Testing a Couple of Watches: Stührling and Citizen
A Watch a cheap watch, but serviceable -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/500 sec, f/8, ISO 1250 — image data
A Watch
a cheap watch, but serviceable

As I mentioned in the comments on last month's post about horrid watch-marketing copy, I've been looking for a nice watch with a combination of features and simplicity and size that no one seems to make. So after years of keeping my eye out, I finally decided that perfect is the enemy of good enough and went ahead and bought some cheap watches just to try.

I'm glad I did because I found out some new ways in which what you see in advertisements is not necessarily what you get, and I also found that what I though was important in theory wasn't always important in practice.

The first watch I tried:


Fossil Men's Chronograph Townsman Navy
$110 at Amazon.com

This was a huge compromise from what I wanted in that it's casual and has stopwatch fluff, but I liked the deep blue face, and with the bright hands it seems to be eminently readable. So many watches these days, whether cheap crap or an $85,000 Patek Philippe, don't seem to have basic look-at-a-glance legibility. If you can't read it, what's the point? (I guess the point of wearing an $85,000 Patek Philippe that you can't read is to advertise that you can afford to wear an $85,000 Patek Philippe that you can't read.)

Unfortunately, this Fossil Townsman was horrible.

The hands, which look bright in the photo, are actually dark metal with a mirror finish. If they reflect something bright then you see them as bright. Otherwise, they disappear into the black of the face (which indeed looked black, even in direct sun, and not the dark navy blue described by Amazon's prose and photos). So I couldn't read the time on the thing except in good circumstances. It was frustrating, so I returned it.

I did the same with the $125 light-cream colored version of the same watch that I'd bought at the same time, for the same reasons.

Running out of time to enjoy Amazon-US prices and selection before returning to Kyoto, I tried two more watches, and ended up keeping them.

The first is a $165 Stührling Original Symphony Eternity GMT...

Stührling Original Symphony Eternity GMT -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/500 sec, f/8, ISO 4500 — image data
Stührling Original Symphony Eternity GMT

This too is a great compromise over what I sort of think I want in a watch, but for $165 I can give it a try.

The good:

  • Easily readable across a wide range of lighting conditions, including dim.
  • The face is not too small (42mm) and the case not too thick (13mm).
  • Automatic: it has no batteries to need changing, and winds itself.
  • A fairly simple, uncluttered face. (Photos make it look more busy than it really seems.)
  • Has a name with an umlaüt. Makes it look old-world classy. Ümlaut means class, you know.
  • Safe to swim with, so safe in the rain.

The bad:

  • I wish it was a bit bigger, much thinner, and had a cleaner design around the outside edge.
  • Such a low price for an automatic (self-winding) watch brings worry about quality.
  • The date and GMT boxes are too small/difficult to read even with glasses. I didn't even bother setting them.
  • Luminescent features (hands and dots around the face) are worthless. Fireflys are an order of magnitude brighter.

The GMT box is supposed to show the hour in some other timezone, which could indeed be quite useful for me living in Japan, but I knew before I bought it that the box would be too small to read without glasses, so I'd not be able to rely on it. Indeed, I can't read it even with glasses unless the lighting is really good.

I can read it in this photo I took for this post, though:

Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/500 sec, f/8, ISO 5000 — image data

The face looks a bit busy with the wavy pattern, but in practice it just seems like a mild background texture.

It's advertised as water resistant to 50m (165 feet), which makes me feel I should be able to wear while swimming as deep as I could ever swim, but the manual says shallow water. This is apparently a well-established racket of inflated ratings used across the watch industry. Water resistant to 10 meters makes you think it's okay to shower or swim? Nope. The manual says such a rating means "withstand splashes of water while washing the hand, but should not be worn while swimming".

Once you learn the code you can understand what you're getting, but until then it seems wildly deceptive to me. But it seems to be a standard in the watch industry.

The other watch that I kept is the casual Citizen Eco Drive Black:

Citizen Eco Drive Black -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/500 sec, f/8, ISO 6400 — image data
Citizen Eco Drive Black

This cost $130 at Amazon. Its primary attraction for me is that despite being a quartz it doesn't ever need a battery change because it gets charged via light through the face. The manual says that two minutes in direct sun will keep it running for half a year.

It's quite readable, but again, the luminescent features are worthless. When I was a kid you could literally read a book by the brightness from the luminescent hands of a kid's watch, but these days it's all worthless. Geez, a little radioactivity never hurt anyone.

This Citizen is the same size (42mm) as the Stührling, so I wish it were a bit bigger, but this one is less of a fashion statement. Not that I have much to do with fashion statements anyway. I can't read the date (so didn't bother setting it), but hey, 19~this one is water resistant to 100m!


All 5 comments so far, oldest first...

Thanks for your review–have a 12-year old Luminox with bracelet problems (and 63-year-old eyes) and have same concerns about legibility and luminosity after dark so I’ve been looking around.

I too fondly remember our inexpensive childhood watches that glowed so brightly. The Luminox with their tritium capsules won’t illuminate enough to read, but telling time is always a snap. Their prices have stayed consistently high.

A new brand, Reactor, has a line called Neverdark that combines the high luminescence of our youth with tritium capsules. Some of them are quite stylish (in the terms you set out of legibility and not too much junk) and they are very well-built. Priced accordingly.

The Luminox A.1801 has a nicely-readable daylight face, uncomplicated dial, 43mm, and stunning night visibility. The A.6265 is equally nice, adds a dive bezel, goes to 45mm but the capsule is probably the same or smaller due to the bezel.

The Neverdark Gamma is a 45mm stainless-band available with four different color dials. Pretty legible and one color may catch your eye. The Atom is 42mm but a beautifully simple and very legible design. I’ve seen these in person and they look better than the pictures. These are the first watches since the Luminox that I’ve considered changing brands for–once you get used to that all-night-long glow, it is very hard to give up.

Very interesting, thanks. A combo of this kind of technology with the style of the Citizen watch above would be a nice casual watch for me… —Jeffrey

— comment by Niceoldguy on August 22nd, 2014 at 11:18pm JST (2 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink

Luminox did have a new one in their printed catalog that I couldn’t find online; looked more like the Citizen. Don’t know if you have Luminox retail stores in Japan, but they might send you a catalog or link for the PDF of it. Had a nice large face, quite plain and easy to read. I think there was a timing bezel but very slender, much different than their dive models.

If I see another catalog I’ll scan it and upload for you.
Thanks for the pointer… I found their catalog online here. Perhaps you’re referring to the 1801 (catalog page 91)? Or perhaps the 1927 on page 98? A few shops in Kyoto sell them… I’ll have to swing by. Thanks for the heads up! —Jeffrey

— comment by Niceoldguy on August 23rd, 2014 at 3:18am JST (2 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink

You might want to check out Casio in Japan. They have a much larger selection of higher-end watches there than the offer in the US. Their Solar watches would work, plus they have “Waveceptor” watches that even set themselves. This line might be up your ally: http://casio.jp/wat/products/waveceptor_watch/lineage/

Wow, the auto-charging auto-setting features are quite appealing. I found one watch that combines both features with a leather band (which I’m partial to). Definitely a series for me to keep an eye on, thanks! —Jeffrey

— comment by Bill on August 23rd, 2014 at 7:19am JST (2 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink

You may want to check out Mondaine: they generally only have one style of face, which is their trademark. It’s a licensed copy of the Swiss Rail clocks.

If you want simple faces, then “pilot watches” usually have them (also often labelled by the German term “Fliegeruhr” or “Flieger” by some German makers (IWC, Stowa)). Basically they look like the old school airplane steam gauges, usually white on black. Some can get complicated, but in general the genre sticks to fairly simple faces.

I browsed around the ‘net on this a little while ago too, and found it astounding how few “simple” watches were available.

Hah, I remember the Swiss Rail design from this 🙂 —Jeffrey

— comment by David Magda on August 23rd, 2014 at 7:40am JST (2 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink

After reading about water resistance rating long ago, WR of 100 m is the minimum for me. That means that one can shower (avoid hot water though), or swim if you insist, with the watch worry-free. Also, one could shovel snow, or sing in the rain, and not worry about exposure to moisture.

Citizen Eco Drive (mine is AP0430-51L) watches have a battery charged via solar cells. The piece of paper accompanying the watch lists that water seals & battery should be replaced every 10 years. I have not bothered with that yet (14+ years and counting).

I suspect both Seiko & Casio (have one for sports similar to GWM850-1CR) solar watches would have similar stated battery life. Speaking of which, Casio certainly offers (or, at least offered) non-solar watches with battery life of 10 years.

I personally hadn’t bought an automatic for they are supposedly to be sent to a watchmaker about 2-some years for periodic maintenance.

(On an unrelated note, Jeffrey, could you possibly implement “preview” functionality before one submits a comment for approval?)

I found a comment-preview plugin and am giving it a try, but I fear it won’t be helpful because the stuff that processes the previews isn’t the same stuff that processes the actual comments, so weirdness that shows up in the latter won’t show up in the preview. I don’t know how to get WordPress to do an honest preview that way. But we’ll see how it goes… —Jeffrey

— comment by parv on August 28th, 2014 at 7:35pm JST (2 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink
Leave a comment...


All comments are invisible to others until Jeffrey approves them.

Please mention what part of the world you're writing from, if you don't mind. It's always interesting to see where people are visiting from.


You can use basic HTML; be sure to close tags properly.

Subscribe without commenting