I stumbled on a list of movie watches by accident the other day and quickly passed over 95% of the stuff shown there—James Bond’s unobtanium Omegas, weird RDJ/Iron Man novelty watches, unaffordable Rolexes—and stopped at an interesting field watch from, of all places, a Rowan Atkinson TV show, made by MWC:
It’s a pretty standard field watch layout but I like the crown and bezel, and it’s remarkably affordable. However, it’s also super-thick for some strange reason, and 40mm diameter, which is the absolute largest I’d consider for a watch. Looking through their other offerings, there’s a really nice 40’s pattern British field watch with a second hand dial that’s got some more personality at 39mm in diameter:
The website says it’s 1mm thicker than the first watch, which means it would be pretty bulky. I’ll keep an eye out on used prices, but as with lots of other things (jeans, cars, glasses, bathing suits) this is the kind of thing you have to try on in person before you buy. Interestingly, MWC was actually founded as a partnership including Albert Wajs, one half of the company who produced my estate sale diver. Unfortunately their only dealers are in Minnesota, California, and on eBay, so I’d have to take a chance if I really wanted one. I then fell down a horological rabbit hole and found a beautiful 39mm pilot that was for sale in 2012 and apparently hasn’t been made since; that was my sign that it was time to stop.
I re-watched Interstellar last night before bed when the football game got boring and it popped up in my Prime feed. I really enjoy the movie whenever I’ve seen it, but something new caught my eye last night: the main character wears a beautiful watch which becomes a key element of the story and his relationship with his daughter. intrigued, I Googled “Interstellar watch” and the first article that came up was from Hodinkee, which did a deep dive on the watch and its companion in the movie. I noted the name of the author and smiled to myself; this spring I was talking with our operations manager at work and she asked me about the watch I was wearing. It turned out her husband works for Hodinkee and we both geeked out a little on watches. He wrote the article I found, and she took the pictures for a companion article about the other watch. I definitely need to ask them out for a drink.
I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to fix things in the last six months, and often that involves some exotic tool I don’t already own. My habit has been to immediately start typing a-m-a-z-o-n in a web browser, but I’m also trying to either gang up orders so as not to be wasteful or find local alternatives. I keep forgetting Harbor Freight opened a nice clean store in Catonsville a few years ago. While I was browsing the aisles yesterday for a new timing light, I stumbled across a small tool for opening the back of a wristwatch, which got me excited; my LL Bean wristwatch has been sitting on the dresser for about a year waiting for battery service, and I just haven’t gotten around to sending it back in. I always knew there must be a simple way to get the back off at home but never really did the research. For $7 I figured I’d give it a shot. Within 2 minutes I had the back off the watch and the number for the tiny replacement battery in hand (which explains why it only lasts for a year or so before dying); this I will have to source from Amazon, as most local home supply and drugstores don’t carry the particular size.
The second thing I looked for was a replacement battery for Jen’s old iPhone 4, which I’ve been using as an iPod for five years or so. There are pros and cons to this strategy: the connector is an ancient 30-pin design from ten years ago. The latest iOS it can run is 7.1.2, and the interface for iTunes in that era was hot garbage. It’s only 32GB, which limits the amount of music I can load. Meanwhile, I’ve got a 64GB iPhone 6 sitting here, but the version of iTunes on iOS 12 is buggy and likes to split songs from a single album up into individual albums, which is annoying as shit. The battery in the 6S is pretty much dead. But I’m going with repairing the iPhone 4 because replacing its battery involves no ju-jitsu or suction cups potentially cracking the display as with the 6. A new battery was $20 with delivery, which I just can’t beat.
Fuck! I almost forgot to mention: I got an email from my old employer, System Source, about a swap meet and workshop they’re hosting on July 21. I’ve got some old gear I could possibly sell, but what I’m very interested in is enlisting the help of a knowledgable person to help me fix my old Powerbook 160, which needs the monitor recapped in order to function properly. I paused during COVID because one of the parts was out of stock, but I’m going to see if I can order it and bring the project up there for someone to help me with.
I got an email a couple of weeks ago from Vaer, the folks who made the Field Watch I’ve been wearing for most of this year. They send me a newsletter once every couple of weeks, which I usually don’t read, but this one was a little different; they were offering a deal for owners who’d previously written a review of their watch tied to the opening of their Amazon storefront. They basically dangled two watches in front of me for a sizable discount and expected me to just walk away.
I was ready to, honestly, but when I realized that one of them was a diver offered with a 38mm case size, I got very interested. It’s a solar-powered automatic with a black face and bezel, and from all the pictures I saw, I thought it looked pretty good. They have a couple of other bezels I like just a smidge better—but the more I went back to the open browser tab, the more I liked it. I figured I’d try it out and if it wasn’t to my taste I’d send it back, so I clicked the button.
In the flesh, it’s a very nice watch. It’s taller than my Ollech & Wajs—the Timex I tried was the same height—which has been taking some getting used to. All of the other watches I own are very thin, with the exception of the Todd Snyder Timex, which is also the widest in diameter. This sits up on my wrist, but the relationship of the bezel to the crystal isn’t as severe as the Timex, and the proportions are more carefully considered. The diameter is perfect. It fits the size of my wrist without feeling like I’ve strapped on a dinner plate. The movement is silent and fluid.
I was on the fence when I first unboxed it. I thought it was too tall. I hemmed and hawed and finally showed it to Jen for her opinion. She immediately liked it. She commented that she likes my field watches but said looks like an adult going-to-town watch, which I agree with. She thought I should keep it, and so the decision was made.
One thing that definitely needs to happen is a replacement watchband. The two Vaer shipped with the watch are chunky and, to be honest, pretty ugly. The strap shown on the O&W is my current favorite: a mustard-yellow NATO strap that’s got a light pattern and looks great on both this and the field watch. I need a couple of 20mm pins and a new band.
And clearly, I’ve got to have the crystal on the Ollechs & Wajs polished or replaced.
My Airpods Pro have been making terrible crackling noises for the last couple of weeks, something I didn’t notice until I was in the Scout listening to a podcast with noise cancellation turned on last weekend. Once I heard it I couldn’t not hear it, and I realized it was worst in my left ear. I made an appointment at the Apple Store and stopped in Friday morning to have them look things over. The tech verified they were covered under the replacement program, took them in back, tested them, and returned with two new earpieces (I get to keep my beat-up case, sigh). I know I’m a low-key Apple fanboy, but it’s service like this that keeps me loyal.
Driving to and from St. Mary’s County yesterday, I wore them almost the entire day, and I’ll say this: the difference was astounding. It could be the old ones were very broken, or they put new firmware on my replacements, but the noise cancellation was ten times better and the sound was improved.
The update from downtown Baltimore is thus: my white blood cell count is still below average, trending slightly downward since a post-surgery high point in August of 2020. Everything else in the bloodwork seems to be leveled off and within normal ranges, with the exception of lymphocytes and eosinophil, which are specialized white blood cells. We are told that my lymphocytes may never rise to pre-cancer levels as a result of chemotherapy, and I’d guess eosinophil is probably the same. The CT scan showed no new passengers, and my oncologist seems pretty positive about everything. So, that’s good! I’ll take it. If I make it to the five year checkup in October with a clean bill of health they say the chance of any new tumor drops dramatically; let’s hope my rare surprise doesn’t return.
I’ve been wearing my Vaer watch almost exclusively the last couple of months, but knowing I was going to start welding class regularly I figured I should switch to one of my utility watches. I wore my LL Bean watch, and during class I was wondering why time was moving so slowly—until I realized the minute hand was stuck and not advancing. This is not the first time this watch has been in the shop for repairs. I’ve been waiting on having the Ollech & Wajs diver tuned up, but now that I have two that need servicing, there’s more of a push to visit a repair shop. For now, my Timex will work just fine for shop use.
A couple of months ago, two writers from one of my favorite sites, Jalopnik, quit that site and started up a car blog of their own: the Autopian. David Tracy has always been a great read; his exploits with busted jeeps, insane wrenching projects and cross-country shitbox trips are the stuff of internet legend. His partner Jason Torchinsky was the weird beating soul of Jalopnik from its inception, writing about taillights, strange Chinese electric vehicles, and his Nissan Pao, as well as being the illustrator for many of its articles. They have assembled a crew of writers covering odd engineering history, daily car news, bizarre car-related videos, and other random stuff—basically a better version of Jalopnik with more personality and less corporate bullshit (as well as many fewer ads). I don’t see a subscription system set up yet, but when it comes (as it is for Defector) I will gladly send them money. More of this, please.
There are a whole slew of watch-oriented websites out there, and the majority of them feature watches that cost more than my car. But there are some that are geared towards people like me, with budgets like mine, but who want something better than what they can get at the local Walmart.
Worn & Wound reviews a lot of mid-tier watches that range from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars. I like how they structure the reviews and their selection fits neatly within my aesthetic—military/diver without a lot of glitz. And, the cards used for listing their reviews clearly show the case size, which is a huge timesaver for me.
They reviewed a retro diver by a company called Baltic that I really dig; it’s both the right size and the right design for me—a 38mm case with minimal complications and just the right amount of color. I’m not a fan of watches that look like they were dipped in gold or covered with dials, and this design has just the right balance of color and utility. It’s way outside my price point but I’ll keep an eye on it. Even further outside that price point is the GMT variant, which adds a pricy Swiss movement and a date function. I really dig the split-color bezel though—the blue over orange is beautiful.
Two Broke Watch Snobs is a similar vibe—they focus on mid-tier watches, although they do sometimes venture into the land of $3K Omegas and other higher-dollar brands. They have a podcast, which sounds like it would be monumentally boring, but their written reviews are detailed and thorough.
A Blog To Watch has their reviews split into under $500 and over $500, which is handy, and the reviews are excellent. Apparently they’ve been around for a while so there’s a lot to dig into there.
I found a unique retro diver there that looks very cool even though it’s at my size limit (38mm is my sweet spot, and this is 40mm) but I’d consider it for ~$300.
Professional Watches has reviews that date back to 2013, but their site navigation is shit and the pages take forever to load. Their review section is laid out as cards but you’ve got to continually hit a “load more” button at the bottom to see anything. They split reviews into over and under $1000 and feature a wide assortment of styles, from dainty evening watches to goofy G-shock models that look like they came out of a Kirby drawing. Still, the depth is appreciated, even if I’m only interested in 5% of their articles. Looking through the high-end models is funny; there are some staggeringly elegant watches and some that look like they were barfed up from a bad steampunk novel.
Additionally, I found a good resource on cheap military watches made by Timex in the ’70’s and ’80’s; I remember a barrel of these for sale in the old H&H Surplus store in Baltimore when I was in college.
At a party this past Halloween, I was talking with a bunch of people in a circle, and one of the guests pointed out my watch and asked me what kind it was. I told him it was an Ollechs & Wajs, that I’d gotten it at an estate sale (an easier explanation than the reality), that it was vintage from 1970, and at the bottom tier of their catalog. He told me he’d seen it from across the room and was a watch guy himself, and we geeked out over watches for about 10 minutes while his wife knowingly rolled her eyes. He was wearing a huge TAG Heuer tuna can, but mentioned he’d slowly been collecting nice watches as his business became more successful. It was cool to talk with him, and we shook hands and parted ways.
Watches have been in the back of my mind for a while, but I’m very hesitant to buy anything when we have so many other essentials and priorities around the house these days. That’s not to say the manufacturers haven’t been trying. My Instagram feed is sprinkled with watch porn among the Scouts and #vanlife and occasional post from someone I actually know, and I admit I’ve followed some of those links and looked seriously at some of the examples until I saw the price. That’s usually enough to end the investigation in its tracks. Horology is expensive.
One of those Instagram trips led me to Vaer watches and I’ve been looking at them for the last couple of years. I was drawn to their line but never thought about buying one because of cost and size—most of their line are 41mm cases, which is too big for my wrist. And half of their stuff is assembled in Switzerland so it’s $700 beyond my price point. They specialize in modern updates of classic design patterns without being too fussy, gaudy or supersized. Their divers look really good but I’m betting they’d be sized the same as the Timex I tried last year, although it was more about the proportions on that one that soured me.
In 2021 they introduced a throwback Korean War era field watch, smaller in size and taking cues from Bulova and Waltham designs made for the Army. Those watches were used hard, and working survivors are expensive. Usually they’re inoperative and need to be rebuilt. I’ve had an alert set on Watch Patrol for months but never found the right one. I looked over the Vaer watch and considered it carefully, then bookmarked the link and let it go. But I kept on going back to the page to look at it. That’s usually never a good sign. I was strong until I got a huge sale alert from Vaer after New Years, and I figured I’d never get a better chance and ordered one.
Buying watches sight unseen is tricky and they usually are larger than I’d prefer them to be. Overall I really like the size and shape of this case; it seems larger than something advertised as 36mm, but on my wrist it looks to be just the right size. In comparison with my other watches it’s right between the Hamilton and the LL Bean in scale. The case thickness is perfect—I don’t notice it getting caught on sleeves or bumping into things on my wrist.
The case is shiny, something I’m not as thrilled with—I’d prefer brushed metal to polished, but it doesn’t sour me on the design. The face is where the throwback design really comes in. They mimicked the big fat hand-painted tritium numbers from the 1950’s with a secondary set of hash marks around the outer edge, which I like. The numbers are colored slightly brown, which matches the tan Vaer strap I put on it. The strap looks nice but is twice as thick as it needs to be; wearing it out of the box pinched my radial artery painfully until I worked stiffness out of it like a baseball glove. It has no date feature, setting it apart from the other field watches I own, but I don’t mind that. It’s an extremely quiet movement and keeps excellent time; I’m really happy with it and haven’t taken it off my wrist since it got here. So I think I’m set for field watches.
Meanwhile, the movement in the Ollech & Wajs has gotten bound up, so I’ve got to bring it back in to the watch guy who originally fixed it to have him sort it out for me, and then I have to be more careful about how I wind it.
Some shiny things that caught my eye this week: An article that goes through the do’s and don’ts of buying antique Soviet film cameras. I’ve read different things about how awesome and how faulty they can be so it’s nice to have someone detail the pros and cons of various models and lenses. I still need to try putting film through the Zeiss TLR I’ve got sitting on the shelf to see if I can get it to work, so the chances of me buying one of these is zero.
Also, I’ve had a search set up through WatchPatrol for months for a cheap WW2/Korean vintage A17 field watch that would alert me when a working example came up for sale. Given the amount that were issued I would have thought there were barrels of them in a warehouse somewhere, available for $30 each. Apparently not. Vaer watches has designed an updated quartz version of the traditional Korean War-era vintage A17 in a 36mm case, which is the perfect size for my wrist. They’re quality movements, so they don’t come cheap, but if I had $200 laying around I’d grab one.
I wasn’t aware of this, but the password manager I’ve been paying for over the last (7?) years was purchased by a private equity firm at some point in the past year. Surprisingly, they have suddenly gotten a lot more bitchy about their free service. Most of what I’ve read suggests moving to LogMeIn or Bitwarden as an alternative, which I’ll have to consider if/when they try to monetize me further.
Hey! Look who’s back and strapped to my wrist! This time I didn’t even get a courtesy call from LL. Bean; they just fixed it and rushed it back to me ASAP. It’s nice to have my old friend close again.
I got a very nice call from a lady in Maine a few days ago, who let me know my LL Bean field watch was repaired and that she needed my debit card info to pay for things and send it back. Apparently the repair tech found a crystal that was compatible and put all the parts back together. Happily, I completed the transaction, and yesterday a package arrived on our doorstep. This is what came out of the plastic bag when I opened things up:
Obviously, there’s been a terrible mistake. I don’t think I’m going to be able to read this watch when it’s on my wrist. So I’ve got two choices: I can send it back to LL Bean to see if they can set things right, which will take another week or two, or I can see if the guy in Union Station with the little watch repair stand can open the case and spin the movement 40˚ for me.