Friday, January 3, 2020

The Attractiveness of Anti-Magnetic Watches

I want to ask you a question and I’d like you to think about it for a few moments before reading on.

When was the last time you saw an anti-magnetic watch featured in a movie?

Me neither.

Dive watches are a mainstay of many feature films. The classic Bond movie, Dr. No, featured a handsome Sean Connery and beautiful women, but we watch nerds know the real star was the Rolex Submariner 6538 on Connery’s wrist. The 600 meter water resistant Omega Seamaster Planet played a co-starring role in another Bond movie, Skyfall. Ed Harris wore a Seiko 6309 in the underwater science fiction thriller, The Abyss. Martin Sheen’s Seiko 6105 is memorable in Apocalypse Now, and the Panerai Luminor on Sylvester Stallone’s wrist in Daylight seemed indestructible in that movie. Oh, and there’s the automatic diver, the Alsta Nautoscaph, that Richard Dreyfuss wore in Jaws.

Grand Seiko SBGR077
Dive watches are so cool that Ben Affleck wore a Rolex Deepsea in the movie Argo, which portrays events in Iran in 1979. But Rolex didn’t make the Deepsea until 2008. Dive watches evoke sensations of exploration and risk. At the office, you glance at your Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and your mind quickly tiptoes away from the annual report you’re editing to dodging a torpedo 100 meters below the ocean’s surface.

Dive watches are icons. They exude adventure.

A diver is a timepiece you associate with navigating a sailboat across the Pacific or searching for undersea treasures. But an anti-magnetic watch? Isn’t that something worn by a guy who operates a magnetic junkyard crane that hoists cars husks from one pile to another?

When talking about divers, words and phrases like “helium escape valve,” ”Mariana Trench,” and “giant squid” crop up, but when you talk about anti-magnetism you have to use vocabulary like “Teslas” and “ampere per meter,” which do not make you the life of the party.

Dive watches get all the glory, but they should share their acclaim with anti-magnetic watches.

I own two dive watches, but I mostly wear them while giving my cat a bath. Rated to 200 and 300 meters respectively, my Christopher Ward Trident and Yema Superman look cool, but as far as water resistance goes — I’m not going to ever need that. Even in the most super of super typhoons, a mere 50 or 100 meters is more than sufficient. (I speak from experience because a 2019 typhoon dumped 7,000 tons of water in my Tokyo apartment building’s basement.)

In the real world, water pales in comparison to the magnetic hazards your watch faces every day, such as cell phones, fridge magnets, magnetic phone cases, magnetic shoulder bag clasps, airport metal detectors, televisions, duvet covers, kitchen cabinet doors, your kid’s science projects, doorbells, knife racks, microwave ovens, vacuums, and refrigerator doors. Virtually every metal is the enemy.

Magnetism affects watches by magnetizing the metal parts and depriving them of their ability to move freely, making your watch as on time as the cable repairman. The balance spring is particularly vulnerable to magnetism, like a rabbit is in a field of lions.

Enter the anti-magnetic watch.

Grand Seiko SBGX091
There are two ways to make a watch anti-magnetic: enclosing the watch movement in a soft iron cage that conducts magnetism away from the movement inside and using exotic, nonferrous materials, like silicon. Designing an anti-magnetic watch is an extraordinary engineering feat.

One of the coolest anti-magnetic watches ever made is the IWC Ingenieur reference 3508, which was manufactured in the early 1990s. It can withstand a magnetic field of 6,200 Gauss. Another, more contemporary gem is the Ball Magneto S, rated to 1,000 Gauss, which has an adjustable iris on the caseback — open for when you want to see the movement, closed for when you need anti-magnetism.

I’m fond of my Grand Seiko SBGR077, in part because of its anti-magnetism, but also because the dial, with its red lettering, pops.

Anti-magnetic watches, despite encasing their movements in soft iron, aren’t behemoths like deep dive watches.

How much strength are we talking about when we bat around the word, “Gauss”? Here’s a little chart that puts Gauss and magnetism in perspective:

Earth’s magnetic field: .5 Gauss
The most magnetic spot on Earth (which is in Siberia): .6 Gauss
Refrigerator magnet 50 - 100 Gauss
Dive watch ISO 6425 anti-magnetic minimum: 60 Gauss
Grand Seiko Spring Drive 60 Gauss
Grand Seiko SBGX091 anti-magnetic rating: 500 Gauss
Rolex Milgauss anti-magnetic rating 1,000 Gauss
Grand Seiko SBGR077 anti-magnetic rating: 1,000 Gauss
Neodymium magnet, 12 mm diameter and 3 mm thick: 12,000 Gauss
Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra anti-magnetic rating: 15,000 Gauss
MRI: 5,000 - 70,000 Gauss
Pulse magnet: 10,000,000 Gauss (though it lasts only a fraction of a second)

You don’t have to sacrifice diveability for anti-magnetism. Take the Sinn 857 UTC for example, water resistant to 200 meters and which carries an anti-magnetic rating of 1,000 Gauss. The Panerai Luminor Submersible Amagnetic is good to 300 meters and safe from up to 1,000 Gauss.

If you’re interested in the history of anti-magnetic watches, I recommend this YouTube video.

The next time your hand passes by a fridge magnet on its way to grab a beer, consider how cool an anti-magnetic watch is. Who knows, James Bond might wear one yet.

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