My Journey Towards WISdom (Part 3)
The making of a Watch Idiot Savant (2003)
Sometime in May 2003, an ex-colleague of mine at the office where I worked told me about a Guess Warehouse sale. I had never been to a warehouse sale before and I agreed to drive us to the place after work. Her husband Nassir joined us there and I had absolutely no idea what was in store for me.
Little did I know that this trip was going to trigger a completely unfathomable hobby of watch collecting!
The warehouse wasn’t actually a warehouse but a rented space at a service apartment. It was packed with people and I wasn’t particularly interested in Guess apparel and garments. A few visitors flocked at a display case and I noticed that they were peering at the watches for sale. All of the items were marked down to 60%. My friend’s husband was interested in this all-black Guess G-Steel chronograph. It was retailing at just MYR285 (USD85) and looked like a pretty good deal to us.
We left the warehouse sale with both Nassir and I having the same watch (there were only two left) and a kid’s size Manchester United F.C. T-shirt for my nephew. Nassir and I were both happy as clams. 🙂
A “Guess of honor" steps in
The first thing I did upon reaching home was studying the instruction leaflet (you get a nice instruction booklet from Seiko and Guess took the cheap route by printing the instructions on a a piece of folded paper). I managed to figure out how to set the time and alarm. It had a chronograph but the reset mechanism moved slower than my 7T32 Seiko. The lume on the hands was pretty bad and I could hardly read the time in the dark, unlike my Old Faithful. The watch had a neat day-of-the-week subdial and it made the watch look special. The alarm was a letdown- it wasn’t half as loud as my Seiko’s.
It had a very thick domed glass which made photography next to impossible due to excessive reflections.
The Guess G-Steel certainly lived up to its name. It was significantly heavier and bigger than my Old Faithful. It had anodized solid linked bracelet and was probably weighed about 195 grams. It wasn’t a diver’s watch (the dial layout and thin hands suggested it was a sporty chronograph) like I first thought. I couldn’t tell what a proper diver’s watch looked like and I naturally assumed the 200m/660ft rating meant it could be worn for scuba diving. After wearing the G-Steel straight for two weeks, I decided to alternate watches, one day I’d wear my Seiko SDWD19P and the following day, the Guess G-Steel.
The G-Steel is not with me now. I originally passed it to my doctor brother-in-law, he didn’t wear it as it was too large. He returned it to me and I gave it to my cousin Ray, only to find out that on the next day he claimed that his father wanted the watch instead. I never saw my old Guess watch again but I don’t miss it either.
The geek factor hit me big time
This went on for three weeks until I decided to visit the old Pertama Complex shopping mall to check out the watch stores. For some reason, I stopped by a small store called Pusat Jam Pertama. The first thing that caught my eye was this humongous and futuristic looking Casio Pro Trek PRG40T-VDR. It had a titanium bracelet and I was immediately drawn to its functions rather than its form.
It had a digital compass, a barometer, an altimeter and a thermometer. The perfect watch for the perfect geek.
The PRG40 measured about 52mm across and a whopping 16mm thickness. I debated whether I would wear it if I bought it. It was by no means a subdued looking wrist wear. I left the store and looked at another competitor called Gold Watch and checked out their Suunto multi-function watches. Nice, but their asking prices were clearly beyond my reach. In the end I returned to Pusat Jam Pertama and got the Casio PRG40 for less than MYR500 (USD149).
Ironically, what I really had in mind was a Timex Field Gear digital watch with a built-in digital compass. The store didn’t have that Timex so I reasoned that the Casio would be the better buy. Anyway, here’s a photo of my PRG40 in its prime.
This Casio was much lighter than the G-Steel but I wondered how it was going to fit under my shirt cuff. I wore it a few times to office, much to the amusement of my co-workers. I later learned that the altitude worked by measuring the external air pressure and change in temperature. It used a fixed algorithm to estimate the height or altitude. As the air pressure changed so did the altimeter reading. It made sense if you’re driving up a mountain but gave ridiculous altitude measurements when you’re on the 10th floor of a building. The watch’s compass reading is pretty accurate. I compared it with my good old magnetic compass that I’ve had since 1981.
I seldom wore the PRG40 at home but would wear it on long distance trips for its compass and altimeter feature. It is now sitting happily on my brother’s wrist. He frequently participates in his Satria GTI Club cross country excursions so it would be more useful to him. 🙂
The Tissot T-Touch temptation
I began to do research on the Tissot T-Touch. Yep, that’s the watch that Angelina Jolie endorses since her first Tomb Raider movie. It’s a cool and expensive watch but I had to find out everything about the T-Touch before I decide to part my money for it. I came across a few disturbing owner’s comments and reviews on the watch. It seemed that the T-Touch was plagued with sensor problems and particularly its ultra-sensitive, tactile sapphire glass.
Heck, the watch was just rated to a mere 30 meters worth of water resistance. So much for an “outdoor" watch. At least my Casio PRG40 had a 100m depth rating. I don’t think I’d plunge into a swimming pool with a T-Touch. Even one of the dealers I spoke to didn’t recommend the T-Touch as she had received complaints from some customers.
So the T-Touch remains a dream watch of mine which never materialized. I wasn’t just about to buy a MYR2,200 (USD656) timepiece only to remind myself that I have to handle it with kid gloves.
An Alba joins my flock!
I forgot to mention that I had the Guess G-Steel sized for my wrist at a small watch store opposite the Jaya Supermarket shopping center called Singwa. The co-owner, Bobby Fong had quite a few strange looking Seiko and Alba watches that I’ve not seen before. In passing, he commented that Guess watches were made in Hong Kong and not from the U.S. like I had originally thought. Bobby said matter-of-factly, “You’re better off owning a Seiko than a Guess. Guess is just a fashion watch and its local distributor has doubtful after sales service".
That did make me feel rather uneasy, had I bought a good watch? After all, I got my G-Steel for at a whopping 65% mark down, didn’t I? I’ve never heard of brands like Swatch, Casio, Seiko and Citizen have that kind of sale. It sounded like Guess watches were overpriced to begin with if the main distributor was that generous enough with the discount and probably still made a margin.
Back at home I sought information from the good ol’ Internet. I couldn’t find credible information about the source of Guess watches. Sure they had their website, but at the time there was nothing but catalog pics of their products. I browsed their inventory but couldn’t find the exact G-Steel model that I had.
I tried to convince myself that I made a smart purchase in that Guess watch but I couldn’t. At the end of the month I stopped by the Singwa store after a hearty dinner at my favorite Sushi King restaurant and talked to Bobby about watches. He showed me some of his timepieces and what caught my eye was this unique Alba Epsilon analog digital watch, based on the Y911 module. Bobby had superior salesmanship in him. He knew how to convince me to buy that watch. He showed me how it light it was to wear and it was made of titanium alloy. He said that he had only two pieces left and one of his friends bought it for playing golf.
It had a special “white-out" transposed LCD display which remained invisible until you press a button. The main time was the analog part of the watch while the day-of-week, date and month was displayed in digital form. The display readout was actually sandwiched between the watch glass and the dial. The Epsilon incorporated five independent alarms (as though I needed even two of them) and a fascinating stopwatch display. At the outermost of the dial, LCD segments “light up" in a clockwise running fashion, indicating that the chronograph was running.
An early photo of the Alba Y911, with the translucent LCD activated (left) and turned off (right)
The Alba watch was not without its shortcomings. The watch was fun but it was virtually useless in the dark. There was no luminous material (or lume) on the hands and dial and neither was there a backlight. It made a good daytime watch but you can’t tell the time in a dark movie theater.
The two-tone chirp of its piezoelectric alarm had the sweetest sound I’ve heard in a digital watch. It wasn’t overly obtrusive and loud but melodic and shrill enough to be heard outdoors. Even my Old Faithful didn’t have an alarm which sounded as nice as this watch.
Update: I no longer own this watch, it’s in the safe custody of a good friend of mine, Michael Rothe in Berlin, Germany. Michael collects Seiko and Alba analog-digital watches exclusively and his collection is quite impressive. I sent him the watch as I no longer wanted it and also in exchange for a nice Seiko 7T59-6A0A quartz chronograph that he gave me as a gift. 🙂
So now I had a Seiko, an Alba, a Casio and a Guess. Now on to my fifth watch, a Timex Indiglo analog-digital.
Why impulse buys aren’t good for you
I decided to scout around the Pertama Complex again and went to the store where I originally bought my Casio Pro-Trek PRG40. I quickly made friends with Mr Desmond Chaw, the store manager. I just felt like I needed another watch (yeah, right) and looked at the rotating Timex display stand. I was still adamant to get an Indiglo-equipped Timex and settled for this one from the Metal Gear lineup, model T15877.
I bought it because it was cheap, about MYR230 (USD68). It was only after getting home I realized that the watch was not just cheap, but it was cheaply made as well. The second hand was off-mark in a lot of places (which means, it didn’t point to the minute markers precisely). The metal bracelet was the worst kind I had seen although it was highly polished. The lume on the dial was poor and the hands poorer still. It’s as though the person who assembled the hands placed it backwards (with the lume facing away from me).
Oh, there’s a sticker on the Timex’ caseback which said “Timex, U.S.A.". I pried off the sticker and to my disgust, it was strategically placed to hide the markings “Made in the Philippines". It appeared that the local distributor didn’t want the public to know that their Timex products were not made in the USA!
Other than that, the watch delivered as promised, the Indiglo electroluminescent backlight worked well, illuminating the semi-opaque dial from the rear. The pushers were rather fiddly and the digital display wasn’t that user friendly.
A few months later I conceded that it was a bad purchase. I wouldn’t buy this watch again. I resolved to do proper research before buying any watch from then on. As for the Timex, I gave it to my nephew. He doesn’t have it anymore, he claimed to have lost it. 🙁
On to the last Part Four segment… (oops, it’s still under construction!) 😉