My Brief History with Watches

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I, like all kids of my childhood, grew up admiring watches, particularly digital ones, and it sparked my interest on the subject to the point that I now consider myself a watch fan, and even maybe a bit more.

So, this is my very brief history with watches.

I believe my first watch was something like Casio calculators but cheaper, or maybe it was a Casio but in those dark ages the most basic ones were cheap.
Or perhaps it was a Transformer watch, red, with a little digital LCD. I also had a Mickey Mouse one with the arms as hands, and one with a cute little spider on its web circling the dial as the seconds hand.

From there on, I treasured them everytime I got to be gifted a new one; several other Casios passed through my hands. They turned into Benettons (by Bulova)—they predated Swatch—as I grew and had to have more fashionable pieces in order to be cool. Sad, I know. I was young and knew nothing.

I can’t believe there’s no mention at all of Benetton watches in sites.

But obviously the Casios always were there; my dad had this OG G-Shock—you know which, the 5000 or 5600 or whatever number with the screwable caseback—besides his Omega and several other fine gold watches. And they were inexpensive (regular Casios, not G-Shocks), so we (as in my little circle) got them often. This is important later.

We were absolutely in love with digital Casios, they did so many things, they were tuff, they took several beatings, they were precise and futuristic. They had sensors and were capable of storing phone numbers, they had calculators and TV remotes. And as proof of how well built they were, the two of them that I’ve managed to bring with me to this day, still work perfectly.

My Casios. I still have the newer Databanks.

You have to understand cell phones and computers came much later. We had very few things as ubiquitous and amazing as watches, thus they were an important part of our lives and got used and abused.

So, we loved them and it was an event of the highest importance when someone came with a new one to school; we all had to see it, find out what new marvelous things it was capable of.

A granddad gave me a fake large Mido Commander in silver, and an uncle a fake Cartier Tank. Which of course I wore happily, never truly wondering if they were real or not; they were just fancy watches that did their jobs while looking cool on a highschool and college kid.

But sometime we had to grew. As I did, I diverted my attention to fashion watches, why that crap, you ask, well, I certainly could not afford—nor even knew—a Grand Seiko back then, so fashion watches were the closest for me to a real watch. I knew enough of horology, or rather, I’ve heard enough of it to understand there was a whole as yet inaccesible to me category of watches with names as Rolex, Tissot, Mido, Omega and Cartier, so those—the fashion ones—had to do for then.

An incalculable parade of Benettons came and went, we couldn’t believe our lucks, for that a watch as nice, dependable and fashionable as those were in our family’s reach, continuously, was quite nice. I was very lucky, I now understand. I opened them and interchanged dials between them. I like to see and learn how things work, and those watches were a great and cheap way to find out. Swatch were mostly out of the question, as you couldn’t get them in Mexico, only kids with families that went on vacations to El Gabacho (USA) had them and they were the coolest kids around.

They didn’t last, of course, they weren’t Casios. They all ended up in the garbage. Lost to what they measure.

This went on until I got my first real job, with a contract and all.

There was this new fashion clothing store in town and it was a big deal; fashion, accesible clothing for youngs, beers and papas locas, and they were the only ones that had a diverse G-Shock inventory—other stores had only the basic models—and I promptly got a job there and they were nice enough to give us slaves a discount in all the merchandise, so with my first salary I got two Stargates (called so because they were used in that movie a couple of years earlier than I got them), one red, one yellow, and gave my dad the yellow. That was back in ’96; they still work perfectly. We have changed both batteries and straps only once.

I began realizing one of horology’s hidden—by the luxury brands—truths:

A watch is first and foremost, a tool. And as such it should be first measured.

I had the incipient thought that a tool watch was better than a beautiful or famous watch. Particularly after my experience with fashion watches, that yes, were cheap and couldn’t really be expected to last, but then again so were Casios inexpensive, and they lasted ages.

I wore that huge piece of tech for years, I got maybe one fashion watch after.

I finished university, got a job, changed jobs and cities, and started earning some money. So I got me and my girlfriend a couple of Victorinox V7 translucent ruby 3-handers, stainless steel rated to 100m (unlikable, because of the regular crown, now I know), screwable caseback, laser-etched branding, engraved caseback and sapphire crystal, all of which was unheard of in that price range. They still work flawlessly.

I bought a couple of Nike sport watches, one for runners (I am) and I got rid of them very quickly: they were of an unacceptable low quality for me—misaligned everything, poorly made, cheap materials, low quality screens.

After those two abominations, I decided it would be better to spend time educating myself about watches, so I began buying magazines and read all I could in forums, in order to gain a vantage point from which were I could better chose.

As I was on a sports watch phase, and have always liked exercising outdoors, I did my research and decided on my second G-Shock, the Riseman with a dragon on the caseback. I specifically ordered the one with the dragon—most others have a flying squirrel—and it’s somewhat rarer today, at least every single one of them on Instagram has the squirrel. It still works flawlessly and I wear it as what snobs (sorry; you are) call a beater.

I couldn’t be happier, and actually never have been as, with the watch. It simply was an amazing piece of tech that had a thermometer, barometer, altimeter, it synced on its own (what sorcery?!), and didn’t need batteries!

About that time I also got a dark blue dial Particularly Robust and Sporty 516 from Tissot and a titanium Captain from Mido. Both automatic as Cronos intended watches to be, which was nice. I even got the original leather strap for the Tissot, and had to take it to be regulated sometime. Both got sold years later.

So it was some years before I got the bug again. I knew a bit more (still nothing, I realize today) and could decide perhaps not as naively.

Being a F1 fan, I went for a Williams F1 Oris special edition in PVD stainless steel, 3 hands, day-date, and cool design. That sums how little I actually knew.

Still, I loved the watch, it was so cool, jet black, gloss and mate, rubber strap, big legible fake-carbon black dial with white hands, hands and markers lumed.

When I bought it, I was between that and a Seamaster, which was more expensive, but not inconceivable so. With hindsight, I should’ve got the Omega for the resell value, but I knew back then that most Swiss brands were of similar qualities, and I wanted to project an image of authenticity, not owning what everybody was familiar with, but instead a piece that maybe sparked a watch conversation opportunity. Being a watch fan, you could hardly blame me for searching ways to talk about why I liked, with akin minds.

In between the Victorinox and the Oris, I got my girl and myself several Swatches (by the way, it means Second Watch, not Swiss Watch), they opened several shops across town and a couple of my friends got to work there, so discount!
Swatches I looked from afar as a child because they weren’t that common and affordable. Each a fashion watch, they were disposable. I’m recently selling two of my last three and I foresee they’ll go fast. But I’ll came to that later. I still sometimes miss Ambitious Goal and Zebah, one had a translucent smoked lovely plastic case with a color combination I really liked, and the other was an aluminum (!) watch that had a kind of dial indigloo that looked very cool. I half heartedly decided not to ever sell a watch again.

After the Oris, I got an almost true tool watch, with the meaning of not buying anything else afterwards for a while (I still got one last Swatch, so fail).

I got another F1 related—albeit a subtler one—watch, a TAG Heuer Formula 1 series 4, which I found out years later it actually had a story and could claim some pedigree, which is somewhat rare for a Swiss quartz (follow the previous link if you own a F1, it’s quite interesting).

Stainless, sapphire, 200m with screw-in crown and caseback, sporty / casual design, titanium carbide (that material is fantastically resilient) in bezel, crown and crown guards, brushed bezel numbering, and a single-sided rotating diver’s bezel.

A rotating bezel, I decided, is the most useful complication along with the date, and the only one ever needed in an analog watch—the date windows sometimes ruins the dial design. A chronograph of course does it better, but it adds to the complication and price and subtracts from legibility.

Considering what I know today, I would never buy the Oris or TAG again. Neither similar pieces. Nor any Swatch.

But I was very happy with them. The F1 could take a beating. It still does. I still wear it and I still like it very much. They way it’s a sports watch, but has faceted high-polished hands is quite pleasant.

In the back of my mind, I was forced to think automatics were just better, and tended to regard my Oris higher than all the others, and the TAG—a quartz—as good as the other automatics. The G-Shocks were in a category of their own, and the Victorinox was special.

But I also knew a quartz watch could survive what no automatic ever—a quality well made one, like the TAG, not like the disposable Swatches. So they were closer to the ideal tool watch.

I debated between that for years, and sometimes I still think about it, specially after reading the snobbery that’s spilled on watch sites and YouTube videos: always the mighty automatic comes ahead, disregarding the obvious and indisputable superiority of a quartz movement. Also, a quartz suits me better because I have an active lifestyle. I exercise, go places, go outside, swim, run, cycle. For me, an automatic can’t keep up as a beater and considering all I know now, if a watch can’t be a beater, it has no merit as a tool (remember a watch is first and foremost a tool), and only has looks, status, things like that to his name. I didn’t like that I couldn’t treat my automatics as my quartzes. It bothered me.

Still, I got myself yet another Swatch for my birthday, a beautiful automatic skeleton that’s just gorgeous.
Swatch and Casio are the only brands that are truly beyond whatever measure you want to use to describe other watches. A multi-million dollar collection can as easily have those, and the owner will wear them proud, because those brands stand for themselves as True Watches, not pretentious, ostentatious, luxury, status seeking brands. A true fashion watch and a true tool watch.
Seiko too and to a greater degree even, but I learnt that later.

That skeleton has a very basic ETA movement, doesn’t hack, non decorated except for some laser etching, and slow beating. Gorgeous nonetheless.

I stopped buying watches. I had certainly enough. But more importantly, I knew more and realized several things.

A watch just measures time.

It’s silly to place more value in a famous watch, just because its fame. A well built watch is not inferior to a well built luxury watch.
This is not the same as cars, in which one could argue a Ferrari and a Beetle both take you from A to B… but one does it faster and in a high-tech manner, while the other maybe barely will arrive. No, watches only measure time, and any 5 usd Casio F-91W will out-perform whatever million dollar brand you care to name.
By the way, there’s a hipster craze about vintage Casios in rose gold, gold, and silver nowadays.

It is as Noah Harari says in his Sapiens book: value is just another of our myths. Materials have no inherent value (besides their physical characteristics, of course; iron being harder than copper is better for making tools, and so on); we give gold and diamonds its value, not them by themselves. And that was continuing what I believed when I got the Oris and not the Omega.

I started selling most of my collection (ugh, the snobbery again) and began searching for an unsuperfluous tool of a watch to use daily along my Riseman. I wanted what the F1 failed to do: be The Watch for me.

Anyway, I got this Seiko at a tianguis, a type of flea market in which you can find food, clothing (mostly imported) and assorted items (sadly, a lot will be from robberies), a retro futuristic chronograph that was amazing. Just as I was passing by I knew it had to be something special; there was a watch I’ve never saw before, but with a recognizable design (from the ´69 Omega Speedmaster Mark II which is one of the best looking watches ever), that surely was old, with lots of style. I strove to keep my cool with the seller and tried several other of his watches first, all used. I bargained (you do that even when buying expensive watches on jewelries, didn’t you know?) With a later crystal and battery change, I spent 19 usd. Mine has the central seconds hand a bit crooked, but I like it that way, it has character.

So, I was right and the Seiko turned out to be the first analog display quartz chronograph in the world. An icon in a brand of icons. A world first. I couldn’t believe it! What luck to own a Speedmaster 7A28 and for that price!
It’s no longer water resistant, and I don’t know anyone here that can fix the pusher gaskets, and it’s also no longer lumed, but I don’t mind, the movement works flawlessly.

So, I searched and continued informing myself, forums, sites, YouTube. I concluded, as I’ve mentioned of the rotating diver’s bezel, that I only needed a diver. But a true one, not like my TAG that lacks visibility at night (because the lume is sparse and not very lasting, but the faceted hands and glossy hour markers do help a lot) and a 12 o’clock bezel lume pip.

While on vacation I tried the new GW9400 Rangeman at a G-Shock store, which was a step up from my GW9200 Riseman. In action it amazes, the sensors are blazing quick, and the design is unapologetically G-Shock. I almost got it, but the fonts used are the same size as in the Riseman but the dial is larger so there’s unused space, which goes against what a G-Shock should be. Also, and after the initial impression, I like the Riseman more, so sticking to what now I believe / want, there was no point in getting it. Maybe when my Riseman dies, but then again, there’s the latest Rangeman, which is stupidly and absurdly incredible, and one can only wonder what will Casio manage in the years mine still has.

Seiko was the obvious answer. Not a SKX007/013 (seriously, what’s with Japanese brands’ naming?), because their designs are a bit outdated for my tastes, and the dial-bezel is a bit busy. Also the dreaded chapter ring / bezel misalignment stories are no fun. But a Diver’s from Seiko would surely be my next and hopefully last for many years.
I also liked a lot the new Oris 65 re-interpretation, and one or two obscure brands like the Zelos Hammerhead, any Sinn diver (that tegimented steel is out of this world!), the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf “Gulf” re-issue… but they are vastly more expensive than a Seiko, and if a Seiko is (and this is the consensus), the better watch, why should I pay more? Brands trust us to be naive.

Anyway, I kept looking on and off, and at the same time I took out from my rotation (that also sounds terribly snob, and you know it) most of my watches but the Riseman, the F1 and the Body and Soul. A sport tool, a casual tool, and a dressier piece.

I discovered Seiko Monsters and was instantly in love with them, particularly the new Sea Monster and the Orange Monster. They weren’t too expensive.

I tracked the blue one and almost got it used at a great price, but the seller backed off at the last minute. New costed twice as much and I couldn’t justify it, so I ended up not getting it, and kept on searching.

By now, I know a lot more about watches than ever, I can tell which watches are worth it, which ones are famous, historical, from where they come from, what are their influences. I know that Jaeger-LeCoultre supplies movements to the holy trinity of Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe. I can tell the Nautilus from the Royal Oak, and that Hublot is cheap, its ex boss Jean-Claude Biver to blame, and he’s proceeding to ruin also TAG Heuer… but he also helped save the Swiss industry from Japanese and American quartz, turned Omega into what is today, and brought Blancpain back from the dead. I know Tudor divers were first, but held back by Rolex in order for the latter to gain a false prestige. I know Makos and Rays from Turtles and Hammerheads, Searamblers from Super Oceans… I also know cosmographs don’t really graph the cosmos, and that in order to impress you have to write everything on the dial, after having your watch officially and professionally superlatively certified, in Rolesor, of course. I understand Valjoux, ETA, Miyota and Seiko, and the achievement and value of an in-house movement.
I hear with contempt those poor souls that think Rolex and Omega are truly luxury brands, or the best watches ever, or those that dismiss Seikos and Casios, knowing nothing of horology.

As I’m older, my tastes change and I have to leave behind—to a point—most flashy things, instead opting for a more appropriate look. Think a Fifty Fathoms. Those are very nice looking watches (and Jacques Cousteau’s choice, if you’re into that kind of thing, better company than Steve McQueen or Paul Newman), simple and to the point, no superfluous things in them—the originals, of course, not the modern jewels they try to pass as tool watches. But terribly expensive, and again, I don’t want a jewel.

One fine day, wondering the deep trenches and abysses of the internets, I discovered a true jewel. The Casio Marlin Duro MDV106.

It had all I wanted! Black sober dial, but with a lovely sunburst! Applied indices (you don’t even see this on the 3-4x priced Seikos), decent lume, legible big fat—but not Seiko fat—even faceted hands! 200m, screw in crown and caseback, date and rotating aluminum insert bezel with lume pip at 12. A true diver!
Even better: it is quartz! So it will keep up without me baby sitting it.

The truly amazing thing about this Casio, is the price. This is a watch well under 50 usd. You simply can’t get all that this Marlin offers at this price point (actually, at several times this price point) from any other brand, not even a Seiko 5 comes close. This Duro (duro meaning hard in Italian and Spanish) really makes you wonder what scams, pillages and robberies all the other brands are inflicting upon us.

This is an obvious homage to bigger names, the dial is unmistakably Submariner with circles and rectangles for the markers (which actually come from Blancpain, as the Rolex Submariner came after the Fifty Fathoms), the sunburst also comes from Blancpain. The 12 o’clock lumed bezel marker is a must in a diver, and this is Casio’s particular design (they’ve had it on several divers). The Marlin is a great touch, particularly on the caseback were it shouldn’t be because of the ridiculous pricing. A true tool, a beautiful watch, a serious diver, a daily beater, an inexpensive—not cheap—piece. A watch to be truly proud of.

As always with Japanese divers, because their ridiculous naming system, they get a fan name (turtle, monster…); the official name for this is Duro, but the fan name is obviously Marlin, which always adds and endears.

The only negatives, besides the ugly plastic bracelet—well, not ugly but sparse, it actually is a Casio trademark with its deep grooves—are that it has no sapphire but mineral crystal (because price!), that 200m legend doesn’t look so good and the crown is on the small side. And of course the finishing and faceting is not quite up there, again, price! But considering from where it comes from it’s an almost unthinkable improvement. The father of this is the original Marlin MVD102, which being honest is not very nice looking at all, bulkier and busier, unnecessarily so; this one being so clean, neat and packed speaks wonders of Casio’s designers.
Also, you really can’t find negatives on a watch that has all this one has for that price. Well, the size is also wrong, 44mm is on the large side; 41 or 42 would have been so much better.

The original Marlin had too much text (and that’s a hideous thing, eh Rolex?), a cheesy “super illuminator” legend (but in red, so you know who was their inspiration even then), a robust but busy design. The new version is surprisingly lean to say the least.

So, this was it! I ordered mine! I will change the strap for a gray, brown or green zulu and maybe even a lovely diver shark mesh bracelet in the future, and be done with all my other watches (except the Riseman for exercising and the skeleton Swatch for dress-up—the Victorinox stays, obviously, as well as my Stargate and Databank, but I’ll sell all the others, maybe even the TAG. The Speedmaster is on sale but I really don’t want it to go, so I listed it a bit over what I’ve seen on ebay (but mine is in better condition than most I’ve seen), because it’s a part of horological history after all, and my only watch as such.

At last, a True Tool, a proper watch, besides G-Shocks, as I’ve mentioned, they’re on a category of their own.

And it’s a Casio! A brand I’ve respected and admired from the moment I got my first one for what they’ve accomplished! I can’t ask for more. As a plus, being so inexpensive, if I get robbed—this being Mexico—it won’t hurt as much and will be easily replaceable.

I intend to not buy anything else for years, but maybe one day I will get one of these: the evolution of the Rangeman. I truly believe this model is the future for G-Shock, embracing what G is, and what a smartwatch could do. The Ressence Type 5 oil filled watch is a thing of beauty and a very authentic and original brand—that planetary dial must look amazing. And of course a proper luxury Seiko Diver.

So, that’s my not so brief after all history with watches. I’ve liked them always, and it’s a subject I enjoy a lot.
Casually, just yesterday I got to try an Omega 007 Seamaster from a friend and… well, it’s incredibly bulky, a huge and heavy lump of steel. Yes, beautifully made, but it didn’t speak to me, less because (now I know!) it’s a pop watch, a mass marketed, machine made, James Bond endorsed (that’s cheap, that’s Omega) expensive thing that marketing will have you believe is top of the hill.

I’m glad I spend time educating myself about the things that I like.

Hopefully you enjoyed the long read!

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