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The Brave New World of Instrument Watches 
On October 3, 2002
The Brave New World of Instrument Watches
The quartz oscillator and the liquid-crystal display: Two technical advances that have forever changed the way instrument watches are designed and used. The first eventually brought us simple, inexpensive, accurate, but ultimately disposable timekeepers like the military-issue Sandy P650 above. The second brought out the true potential of the quartz movement’s integrated
Some feel that the great era of instrument watches lies behind us, as many of the archetypal tool watches are acknowledged as important horological works in their own right. To the connoisseur of fine mechanicals they are an underclass, somehow not “real” watches at all. For them words like “quartz” and “analog/digital” evoke images of crude, ugly, infernally accurate machines of little emotional appeal or aesthetic interest. I in turn think that there may be something of interest for those willing to look more closely.
Cheap, black plastic. Not a name to inspire confidence, but in many ways these have become the most dependable and depended upon watches made today. These are the watches self-selected by military
Casio’s G-Shock series is perhaps the best known of this class. First introduced in April of 1983, it is the only watch known to have been beta-tested by being thrown out of a third-story window — earning it the “Gravity-Shock” name. The basic style and functions which include a chronograph, perpetual calendar, alarm, and countdown timer, has over the years expanded into a dizzying array of functions and designs. It remains the standard of “rugged” quartz timepieces, and is one of three watches issued by NASA to its astronauts. Recently, less disposable offerings in titanium have become available (see
Touted by Timex as the best-selling watch in the world, the Ironman Triathalon wristwatch is the infamous CBP chosen by U.S. President Bill Clinton. A sponsor of the classic Hawaii
One step removed from the true CBPs previously mentioned is Citizen’s Promaster line, an important part of the modern instrument watch inventory. Best known for the Aqualand series of dive watches and the analog/digital Navihawk aviation chronograph, the line has been recently been expanded with the Navisail and Navitach chronographs The greater breadth of Promaster models offered in Japan include a series of titanium-cased watches built around Citizen’s “Eco-Drive” solar-powered movements. Particularly of note are the Promaster “Tough”(1,
An Officer and a Gentleman
For almost as long as there have been CBPs there have also been a few high-end multifunction instrument watches mainly focused (or at least marketed) towards a group of professionals whose working environment does not dictate a need for “disposability” — the aviator. From the first these watches have utilized titanium, the fashionable wonder metal of our day, and an old standby in aerospace engineering.
The Omega Speedmaster Professional X-33 has been generally acknowledged by many aviators as a nearly optimal and useful flight instrument, no doubt due very much in part played by those pilots and astronauts which consulted for Omega and
First introduced in 1985, Breitling’s Aerospace is one of the earliest uses of titanium in wristwatches and I expect is the first multifunction quartz watch built with this material. While not an official aviation instrument like the X-33 which it
A design of amazing longevity, it lacks the recently invented electroluminescent backlighting of the X-33 and other current LCD watches. The multipurpose pusher/crown is its most controversial aspect, accounting for its elegant and clean styling and probably contributing to its 100m water resistance rating, but also to its less than optimal functionality. Likewise the infamous Breitling “rider tabs” provide protection to the sapphire crystal, but are the undying bane of shirt cuffs and anything else they can bite into. In recent years this classic has been tainted with the bizarre “Repetition Minutes” function and dial script, also changing the movement from calibre 65 to 67.
The Aeropsace has even more controversial relatives: Breitling’s Emergency, released 10 years after the Aerospace which it is based on, features a single-use micro-transmitter (the military version has an on/off switch) that broadcasts on the 121.5 MHz (general aviation) or 243 MHz (military) emergency frequencies. If used in an actual emergency, the watch will be replaced by Breitling at no charge (according to
Three years after the Emergency Breitling released the B-1 — named after one of the U. S. Airforce’s most expensive and least successful developments. Oddly it is not
The Next Generation
For those that desire greater or more specialized functionality than offered by the average CPB and the pilots watches above, there is a new generation of analog quartz watches based on the designs and principles of mechanical-era instrument watches, and new innovative CPBs unlike any seen before.
Seiko’s Prospex group is a little-known series that is only marketed and sold in Japan. Using analog displays exclusively, they are built upon various cutting-edge quartz movements, notably the AGS (kinetic), Kinetic Auto Relay, and temperature-compensated Perpetual Calendar. Titanium is used for most cases, bracelets, and bezels — though steel and even ceramic has been utilized for a few watches. Many models (like the Landmaster Sagarmatha above) have monocoque cases, 200m water resistance, and all feature sapphire crystals.
Each line within the Prospex group is specialized for a specific purpose, including the previously mentioned
Anyone who considers himself an “outdoorsman” will be familiar with the advanced CBP watches being exported from Finland. Suunto’s
Casio also produces a number of highly technical watches specialized for outdoors use in its Pathfinder and Forester lines (Pro Trek internationally), featuring
As we have seen, the realm of instrument watches has undergone vast technical change, and they continue to evolve at a rapid pace. The group of
Sandy P650 by Hyunsuk Seung
Casio Mr. G by kny
Seiko Landmaster by Katsuhira, Higuchi-Inc.
Suunto X-Lander by Alex Struk
Copyright © 2000 Carlos A. Perez
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