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:

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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:


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the excellent review. So how does this fit your 7 inch wrist? I have a 7 inch wrist as well and it just might fit provided that the lugs are positioned well.

Brianetta said...

Only real drawback of this watch is that the date can only be displayed for the second time zone, instead of the one that the hands are using.

Anonymous said...

I love my A-T!! Major improvement over previous skyhawks. I fly a private jet and this is my favorite instrument in or out of the cockpit. The orange backlit UTC time is easier to read than on our aircraft displays. I just wish I had purchased two.

Dharanidhar said...

can somebody please tell me if i can set the UTC time to a different time in the small analog clock(not the digital 0ne).is that possible or is it only for the GMT time?

Anonymous said...

If you set the World Time to the same time zone as the Home time, then the watch will display the local date when in Cal mode.

Anonymous said...

I just got one and I pretty much agree with the review. Nicely finished. The crwon has multiple functions that are more natural than using buttongs (such as setting countdown timer)As far as I can tell, the crown actually only works a switch and intereacts with the movement electrically. Therefore handling of the crown does not put any stresses on the movement. As was pointed out the second hand and minute hand exactly line up with the ticks, regardless of position (no visible play).

The calendar function works with the 2nd time zone, but I set it the same as home time, inasmuch as there is a hardware UTC dial

Anonymous said...

I've had mine a week, and pretty much give it a great thumbs up.

The synch works very well. I'm on the US east coast, and even in the window my Casios don't successfully sync each night. This does and records a medium-high signal even when the Casios don't

My biggest beef is an ergonomic one: I think that functions that are frequently needed or quickly needed should be easy to get to. However to change mode (calendar to time, activate stopwatch etc) at all you need to pull the crown one stop and rotate, which means taking it off your wrist. This is one area where the Casios with their single button mode change, have an advantage.

The slide rule (unlike many 'slide rule watches' actually appears to have been designed to be used. Action is smooth, lines are accurate, numbering is sensibly done.

Band is very comfortable. and adequately adjustable with wide and narrow links. Please note that each link has a spring pin (denoted by an arrow) and a solid pin. You need to remove the sping pins to remove the link not the solid one. (I have seen one review where the owner missed this point and nearly lost important parts.)

Anonymous said...

300 hr. private pilot - find the watch unworthy as a "pilot's watch". As a gift I am stuck with it. First, chrono/timer window are quite small and become glared out. Backlight does not function for these parameters.
Crown quite difficult to pull, espcially 1 stop then turn to function then push back down before accessing that function. Silly in flight. For me in NYC, atomic time doesn't get a signal.
It's a pretty watch, and that's about it. I'll use a bezel dial watch anytime over this and any cheap Casio will provide more functionality in the air.

Anonymous said...

The crystal is the biggest letdown. It scratches very easily and is far from satisfactory on an otherwise superb watch. Madness!

Anonymous said...

can anyboby tell me if this skyhawk is really waterproof !?!?

googlecheckout said...


Good review, I saw this watch today and loved it but the guy in the shop didn't know anything about it.

Could somebody please tell me if the minute and hour hands are on separate motors i.e. when you change the time zone on the hands, whether you have to wait for the minute hand to whizz around for each hour or not? It really annoys me on the Casio that you have to wait so long to change time zones or set the alarm.

Time Enthusiast said...

The hour hand moves independently. No worries with the time change.

R.A. States said...

I purchsed the first generation of the Blue Angels Skyhawk around 5 years ago, on a watch store in the Bahamas. The watch worked OK, but on a trip to India, it gegan to malfunction. I sent it back to Citizen, but they couldn't fix it so offered a trade in - so for $456.50 I traded it in for a Blue Angels Skyhawk A-T titanium #jy0040-58L. This is a beautiful watch that I purchased in March of 2009. But on a trip to Sweden in August 2009, this watch began to malfunction. I called Citizen Tech support and they tried to help me reset it, but it didn't work and I have had to send it back for repair, or, I think, an ultimate trade in. since I don't think they will be able to fix it. I'm beginning to cool off on Citizen, and have been looking at a Casio Edifice watch that is quite attractive. I have had good luck with Casio except for a Sea Pathfinder that malfunctioned and traded it in for a replacement. Maybe these watches have too many functions - you just want it to tell time, right?

Anonymous said...

Cannot tell you how pleased I am with this watch. I personally opted for the titanium version and love how it feels on my wrist. Completely disagree with the 'private pilots' comments. Have been using it for the last month whilst flying and find it very practical. The main hands stand out clearly. I find the Slide rule just as accurate as my flight computer.
I have no problem changing the function even though I am left handed and find it hard to believe a righty would have to take it off in order to operate. Have used several other pilots watches, and believe this to be my favourite both aesthetically and practically. 10 out of 10.

Anonymous said...

I have had mine for a few days and love it. I have gotten several comments on it. The store I got it from did not have the book though. Waiting for it so i can figure it out. Life it though

mag1119 said...

Absolutely incredible timepiece.! Spot on review, there is nothing technical to add. Therefore, let me praise the watch.! I have the Black Eagle A-T edition, with black ion plating, the bracelet is so firm is stands on its' own, on balance. This watch has technology and function, form enough to be worn as a sport watch (decent water resistance) and classy enough to be a dress watch with the black face and orange accents. This is my 2nd Skyhawk and it is good to see Citizen had made significant improvements from the last generation. Size is large, but not outrageously so, personally I prefer 46-50mm or so, this works well for me. If you are looking for that blend of form, function and technology, look no further. Customer service from Citizen is top notch. Enjoy.!!

Alo said...

I just got mine yesterday and I'm super impressed. I second not agreeing with private pilot. This watch is amazing. Everything is easily accessible even when I'm in the cockpit,I can do all my calculations using the bezel with ease.

Anonymous said...

The watch is impossible to set and one of the worst watches I have ever owned