Saturday, September 29, 2007

Citizen Skyhawk AT Review: The Ultimate Pilot Watch or is it THE ULTIMATE WATCH?

After selling my Omega X-33 Gen 2, I immediately started missing it. The following monologue is my story of how I found, in my opinion of course, the ultimate pilot/traveller's watch.

As every methodical watch collector does, I first started putting together a list of functions that I needed to have on my new timepiece:

  1. Chronograph: This comes in handy for lots of functions including time traveled, or who can hold their breath under water the longest. I own three mechanical chronographs including a Speedmaster Professional Moon to Mars edition, but frankly, I prefer reading a digital readout for precise measurements.
  2. Countdown Timer: Countdown timer is one of the most useful functions in a watch. You can precisely time how long the marshmallows have over the campfire before they are roasted beyond recognition, or alternately, the time that you have before you should look for more fuel.
  3. Quartz Movement: I can almost hear people cringe over this one (although if you read my X-33 report before, you are probably not surprised). As much as I love the fine art of watchmaking, and own more mechanical watches than I can count, for an every day, tool watch, I don't think anything can beat quartz. No watch winder necessary, no resetting the date (if you have a perpetual calendar) and no fuss.
  4. High Accuracy: Again, in an everyday watch, it is very nice to be able to set it once and forget it. Even better is an atomic receiver.
  5. Large Dial with Large Luminous Hands: I like being able to read time quickly and even in the dark. The dial has to be a dark color and the hands have to be a light color for better contrast.
  6. Backlight: Backlight is crucial especially when the luminous hands are not charged enough to glow through the night.
  7. Solar-Powered: My apologies to Seiko. If I wanted a inertia-wound movement, I would be wearing my Explorer II. For a quartz watch, the best self-powered option is solar.
  8. E6B Slide Rule: A slide rule bezel always comes handy when trying to figure currency conversion or figuring out how much to tip the waiter at the local restaurant.

After putting together this list, there was really only watch that fit the bill. I considered the Breitling B-1 and would have probably bought one if I were not happy with my Skyhawk AT.

After deciding on the watch I wanted to buy, I went to the Princeton Watches website to checkout the models for the Skyhawk AT. I am a previous happy customer, so I did not think about looking elsewhere to get a better price. Not being a huge fan of rubber straps, I ended up ordering Citizen Skyhawk model JY0000-53E.

The order was placed on a Saturday afternoon. On Monday morning (8:40AM), they called me to confirm that I really wanted the order shipped to an address different from my billing address, my package was on its way. UPS delivered the watch to my work on Wednesday morning. As any WIS would attest to, it was very hard to not even open the package and wait until I got home that evening.

The watch was shipped in the following box:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The box from citizen was presentable (but not as good for example as a box from Tissot for a similarly priced watch):

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Opening the box reveals the nice but not impressive inner package:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket'

I was impressed with the manual and the CD that Citizen included with the watch:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

And finally, I opened the box and came face to face with my Skyhawk AT:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

This was very very good. It looked much better in person than what I have been able to find on the web. Specifically, I was worried about the orange accents on the dial, but they do not distract at all from the look of the watch. On the contrary, they complement the cockpit instrument look of the dial.

Taking the watch out of the case, I was impressed with the quality of the bracelet and glad to see that Citizen includes two half-links as well as lots of full length links as well. My guess is that this watch would easily fit an 8 inch wrist.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Finally, this is what the back of the case looks like:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Now that we covered the basics, let's get to my impressions of this watch.

  1. Weight: The watch feels heavy but well balanced on my roughly 7 inch wrist. Due to inclusion of the half links in the bracelet, it is easy to get the watch to sit level on the wrist and not wobble around. Overall, I can feel the weight of the watch, but not in any uncomfortable way.
  2. Bracelet: No complaints at all with the bracelet. I think I still prefer the bracelet on my Omega Speedmaster Pro, but overall very good for a watch in this price range.
  3. Dial: This was the biggest surprise to me. In the pictures, the dial looks so busy, but in person, unless one is looking for one of the subdials, the attention is directed automatically to main watch hands. I find it easy to read the UTC clock in the center and the 24H display right next to it.
  4. Crown: Crown is nicely textured. This makes it very easy to pull out even when the watch is on the wrist. As one turns the crown to change the function, for each function, there is a nice solid click as it is selected. This is much better than the Breitling Aerospace where the speed at which the crown is turned decides whether the correct function is selected.
  5. Backlight: It is nicely done in orange to go with the flight theme and does not ruin my night vision.
  6. Hands: The main watch hands are large, and coated with a generous amount of Superluminova. They glow through the night without a problem. The seconds hand lines up perfectly with the hash marks on the dial.
  7. Functionality: Two alarms that include the timezone as part of the alarm setting. Chronograph, Countdown timer and an atomic clock receiver complete the watch. The E6B slide rule bezel is very legible and has a nice feel when turning it. The metallic knobs on the bezel make it easy to grab and turn the bezel.

Overall, this watch is much better than I expected and is a worthy replacement for my X-33. I have a few gripes: the crystal should be sapphire and not mineral glass, the bracelet and case should be coated with duratec coating like the Campanola line and finally, I think the second (smaller) digital display could be used for more functions than just to display the name of the home city.

Update. I got several queries on how to obtain the Japan only version of this watch. There are few vendors that specialize in this: