The Ideal Watch

This is purely my personal opinion, of course, but there are some things that I'd like to have in a watch.

Accuracy

5 SPY is nice, but I could live with 10. But any such figure is meaningless unless the watch can maintain its accuracy over the years. And then there's the problem of accurately synching your watch in the first place. So, here's what I'd like:

  1. 10 SPY or better
  2. Solar-powered
  3. Self-calibration from accrued data, with alternative user-adjustable trimmer
  4. Time sync via web app, GPS or radio
  5. Independently adjustable hour hand
  6. Seconds reset to 12 on hack
  7. Perpetual calendar
  8. Adjustable hand alignment

There are some watches that reset the second hand to 12 as soon as you hack the watch (my Citizen RC watch does it and there's at least one Seiko VFA that does that, but I don't know about the whole range). If you're setting the time manually, then this is a great feature. For my 'ideal' watch, however, the time sync would be done (primarily) by some more precise means.

Self-calibrating watches have been touted for a while now. Xonix makes some. MorgenWerk and Hoptroff also claim to. Nothing, so far, has had the HAQ community convinced. The Xonix watches fell flat in real world tests and the MorgenWerk watches remain 'vapourware' (outside of Japan, at least) - UPDATE ON MORGENWERK, BELOW.

Perpetual Calendar

It might not seem like a lot to ask for. My Citizen AQ1000-58B has it. My Citizen Exceed has it. My Citizen RC watch has it. My Longines Conquest VHP has it. My Seiko SLT019P1 has it. But aside from the vintage Longines and Seiko, it seems all the perpetual calendars belong to Citizen. It is a feature sadly missing from modern ETA movements and from just about every high end Seiko movement.

Independently Adjustable Hour Hand

Why do we have to screw up the whole time just to re-set the hour hand? Seiko are particularly bad, for this point. Their Grand Seiko range has great 10 SPY accuracy and user adjustability, but no perpetual calendar and no independently adjustable hour hand! The Seiko SLT019P1 (cal. 8F56), however, DOES have these features. Also, it might not be a Grand Seiko, but its High Frequency movement and 20 SPY spec. does place it on the verges of the HAQ camp. I mean, if Seiko can do it with a cheap-o 8F, then what's stopping them from putting it into a 9F?

This feature would not be entirely necessary if the watch could synch via radio and / or GPS to the correct local time, and automatically account for DST, or be easily induced to make such corrections through some simple operation. My RC Citizen has this sort of function (not the 'GPS' part, obviously), and even when the watch cannot pick up a radio signal, the hour hand can be automatically sent to the right position (relative to the minute hand) by setting the watch to the appropriate time zone. This implementation is better than the truly indpendent hour hand, as it ensures that the hour hand is always in precisely the correct position.

GMT Hand

I travel. Independently adjustable hour hands are great for managing DST, as well as for long term international relocations, but a simple GMT hand is great for casual travel. Again, the 8F56 has this. So, is the 8F56 my ultimate HAQ movement? No. Go back to the first criteria: accuracy. The HF movement of the 8F series could never achieve much better than 20 SPY, even when new. And, since they cannot be adjusted the rate of older watches is entirely mediocre.

There are potential alternatives to the GMT hand, such as a rotating bezel with 12 hour markers, or a 12 or 24 hour sub-dial. The GMT hand, though, would allow for a simple bezel (more my style) and a less cluttered dial. I would not put this in my 'must have' list for the ideal HAQ, but it would be nice to see that watch in a GMT variant.

Uncluttered Dial

It's all very well having lots of features such as a chronograph and moon phase thingy, but I value a relatively simple, uncluttered dial that is easy to read. It doesn't necessarily need lume, if it is designed right. My SBGV009 has no lume and is really very minimalist, but it is incredibly easy to read the time quickly and accurately in just about any light.

Precision

I'd like each second hand to absolutely perfectly hit each marker. Citizen say that their top-of-the-range watches have a special mechanism inside to ensure that this is the case. My top-of-the-range Citizen has a second hand that is up to an eighth of a second off the markers on its way from 9 to 12. I took it to the Citizen Service Centre and they examined it carefully before saying that it was withing Citizen's spec..

Aside from second hands, I would rather like ALL hands to line-up properly. This hasn't been an issue with most of my watches, so far, but I recently acquired a Dolce 5S21 and I noticed that the hour hand is a minute or two past the hour when the minute hand is at 12. I think the clearest evidence of good, consistent alignment that I have seen from any of my watches, so far, has been from my RC Citizen. In part, this may be because the hour hand sets itself when you choose the time zone, and the minute and seconds are set automatically after a sync, so you can see the hands landing very precisely on the markers and you know that there has been no human error involved in twiddling the crown. This isn't to say that it is the only one of my watches to have great alignment, just that its great alignment is the most 'visible'. The 'ideal' watch should fill its wearer with a similar level of confidence in the precision of the alignment of its hands. MorgenWerk's watches offer the ability to adjust the alignment of the hands and although I have yet to try it, this might be a 'must have' feature for the ideal HAQ.

Durability

Citizen's 'duratec' treatment makes their steel particularly good at withstanding scratches, but there are other durability issues, too. The second hands on both my AQ1000-58B and my SBGV009 were perfectly aligned to the markers before I cycled down a flight of steps. From that point on, only the hands of the GS remained aligned.

Cost

Finally, I would rather like it if the watch didn't break the bank.

UPDATE: Hoptroff Hotblack Calibre Gravitas and MorgenWerk M1

Here are two watches that promise 1 SPY accuracy together with self-calibration, perpetual calendars and time-setting from an external source. The MorgenWerk has been 'vapourware' for years, but I have finally managed to order one. The Hoptroff rather slid under the radar, but has recently come to my attention. So, how close do these two watches come (on paper, at least) to my ideal watch?

Pretty close. Three things hold them back:

1. Size and style

Both watches are big. On top of its large dial size and genuinely chunky case thickness, the MorgenWerk also sports ungainly GPS antennae on both the top and bottom lugs. It's a big, heavy watch. The dial is clean and simple and I like that, but I have serious doubts about the day-to-day wearability of this watch. The clean dial means no date is displayed, but the hands move to reveal the date at the push of a button. An elegant solution that I could probably live with, but reading the user manual suggests I shall have to get used to a variety of different button-push combinations if I am to see all the functionality that this watch has to offer. The dial's simplicity, therefore, comes at the price of operational simplicity.

The Hoptroff Hotblack is also large, at 44mm diameter and 13mm thickness, but it is a bit more conventional in its size and dimensions than the MorgenWerk. Letting it down, a bit, is the styling. I could live with it for the sake of having the world's most accurate watch, but the black face and cluttered dial do not really appeal to me and I don't think I would choose to wear it very often. That being said, the perpetual calendar is right there on the dial and there would be a lot less to learn / remember about the operation of this watch.

2. Battery tech.

The Hoptroff scores the 'win', here, because it uses a rather conventional battery and has rather conventional battery life. The MorgenWerk sports a battery-saver feature that I rather like - stopping the second hand. You can reactivate the second hand for a period of two minutes whenever you want, without leaving the power-saving mode. This is a very sensible approach, if you ask me. I don't need a second hand running all the time. And to know that I can have it running at the push of a button makes its usual stopped state a total non-issue for me. Bring it on!

Of course, even with the battery saver mode on, the MorgenWerk boasts a battery life of only 14 months. It comes with a docking station for charging the watch, but this doesn't entirely resolve the issue. Yes, with the docking station the watch should never really get anywhere near depleting its battery. You could happily go off on an adventurous holiday for a month and have no worries about the watch running out of power. And yet the base-station creates another point of potential failure. For greater reliability, a watch (or pretty much anything, come to think of it) should have as few points of potential failure as possible. It's one more thing to have to think about and take care of and not knock off the table.

So, with regard to the battery tech., I prefer the old-school simplicity of the Hoptroff. And yet they both would have benefited from the inclusion of solar power. Solar-powered watches have been around for ages and solar-powered TC watches are nothing new, either. The Hoptroff certainly should have been able to pull this off. Solar-powered GPS watches, such as Casio's Oceanus, Citizen's Satellite Wave and Seiko's Astron, show that solar power ought to have been possible for the MorgenWerk, too, however I note that the GPS function demands a fair bit of power. I recall reading a comment on the WUS High Accuracy Quartz forum about an Astron that always had sufficient power for normal time-keeping operation, but often not enough power for the GPS functions to work. Still, on balance I would rather have the long life and worry-free benefits of a solar-powered watch (even if it didn't always have enough juice to use the GPS functions), than a docking station. After all, unlike Seiko's Astron, MorgenWerk's M1 shouldn't need to be sync'd very often as it is thermocompensated.

3. Reliance on specific third party time reference for calibrating the rate

When I first considered buying a Hoptroff watch, the 'phone I was using wasn't running either Apple's iOS or Google's Android, so I would not have been able to get the Hoptroff to work properly. That a watch relies on a mobile app in order to deliver on its core promise suggests to me that the watch is not intended to last very long. If you had a smartphone five or six years ago, how many of the apps that you had back then have you still got now, ported over to your new 'phone? How many would still function on a new 'phone without a considerable update? How many have fallen by the wayside as updates ceased and a new breed of app took over? How many of your Symbian apps survived into the Android era? Hoptroff's watch is thermocompensated and so it should keep good time regardless of the presence of a compatible 'phone, but as ageing takes its toll on the thermal performance of the crystal oscillator it will need that app in order to recalibrate itself. There will come a time when continuing to support the legacy systems needed to maintain the calibration function of the watch will cease to be commercially viable. I suppose we're used to this. We spend a ton of money on mobile 'phones that we know full-well will be obselete within a couple of years. A Hoptroff, then, might well not be the watch to leave to your children.

UPDATE - Since I first wrote this, I acquired an Android 'phone and a Hoptroff watch. I discovered that the app does not sych via an NTP server but instead synchs the watch to the 'phone's time. If you have an Apple 'phone then you may be in luck as Apple has some very accurate time servers. If you have an Android 'phone, however, you will need to root the 'phone and install third party software to force the 'phone's time to synch to an NTP source, otherwise your 'phone's time is taken from your service provider and I have found this to mean varying degrees of inaccuracy, throughout the day, of about 1 to 20 seconds off UST.

So, does the MorgenWerk fare any better? Well, yes and no. Yes, GPS technology is supported by the United States Government and military and as such it is relatively safe from commercial drivers and constant updates. And yet no technology is immune from obsolescence. It might not happen this decade or next, but probably within the next thirty or forty years I expect we will see the replacement of the GPS system. So, what's the problem? How many watches have survived in good operational condition from forty years ago, anyway? GPS is far more likely to continue to be supported for many, many years to come than a mobile app.

UPDATE - Since I first wrote this I also acquired a Morgenwerk. Despite the promise of super-accurate GPS synch, I consistently found the watch to be a noticeable fraction of a second off UST directly after each synch event.

So, yes, MorgenWerk does fare better than Hoptroff when it comes to reliance on third party time references. But still, both watches could have been better if they had included a means to trim the rate manually. Being able to sync the time via app or GPS is definitely a good thing and its inclusion in the M1 and Hotblack is a clear plus point for both MorgenWerk and Hoptroff, but the reliance on this time source as the sole method for adjusting the rate of the watch is short-sighted.

UPDATE - Both watches have mechanisms for adjustment of the hands, though neither worked perfectly. The degree to which the hands (on both watches) were misaligned was smaller than the adjustment increment each watch afforded. The Hoptroff has been returned and the Morgenwerk has been sold.

Other points in favour of each watch:

MorgenWerk

Due to its use of GPS, the MorgenWerk M1 represents a self-contained travel timepiece. Yes, it needs a docking station, but assuming your trip is not very long then you don't have to worry about this. The Hoptroff, by contrast, will need the app, the 'phone and a good internet connexion. As with the docking station being an extra potential point of failure for the MorgenWerk, so the reliance on an internet-connected 'phone is a potential point of weakness for the Hoptroff. I don't always go on holiday to places that have free wi-fi.

Hoptroff

The Hoptroff Hotblack costs about half as much as the MorgenWerk (and even less than a Breilting or a Grand Seiko). It's not 'cheap', exactly, and its dependence on an app may see its self-calibration feature rendered impotent in a few years' time, but at about the cost of an expensive new mobile 'phone, the Hotblack just about edges into the territory of a disposable product. I wouldn't particularly want to spend so much on a throw-away watch, but let's remember that it isn't really like a 'phone at all - the key feature (the self-calibration) may go the way of the dinosaurs, but it should still continue to function perfectly well as an ordinary quartz watch long after the app ceases to exist.

So, neither watch is my 'ideal' watch. Maybe I'm being too picky. These are great leaps forward in the world of HAQ. Just put it all in a slightly smaller, slightly dressier package with solar power and a back-up means for trimming the rate and I'll be a happy man.

UPDATE - when checked in March 2018, Hoptroff appeared to have withdrawn from the watch making business...

...but...

...in the same month, Citizen announced a 1 SPY movement of their own...

...the cal. 0100 featuring a thermocompensated 8.4 MHz AT-cut XO with temperature-frequency reference derived from twice as many measurement points as standard! Watch this space!

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