Friday, February 15, 2019

Learning to Fly

a short story by Bill Adler

Howard Kim's Grand Seiko Snowflake likes to fly. 
Vincent exhaled, this time more purposefully, even though he knew it was as futile an effort as flapping his arms to fly. That's comical. Or maybe it's irony? Whatever. I'd give an arm if I could flap my arms and fly right now.  Now that’s irony. Vincent didn’t smile at his own feeble humor. He exhaled again, wind escaping from his lips like banshees who've been trapped inside a cave for centuries. It was no good. Expelling balloons of air wasn't making him smaller. In fact, Vincent was certain the moisture from his breath was combining with the sweat oozing from the pores of the sumo wannabees on either side of him, forming a viscous glue that would keep him trapped in his seat long after the plane had landed. From his seatmates’ pores sulfurous vapors rose, sending him to the edge of nausea.

I am the eater of worlds flashed through Vincent’s head, a movie marquee with an ominous message.

Vincent looked at his left and right armrests. To his left was a snake-like creature, layers of flesh piled on flesh, a boa constrictor which hadn't ever shed its oily skin, a gelatinous slime coating that skin. It’s not his fault, Vincent tried to convince himself. He’s got no place for his arm. Though what I’d give for a saw right now.

Vincent bobbed forward and craned his neck toward the aisle, hoping to see what kind of watch the guy had on his left wrist. But trying to see to the guy’s wrist was like trying to spot what’s behind Mt. Fuji when you’re standing directly in front of the mountain. A sharp snap in Vincent’s neck sent lightning bolts of pain through his neck and shoulders. I think I pulled a muscle, maybe all of them. That was a stupid thing to try. 

Vincent pressed his fingertips into the back of his neck, willing their dance to undo the pain. He’d arrange for a massage at the hotel first thing. Make that second thing. Overpriced ibuprofen from an airport store was going to be the first order of business after landing.

The arm slithered closer, the fatty flesh undulating at different speeds toward Vincent. Vincent blew out another bubble of precious oxygen, but no matter how much he tried to shrink he couldn’t stop the slithering arm from touching his body. The more the arm pressed against Vincent, the thicker the pus that leaked out of the marble-sized pores became. Vincent thought that the layers of flesh and fat were on the verge of separating, each becoming a distinct creature determined to asphyxiate him. Guy couldn’t wear a long sleeve shirt? We’re going to Chicago — who wears a short sleeve shirt to Chicago in November? What’s the matter with him?

Vincent glanced to his right. “A long sleeve shirt is only marginally better,” he muttered, as the tentacle to his right undulated against his hip. Keep that thing away from my privates, Vincent prayed. Long sleeve, short sleeve, it didn’t make a difference, Vincent realized. The guy’s shirt and sleeve were soaked in brimy sweat, and now Vincent’s pants and shirt were looking like they’d been dipped into the Dead Sea.

I’m cold and these guys are ovens. If they shed a hundred kilos maybe they wouldn’t be sweating like pigs and I wouldn’t feel like I’m being consumed by a primordial peat bog.

I can’t breathe! I’m suffocating! 

Grand Seiko Spring Drive photo by Alex Thompson 
Vincent wanted to reach under the seat in front of him and extract a paperback from his carry-on bag, but he was fixed in place, like the keystone in an arch. Reading would distract him. Reading would carry him to another place, diluting his misery with adventure. But his carry-on bag might as well be in the luggage hold. And even if he managed to reach his bag and pull the book out, how was he going to hold it amidst the sea of corpulent flesh pressed against him?

Vincent hoped Lilith was faring better somewhere in the aisles behind him. Maybe Lilith didn’t have a middle seat. Maybe she’s sitting next to a fashion model who’s five weeks into a six week diet. No, fashion models don’t fly basic economy. Vincent couldn’t imagine Lilith being worse off than he was. But why were they separated in the first place? Vincent was sure he paid an extra twenty five dollars each for reserved seats. Completely sure. And yet, the airline’s will was stronger than his certainty. He had stopped arguing with the flight attendant about their seating assignments when he suspected her next words were going to be, “You’re off the plane. Have a nice day.”

I have to pee. 

Vincent looked at the man to his left again, and slowly shook his head. It would take that guy until the end of the flight to extricate himself from the seat. They should install some type of pulley system above seats. 

I have to pee badly. 

Vincent unstuck his arm from his seatmate, twisted his wrist, and glanced at the time. Three twenty-two. He had set his Grand Seiko to Chicago time before his seatmates deposited their asses into their locked positions. Good thing he set his watch when he did because no way he’d have had room to maneuver to perform even such an elemental task now. He had wanted to take a photo of his watch against the window with the passing clouds as a backdrop, a wristshot, his tradition on every flight, but the window was eclipsed by a belly. That was the least of his problems.

Two hours and six minutes to go. He doubted he could hold it for that long.

I have to pee more than I’ve ever had to pee before.  

Vincent’s eardrums imploded. The flight attendant who had been pushing a cart down the aisle flew to the ceiling as if she’d been expelled by a canon. Cups, tiny peanut bags, plastic knives and forks, ice cubes, and lemon slices scattered everywhere. Small, square napkins turned into a snow squall. A second boom left Vincent’s ears ringing, a high-pitched screech that blocked nearly all sound and thought. The flight attendant landed in his seatmate's lap, bounced off, and rolled onto the floor. After a few moments, she pressed her arms into the floor and lifted herself up, her blonde hair acquiring instant punk by the bright, red blood coating it. But she stood, so no bones broken.

VIncent’s stomach jolted right and up as the plane banked left and down. The flight attendant fell again. The man sitting to Vincent’s left grabbed his arm, and squeezed hard, his grip on Vincent’s arm increasing exponentially with each passing fraction of a second, moments away from crushing his bone. Vincent wriggled his other arm free from the girth of the man to his right, and slugged his left side seatmate hard in the arm. It worked. Jabba released him.

I’m in pain. 

Vincent wasn’t sure damage hadn’t been done to his arm. This fucking hurts. Fucking sumo wannabe. Fucking airline for losing my seat reservation. 

It took a few seconds for Vincent’s mind to free itself from agony’s claws. When he could think again, Vincent noticed the jet was flying straight and level and hadn’t become part of the Rocky Mountains.

The intercom crackled. “Ladies and gentlemen. This is your pilot speaking. Is there a Spring Drive on board?”

“What?” Vincent said to the man to his left. “Did he ask for Vincent Lang?”

“No, the pilot said, ‘Is there a Spring Drive on board?’” Mr. Sumo was massaging the spot on his arm where Vincent had punched him. He seemed oblivious to how that injury had occurred.

Spring Drive?

Always wear your Spring Drive when flying
because you never know when it will be
called into service. Photo by Arnaud of
Ikigai Watches
Vincent dug deep into his memory’s recesses, uncovering fragments of a post he’d seen on a watch forum, which he had dismissed as hearsay, the kind of nonsense that people send upstream to the internet all the time after chugging one too many beers. “I’m a 737 pilot. Our jet’s stabilization system uses a form of Seiko Spring Drive technology. A quartz crystal oscillating 32,768 times a second, used as an unerring reference for the watch’s movement, coordinated by a tri-synchro regulator, letting the second hand glide across the dial, rather than jumping in jarring intervals. The same mechanism is in the plane. That’s the key —  the smooth, precise glide movement. That’s the heart of what keeps a 737 on an even keel in flight. Of course we don’t use an actual watch to stabilize a 737, but a Spring Drive would work as a backup in a pinch.”

Vincent wondered how he remembered that. He didn’t recall when or on what watch forum he’d read that post. Must have been the bump in flight that jarred my memory loose, like a stalled car starting after you’ve kicked it.

Vincent looked at the seat card’s safety information. We’re on a Boeing 737 Max. Vincent snapped his eyes toward his watch, a Grand Seiko Spring Drive.

“Is there a Spring Drive on board?” the baritone voice repeated. “Would any passenger with a Grand Seiko Spring Drive please come to the cockpit immediately.”

“That’s me,” Vincent said to the man sitting between him and the aisle. “That’s me.” Vincent inhaled a deep breath, and as if his lungs had filled with helium, floated over the man, and skipped to the cockpit.


Thanks to everyone at the Grand Seiko Owners Club for their photos. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

Grand Seiko Nerds

I am a watch nerd, and I'm happy with that.

I'm a watch nerd not because I'm attracted to shiny objects (which I am). I'm a watch nerd not because I enjoy gadgets (which I do.) I'm a watch nerd not because I like the thrill of finding and wearing a new watch (that, too.)

Geeking out with Grand Seikos 
I'm a watch nerd because watches make me feel complete. When I put on a watch, wind it, set the time and spin my wrist so the watch fills the space in front of me like a full moon, joy runs through my veins. Being a nerd is being happy.

I recently wrote about how collecting watches is a type of nerdism, but after publishing that article I'm willing to take this idea a step further: Grand Seiko collectors are the biggest watch nerds of all. Grand Seikos infuse collectors with an endorphin-like sensation more than most other brands, as if you're sitting inside a centuries-old Japanese shrine on an early spring morning, the melody of rustling leaves accompanying birds’ songs. Why does Grand Seiko make magic on our spirit, while other watch brands don't? I think it has something to do with the culture behind Seiko's special Zaratsu polishing, the purposeful journey Grand Seiko has taken over the past sixty years, the way Grand Seiko combines beauty and engineering without bragging about either, and the enchantment that lives in Japan and is embodied in each Grand Seiko.

But the pleasure we get from Grand Seiko also has a lot to do with us, the community of Grand Seiko wearers, who are spiritual cousins. When you spot a Datejust or Speedmaster on somebody else's wrist, it's a shrug of the shoulders. But if you happen to see a Kiku, Whirlpool, Cookie, Glacier [add a link or two] or other Grand Seiko in line with you at Starbucks you feel like you've reunited with a friend after many years.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Don't Fall in Love With a Watch Collector

I know I'm my own worst enemy here, but hiding the truth is wrong. So I'm going to give it to you straight: If you're thinking that dating or marrying somebody who wears a Rolex, Patek or Grand Seiko means your marrying a sensible, level headed, wise, emotionally balanced man —  probably you are. But if that man has two fabulous watches, take a breath, look both ways before crossing the street, and be prepared to bolt at the first sign of danger. If the man who makes your heart sing has three or more watches, then he could very well be a collector, and along with being a watch collector comes a wide assortment of personality disorders and other dangers you should be aware of.

You can never have too many watches. Photo from Wikimedia
Watch collectors are unlikely to be prompt, despite being surrounded by timepieces, because we take time to set our watches. It can take many slow minutes to set a watch precisely, especially if it's a grand complication. Waiting for a watch collector getting ready to go out is like waiting for a three-year-old who's just learned to tie his shoelaces.

But your watch collecting partner will tap impatiently on his watch's crystal whenever you're taking too long getting ready to go out.

Watch collectors are unlikely to be neat because all those watch boxes have to go somewhere.

We're going to be looking at our watches all the time. Not because we're bored with you, are anxious about the time, or would rather be somewhere else, but because we love looking at our watches. Even if you accept that, it's still going to drive you nuts.

Watch collectors are not likely to be rich, though we may have been before we started collecting watches.

It's preordained what we want to see during vacations. At each and every famous world heritage site, monument, funky looking restaurant, beach, and in random places, we're going to take a picture of our wrist with that site in the background. It's going to feel like being driven by somebody who keeps one foot on the break.

And we're going to take a picture of our first born child with the watch in the foreground too.

Friday, January 25, 2019

We Are Otaku

The most profoundly happy people in the world are otaku. I’m as sure of that as I am that Rolex’s Explorer 1 is the nearly perfect watch, Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms looks best without a date window, and Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive movement won’t be invented for another ten years, but has been brought to our time by an enterprising time traveler.

What's more nerdy than a wrist shot
of your Grand Seiko at Tokyo's 
Seiko Museum?
Otaku, おたく, is Japan’s nerd subculture. Not too many years ago, otaku hid in dimly lit manga cafes and the deep recesses of Tokyo’s game centers in Akihabara, a Tokyo neighborhood rich in electronics stores, and manga shops and cafes. Manga are a form of graphic novel with complex and enduring characters. Manga are both art and literature, but they are also a way of life for otaku. It’s not quite accurate to say otaku are people with keen interests in the subculture revolving around manga characters; rather they are people who no more can separate themselves from their interest in manga than any of us can be separated from our beating hearts.

The myth that otaku are recluses, living in manga cafes that require you to speak a secret password to gain entry persists. But in reality, the guy wearing the blue tie and off-the-rack suit in the cubicle next to yours could be a logistics coordinator by day and Dragon Ball cosplayer by night. Otaku are social creatures, often normal in all ways but one. The blog Tofugu describes otaku this way: “As a subculture fueled by gathering and sharing information, otaku don't shun interaction. They depend on it. And sharing information is valued as much as acquiring it.”

Friday, January 18, 2019

A Guide to Watch Movements for the Perpetually Perplexed

On the Manero's side, however, is the fact that while the movement is not strictly speaking in-house (caliber CFB 1970 is derived from the ETA 7750) it has been significantly modified, including the addition of a column-wheel control system rather than the stock lever-and-cam mechanism, as well as the addition of a flyback function.

Sentences like that are enough to make somebody flee watches into the embrace of baseball card collecting.

A modified Valjoux 7750 movement
Articles about watch movements often sound like lessons in anatomy or spaceship engineering. And while watches are complicated engineering miracles, deciphering what people are saying when they use words like “Valjoux 7750” or sentences like “For the movement Wenger opted for an undecorated Swiss ETA 2824-2 automatic, which operates at 4Hz (28,800 bph) with about two days of power reserve” isn’t hard at all.

This short article isn’t going to compare movements, detail each movement’s functions, or wade into one of horology’s great debates, what’s better, an in-house or ETA movement? I simply want to make sense of those names and numbers.

Movements are also called caliber, or calibre, by the way.

We might as well start with ETA, even though that’s a little like jumping into the deep end of a cold swimming pool if you’re the type of person who likes to slowly acclimate himself by tip toeing in from the shallow side. ETA, owned by Swatch, is a Swiss company that makes watch movements. ETA is the world’s biggest watch movement maker. They make both quartz and mechanical movements, though I’m only going to discuss mechanical movements here.

Watch movements are often identified by the watch company or manufacturer’s name, followed by a number. If you’ve read any watch reviews you’ve probably come across the ETA 2824, the most famous of watch movements. Many companies use an ETA 2824-2 (the “2” is for second generation) in their watches. ETA also makes other movements, including the also famous ETA 2892, which differs from the 2824 by — no, never mind. All you need to know is the 2892 is a bit thinner and better than the 2824. There are other ETA movements in this family, too.

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.