Monday, October 23, 2017

Review of Mystery Ranch Urban Assault Backpack

It has been a heck of a long time, readers. So much has happened in-between this post and the last. I underwent another ICT, I've been working my ass off (as usual) and best of all I went to Japan for one hell of a vacation. Indeed, much has happened since I last posted, its been five months after all. Not much has happened in the way of watches unfortunately, I'm still with my collection of three at the moment (G-Shock, Seiko SBDN025 and Mini Fiddy homage) but headway was instead made in another area, namely, backpacks.

It was in Japan where I got frustrated with my current backpack (Direct Action Dust) as it did not allow for easy access to the main compartment. After having experienced the clamshell design on the 5.11 Rush 12, there was no going back to a traditionally designed backpack for me. A clamshell makes your life infinitely easier. It was a pain in the ass having to load items from the top into the Direct Action, especially bulky items where you had to fight with the size of the opening. It was then I knew that the Direct Action Dust's days were numbered; I had to find a replacement that allowed for easy access to the main compartment like the 5.11 did.

Enter the Mystery Ranch Urban Assault.
The Urban Assault, customised with paracord running through the bottom pull tab
  •     500D CORDURA fabric and YKK zippers
  •     3-ZIP design for quick access
  •     Two internal zippered accessory pockets
  •     Fixed harnessing
  •     Volume: 1282 cu-in (21 L)
  •     Weight: 0.9 kg
  •     Dimensions: 58 x 34 x 25cm

While I've only reviewed two other backpacks on this blog, having a good backpack has been increasingly important to me over the past year and a half. I like to think that this is due in part due to my increasing wanderlust, but it's probably mostly because I'm a gear junkie. The 5.11 Rush 12 was a great backpack, but the thing that really got to me was the lack of ventilation on it. I perspired like a pig carrying that thing due to the lack of mesh backing, so it was away with the 5.11 Rush 12. In came the Helikon-Tex Raccoon, which was a decent backpack especially for the price, but that got stolen while I was vacationing in Italy.

Without much thought, I chose the Direct Action Dust as a successor to the Raccoon, thinking that I could get used to traditional opening backpacks again. As mentioned above, this was not to be so; the opening on the Dust made life pretty difficult for me while in Japan, which is sad because it is an otherwise excellent backpack.

So, I've learned my lesson. As much as possible, I require all my future bags to have some form of easy access to the main compartment. It just so happens that Mystery Ranch has a very novel approach to this problem; their signature 3-ZIP design, aka Tri-Zip or Y-Zip, so named because of the shape the zippers form. With the Y-Zip design, I pretty much have access to the entire storage compartment, though not as easily as compared to a clamshell backpack. This is good enough for me though.

The Y-Zip does provides some benefits over a clamshell, however. You can simply unzip just the top two zippers and the bag now behaves like a top loading backpack. Sometimes, you may only need to access the top of the backpack, perhaps to throw something in or take out something that is sitting on top. You can also unzip the vertical zip that runs along the length of the backpack without undoing the other two, and this zipper alone allows you access to something like 60% of the backpack. These are things which aren't possible with a clamshell; there is only one way to open it and sometimes you risk spilling out the contents if hastily done. All in all, the Y-Zip is a unique approach in allowing easy access to the main compartment and most importantly, it is an effective one.

These are all things that come at a price of course. Mystery Ranch packs do not come cheap at all. Where I'm from, the Urban Assault will set you back some SGD 280 (USD 206 at time of writing). Thankfully, I got mine for considerably less as I got it used. Even still, this is merely an introductory price when compared to the rest of their catalogue. Of course, it wouldn't be fair to pass judgement solely by virtue of their pricing strategy which is why we'll conduct an in depth analysis on what really counts; the product.

The Urban Assault is a long and thin pack that can easily pass off as a streetwear brand such as Supreme or Gregory. The Y-Zip design gives the pack a distinctive look, and if you get the pack in the Multicam colorway, you'd fit right in with the hypebeast crowd. I think it's a stylish pack overall and you wouldn't be out of place carrying this to school or work, nor would it look flimsy if you took it out to the woods for a weekend.

The pack is constructed from 500D Cordura, which is plenty strong, though some purists may prefer 1000D Cordura. Do note however that the pack already weighs over 1.2kg as it is, so I'm glad they kept it to 500D. The zippers are all YKK with giant zipper pulls and a length of paracord woven with it, making everything very easy to pull, though the zippers do make quite some noise as they tend to clang together while you're walking. The length of the zippers are rubberised which makes it harder for water ingress to happen, though I really wouldn't count on the contents staying perfectly dry if you were walking through a storm.

The capacity as stated on the manufacturer's website is stated as 21 L, though some retailers list it as 24 L. In either case, I have been able to store far more in the Urban Assault than I have the Direct Action Dust (rated 20 L capacity). I struggled to get an A5 sized book, a denim jacket, a hard carry case for my GoPro (about A5 size as well) into the Direct Action Dust's main compartment. The Urban Assault can take all those and there's still about 50% of space left. The 20L of space on the Dust was of course, representative of the space in the admin pouch and other compartments as well, meaning the main compartment was perhaps 17 L or less (numbers by gut feel, no measurements done). On the other hand, the bulk of the capacity in the Urban Assault lies within the main compartment. Aided by the Y-Zip design, I've just been able to store so much more in the Urban Assault as compared to traditional open packs of around the same capacity.

If you're big into hydration bladders, I hate to break it to you but the Urban Assault is not bladder friendly. There's no opening for your pipe to pass through, unless you're willing to mutilate the pack yourself. While I don't frequently use a hydration bladder, it would be nice to have support for one as this pack has absolutely no provisions in terms of hydration (i.e. there are no external pouches that allows for quick access to water bottles, besides keeping it in the main compartment).

Glorious, glorious mesh
The flimsy pull handle covered in paracord, much better
Turning the pack around, we can see that the entire back is covered in mesh, allowing for some ventilation at least. I definitely found myself sweating carrying this, but then again where I live, I haven't found a pack which I didn't sweat while carrying. The underside of the straps are generously padded with said mesh too. These straps are beefy as hell, they are perhaps a half inch thick and they're comfortable as hell too.

Which brings us to the carrying experience that is the Urban Assault. I was pleasantly impressed at how comfortable it was while on my back. It followed the contours of my body very closely, making for a very good fit. Mystery Ranch, who has been crafting backpacks for mountaineers and military personnel, are especially known for their elaborate suspension setups, although you won't find any of it on the Urban Assault. Instead, the Urban Assault has a fixed harness system which is essentially a fancy name for what you will find on any normal backpack.

Frankly though, the straps on the Urban Assault will more than serve their purpose and I didn't find myself wishing that it came with a more elaborate setup. A suspension system would likely be overkill on a pack like this, not to mention the price increase that would come with it. Overall, the comfort of this pack is a considerable step up from any previous packs I've owned.

There was something that didn't quite match up with the rest of the pack though. Namely, the carry handle. Being rather long, but yet constructed out of a single piece of 500D Cordura, this thing is soft and floppy as hell. It is unable to hold any shape on its own and seemed as if it was added onto the pack like an afterthought. I pretty much took an instant dislike to it after first handling it and proceeded to wrap the hell out of it in paracord. Now, there is finally some rigidity to the carry handle and I can grab it much more easily in most situations. Thankfully, this is a flaw with the pack that can be rather easily fixed with some paracord, a lighter, and some free time.

The next issue isn't nearly as easy to fix, if it is even possible. It's that the Urban Assault lacks any sort of compression straps, at all. Not even the kinds such as those on the 5.11 Rush 12, which themselves can hardly be considered compression straps. This of course, presents a problem, especially when you've got many big, bulky items or soft ''airy'' items in your pack.

Now, while it may be possible to customise some form of compression straps, I don't see any graceful solution whereby you can maintain easy access while compressing it effectively. You could possibly use luggage straps but there would be a big hit to ease of access. For some people, the lack of compression straps may be a big turn off while for others, such as myself, I've been able to live with having no compression straps. In short, caveat emptor; depending on what you intend to carry and if compression straps rank high in importance to you, the Urban Assault is not your pack.

Another point with the Urban Assault is that it is pretty spartan in terms of organization. You will not find anything akin to the admin pouch that most tactical packs have. The storage compartments do not have slots for pencils, pens and neither will you find velcro pockets for putting gear such as a radio. Again, if you have a requirement that all your gear must have assigned locations within your pack, the Urban Assault will not be suitable for you.

There is an easy access pouch on the lid which when opened, will reveal a dangling hook that allows you to hang items for easy access (I have a lighter attached). That is about as much organization as you will get on the Urban Assault. Most everywhere else in the Urban Assault (save for two pouches on the sides and two laptop sleeves), the storage is just one big compartment where your gear will mix together in a free-for-all.

In closing, the Urban Assault can potentially be a great pack. It looks good, wears great and is just so convenient to access. Whether you'll love this pack hinges on a couple of things; do you absolutely require a pack which allows for specific organization? Will the lack of compression straps and easy access to hydration be a deal-breaker for you? Perhaps most importantly, are you willing to accept these shortcomings while paying a considerable sum of money for it? If you've gone through these considerations and are willing to accept the flaws, I think you will find that the Urban Assault to be one sweet pack.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Visit to Sungei Road Thieves' Market - My Thoughts and Rants

Welcome to The Watch Post, readers, and today we'll be taking a little detour from our usual review.

Firstly, if you don't already know, I am based in Singapore. At just over 700 square kilometers, Singapore is a tiny place, and is in fact one of the smallest countries in the world. The government enforces the rule of law with an iron hand in this country, not just in jurisdictions such as criminal offences but to areas such as recreation and leisure as well.

Case in point, shisha (or hookah), one of the main draws for visiting Arab street (our hipster area) was banned in July last year. In the name of fairness, I should disclose that the government gave one and a half years notice in before the ban was actually enacted. Then, there was also the restriction of alcohol consumption in April 2015. While it is true that these bans were to address legitimate concerns (tobacco being bad for health in general and the alcohol ban due to the 2013 Little Indian riots), I feel that the way these laws have been passed are a very high-handed way to handle things.

I fondly remember the days what clubbing was like before the alcohol ban kicked in; it was a rite of passage for young Singaporeans to sit along quiet roads for pre-drinks, getting wasted on alcohol that had been obtained from outside the club (much cheaper). The trash talking that ensued when everyone was starting to get tipsy was where things got really fun. This is rarely an option these days, as public consumption of alcohol after 10.30PM is against the law. Way to go, nightlife in Singapore.

Sadly, I must say that the trend of high-handedness continues. Come 10th July this year, Singapore's only perpetual flea market that has been operating for over eight decades will be forced to cease operations. Also known as the Sungei Road Thieves' Market (so called because thieves would allegedly sell their stolen/illegal goods here in the 1930's), the loss of a flea market is significant because this is the only such flea market in Singapore. Anyone can setup shop here and peddle their goods (as long as it is not new, part of rules to sell here), without paying rent whatsoever. This is the entire premise of the flea market.

Strangely, I have never been to the Thieves' Market all my life. So, knowing that its days are numbered, I paid a visit to Sungei Road today. Unfortunately, and I apologize in advance, I didn't take any pictures of the goods being peddled. Know this though, if this is being posted on The Watch Post, that's because it involves watches.

You can just about find anything here, though I would seriously doubt the functionality of the electronics sold here. There was clothing which looked very well-used, old pottery and stamp collections, vinyl records and pirated DVD collections, heaps of electronics (old Nokia phones, Sony Ericsson Walkman phones which reminded me of my secondary school days), and lots of watches as well. Some of the items here are so well-used that well, to be honest, I'd call them junk. As in they were literally what you'd throw into the trash, but are instead being peddled here. And I loved it everything about it; the kind of goods being sold, the makeshift shelters and sales stands, shady sales practices were all part of the experience that brings one back to a different time. I imagine before Singapore became so built-up and before everything became so regulated that many more marketplaces were actually like that.

Why is it going away? Two words; residential development. The cynical side of me is thinking 'Why the hell do we need another residential development?' Granted, the flea market is right smack in the middle of some very prime land. Do we really need another residential development to be exactly here though? Especially when the cost of developing this residence means that we have to give up on something so culturally significant.

The flea market is at the heart of Singaporean culture; it cannot get any more Singaporean than this. During my visit today, I saw uncles engaging in the fine art of salesmanship, Singapore-style. That means with lots of Hokkien expletives thrown into the mix, and half-naked uncles in their 60's and 70's puffing on cigarettes as they persuaded you to buy their wares. Certain hawkers were blasting the radio through loudspeakers and providing a service to their neighbours (or disservice?). Haggling was happening to my left and right. Where do you get to see all that in a modern shopping mall?

Of course, I realize that I enjoyed this experience only because it is novel. I'd rather quickly get irritated by the lack of regulation if I had to go about my daily chores at such a marketplace. But that's exactly my point; this is the only place left in Singapore where one can get such an experience. With that, I think the closure of Sungei road flea market will be something that just makes Singapore that little bit duller, something which the government has been getting very adept at over the past few decades.

My experience at Sungei road was absolutely delightful and I highly recommend anyone who can to pay a visit to Sungei Road Thieves' Market before it is all over. I think you will find that the Thieves' Market will give you an experience that can hardly be replicated in your generic Orchard road shopping mall. It's dirty, it's hot, it's full of goods without pretty presentations and most of all, it is a novel, refreshing experience. This country continues to surprise me with its quirks and oddities, even as I think I'm about as true-blue as a Singaporean can get. I just pray that the Singapore government will stop destroying our own culture as they go about preaching on the importance of the Singaporean identity.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review of Panerai "Mini Fiddy" Homage - Return of the Getat?

So, it has been almost three years since my attempt to order a Getat Mini Fiddy, after I was impressed by the quality of his Luminor homages. The review of that piece never materialized as the watch was not functional when I took receipt of it. The events that unfolded after left me wanting to put the entire experience behind me and never think of dealing with Getat again. Today's post hasn't bucked that trend; I haven't had any dealings with Getat since then.

Not like it matters much honestly, from what I can see, Getat is either in the process of exiting the watchmaking business or he already has. His website hasn't been updated since he introduced his new 1:1 cases for the Luminor, Fiddy and Radiomir lines which was years ago. He has only had one case option (PVD black) for the Fiddy range of watches for years now and hasn't restocked since. The last email which I sent to him in November last year bounced back. Perhaps Getat has finally decided to throw in the towel after years of receiving PayPal disputes, or has just grown tired of watchmaking in general. For better or worse, I think it's just sad that the consumer has one less choice in the market.

Regardless, I managed to come across a Mini Fiddy homage recently on the used market, which the seller informed me was in fact a Getat. This was of course, perfect for me. In spite of the bad experience with Getat three years ago, I actually continued wanting a Mini Fiddy homage made by him. To me, the level of customization plus the price for which he offers them made his homages more desirable than the ones from other sellers such as Jackson Tse or Davidsen. Knowing that I had to fill the void in my heart, I met up with the seller and we transacted. And there it was, a Mini Fiddy was mine. Without further ado, I present to you: Getat's Panerai Mini Fiddy homage.

And the specifications of this build are as follows:

- Case style: 44mm "Mini Fiddy"
- Dial: Matte black dial with Marina Militare wording
- Buckle style: Pre-V
- Case option: Brushed steel with polished bezel, see-through caseback
- Dial lume: Super-LumiNova C3
- Hands lume: Super-LumiNova C3
- Crystal: Sapphire with AR coating, mineral crystal for caseback
- Hands color: Gold
- Movement: Normal stainless steel
- Stitch color: Black
- Strap option: Vintage wooden brown

A quick note before we commence with the review, I cannot guarantee with complete confidence that this is a Getat. Parnis and Marina Militare homages sellers are a dime a dozen these days, and I've seen some from Parnis which look exactly like my piece. The only telltale sign I have that gives me some confidence is the strap. My previous Getat has a strap with the exact same style of stitching as the one here. This is the only form of confirmation I can provide unfortunately. For the purposes of this review, I will be assuming that this is from Getat so please be aware that this may just have been a Parnis/some random PAM homage in actual fact, and that your expectations may be skewed if you are intending to buy a Getat based on this review.

To start off, let us appreciate some of the rich history behind the Fiddy, otherwise known as the 6152-1. Initially created as the answer to the Italian Royal Navy's calling who commissioned Panerai to produce a dive watch for them back in the 1950's, the Fiddy has come a long way since then. Coming in at 47mm, the Fiddy is a large watch even by today's standards, and must have been an absolute beast back in the day. Today, owning an original Fiddy from the 50's is an affair that will set you back hundreds of thousands. Panerai, in acknowledging the popularity of the Fiddy design, have themselves released many homages of the original Fiddy. The first homage of the Fiddy was the PAM127, released in 2002. Since then, there has been the 212, 213, 210, 233, 270, 311, 317, 275 as well.

But wait, didn't the title mention "Mini"? Indeed, the Mini Fiddy comes in at a "measly" 44mm in diameter, a size which Panerai has never officially produced. The 44mm was probably the brainchild of some Chinese rep maker who, somewhere along the line, felt that there was a sizable market for Fiddy lovers who wanted it to be smaller. Thus, the 44mm "Mini Fiddy" was born. The Mini Fiddy is the modern-day Fiddy equivalent of a Luminor. Make no mistake though, the Mini Fiddy is hefty. It has a real presence and weight to it, and one can definitely feel it on the wrist.

 Two things set the Fiddy design apart from the Luminor which we've all come to know and love. The first of which is the design of the case itself. As you can see from the above comparison, the Fiddy case features lots of curvature which stylistically is a very big departure from the Luminor, which is generally a watch that features much straighter design throughout. The curves on the Fiddy are quite enchanting to say the least, I usually spend a good minute or two appreciating the shape unconsciously whenever I am handling the Mini Fiddy. The case itself is made to a quality that I am very satisfied with. There are no machining marks obvious enough to notice and the finishing is most satisfactory. The case comes in a fine brushed finishing that has been very well done while the bezel is polished. Top marks for the quality of the case.

PAM127 on the right, notice the extremely pronounced bubble crystal
The other distinctive feature of the Fiddy was the extremely pronounced bubble-like crystal. Supposedly, this made reading the watch easier when one was underwater. Not so much on Getat's Mini Fiddy though, as it only features a domed sapphire crystal which is a far cry from the original. Sapphire, as we know, is not the easiest material to work with. To put a bubble sapphire on the Getat probably meant that prices would be jacked up considerably or either that Chinese rep makers just had a hard time replicating the shape of the original. While it's unfortunate that a core aspect of the Fiddy DNA is not replicated here, a domed sapphire with AR coating is still very nice on its own.

Not so much on the Mini Fiddy homage
 The dial on this piece has seen upgrades since my last Getat. You can clearly see that the words Marina Militare punched into the dial, as the indentations are highly visible. I believe this is how authentic PAM dials are like too, so apparently these Chinese rep makers have been stepping their game up. As with the Luminor homage, this piece features the famous sandwich dial as well. The sandwich dials is a nice variation from the usual run-of-the-mill printed dials. To further accentuate the aesthetics of the watch face, we throw a set of gold-colored hands into the fray. As you may have guessed, these hands are reflective as hell and they have a way of dancing with the light that hits them. There appears to be some dirt or fingerprints of sorts on the tips of the minute hands, though I have to say I'm not OCD about these kinds of things and it hasn't subtracted from my enjoyment of this watch.

Next, we'll go over a favourite topic of mine in analog watches; lume. We'll be going over two aspects regarding this; performance and application. To kick things off, let's just say that the lume on this piece is phenomenal. I'm talking about performance that is nearly on par with Seiko, which is absolutely astounding for a rep. Seiko, as we all know, are kings in the game of lume performance and their lume is about as good as you can get with luminous paints. Chinese rep makers don't have the facilities that are availed to Seiko, and how the rep makers are able to put out this level of lume performance really surprises me. 

Compared with my Seiko SBDN025, these two are really neck and neck. The Mini Fiddy is capable of the "daytime bloom" effect, which is the event that happens when you walk from a sunny outdoor area into a well-lit indoor area but the lume on the watch is still screaming with brightness. Still, I'd give the Seiko as having a most discerning edge over the Mini Fiddy. Application is nice, clean and even, with no visible specks and blemishes as was the case with my previous Getat. This level of consistency almost makes me think that the lume was machine applied (or perhaps it really was?). Regardless, I was absolutely blown away by the lume on this Mini Fiddy and it has far exceeded my wildest expectations. This is not just C3 lume in name, but also in performance.

The front of the Mini Fiddy is a marvel to behold. Everything about it hits the right spots. A nicely domed AR coated sapphire, a dial that is several steps up from my previous Getat, gold hands that dance with the lights and spectacular lume performance. I have a feeling that if you're able to get hold of a Getat which has been well-made, you'll be marveled at the quality as well.

Flipping it over to the back, we once again see the same movement that was in my previous Getat, a Chinese-made 6497 which I believe is running at 5Hz (18,000bph). Again, you can see the Panerai-esque bridges, which the makers have done a commendable job on. In terms of timekeeping, I shall update when I get the chance to measure it over a period of time (it's not the easiest to test when PAMs have markers in 5 minutes divisions). The thing about Chinese-made clones of ETA movements is not that they are poor performers or are mechanically inferior, but rather due to their suspect QC and assembly conditions. They are often poorly lubricated out of the factory and have random particles trapped in them (think human hair, skin) due to the less strict controls while assembling. Overall, while I'd say that these Chinese-made 6497 clones are good enough for what they do, I'd much rather have a plain-looking authentic ETA 6497 beating away inside, knowing it has gone through ETA QC.

Looking at the crown guard, I have good things to say here as well. Steps have definitely been taken to improve the quality in this aspect. When flipped out, the lever no longer flops around like my previous Getat did. The lever now features a roller at the part which comes into contact with the crown, meaning it no longer scrapes the crown as you push it back into the lock position. The tension to open/close the lever has also been much improved; it needs more force to be opened/closed now and really seems to be pushing the crown into the case which is an important aspect of water resistance. With that said, I still don't ever recommend submerging any sort of PAM homage into any form of liquid, regardless of the water resistance claims made by the seller. Perhaps the cases were really manufactured with water resistance in mind, but it is the assembly that I wouldn't place my trust in. Water resistant assembly techniques (lubricating O-rings etc.) is as important towards achieving true water resistance as is the design of the case.

By now, I apologize for having drawn so many comparisons with my previous Getat, but I have to do another with regards to the strap. I believe this is the Hazel Grey strap with the Pre-V buckle. Qualitywise, this is the same as the one as my previous Getat, which is to say it's decent for the price you're paying. It's no Ted Su or Jules Verne for sure, but it is good enough for you to wear while you hunt for a better strap. PAMs are so versatile when it comes to straps and the ease of changing straps with those screw bars makes it such that even if this strap was terrible, it wouldn't be much of an issue. For what it's worth, the strap here won't amaze you, but it is a decent enough strap.

This has been one of my longest reviews and I've covered the areas which I thought were more interesting. I'd like to wrap up this review with my conclusions on the venerable Mini Fiddy. The build quality of the watch head itself has improved considerably over my last Getat, which in itself was already quite good. There have been significant improvements made to the case build quality (especially the crown guard), the dial, and the lume. The movement itself remains the same, which is a solid workhorse though QC remains a problem with these Chinese-made movements. The strap is also decent enough, and is a part of the watch that can easily be replaced if you're unsatisfied with it. Overall, I am very happy with this acquisition. When you look at it as a whole, it really surprises you what you can get for SGD 250 on the rep market these days. Justifying a luxury watch is a hard thing for me to do, which is why I'm so glad that these Chinese makers exist and it is for the same reason I'm sad that Getat seems to no longer be actively in the scene.

I'd just like to end off this post with a reflection on the state of the collection. I have three pieces now (Seiko SBDN025, Mini Fiddy homage and the Casio G-Shock DW5600E-1V) which I feel puts me in a very good position right now, horologically speaking (if there is even such a word). The Mini Fiddy serves as the watch I wear for work as well as for formal events. The G-Shock serves as the watch I wear when going to the gym, a run or going to reserve army call-ups. The SBDN025 fills the gap in-between; it feels just at home in a formal environment as it does at the gym.

On a side note, I'm happy that I didn't give up on my interest in watches totally, which I almost did during the later parts of my university days. I'm also glad that I maintained the blog (even though reviews have been getting fewer and further) but the fact is that I just do not acquire watches at the rate I used to when I was a student. Incredible as it may sound, reading my old posts not only allows me to review my writing skills back then but also allows me to review my growth as a person. I am able to look back at the me who was writing the post at that point of time and see what has changed in me since then. I'd like to take this time to thank any readers who has faithfully come back to read The Watch Post time and again, it has been a real pleasant journey with you all.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Review of Seiko SBDN025 or: How the Marathon GSAR Didn't Pan Out

Welcome back, readers of The Watch Post. Before anything, I'd like to thank Dr. Strangelove and the team behind for the inspiration of today's title. I haven't watched Dr. Strangelove before but it was famous enough that I knew of its existence. But today's post isn't at all about movies, in fact we here at The Watch Post know exactly why we come here; to read quality reviews on timepieces (mostly).

Right off the bat, if you're here today wondering about where is the promised review of the Marathon GSAR, I'm afraid I have to let you down. My apologies, as that review will not be happening anytime soon. As has happened in the past, this kind of situations mostly occurs when you get a catch and release (in WIS speak, a catch and release represents a situation where you acquire a watch and almost immediately intend to let go). Now just what was wrong with the Marathon GSAR? I'm about to get to that.

The Marathon GSAR was nice. It was solidly built - the bezel action was one of the best I have ever came across. Build quality wasn't a problem, but somehow the watch just didn't click with me. Perhaps it was the dial; which was rather too busy for me. Especially, I thought that the divisions between the seconds markers were far too excessive. Or perhaps it was the illumination. Oh boy, was I unused to the tritium tubes, which I initially held high (and probably unrealistic) hopes in. My GSAR was dated July 2013, which meant it probably lost some brightness over the course of two and a half years. Still, I wasn't really feeling this piece. Naturally, I considered flipping it after having it in my hand for no more than five minutes. Such is the life of a (self-proclaimed) WIS.

My decision to flip the GSAR was also further exacerbated by the fact that the Marathon GSAR costs more than I was comfortable with in terms of money sunk into a watch. Now, I realize this is somewhat of an unfair judgement placed on a watch whose makers probably stand proudly behind it. With that said, I'm glad to be free of having sunk over a grand on a watch, a luxury that I'm afraid I am not in a position to undertake at the moment.

That brings us to the story of the Seiko SBDN025. I've been coveting this piece ever since I saw Seiko make the announcement on the SBDN series, a little brother to the SBBN family. Having just unburdened myself from the monies sank into the Marathon GSAR, and having the SeiyaJapan website open on my computer, the inevitable was bound to happen. Thus, a few clicks later, a Seiko SBDN025 was on its way to me. Per The Watch Post tradition, let's welcome the SBDN025 to the family in signature yellow.

 By the way, I have nothing but good things to say about SeiyaJapan. If you're ever looking to buy a JDM watch or Seiko watches in general, you will not go wrong with SeiyaJapan. Their response was lightning quick and the watch reached me in just five days from clicking 'Buy'. They opted for EMS and I took delivery of the watch on a Saturday (perhaps I'm new to priority mail but I've never had any of my packages delivered to me on a weekend) so that was a real pleasant surprise. Thumbs up Seiya-san.

Clockwise from top left: SBDN023, SBDN021, SBDN026, SBDN029, SBDN028, SBDN025
The SBDN series comes in a number of colorways, six to be precise. So, naturally I went for the Pepsi colorway, reminded of the SKX009 which I possessed during my happy and carefree university days. I originally chose the SKX009 over the 007 originally because I thought that the splash of color made the watch look nicer and more interesting and this still holds true with the SBDN025. Of course, there are more colorways to choose from with the SBDN and it was a really close fight between the SBDN028 and SBDN025. As you can see from the pictures, the SBDN025 did it for me ultimately, winning the battle to one of the most highly contested fights in horological history.

I think it would be fair to say that most seasoned WIS out there will know that decisions about whether you'll have this watch in your collection (at least for a couple months) or flipped within the week can be made in about five minutes of handling the watch. So, my first minute with the SBDN025, I'm happy to report, has been most positive.

First things first, I cannot enjoy a quartz analog if the second hand isn't hitting the seconds markers accurately, I would be trying to flip this piece right now if this criteria wasn't met. Luckily, there is no need to do any of that. I have been most satisfied with the way the second hands and the seconds markers are aligned on my piece. Unfortunately, this is largely a luck of the draw issue so I always advocate buying a quartz analog watch at a brick and mortar store when possible.

On to the actual watch then. The Tuna (so named because it resembles a tuna can) is a design which Seiko pioneered and unveiled to the world in 1975, so as you might expect there is quite a bit of history behind the Tunas 41 year history. Famous people have worn it, one of them being the Governator himself in the movie Predator. I'd say that the key design elements found in the Tuna are the lugless design and the protective shroud. The SBDN series, designed in conjunction with LOWERCASE, does not stay completely faithful to the Tuna design as it does have lugs, but they are diminutive as compared to some watches. The signature shroud, although plastic, is there.

There are many things to cover regarding the case of the SBDN025. Let's start from the outside and work our way in. Albeit being made from plastic, I have been really satisfied with the shroud. It is solid and firm and does not give in any way. While Tunas have traditionally came with metal or even ceramic shrouds (their Spring Drive Tunas), the plastic shroud on the SBDN025 is not at all bad. Besides serving as a protective casing for the watch, the shroud also gives the Tuna series their signature look. It is secured to the case by means of three bolts which are prominently visible from the side, which nicely spices things up when you look at the SBDN from the side.

Make no mistake, the SBDN is a large watch (weighing in with a diameter of 45.9mm), but with a lug to lug of only 45.5mm, this makes it supremely wearable. The SBDN series largely follows the key design elements that the Tuna has, with some differences in the lugs. The design has grown on me since I got it and continues to do so by the moment, I'm pretty much a devout Tuna convert at this point.

Coming in at just 12.1mm in thick, the SBDN is certainly one of the slimmer watches that I've owned. You really start to appreciate the benefits of a thin watch when you handle one in person; it rarely gets in the way of things, be they shirt sleeves or doorways. Overall, I think it's very impressive how Seiko has managed to achieve having a chapter ring that has good depth yet manage to keep the whole package at just little over a centimeter thick.

When it comes to lume performance, Seiko is at the top of the game. Using their proprietary LumiBrite, Seiko's dive watches are among the best in lume performance and can easily stand toe to toe with anything else that you may pair it up against. However, the right luminous paint alone will not get you the best results, much of it also lies in the application. Rest assured then that Seiko has this down to a science. Underlying the LumiBrite markers are white surfaces, which I've read that is a prerequisite for luminous material to perform at their best. The SBDN is one of the few watches that has such strong lume performance that you can see the bloom when you walk into a shaded area after the watch face has been exposed to the sun. The only other watch I've ever had that was capable of this was the SKX009. This goes out to all the lume junkies out there, the SBDN will not disappoint.

I don't have any quartz to benchmark the SBDN against, so let me just share how the timekeeping performance has been like. Since taking delivery of this watch five days ago and setting the time, it has gained just one second as of writing this post. So yes, it's been very good, far beyond anything mechanical obviously. I'm pretty confident that this watch will actually perform better than the deviation of fifteen seconds per month that Seiko officially declares on the V147 solar movements.

 The SBDN025 also comes with an update to the venerable Z22 rubber straps, with what I believe to be a silicon strap. I am unsure if this strap is going to replace all of the Z22s going forward, but I think it absolutely should after having spent some time with it. The strap has a satin finish to it and is really soft right out the box; a huge departure from the Z22s of yesteryear. You don't have to break-in these straps anymore like you did the Z22s (some people actually placed the Z22s in boiling water to soften them) and they feel much less plasticky than the Z22s.

Seiko has done a commendable job on these Z22 replacements. They are remarkably comfortable, fitting like seasoned straps from the get-go. However, the comfort and lovely satin finish come at a price; in just five days, I have already noticed scuffs on these straps. Naturally, this is a game of trade-offs. You either have the hard-wearing durability that the Z22s offer but suffer the almost cable-like stiffness or you enjoy the comfort and texture of the Z22 replacements but it's not going to look pristine for long. For me, I really appreciate the comfort that these Z22 successors have and they are a most welcome addition, making one's experience in owning an SBDN a whole much more pleasant.

Seiko seems to have made strides in crown action; I feel considerably more confident in the durability of the crown on the SBDN than I did back then with the SKX009. Compared with the Kemmner Turtle (which case was produced by Fullswing Industrial) that I had back in university though, Seiko has quite some ways to improve in this aspect before they're on the level of confidence that the Kemmner Turtle instilled in me. The threads on the Turtles crown tube were simply monstrous and you could basically put your mind at ease as cross-threading would really require you to go out of your way to make it happen.

Crown action aside, I would really have liked to see a signed crown on the SBDN, which I don't think is an unreasonable request at this price range. Overall, the crown on the SBDN is a decent, if simple one, but it's not going to leave you with a strong impression of it like you would on watches which have a lot of engineering on the crowns such as a Damasko or a Sinn.

The bezel action is largely similar to the one on the SKX series. It's quite good, but again pales out to watches which specifically put more engineering into the area. Now in this regard, the Marathon GSAR was really good; every click was precise, well defined and snaps into the next click without any mushiness in between. There was no backplay to mention of as well on the GSAR. The SBDN does have some measure of mushiness in between clicks, and while there isn't any backplay when you lock into a click firmly, the clicks aren't as well defined and so sometimes the bezel will go back a click as it hasn't been engaged into the next click yet, even though it feels like you already have. As with the crown, this bezel is far from bad, it is decent. If you are to compare it to a watch which excels in this regard however, you'll quickly spot the differences.   

The SBDN is a limited edition, with 3,000 of each colorway except for the SBDN029, which is limited to just 400. Now, 3,000 is hardly limited given the number of colorways they are available in, but if you're keen on a specific colorway then I'd act sooner than later. If you're fine with any SBDN then really there's no rush in acquiring one.

Gracing the front of the watch, a very slightly domed Hardlex makes itself home between the dial and the outside environment. Again, sapphire with AR coating would have been nice, but if even the SBDX001 (aka MM300) still uses Hardlex then sapphire is pretty much a pipe dream on a Seiko watch of this price point. Since I tend to care for my timepieces and don't roll around in sand all day, Hardlex should be mostly sufficient for me (except for the times when you most need it, such as when you scrape the watch against a doorframe, Murphy's law at work).

So, my overall thoughts on this watch have been mostly favorable. I am in love with the Tuna design; it is unique, makes for a supremely wearable size in spite of the large diameter and is aesthetically pleasing. The quality that one can come to expect of this piece is perhaps a little notch up from the SKX line. There's a nicer strap than can be found in the SKX, and I felt the crown was also a step up from the SKX. Ultimately though, you may not feel like you are getting as much value as you are from the SKX series as many things on the SBDN are largely on the same level as the SKX (the hands, case build quality, bezel action and lume performance) but the price isn't.

Granted, the SBDN would be far nicer if they were priced at the same level as the SKX, but after paying USD 351 for it (at SeiyaJapan, the cheapest I've found it for so far), I'm still largely happy with the watch! In closing, I think the SBDN025 has made a welcome addition to the family at The Watch Post. On that note, thank you for reading and stay tuned for the next happening!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Marathon GSAR, Incoming

Yep folks, the title says it all. I finally relented after my years of desire for a Marathon GSAR and finally have one inbound towards me at the time of this post. It was definitely hard to spend such money on a watch for me (I'm no investment banker or litigator) and of course I hope that it is money well-spent.

Rest assured that an in-depth review will be made available on The Watch Post after I've spent some time spent with the GSAR. Judgement day shall come and it shall be decided whether the GSAR is a grail that is better realized or left as a desire and nothing more. Till then, have a good day.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Review of Church's Balmoral in Walnut Nevada Calf Leather

Dear readers, once again it has been many a month since there has been a post to this blog. The curation of items worth reviewing here on The Watch Post has reached a point where I no longer review everything that comes into my possession, instead I choose to review select pieces which I have spent a considerable amount of time appreciating and discerning.

Today, we have just the item that fits the criteria of being post-worthy. Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Church's Balmoral in Walnut Nevada Calf leather.

So yummeh
Now I think it's important for me to substantiate on how this pair of shoes came to be in my possession. Church's regularly go for 500 EUR at their regular retail price (RRP), and I'm not one who enjoys spending such sums of money, especially on material possessions. Naturally, I got this pair for a price far lower than the RRP, at about 150 EUR before VAT refund. I consider that to be a rather good price for a handcrafted, Goodyear welted shoe.

If you ever pop by the Space Prada outlet at Montevarchi in Italy, make sure you try your luck at the shoe clearance section because that's where I got this pair of Church's for 150 EUR! I think I was unbelievably lucky to find this gem hidden in the further discount section as this was the only pair of Church's there (everything at the outlet is already discounted but this is the further discount section) and the other shoes in this section were unimaginably tacky (there were some Prada shoes which were supposed to be formal, but it looked like they had mated a basketball shoe with an Oxford).

This shoe is a UK 7.5 in G width which fits me snugly though I am usually an UK 8 in other shoes, and an US 8 in Red Wings. So my experience with Church's thus far is; size down may be necessary, though I believe it might've been the G width that made it possible for me to fit in this pair comfortably.

The somewhat obvious discoloration of the captoe or: the reason this pair was going for 150 EUR
It ain't all a bed of roses with this shoe though, there is a reason for this deeply discounted price. This was probably a pair which didn't pass QC and it shows. First, if you would bring your attention to the toe cap area, there is a noticeable discoloration there. I would say this is the most obvious defect. Second, the shoe has been creasing quite strangely as well, which I suspect is due to it being slightly undersized for my feet therefore leading it to crease at the wrong area. The left side however seems to be creasing normally and it's just the right side that is creasing strangely. Abnormal creasing is usually indicative of shoes that have been fitted to the wrong size of feet, though I'm not so sure in this scenario as one side seems to be normal and the other side isn't.

Notice the odd creasing on the right side
Perhaps the most striking thing about a pair of quality leather shoes is the smell. I've read that real good quality leather should have a woody/fleshy smell and since I've never really owned any shoe/boot of such a caliber, I never knew what woody/fleshy meant. That is, until I opened the box with this pair inside; you will instantly know what the smell of quality leather should be like. I am unaware of the tannery which Church's uses, all I know is that this shoe is constructed of leather leagues above anything else I own (Thorogood, Diemme) and it is quite apparent.

Admittedly, this shoe doesn't have the sleekest silhouette, which I think in no small part is due to it being G width, but also probably has something to do with the 73 last (according to Herring Shoes). It has a rounded captoe and overall, has a nice and simple design which I like.

The inside of the shoe is completely lined with leather, a first for me as I've only had unlined shoes or shoes lined with drill vamp lining. A leather insole which will slowly conform to your feet with each wear meant that my first few wears were rather uncomfortable as the shoes were very stiff, but by now (at about ten wears in), they've already begun to break-in nicely and are getting more comfortable with each wear.

Mine looked similar to this, less the 'Custom Grade' markings and the Church's logo at the rubber portion of the heel before it was topied

This may be a sight of sheer horror to people who insist on authenticity but to me, I'm more of a 'a topy a day keeps a resole away' kind of guy
The sole is beautifully adorned with an debossed Church's logo, which I unfortunately am unable to provide actual photos of as I had them topied with Vibram right out of the box. You will find stitching all around the sole, less the heel area and I chose to topy them as replacing a topy sole is far cheaper than sending this pair all the way back to Northampton for a resole. I am aware that some shoemakers will not work on your shoe if they have been modified by some third party. While I am of the opinion that that is absolutely ridiculous (and what I think is a underhanded attempt to gain additional revenue on something that is rather frequent in nature considering leather soles are not very lasting), that is a discussion for another time. With Church's, I guess it remains to be seen as I won't be sending this pair back for a resole for a very long time (as long as possible till topys can't get the job done).

Yep, it's Church's alright
Overall, at EUR 150, I am absolutely elated to own a pair of Church's. I think I got a great deal on this pair and that makes me a very happy owner. It is my first pair of high-end shoes and I think that it'll be my only pair for a long time to come as I'm not willing to blow a small fortune for a pair of Edward Greens or Crockett & Jones. For the price of a Meermin, I have a handcrafted and Goodyear welted shoe. So understandably, this hasn't been much a review but more of a sharing of experience, which I do apologize for but I don't have anything in a similar class to compare to.

In closing, would I pay the full RRP for this pair if money wasn't an issue to me and I had more than enough disposable income to have a cupboard full of handcrafted shoes? My personal belief is that once you get past a certain level in footwear, the differences are minute enough that only savants will be able to appreciate the differences and I do not possess such a level of zeal when it comes to footwear. I would probably be hard-pressed in finding the differences between this pair of Church's and a Meermin (of which I'm sure there are plenty if you are a person with a wardrobe full of $500+ MTO and bespoked shoes). In other words, and to make a long story short, the answer is no, I wouldn't spend the kind of money that Church's is asking for at RRP simply because I don't value shoes so much in my life, but I do appreciate something which I know is a fine piece of work, and this pair of Church's is a fine piece of work alright.