Tag Archives: watch

Xiaomi Ciga Design like you’ve never seen it before

We all know Xiaomi for their smartphones, smartbands/bracelets and other tech gadgetry for home like air purifiers and stuff. But I don’t think many of you know Xiaomi this way…

Yup, you’re seeing this right. And yes, it’s indeed made by Xiaomi. It has a smartwatch, almost Apple Watch design, but doesn’t have a single electronic component in it. Pretty cool seeing the exact opposite in a form factor known for being an electronic gadget. It’s powered by heavily skeletonized automatic mechanical movement ST1646K made by Sea-Gull which is also a Chinese watch manufacturer, one of the largest in the world actually. The movement also hand winds and hacks (stopping of second hand during adjustment). All of it protected with sapphire crystal and water resistance up to 3 ATM/Bar.

It comes with two straps that both have quick release levers for quick tool-less replacement. One is Milanese bracelet, a mesh design and a really soft leather strap that has one of the lightest buckles I’ve seen to date. It has to be either titanium or aluminium.

The movement, while not decorated much is beautiful, case is amazingly detailed with caseback screwed in with tiny screws, blue screws on the movement, sapphire crystal and 2 absolutely amazing looking and feeling straps. To an uneducated user, it looks like a watch that costs 50.000€. To a watch enthusiast, 500€ watch for sure. So, certainly a magnificent piece of machinery. I’m all for electronic tech, but I also love going the exact opposite of it. This Xiaomi Ciga Design is exactly that 🙂

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Allergic to watches

Hehe, no, I’m not talking about literally being allergic to watches as devices. I’m talking about allergic reactions to stainless steel. More specifically nickel that is used to make stainless steel alloys.

So, you want to wear a watch, but you’re allergic to nickel component in stainless steel. Well, here are few options that can help you out.

Selection becomes quite limited, but there are options…

Titanium watches

First and most obvious choice are titanium watches. Titanium is incredibly light, pretty much as strong as stainless steel and is also very resistant to corrosion and is non-allergenic. Which makes it perfect choice for people allergic to nickel in stainless steel. It is more expensive, but since absence of nickel isn’t the only good quality of it, it is easier to justify higher cost. There are plenty to chose from, starting at prices of around 250€ up to few thousand €. So, anyone can pick something, even if you’re not rich.

Casio_Oceanus_Titanium.jpg
One of the more iconic full titanium watches, the Casio Oceanus Manta Ray

Plastic watches

Second most obvious choice are plastic watches. However, here is a small catch. There are plenty of good quality watches made of high quality plastics (resin material) like G-Shock. However, unlike 100% titanium watches, these often come with stainless steel back. Which is great in general, just not to people allergic to nickel. It is in direct contact with the skin and when you start sweating it will just get even worse. So, make sure you inspect the watch before purchasing it. Make sure it has no stainless steel parts that will be in direct contact with your skin.

Most obvious choice here would be Swatch brand. They have tons of 100% plastic constructed watches and they also have latest quite interesting series named “Sistem51”. I don’t like it because it’s entirely plastic, but for situations like this, it’s absolutely perfect.

swatch_sistem51.jpg
Swatch Sistem51

400 series grade stainless steel watches

It is rather rare in watchmaking industry, but I’m quite sure there are watches made of 400 series grade stainless steel. Most watches are made of 316L grade stainless steel which is cheap, durable, highly corrosion resistant and non-magnetic, but contains nickel. 440 stainless steel on the other hand contains no nickel, just chromium and is magnetic. To retain hardness, they infuse it with more carbon during manufacturing. If watchmaker mentions the use of 440 grade stainless steel, it means you can wear such watch without risking nickel allergic reaction.

Golden watches

The trend of golden Rolex watches has kinda died out these days since they are just too flashy and they just look vulgar because they look like the kind of watches pimps wear. But some people still buy them. And they are non-allergic if they are made of 16 karat gold and up that doesn’t contain nickel. They are a lot more expensive and prone to dents since gold is a lot softer than stainless steel, but it is an option. You may want to avoid white gold versions because they may contain nickel.

Coated stainless steel

Next option are coated metals. There are two options within this group really. Gold platted watches or DLC coated watches. Gold is non allergic material and despite it being pricey, a thin layer of it over stainless steel hardly raises the price. And DLC or Diamond-like Coating. It’s basically a very strong coating that imitates diamond structure. It is black in most cases (at least I haven’t seen any other), meaning the watch can be more restrained and not as flashy as gold platted ones. The coating separates your skin from the stainless steel, however, over time both will wear out in certain spots that have constant friction and you may get in contact with stainless steel again. Take that into consideration.

Also, not all DLC coated (or gold coated) watches also have DLC coated case back. Steinhart below does, but some have an untreated “silver” stainless steel for case back.

Steinhart_DLC.jpg
Steinhart Ocean Black DLC

Ceramic watches

Ceramics are the high tech stuff that’s just becoming more accessible to casual consumers. There are famous older brands that specialize in ceramic watches like Rado, but you can also find more affordable options from watchmakers like Citizen. You may again want to check the watch case back if it’s also ceramic or stainless steel…

Rado_Ceramic.jpg
Rado Jubilé Ceramic

Cheating with NATO and aviator straps

Maybe it’s not the perfect solution or if you only have mild reaction to stainless steel, you could get away by using NATO straps or leather aviator straps. Because of their design, the strap itself separates watch case from the wrist, meaning even if it’s a 316L stainless steel with nickel, it may have very little or even no contact with your skin.

NATO_Watch_Strap.jpg
NATO nylon strap
Aviator_Watch_Strap.jpg
Aviator leather strap

Cheating with clear case back sticker

Another way to kinda cheat and be able to wear any standard stainless steel watch is to cover case back with round, transparent, water resistant sticker. It may not be the most comfortable or nice option and may sometimes come in contact with your skin, but is an option to isolate the watch stainless steel case from your wrist skin.

Surgical stainless steel

I’ve wanted to include this category into the guide, however, watch sellers have watered down this term so much it somewhat lost its original meaning. They just stick “Surgical grade stainless steel” on everything just because it sounds cool. I mean, if it’s surgical, then it has to be good right? Not quite, because majority calls regular 316L as “surgical”.

Only stainless steel that actually deserves to be called “surgical stainless steel” is actually the above mentioned 440 grade stainless steel. It is often used for blades and razors because they are in direct contact with skin and they must not cause allergic reactions. High chrome and carbon content, but no nickel.

 

I hope this guide will be helpful for new or even old watch enthusiasts. Happy watch collecting and wearing 🙂

Cordura watch straps

Are you tired of regular metal watch bracelets, classic leather straps and you don’t really like NATO/ZULU straps? Well, here is an interesting middle option. Cordura straps. Cordura is a very high strength nylon like material developed by Dupont and now owned by Invista.

Cordura strap feels similar to leather strap due to leather like Lorica padding on the inner side (also developed by Dupont, a synthetic breathable micro-fiber), on the outside it looks like NATO/ZULU, but has the double or even triple the thickness of ZULU. And unlike NATO and ZULU which come in a continuous band, Cordura comes in traditional two piece set with a classic buckle. End result is a less formal, somewhat sporty looking strap that can still be used for more serious applications than strictly casual or sporty wearing as you can see on the Bulova Accutron II example below. Original leather strap simply looked way too formal, but with black Cordura, it still feels very similar, but more casual.

Probably the most widely available Cordura straps are made by American Hadley-Roma and Italian Morellato. If you get one of these you can be assured of high quality, but there are many other makers who probably also offer high quality straps made using Cordura/Lorica material.

Looks pretty good doesn’t it? And you can get them in pretty much any color you like. Black (the one on Bulova), Desert Khaki (the one on Sea-Gull), Military Olive green, red, blue, orange, grey, white, pink, anything you can imagine pretty much. They might cost a bit more, but they are totally worth it.

Watch crystal types

The second very important part of every watch is the crystal that is protecting watch dial. And they vary based on durability and practicality. I will start with weakest and finish with strongest…

I’ve added rough estimated hardness values based on Vickers scale for each crystal type per user request.

Acrylic crystal (>20 Vickers)

Acrylic crystal is basically a fancy name for clear plastic glass (plexiglass if you want). It is by far the cheapest and lightest and nearly impossible to shatter. But is very weak against scratches. Every metal object will leave a mark on it, so be very careful with such types of crystals. Acrylic crystals are very common on dive watches because you can’t shatter them and potentially destroy the whole watch if the water comes in. If you damage it, it’s cheaper to replace the crystal than to buy a new watch because the last one drowned…

On the other hand, acrylic crystal has one unique capability. It can be polished to remove tiny scratches. It can only be done few times, but is an option you can take with acrylic crystals.

Mineral crystal (>350 Vickers)

Mineral crystal is again a fancy name for ordinary glass. Quite scratch and shatter resistant, but will sooner or later get few tiny scratches. However you have to hit it against something really hard to leave a bigger scratch or to shatter it. Unfortunately there is no way to polish the mineral glass like you can acrylic glass, so every scratch on it is a permanent one.

Hardlex crystal (>650 Vickers)

Hardlex is a special proprietary crystal designed by Seiko to fill the gap between mineral glass and sapphire glass. It’s a special hardened glass that is much more scratch resistant than mineral glass and a lot more shatter resistant than sapphire crystal. Hardlex can be found on pretty much every single Seiko watch that is not using acrylic or sapphire crystal. Like mineral crystal, every scratch on it, is a permanent one.

Sapphlex crystal (~2000 Vickers)

While not being used anymore, it was an interesting concept developed and used by Seiko watches in the 90’s. It’s a laminated mineral/sapphire crystal glass that had mineral crystal underneath, covered by a layer of sapphire crystal. In theory, it should be very scratch and shatter resistant at the same time. However, the main problem with certain watches was with delamination, a process where mineral and sapphire crystal layers separated and that’s not cool. Those fortunate enough to have a Sapphlex on their watch that didn’t delaminate are however very happy because it was truly as scratch resistant as 100% sapphire crystal.

FlameFusion crystal (~2000 Vickers)

This is a special type of crystal used by Invicta watches. It is very similar to Sapphlex, but is not a laminated glass, it is in fact a fused mineral and sapphire crystal into a single material that cannot delaminate like Sapphlex did in some cases. That’s why they call it FlameFusion because it’s a process where materials are fused together at very high temperatures. FlameFusion crystal is very scratch resistant and also very shatter resistant. Still not as scratch resistant as pure sapphire, but very close.

Krysterna crystal (~2000 Vickers)

Krysterna crystal is a proprietary synthetic crystal used by top range eye wear like high end sunglasses, but also adopted by Stührling Original for their watches. It is advertised to be as scratch resistant as sapphire, but with higher impact resistance, making it less prone to shattering on impact. Technology in creating such crystals is very similar to FlameFusion (Verneuil process).

Sapphire crystal (>2000 Vickers)

Sapphire crystal, the holy grail of crystals. The most scratch resistant material used for watch faces. It’s a synthetic sapphire, a lot cheaper than natural one, but with pretty much exactly the same physical properties. And can be mass produced. If you see that watch has “sapphire crystal” listed under specifications, you’re looking at a very good crystal that is nearly impossible to scratch where mineral glass or Hardlex would already scratch. Some say sapphire crystal is brittle and can be shattered rather easily, I have yet to see a shattered watch crystal. However I’ve seen plenty of scratched crystals, so for me, scratch resistance is far more important than shatter resistance.

Carbon Crystal/Diamond (>10.000 Vickers)

Actually I lied. Sapphire crystal is not the strongest material used for watches. As we know it, diamond is the strongest crystal material (if we exclude hyper diamonds). Carbon Crystal is a brand used by Cartier and basically means synthetic diamond. Cartier used it to manufacture lubrication and adjustment free escapement mechanism that basically cannot wear out like metal escapements always will. However, I’m not aware of them actually using Carbon Crystal to manufacture synthetic crystal to protect the dial of the watch. In fact, I’ve never heard of any watch to use synthetic diamond. If there is one, it is either very rare watch or just a concept that never went into general production. Because pretty much all highest end watches still use sapphire crystal, even those that cost so much, you’d expect a synthetic diamond to be used for its crystal.

Summary

Unless there are any specific reasons not to use sapphire crystal, I recommend everyone to decide for the sapphire crystal. It’s superior in scratch resistance and you have to be really really clumsy to shatter it. Watches with sapphire crystal do cost more, but they are well worth it, trust me. Because it’s nothing worse than knowing you have a scratch on your watch glass and you can’t do anything to get rid of it (except replacing the whole crystal which is quite costly). No such problems with sapphire. So, think about it before you decide not to buy a watch with sapphire crystal just because it costs a bit more. Though, I do know that not all watches come with sapphire, so if you like the design of the watch, but only comes with mineral crystal, well, that is a tradeoff that you have to take in such cases. I’ve bought a Casio with acrylic crystal some time ago because I really liked the looks of it. But I pick sapphire whenever it is possible in all other cases.

Watch movement types

As you probably already know, my other passion are watches. So, I’ve decided to start a new blog category dedicated to watches. I’ll start with the most important component of the watch. Its heart, the movement. So, lets start 🙂

What is movement?

Movement is a term used with watches that describes the watch heart (its engine) as a whole. There are several movement types that I’ll describe below and they are further divided into calibres (calibers).

What is calibre?

Calibre means a certain model of a specific movement. It can either mean a grade or a movement complexity along with many other things like finish or functions.

Movement types

– Mechanical handwind
Mechanical watches don’t use any batteries, they are, like the name suggests, entirely mechanical, driven by a coiled spring that provides mechanical power to run watch hands that then show you the time on the watch dial. User has to regularly turn watch crown (time adjustment knob on the side of the watch case) in order to wind the main watch spring which then provides the power to the watch. If you forget to wind it regularly, the watch will stop. Users of hand wind watches usually form some sort of daily routine where they wake up, wind the watch first and then continue with their day. The accuracy of timekeeping is usually +- 5-20 seconds a day, depending on the calibre grade. You can recognize such watch by listening to it closely and you’ll hear ticking inside. Second hand is also gliding quite smoothly across the dial.

– Mechanical Automatic
They are essentially the same as hand wind watches, what’s special about them is that they don’t require any special attention unlike hand wind mechanical watches. All that you have to do with Automatic watches is to wear them. Wearing them makes the special mechanism inside the watch to automatically wind up the main spring. So, for as long as you wear it, it will run, because the movement of your wrist will constantly charge the watch. In theory, Automatic watches can run for decades without any special maintenance or battery replacement. Their accuracy may degrade over the years, but some work perfectly fine even after 2 or 3 decades. Which is quite a lot of time. Typical power reserve of Automatic watches is 40 hours, but better and more expensive models can run for even longer without any motion (up to 80 hours and more). They have the same accuracy as hand wind mechanical watches. These tick just the same as hand wind models. Second hand is also gliding quite smoothly across the dial.

– Battery Quartz
Quartz movements powered by batteries are most common these days. Very accurate, very low maintenance and easy to use. And also the cheapest. Battery is powering the electronic circuitry with quartz crystal that vibrates at very specific frequency, which is then used as a reference to display accurate time. They can also sit still somewhere for several months and they won’t stop (unlike mechanical watches). Some battery powered watches can last up to 10 years without battery change, but most of them last for around 3 years before you have to replace the battery. Accuracy is usually within +- 10-30 seconds a month. You can recognize such watch by observing the second hand motion, which is ticking in 1 second intervals to conserve battery.

– HAQ Battery Quartz
HAQ or High Accuracy Quartz is exactly the same as the normal quartz, except it’s vastly more accurate. Usually rated at +- 10 seconds a year. They can achieve this by adding a thermal sensor and predefined settings how quartz crystal vibration frequency is compensated depending on temperature. Things tend to run slower in cold, so the electronics automatically compensates for that. Same applies for hot conditions. And this way, it can reach such high accuracy. Normal quartz watches are usually adjusted at a fixed value for an average temperature when the watch is on the wrist. Second hand on these ticks in 1 second intervals as well, however Bulova Precisionist watches are the only HAQ grade watches that don’t use thermo compensation and they have a smoothly gliding second hand.

– Automatic Quartz (AutoQuartz or Kinetic)
These behave the same as battery quartz watches, but they don’t require battery changing. Special mechanism inside the watch converts your wrist motion into electricity which is then stored into special rechargeable battery already inside the watch. These are just as accurate as battery powered quartz watches, but they don’t require battery changing. Integrated battery can last even to 30 years or more if everything goes well and power reserve when the watch is not moving is usually from 6-12 months. It is recommended not to leave these watches to completely run down of power as that damages the integrated rechargeable battery. Most widely sold and known are Seiko Kinetic watches, but several Swiss companies also offer them, usually under AutoQuartz brand or something similar. Second hand is ticking in 1 second intervals, but goes into 2 second intervals when battery power reserve is very low.

– Solar Quartz
These are designed in a similar way as Automatic Quartz. Except they don’t make electricity with mechanical motion, they instead create electricity using solar cells hidden underneath the watch dial. Keep the watch in enough light and it will run for as long as those Automatic Quartz watches without any maintenance. Solar watches don’t mind sitting still somewhere for as long as there is some form of light. But they don’t like dark places, like drawers for example as they will drain power and stop after several months. And this also damages their integrated rechargeable battery. So, never let them run down completely. Best known watches using solar technology are Citizen Eco-Drive and Casio Tough Solar. Second hand is ticking in 1 second intervals, but goes into 2 second intervals when battery power reserve is very low.

– Solar-Automatic Quartz Hybrid
Only Citizen attempted this by combining solar cell and mechanical power generator, the watches were of higher price range and they failed to attract enough customers so the Citizen canceled this movement and focused on solar technology only. Luckily for them, it was a huge success, that’s why you can find Eco-Drive movements in nearly every single Citizen watch.

– Quartz-Mechanical Hybrid (Spring Drive)
There were some prototypes from Swiss companies, but Seiko was the first to use it in commercially available watches that are now sold like any other watch. They call this technology “Spring Drive”. Quite expensive, but a beautiful marvel of its own. What is special about this watch is the way it works. It’s a blend of old school mechanical technology paired with high tech electronics. Wrist motion winds up the main spring inside (just like with mechanical Automatic watches) which then functions as dual purpose power source. First one is a mechanical force provided to move the watch hands. The second one is a tiny power generator that creates electricity from main spring unwinding. This on-the-fly generated power is then used to power quartz crystal oscillation (a timekeeping reference) and something Seiko calls “Tri-Synchro Regulator”. It’s an electromagnetic regulator, electromagnetic brake if you want, that controls the unwinding of the main spring. If there was no regulator, it would unwind in a matter of seconds. But with the help of Tri-Syncro regulator, it unwinds at a highly accurate rate which provides Spring Drive watches with 1 second per day accuracy, which is around equal to the battery quartz watches. But it requires no batteries at all, it has no rechargeable battery inside and its power reserve is 72 hours. You can recognize these watches by a “Spring Drive” text on the dial and a very special perfectly smooth second hand gliding without any ticking. It glides so smoothly its nothing like you’ve seen in any high end mechanical or quartz watch. Even the above mentioned Bulova Precisionist doesn’t actually glide. It just ticks at very fast rate so it makes the second hand appear it’s gliding.

http://www.seikospringdrive.com

– Thermoelectric Quartz
Thermoelectric quartz watches use effect called Seebeck effect to generate electricity and store it in a rechargeable battery like solar and kinetic watches do. It’s a thermoelectric process where electricity is generated from a temperature difference on each sides of the power generating unit. You can read more about Seebeck effect on the link below… It generates power with Seebeck effect, where the heated side is wearers wrist and the cold side is the atmosphere (air) around the watch. Downside is that such watch only works in colder environments, but doesn’t operate too well in more tropical places, because there is very little or no temperature difference between wrist and atmosphere. And if there is no difference, the watch will not generate any (or too little) power and it will eventually stop working. The first watch using such technology was Seiko Thermic, which was unfortunately discontinued. It’s a pretty nice looking watch and if you really want it, you can still find used Seiko Thermic watches. But expect higher price since it’s a rather rare piece of machinery 🙂

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermoelectric_effect

These are some rough basics, I’ll keep on writing new articles with descriptions of other parts and technologies around watches. Stay tuned if you’re interested. Or you’ll become interested. It maybe sounds geeky and maybe even is a bit, but once you get into this, it’s actually very addicting and interesting hobby.

EDIT (2013-11-25)
– Added Solar-Automatic Quartz Hybrid and Thermoelectric movement movement types

New addition to my collection…

Model: Sea-Gull M163S
Movement type: Mechanical Automatic
Caliber: Sea-Gull ST2505
Material: Stainless Steel and Sapphire
Power reserve: 45 hours
Water resistance: 50m (5 ATM)
Special complications: Retrograde Date, Power Reserve, Open Heart with a Flying Wheel, hacking and manual winding

Looks nice in motion, doesn’t it? 🙂