Dads are not historically known as a stylish bunch and a good looking watch can elevate any outfit, check. Being a good parent requires practicality and time management on another level, check.

For most people, a stylish heirloom that’s also a quality tool would be more than enough in a watch, but a new Dad needs a little bit more than that. A Dad needs something that he can wear with a T-shirt and jeans while taking his little one to the park. He needs a watch that can get puked, slobbered, and pooped on multiple times a day and ask for more. Then it needs to be able to be quickly rinsed off and slipped under a blazer cuff for date night.

A dress watch while great looking wouldn’t hold up. Most dress watches are not waterproof so they certainly are not vomit proof and the leather band would get destroyed faster than you can say blowout diaper. A rough and tumble digital watch like a G-Shock can handle the rigors of a baby but it won’t add the style element. A rubber watch doesn’t mix well with date night or business casual attire. As a new parent you’re already going to be juggling a lot of new responsibility and every time you leave the house you’ll be wondering what you forgot. You don’t need to add “What watch should I wear today” to your list of todo’s.

The perfect watch for a new Dad or any new parent is a Divers watch. You can get one at various price points they’re sturdy as a rock and look great. Get one with a metal bracelet and you can always switch out to a distressed leather strap for that added style element, when you know it won’t get soiled. On top of the style and ruggedness, it comes with a timing bezel. The timing bezel I have on my watch was almost never used pre Dadhood but since becoming a Dad the amount of timing I’ve done has increased ten fold. Whether it’s nap lengths or the last time my daughter ate it’s super handy to just turn the bezel on my wrist and forget about it. If you need any more convincing a dive watch is up to the task consider this, James Bond is never found without his trusty dive watch. It works as well fighting bad guys underwater as it does with a tuxedo. If it works for Bond it will work for you and while I’ve been spending a lot more time cleaning vomit and poop off my watch then I have slipping it under dress shirt cuffs on date nights, the watch looks great and works well none the less.

Below are some links to great dive watches at different price points to be enjoyed in good health. * Updated with some new watches for Fathers day 6/21/20

The Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression is a quirky option for the Dad who doesn’t want a watch he sees on the wrist of a rival little league coach. While unique and full of character this model isn’t as loud as some of Zodiacs other watches and this allows it to fly under the radar a bit more and dress up easier. That makes it my top pick from Zodiac as a Dad watch. MSRP of $1,295.

The Tudor Black Bay GMT is for the Dad who travels a lot. While you still get all the water resistance and toughness of the other Tudor Black Bay Divers this watch also comes with a GMT complication that allows you to display up to three timezones at once. With a Tudor watch you get Rolex quality and for half the price of a Rolex GMT. You also get a solid vintage inspired tool watch design that I happen to think looks better than the current Rolex GMT. MSRP $4,050

The undipsputed King of Dive watches and James Bonds’ original choice the Rolex Submariner. Specifically a 16610 that is from the 90’s or newer. It has a smaller case size than the brand new Submariner but is still modern which helps it more easily transition from the beach to the boardroom. MSRP 6–10k

If the Submariner is the King of dive watches the Omega Seamaster is the Queen. It also happens to be James Bonds’ other choice. Before product placement in movies was a thing Bond wore the Rolex as per Ian Flemmings books. Fast forward to the 90’s and Pierce Brosnans’ Bond, Omega swooped in and struck a deal. Omega has been Bonds’ choice ever since. An equally worthy, tough and stylish dive watch in it’s own right and also half the price of the Submariner. MRSP $5,200

Oris is not a very well known watch brand outside of the watch world but it should be. Their enviromental advocacy speaks to their values as a company as does their pursuit of great quality for the price. Wearing an Oris watch shows you’re in the know when it comes to watches and don’t buy just for brand cachet. This particular example in the Oris line stands out with its bronze bezel and vintage rivet style bracelet. You get all the style and character of a vintage watch with a new movement and case that can stand up to anything you put it through. MSRP $2,200

Seiko is a brand almost everyone knows about. What they don’t know is that Seiko might be the best kept secret among watch nerds. Seiko makes easily the best watches for the price. The people at Seiko have such a dedication to their craft and make watches that are on par quality wise with watches two, three times their price. They offer a ton of options when it comes to well priced divers watches. This Seiko 5, though not a proffesional dive watch, fits the bill and is a personal favorite of mine and this colorway makes for a unique look. Careful though, even though this watch is the cheapest on the list, many obsessed watch collectors started out as harmless Seiko dive watch owners. So the money saved now may be lost later on other watches. MSRP $525

Let me know, did I miss on any other great Dad watches? Do you think another type of watch is better? Let me know in the comments.

Rolex Has Found a Solution to the “Rolex Problem.” Boredom.

Watches and Wonders is upon us, which means there are countless new watches to get excited about. Many of the most important watch brands will be showing off their latest timepieces, but none of them garners as much attention as Rolex. The funny thing is, almost in spite of all the hype, Rolex is notoriously conservative and usually has the tamest releases of any brand. However, this latest release took it to another level, causing some to claim that the brand has surpassed being conservative and is straight-up boring. But while I was looking over the new batch of watches, something occurred to me, and I think it might explain the method behind Rolex’s madness or rather their tameness.

The poster child for the Rolex problem, the near unattainable Rolex Daytona ref. 116500LN. Image from Rolex.com

I think this release is intentionally aimed at solving the “Rolex problem.” If you’re unfamiliar with this problem, here’s a quick rundown. The demand for steel Rolex sports watches has never been higher, and almost all of them are unavailable at retail unless a dealer vets you and determines that you’re worthy, often after a lengthy wait. You can’t just walk into an authorized dealer and buy, say, a Submariner or GMT or really any other marginally popular model. If you aren’t willing to go through the “vetting process” or “waitlist,” you have to pay a considerable markup—often two or three times the MSRP—at a second-hand or “grey dealer.” This is also part of the reason Rolex releases draw so much attention. People want to see what watch will become the new impossible to get “it” Rolex, and they want to see what watches will become discontinued. People speculate on these watches like they’re investments because these new models and the recently discontinued models often see a considerable spike in their asking price at these second-hand dealers. Despite high demand seeming like a good thing, this level of mania is bad for Rolex. It frustrates and alienates potential buyers. Also, as the second-hand prices continue to go up, so does the risk of a bubble popping, causing the value of Rolex’s to tank. Both of these are not good for the long-term brand value of Rolex.

Alive and well the John Mayer Daytona. Image from Rolex.com

But with the 2021 release, Rolex threw a wrench in things. First, they didn’t outright discontinue any models in that they didn’t get rid of any model without a replacement. Many people thought the Milgauss, Air-King, and “John Mayer Daytonas” all could be on the chopping block, and because of this, the prices of those watches have risen on the second-hand market. In particular, the John Mayer Daytona—reference 116508 in yellow gold with a green dial—has seen its value rise over 50% since August of 2020, just a matter of months, due to speculation that Rolex would discontinue it during this April update. But that didn’t happen. Really the only watch they truly discontinued was the 39mm Explorer, which they replaced by bringing back the fan-favorite 36mm Explorer. This brings me to the next part of this update cycle that appears to be directly aimed at solving the “Rolex problem.”

Rolex brought back models that had relatively recently gone away. As I said, they revived the 36mm Explorer, which fans have been asking for since it was replaced by the 39mm one in 2010. Also, the GMT Master II can once again be configured with an Oyster bracelet which means the black and blue “Batman” variant is now back in production after only being gone for two years. When the original Batman on oyster was discontinued, its value shot up about 30%. I say all this to illustrate just how much a watch being discontinued or even speculated to be discontinued can affect its price regardless of how many were made or how old it is.

Original Batman ref. 116710BLNR value per Chrono24 note the huge spike after production ceased.

What this latest release has left us with is multiple watches that drastically went up in price because people speculated they would be discontinued, but they weren’t. We also have modern watches that have gone up in value after their production ended—the 14270 36mm Explorer and the original Batman 116710BLNR—both of which are in spirit being produced again. Finally, their most teased and anticipated update—the Explorer II—now has more elegant case lines and an improved movement, but other than that is essentially the same as the watch it replaced. Overall, Rolex is keeping watches longer than we’d expect; they’re bringing beloved watches back from the dead, all while keeping their updates conservative enough that they can only be seen as improvements rendering previous generations not collectible but outdated. This all goes directly against the perception of rarity and uniqueness that has helped create this untenable market. If this keeps up, it will have severe effects on the way the current Rolex market operates, and it just might be the only real clean solution for the brand.

The New Rolex Explorer II is a lot like the old one. Image from Rolex.com

While this is all just speculation based on my very unscientific observations, I think Rolex is too methodical and thoughtful for this to be unintentional. I’ve seen plenty of coverage on the “Rolex problem” and the issue with grey markets, and markups. There have been some theories of how to solve the problem, but a lot of the solutions I’ve seen proposed have come with caveats that they could create yet more problems. The current market conditions are not a good thing in the long run for Rolex, and I have often wondered if there is any way to slow down the hype train without damaging Rolex’s brand. With this latest release, I think Rolex has figured it out, and we may finally see an end to the “Rolex problem”

A special thanks to Brendan Cunningham for his help with this piece. Follow him at @katimepieces on instagram and check out his website horolonomics.com

Another thanks to Zach Kazan @zkazan of Worn & Wound for the encouragement.

Real American Watchmaking: Weiss Watch Company

American watchmaking has been a fairly recent fascination of mine. I’ve always considered myself patriotic but the American watchmaking scene is small and consists mostly of American assembled watches rather than true artisanal watchmaking. However there is a brand I’ve been following that is changing that. Weiss watch company is leading the charge on a mission to restore prestige to American watchmaking. They’re producing watches that are not just assembled but also manufactured in the United States. Handcrafted movements that are hand jeweled, machined, plated, and finished all in their Los Angeles California workshop.

Cameron Weiss assembling a Cal 1003. Image from Weiss Watch Company

Its mission is what first drew me to the brand but the “Los Angeles, CA” on the dial is what really made me a fan. I’m a Southern California native and something about seeing that on the dial hooked me. Cameron Weiss the head watchmaker and founder does not look like your typical watchmaker. He drives to his workshop in a vintage Land Rover or Bug and sports a clean beard with long brown hair. His overall look, as well as the design of his watches, give off strong American west coast vibe. Although he’s based in California now, he cut his watchmaking teeth in Switzerland. He’s been trained at WOSTEP (Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program) as well as worked at Audemars Piguet & Vacheron Constantin. Determined to bring his watchmaking know-how back to the States he opened Weiss Watch company in 2013. Since then they’ve progressed from assembling swiss parts and putting them into American watches to designing, manufacturing, and assembling a truly American made watch. 

One of their newer watches and my personal favorite is the American Issue Field Watch Ultralight Limited Edition with an aluminum in house movement. The Caliber 1003 is a watch movement unlike any other I’ve seen. Its black anodized aluminum really allows the polished screws and jewels to pop. The specific alloy used—7074 aluminum—not only helps the watch live up to its name “Ultralight” it’s also a tribute to Southern California’s rich aerospace history. The metal is normally used to make aircraft wings and fuselages. This is a very durable material and should hold up just fine on your wrist. The link to aerospace is a common theme with this and other Weiss watches. The case is made of Grade 5 Titanium utilizing the same metal as airframe and engine components. While the watch looks old fashioned this a cutting edge, ultralight, and ultra-durable field watch. 

The watch is designed as a traditional field watch and could easily be from the middle of the 20th century. It has a hyper legible and no-nonsense design that makes it a great casual everyday wearer. It looks as if it would be right at home under the cuff of a Pendleton flannel while chopping up some wood for a bonfire on the beach. That’s not to say it lacks versatility though. The polished bezel and large polished sword hands against the deep navy blue dial allow you to dress it up a bit if you so desired. 

Made to order by Cameron Weiss on a workbench in Torrance, CA this watch will set you back $2,800 + $85 if you want it engraved. This is on the higher end for a traditional field watch but you’re not just paying for a collection of parts. I’ve always found it hard to compare watch prices for this very reason. Two watches that look the same and function the same can be very different because of their stories. The story of this watch will resonate more strongly with some than others. It is extremely appealing to me for instance as I happen to be a born and raised Californian watch lover. With a Weiss watch you’re getting an heirloom-quality timepiece, designed in the USA, handcrafted by a family man on a mission. That mission, again, is to bring prestige back to American watchmaking. With this American Issue Field Watch, I think he’s on his way. Limited to 100 pieces, get it while you can. 

More information available here.