Friday, January 11, 2019

Brother Sebastian's Hourglass: The Most Advanced Timekeeping Piece You Can Buy

Temperance bearing an hourglass, 1338

What if medieval hourglass reviews were written like contemporary watch reviews? 

Thanks to the generosity of Brother Sebastian of Chancy Monastery, we are fortunate to have our hands on his new, manual turn hourglass.

Who is Brother Sebastian? He’s England’s premier hourglass maker and quite a spiritual guy. Brother Sebastian knows the answers to all the world’s questions, past, present and future.

Who are we? We are the barber-surgeon-minister-lawyer-inn keeper team of Wallace and Timothy, tending to London's finest since 1345. I'm Timothy. We're just a five minute stroll from Windy Dock on the Thames. If you want to visit us after noon, walk east with the sun toward your back. When you see the chicken pen turn left. Continue until you pass the guy who's shouting to the sky about The End (he's always there, day and night), then go another block past Thom's Barber (but don't stop for treatment; they're so backwards they don't even use leeches!). Finally, saunter another minute continuing with the sun on your left until you reach us.

As for Brother Sebastian’s technology: I'm impressed. There have been definite improvements in glass manufacturing since 1377 when we last acquired one of Brother Sebastian’s timepieces: The unreflective clarity of the hourglass surpasses eyeglass transparency. Looking at the hourglass as you circle 360 degrees, it's as if the glass isn't even there. Unlike other, inferior hourglasses, you don’t need to hold a candle to this one to read the time.

Friday, January 4, 2019

War Time

a short story by Bill Adler

J-lo stood on the top of the hill facing east, a soft breeze ruffling his gray hair. The sun would be up soon, and with today’s dawn would come both the warm red glow, and a cold, deadly battle.

The Enemy was nowhere in sight—no torches, no swords or shields reflecting the moonlight—despite J-lo’s vantage point. But he knew the enemy could appear only from one of two locations, from the forest to the east, or the valley to the north. J-lo’s instinct told him the enemy would attack from the eastern forest at dawn to force his tribe into fighting while facing the blinding, morning sun. That's what he would do if he were leading an invading army.

The Battle, photo by Vicki Burton, licensed
under Creative Commons
J-lo rested his hand on his son’s shoulder. Just a year ago, his arm would have stretched almost vertically, but Caleb had grown—sprouted like bamboo!—in the last year and now his arm extended horizontally. J-lo inhaled slowly and deeply, pride filling his lungs. There hadn’t been a battle for nine years. Nine years ago, Caleb was too young to fight. Today he would be one of the many brave warriors defending the tribe.

“I don’t see anything, father,” Caleb said, his hands cupped around his eyes to enhance his distance vision, as J-lo had taught him. Caleb broke off his survey to look at his father. “But they’re coming.” J-lo nodded.

The sky flickered, high clouds glowing on and off as soundless lightning wrapped the sky. His mind filled in the silence with the sounds of an army approaching on horseback. J-lo blinked several times to expel the lightning from his eyes, so he could reclaim his night vision. A storm was brewing in the distance, but would likely arrive after the battle had begun.

“Yes, son. They are.” J-lo swatted his leg with a sharp crack, like a whip. “Hornan. Damn thing bit me through the hole in my pants.”

“You and your bugs, Father. I think insects are the only creatures you’re afraid of. Not tigers, nor bears, nor caninemorphs, nor even the fiercest of our enemies bother you. But unseen bugs annoy you more than goats bleating while you want to sleep.”

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Flawed Vintage Watch


I learned a new word in Japanese while looking at a 1970's blue dial, King Seiko Vanac Special.

A King Seiko Vanac. It's difficult to tell if a watch crystal
is scratched from a photograph. If a scratched crystal
is oshii for you, always look at the watch in person.
The King Seiko Vanac sports a multi-faceted crystal; it's like a slice of a gigantic diamond. The crystal is the star of the watch's show, and it's the crystal that led to my learning a new word in Japanese, おしい, oshii. The watch I saw had a single, eye-catching scratch on one of the facets toward the lower left. Because the Vanac is all about the glass, this scratch, which might otherwise be okay for another vintage watch, made the King Seiko Vanac Special undesirable. The Vanac crystal is impossible to replace.

I should add, undesirable to me, because one person's oshii is another person's "that's fine."

The watch I looked at is similar to this one, but with a deeper blue dial and jewel-like indices. A true beauty, except, except...sigh.

Oshii in Japanese means one flaw which renders an otherwise fine object undesirable, or which ruins it. Oshii is a word that looms large in world of vintage watches. "If it wasn't for the non-original crown, I'd get that watch," or "That small watermark on the dial kills this watch for me," are thoughts we've had on many a watch hunt. Oshii is similar in meaning to the expression, "Close, but no cigar."

It's better to be alerted to a watch's flaw before you buy the it, better to let おしい rule you, than to buy a watch, flaw included -- and from that moment on all you see is that problem. It's better to take a pass than to let that flaw grow larger in your mind, transforming a small scratch into a scar of deep regret.

Some scratches can be erased, returning your
watch to a time before it was injured.

おしい。Oshii. Now I know another word for that disappointing sensation all watch collectors feel because we didn't bring a loupe.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Time's Running Out for Getting an Alain Silberstein

To the guy on Tokyo's Yokosuka Line wearing the Alain Silberstein Chrono Bauhaus 2,
I’m sorry if I nearly gave you a heart attack yesterday. But I was excited to see an Alain Silberstein in the wild. Yours was the first I’d ever spotted on somebody’s wrist.

Alain Silberstein watches are striking creatures, a world apart from the usual fare that rides Tokyo’s trains such as Rolexes, Omegas, Breitlings, those quartz things, and (for some strange reason) more rarely, Japan's own Grand Seikos.

I hope that when I said in my faulty Japanese, “An Alain Silberstein! I have one, too,” it didn’t translate into, “I’m going to take your Alain Silberstein.” Though that would explain why your face turned to the color of a pale cloud.

An Alain Silberstein Krono 2
So, whoever you are, if you see this article, don’t worry. I’m not stalking your watch. My Alain Silberstein Krono 2 also rides Tokyo’s trains.

For those of you reading the name, Alain Silberstein, for the first, time let me suggest looking at his watches close up, because if you're that kind of watch person, who like fun, whimsy, creativity, color, flair, or pop art on your wrist, you're going to be tempted by a Silberstein. Alain Silberstein has been called a "maverick" by people in the watch industry, but describes himself as a "watch-making architect."

Alain Silberstein experimented in ways that most Swiss watchmakers don't dare. He said:

"The Swiss made the mistake of trying to create global watches that looked the same in every country, when they should have prioritized a local approach, as I did at the time in Japan where I had up to 22 boutiques. But having said that, there will always be both mass-produced and artisanal products, a little like with haute couture and with wine, as can be seen with 'garage wines'."

Alain Silberstein watches aren't being made anymore -- and what a loss that is to the watch world -- but you can find them on the used watch market, sometimes even as new, old stock. But get one soon, because with each passing year Alain Silberstein watches become rarer and more expensive.

Watchmaking is engineering, history, and, most of all, an art form. Few watches exemplify the artist aspect of watchmaking as much as Alain Silberstein's watches. Few watches are as beautifully creative as what Alain Silberstein built.

Alain Silberstein's chronographs use Valjoux movements, making them relatively easy to repair.
(There are also non-chronographs and tourbillons.) What's holding you back? Pick us some fun for your wrist today, while you can.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Seiko Watch World in 1977

An advertisement for Seiko's Grand Quartz
NASA just announced that Voyager 2, launched in 1977, has left the solar system.

In 1977, the present and future of Grand Seikos was quartz, a vision inspired by a quest to see what this technology, epitomized in what Seiko called "Grand Quartz," could do for timekeeping.

Forty one years ago, in 1977, the Dow ended the year at 831, New York City suffered a blackout that lasted 25 hours, the Apple II computer was released, and Elvis Presley was abducted by aliens.

One 1977 model, the Grand Quartz 4823-8100, recently sold on eBay for $213. For the most part, Seiko's Grand Quartz seems to inspire as much love as do TI-30 calculators from the same era. Though Grand Quartz is not without it beauty. Those dials, wow.

It was a near certainty in 1977, that all the world's watches were destined to be quartz.

In 1998, nine years after Voyager 2 passed by Neptune, Seiko introduced the mechanical caliber 9S, rekindling its remarkable journey back to mechanical watchmaking. Mechanical watches worldwide are continuing their now decades-long rebirth. Mechanical and quartz watches (which, like the Sinn Hydro can perform cool tricks that mechanical watches can only dream of) live in harmony.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Buying a Watch While Sober

Some things you regret. Like a tattoo of your favorite superhero, having never gotten the nerve to ask that cute Cindy out on a date in junior year, failing to stop at a stop sign monitored by a cop, or eating a mouthful of wasabi on a dare.

I want to add to this list of regrets a recent one of mine: Buying a watch online while sober.

The Patek Goldolo, a sober-bought watch.
I know, I know. Who does that? Only fools like me.

Here's how things are supposed to play out. Dinner's over. The kids are tucked in bed, smiles on their faces as they dream of kittens and summer vacation. The dog is somewhere chewing one of your sneakers. Your spouse is curled up on the sofa in front of the fireplace enjoying a book she heard about from a co-worker, and which will make her both wiser and happier.

You had a glass or two of wine with your tuna noodle casserole, and have parked your semi-inebriated butt on the chair in front of your computer. As you sip (you call it sipping) another glass of wine, you plow through the seemingly infinite watch listings on eBay. Omegas, Rolexes, Bulovas, IWCs, Hubots, Seikos, even Pateks float past you. You scan watch after watch, in search of a great deal posted by someone from afar who either desperately needs cash or doesn't know the value of the watch he's selling—or both. Forget Chrono 24 and WatchUSeek, where sellers know what they're doing. On eBay, if you're relentless enough, you'll snag a Breguet for $500. Or maybe just an Omega Seamaster for $100, but that's good enough, because it's a bargain.

Some kind of internal regulator governs the maximum I’ll spend on eBay, sight unseen. For me, it’s $1,000.

The hours pass: Flip through listings, drink wine. Flip through more listings, drink more wine. Sigh. Tonight's not going to be a night of luck. It’s almost 2 a.m., and maybe you should just buy what looks like a real Rolex Pepsi for $750...or maybe not. Well, there's always tomorrow night after leftover casserole. You can’t be successful every evening.

Finally, you succumb to intoxicated sleep and dream of how wonderful it would be to quit your  job and buy a watch shop.

About a week later a recycled Amazon box arrives with a watch inside. "Oh. I bought a watch on eBay while drunk,” you say to nobody but yourself. “But it was only $350, so that's not bad. It could have been a lot worse."

Indeed, it could have been worse. That's what happened to me, you see, when I bought a watch sober. I researched. I read. I went to boutiques, and tapped into the infinite wisdom of Authorized Dealers. I touched watches and their souls touched me. Like an Ouija board, I let the ephemeral guide me, tempered by questions I posted on forums and deep conversations with friends far more knowledgeable about watches than I. I was being smart. Smarter than smart. I was wise. I knew exactly what I was doing because alcohol had last touched my tongue ten hours ago.

Finally, I settled on a Patek Philippe 5124J, the Goldolo, with small seconds. It’s a rectangular beauty with sublime vintage vibes and hints of deco. Have you seen this watch? It goes with everything, from suits to t-shirts. It’s fits perfectly with the Mercedes convertible I don’t yet have. I’ll wear it to work and impress the pants off everyone when I raise my arm at meetings to ask a question.

The Patek lightened my wallet by $25,000.

Yeah, $25,000. That's what I get for researching, cogitating, and buying a watch while sober. This Patek was an expensively wish purchase. What was I thinking? (You can’t see me as I write this article, buty my face is buried in my open palms.) How am I going to explain that item on our credit card bill?

I'm going back to watch buying while drunk. It's a lot less expensive.

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Gift of Time, a Short Story About Watches

by Bill Adler

A bittersweet story about an impossible decision that must be made in the blink of an eye. 

“Should we get an automatic or manual?” Daniel asked as he stared at the watch crescent under Dr. Branson’s sleeve in a failed attempt to discern its pedigree.

Daniel knew he should be focusing on Delilah, but he was holding her hand, and that helped. Her face and subdued groans revealed that Delilah’s discomfort was still tolerable, so he didn’t need to give her his full attention. Not yet. Daniel had an urgent question he needed answered, and quickly. Besides, Delilah wasn’t going anywhere.

The small room whirred with gauges and dials. Periodically a muffled announcement from the hallway speaker tried to barrel its way into the room but was masked by a cacophony of beeps and buzzes. The noises annoyed Daniel, but seemed to have lulled Delilah into a light trance. Every now and then a new person popped into the room, but mostly it was just the five of them: Dr. Branson, Delilah, two nurses, and himself.

Daniel waited a few seconds, but Dr. Branson didn’t answer. Maybe he didn't hear me over the machines and chit-chatting nurses. He’s distracted. California doctors are always distracted, thinking about their patients, their next patients, the last patients of the day, and how far along they are to a down payment on a yacht.

Daniel shifted his eyes from Branson’s wrist to his wife. Her cheeks puffed in and out, like some fancy bird performing a mating ritual. Though Daniel felt chilled under his flannel shirt and corduroy pants in the hyper-airconditioned room, drops of sweat beaded Delilah’s forehead. She moaned, her sunrise blonde hair darkening to coal as sweat traveled along the strands. Daniel knew he should offer a few comforting words, but he needed to have his question answered first, so he stabbed Dr. Branson again with the same sentence. “Should we get an automatic or manual?”

Dr. Branson met Daniel’s eyes, but answered his question with another. “You haven’t selected one yet? You didn’t bring one to the hospital?”

A bolt of panic stiffened Daniel’s back. What does that mean? The hospital is supposed to have a supply parents can choose from. I read that! But what if they don’t? What am I going to do?

Friday, November 30, 2018

Three Vintage Watches to Snatch While You Can

This King Seiko Chronometer is one of the most beautiful King Seikos I've ever seen. If you're not familiar with King Seikos, they existed in the 1960s and 1970s concurrently with early Grand Seikos. After the Quartz Crisis mercifully ended, Seiko resurrected its mechanical Grand Seiko, but not the King Seiko, which is a shame because King Seikos -- and especially this one-- are among the most beautiful and elegant dress watches you can wear. This 44KS from Ikigai Watches has been ticking at 18,000 bph since 1964.

Ikigai Watches is one of the world's most renowned vintage Seiko shops. (I've bought two watches from them, with five-star results.) Their watches come pre-serviced. 

Grand Seiko has made a significant push in the American market by opening Seiko boutiques and transforming Grand Seiko into a separate entity. With the growing interest in Grand Seikos has come a steady rise in prices for vintage Grand and King Seikos (as well as for their cousin, the Lord Marvel). The good ones, like this 44KS, are going fast. This King Seiko is worth every penny of its $2090 price. 

Tudor has recently made watches that are so good and attractive (I'm looking at you Heritage Automatic Bronze and North Flag), that the company has not just stepped out of Rolex's shadow but into the spotlight. With that celebrity comes a renewed interest in Tudor vintage watches. And, with that renewed interest -- never mind, here's the watch you should be taking a look at:

This magnificent specimen is a 1960s Oysterdate, reference 7939. It looks like was made in 2018, with vintage vibe sprinked on. It uses a manual winding caliber 425. JackRoad in Tokyo is selling it for $1652, less if you're not a Japan resident and able to take advantage of tax free buying. If you're new to JackRoad, it's a shop in Nakano Broadway with perhaps Japan's best selection of vintage and used watches. I've bought there with very happy results.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Electricianz' Cable Z

A Better Wrist's Watch Briefs are a short articles to whet your appetite for great watches.

The Cable Z, one of Electricianz' fun quartz watches. 
There's nothing wrong with quartz. Granted, a lot of quartz watches, especially fashion watches, beat to the tune of cheap, mass produced quartz crystals, but some quartz watches have looks and features you't won't find in mechanical watches. Grand Seiko's hyper accurate quartz watches and the Sinn oil filled Hydro deep diver are two examples of what quartz can do that mechanical watches can't.

Let me draw your attention to this colorful, bold and creative quartz watch, the Cable Z, by Electricianz, a watch company you probably haven't heard about. If you're going to wear a quartz watch, there should be no ambiguity about it. Right?

The Cable Z costs about $470 and will occupy 45mm of wrist real estate. It's a big watch, but you want an exciting watch --one that Electricianz describes this way: "The Cable Z is an ode to electricity: its explosive bouquet of enmeshed and colorful cables playfully revisits the brand’s distinctive design" -- to be seen rather than hidden in a forest of wrist hair or under a sleeve.

The Cable Z's four LEDs give the watch an especially charged look at night. You can find out more about the Cable Z here.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Wristwatch Proverbs

We can learn a lot from watches. We can learn engineering. From the simplest sundial, to the earliest one-hand clocks, to the unparalleled Seiko Spring Drive (which nobody seems to be able to adequately explain, as it's clearly made in the far future), watches have a lot of science and technology inside.

We can learn about art—about the minimal Bacchus design behind Nomos watches, the formidable, brutalist aesthetic like the Ochs Und Junior moonphase, and the deco origins of many Jaeger-LeCoultre Reversos.

We can learn about the history of diving from dive watches, history of space exploration from Omega, and the history of mountaineering from Rolex. We can learn about the history of war from watches, too.

And, of course, watches tell us about the importance of timekeeping, without which our modern world would be impossible.

But what about life? Can watches teach us about life, too? I put those questions to the test and came up with the answer: Yes, watches can teach us about life, philosophy, and even who we are. Here a list of watch proverbs for your enjoyment and enlightenment.

The path to a Lange is paved with many dinners of Cup of Soup noodles.

May you age as gracefully as a Rolex Pepsi.

Every time somebody says, "this is my last watch," a fairy dies.

A heart that beats like a Grand Seiko Spring Drive beats forever.

Happy is the man who presses the eBay "buy it now" button without regret.

A man who wears a vintage chronograph to sea is a brave man.

Nobody ever counterfeited a Daniel Wellington.

A good night's sleep is power reserve for your body and mind.

A wise man knows the difference between Rolex and Tudor.

May your prostate never grow to be the size of a Hublot.