Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review of Citizen Signature Flyback Chrono AV1000-57A


The Citizen Signature Collection was introduced in 2009 to North America, UK and Caribbean markets and was positioned under the Campanola luxury line. The Signature line features a cohesive design superior fit and finishing with hand assembly. A variety of Eco-Drive calibers are utilized and both men’s and women’s models are included in the line. Since its launch Citizen has been very controlling not only with the selection of authorized dealers eligible to sell this line but also with the simple availability of pictures of the models outside of the dedicated website. http://www.citizen-signature.com/

For the longest time the Signatures didn’t do much for me. I thought they were interesting but priced outside of my normal limit. The one day I discovered a little jewelry shop near my house was an AD so I stopped in for a visit and was pleasantly surprised. Having seen all the models in hand it became easier to justify the expense.

Of the models available, I would say that the Grand Complication, Flyback Chronograph and Moonphase Flyback Chronograph are the gems. The Diver and Perpetual Calendar models are nice and have the essence of the line, but at a little bit of a step down in the level of specialness. The Moonphase is very well done with a very subtle level of finishing on the dial that must be seen in person to fully appreciate. The Grand Complication probably has the most interesting caliber but is on the thick side to accommodate the special caseback necessary for the chimes to be heard from the repeater complication.



So what do I think Citizen did well with the Signature line. First they successfully established an option in the $1000 mark of no man’s land of men’s watches. I like to call it near luxury and there isn’t much selection at this price point. When you consider just the Japanese manufacturers, there is plenty to pick from both above and below, but there simply isn’t much to choose from at this price. Competition wise at this price you have the micro brands, micro brands masquerading as established brands and entry level Swiss stuff and surely the Japanese brands can hold their own. Second they successfully created an identity for this line. With its characteristic 12-sided bezel and 7-link bracelet, the Signatures have a cohesive design which echos far more expensive luxury brands, but is still unique enough to set a cohesive identity for the line reaching past a half a dozen dial colors all thrown in the same case. Third, Citizen selected its best calibers for this line. In a time when mechanical calibers are the only serious option for luxury watches, Citizen celebrates its identity and leadership in quartz calibers by including its most serious options for the signature. The most basic models have a perpetual calendar followed by a 12 hour chronograph with mechanical actuated reset which is an evolution of an existing caliber.

Case


OK let’s move onto the watch at hand. The case on the Flyback Chrono is stainless steel and finished with a mix of brushed and polished surfaces. The finishing is better than most Citizens of lower price. It is nicely done and not lacking for anything. The crown does not screw down, but is polished and finished well. It has an appealing design. Even though the pushers look like they have screw down collars, those are just cosmetic. I know some guys insist on having screw down pushers, but I find them to be unnecessary and more trouble than they are worth. If you use your chronograph on a regular basis, the convenience of just pressing the button to start timing is missed with having to first unscrew a two collars.

The crown at 8 o’clock is used to set the alarm time as well as turn it on and off. Setting is accomplished by pulling this crown out and turning. Turning the alarm on and off is accomplished by pressing the crown in. Pretty neat and yes this functions just like the E210 chronograph in the Calibre 2100 series.

The recessed button at 10 o’clock is used to set the second time zone on the 12 o’clock subdial. More on that later.

The bezel is really well done with alternating facets. The machining is very intricate here with each facet of alternating height. Hard for me to explain but impressive visually. The facets are all polished while the front face of the bezel is brushed with a tachymeter scale engraved. I like this bezel a lot and in some respects I think it makes the watch. Strikes the perfect balance between identity without being cartoonish.

The case back is engraved with the Signature emblem. Very nicely done. Not as nice as some of the current Omegas, but relative to the wimpy laser etching we usually get on Citizen casebacks, this is a marvel.






Bracelet


Let me put this simply. The bracelet on this signature model is a work of art. The best bracelet I have ever seen on a watch. Now unlike my colleague japanwatchconnection, my gauge is entry to mid level Japanese watches so take my opinion with a grain of salt. However, I would be very surprised to find someone unimpressed with this bracelet even with more seasoned experience than myself.

OK so what makes this bracelet so impressive? The fit and finish is outstanding. I thought I understood what fit and finish meant but this bracelet redefines this concept for me. The bracelet links are a true 7 link which means that each individual link is composed of 7 individual links pressed together. None of that foldover BS that Seiko likes to use even on some of its more expensive models. None of that milled fake me out multi link seen on the BFK. Seven separate links which is a characteristic of much more expensive watches. The tolerance between links is so tight you can just barely see light through them, yet they fit perfectly. There is no rubbing and no squeaking. Just perfect. The finishing shows mostly a brushed surface with two narrow polished links in the center and the two edges beveled and polished. The end links are solid and fit perfectly with the case. There is no space and no wiggle. The adjustable links are held together with screws which makes sizing a breeze.

The clasp is unique to the Signature line. It is forged and the final link is milled so that the edge of the clasp sits flush with the bracelet links. Well done Citizen. The clasp is otherwise very simple with a three face with the Citizen branding in the center and a squeeze release. There are no adjustment holes in the clasp, however, two partial length links come with the bracelet.

I did remove the bracelet and try some generic straps. I was not impressed because the lugs are so thick that any strap I had looked anemic. No matter because I love the bracelet, but if you want to wear a strap you may have to go with the stock strap from Citizen. One note of caution is that I was told by an AD that the spring bar holes for this model are drilled differently between the bracelet and strap models so you may not be able to switch back and forth with the stock bracelet and strap. If you intend to go this route be sure to check with your AD and/or Citizen to verify.




Dial and Crystal


Like the other aspects of the watch, the dial is impressive. The field is textured and is silver in color. From the stock photographs I would have thought that this area was white, but it is more of an aluminum color. It is visually interesting and changes character with changes in the light.

The field contrasts with the black subdials which are black and have a satin appearance. The subdials are a marked improvement from the glossy ones used on the Calibre 2100 chronograph. Printing on the subdials is crisp. Timekeeping seconds is at the 6 o’clock subdial with a chromed hand. The chronograph minutes is at 3 o’clock and hours is at 9 o’clock. Like the 2100 the chronograph measures up to 12 hours maximum. Each of the chronograph registers has a red hand. The 12 o’clock register serves as a second time zone which can be set independent from the main time and can be adjusted in 5 minute intervals. I admit that I don’t use this register much as it is a challenge to read with any level of accuracy. I do like that it is always moving throughout the day giving an ever changing appearance to the watch face. It is also a shame that the hand for this register covers the Citizen brand for most of the day as well. I guess there are not many other places for the branding though.

Index markers are applied with chrome trim and filled with lume.

Date window is set between 4 and 5 o’clock with white numbers on a black field. I think it looks good with the black subdial registers, but like all Citizens the window is tight and the date is deeper than on a non-solar watch, so visibility of the date can be a challenge to some people.

The hands are recycled from the Skyhawk AT model. At first I found this disappointing as I would like to see a dedicated handset with this watch, but after use I decided that they work well here. They are a good size as anything larger would obscure too much of the dial. For some reason I don’t get any of the Skyhawk feel while looking at them. They also seem somewhat different than the Skyhawk. Maybe polished more or beveled more. I don’t know, maybe it is just me. What is different from the Skyhawk is the use of blue lume on the hands and markers. I like Citizen’s blue lume a lot and wish they used it more.

Two additional hands are mounted on the center post. The red hand is the chronograph hand ticking away at ⅕ of a second. The red color matches the other chronograph hands. The last hand on the center post is the alarm display hand. Citizen did a good job with this one in that it completely disappears unless you are looking for it. It is very slender extending to a black painted head. This hand is adjusted with the alarm setting crown at 8 o’clock. The alarm has an interesting two tone electronic beep. Probably not loud enough to wake someone up from sleeping, but can be used as a daytime reminder. The alarm is a 12 hour ringer.

The last hand on the dial is the alarm indication hand between 7 and 8 o’clock which moves between ON and OFF.

This brings a total of 9 hands on this dial. Nine freaking hands! It must take at least an hour to install them all.

The crystal is sapphire and is dual coated with anti-reflective coating. This coating makes the crystal practically invisible and is a great feature. I love it. When viewed as certain angles you can see a slight blue tint to the crystal, but this doesn’t bother me. Many people complain about exterior coated crystals in that they will accumulate smudges and even worse scratches in the film. I have noticed more smudges than I would have expected and sometimes these smudges are impossible to wipe off with just a cloth as I will have to use either soap and water or eyeglass cleaner to clean. As far as scratches, I have not noticed any so hopefully that continues. I have decided that I like this crystal so much that if it did collect some scratches I would not hesitate at all to send back to Citizen for replacement. After the bracelet, this crystal makes the watch.



Movement

The Citizen Signature Flyback Chronograph uses the E260 caliber which is very similar to the E210 which is found in the very popular Calibre 2100 chronographs. This caliber requires some hand assembly from a special selection of watchmakers at Citizen Japan. Although it is a quartz watch with a stepper motor for the chronograph, there is a fair amount of mechanical actuation involved with the setting and resetting of the chronograph. The chronograph also has the same crunch feeling which is typical of mechanical chronographs. Although the “flyback” aspect of this caliber is overstated, it does have an instant reset, but does not automatically start counting again like a true flyback chronograph.

This picture of the E210 shows that it is an 11-jeweled caliber composed of 294 parts.  These chronographs are not your garden variety quartz chronograph.


The E260’s improvements to the E210 include the use of more attractive satin finished subdials, longer power reserve at 12 months compared to 8 months, and the use of the second time zone as opposed to the power reserve meter.  There may be other improvements that I am not aware of.

One disadvantage to both the E210 and E260 is that the chronograph hands cannot be adjusted by the user like so many other quartz chronographs. So if your chronograph hands get out of alignment, the watch will have to go back to Citizen. Although this does not seem to be a widespread problem, a couple of years ago I went through 3 examples of a 2100 with amazon as they all failed to properly reset the minute hand at zero. I have used the chronograph on my Signature a lot and so far I can say that it has reset perfectly each and every time.

What I like most about this caliber is that it is what I consider to be something special from Citizen. This is not your basic quartz chronograph and it is fitting for a special line like the Signature series.

Conclusions

At the time of writing this review I’ve owned this Signature for over 5 months and I can comfortably say that it has been my best purchase ever. What I spent was far more than I would have ever seen myself spending on a watch, but finally realized that even at this price, there is exceptional value. I understand that the styling may not be for everyone, but I challenge you to find better options in the sub $1000 window from Europe or micro brands. I’m sure there are a few standouts and I’d like to hear about them.

I’m happy to see that Citizen has remained committed to the Signature line with the release of the diver models and the soon to be announced Octavia series as well as some mechanical offerings. I admit my disappointment in the continued use of the E820 caliber as this is a very dated, overused an unsophisticated caliber and I think the Signature line deserves Citizen’s best calibers. Ideally I would like to see Citizen use its analog radio controlled calibers H144 and H610 in the Signature series. They represent the cutting edge of quartz time keeping and would make the Signature’s even more special than a highly finished watch because in reality, anyone can make a highly finished watch if they are willing to pay enough, but not everyone has the same investment in quartz time keeping calibers as Citizen.

Dimensions

Crystal -- 33mm
Bezel -- 43mm
Case -- 43mm
Case with crown -- 48mm
Lug width -- 23mm
Lug to Lug -- 49mm
Thickness -- 13.5mm
Weight -- 178g

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