Orient Place

Orient Place

Sunday 24 December 2023

Farewell 2023, hello 2024!

Another year is ending, and 2024 is just around the corner. In what has become a tradition here on Orient Place blog, it is time for our annual summary post!

First, a retrospective look at this year's releases. To be honest, we saw nothing particularly revolutionary or surprising; however, the same can be said for the entire watchmaking industry, so Orient is not exceptional in this sense.

Yet, while the brand seemed more focused on expanding its online stores across global markets, it did introduce some decent models. Particularly in the higher end of the Orient Star range, in the "M collection", we saw a number of attractive designs. Still, somehow my yearly podium ended up housing three less flamboyant models.

In third place, representing nothing more than my personal, totally subjective selection, is the M34 Avantgarde F8 Skeleton. It ain't the prettiest watch the brand ever made, but as far as sharp-edged industrial designs go, this one checks all the boxes. Add the new F8F64 caliber that brings Orient's silicon escapement to the masses (well, more masses than the $3K 70 hour version…) and you get a very interesting watch with a properly modern movement.

The second place in my opinion goes to the much talked about Mako 40. A more than capable watch that's highly wearable and offers a very compelling package; plenty of value for money and a good new size for a modern diver. If only it wasn't for that weird issue with the minute markers (which new production runs have probably gotten fixed by now), and if the crown was a little bigger and offered finer operation, this model would have been perfect, and a first place winner. As it is, it's a close runner-up.

My winner for top Orient of 2023 is perhaps a little unexpected – it is a watch that did not cause much of a stir, and while I don't have the numbers I can safely assume it wasn't the biggest seller in the Orient Star range. But forget all comparisons and judge it by its own merits: a perfectly sized sports/dive watch with cool, vintage-inspired looks, good specs, lightweight titanium case and bracelet, high-quality yet subtle finishing: the latest version of the 1964 2nd edition diver really works as a coherent design, and perhaps the brand's most solid and versatile new watch.

While Orient's new releases may not have been super-exciting, some of the old models I added to my collection in 2023 were actually very cool and satisfying.

The M-Force Delta was definitely the big winner this year, and became my go-to watch for when some tough labor (or looks) were required – it is as beautiful as it is bold. The Retro-Future Bicycle watch too proved to be a most satisfying find.

The Weekly Auto AAA with its fluted bezel may seem the more mundane of the lot, but it too has its charm, and plenty of nice little details. And then there was the Fineness, with its deceivingly simple looks – perhaps a bit too small and delicate for daily wear, but its history and subtle sophistication make it a lovely addition to the collection.

Last but not least is the very unusual Orient Star "Sky Sports" World Timer. No, you haven't read about this one on the blog yet… I should give it some more wrist time, hoping to post a review in January.

My previous year-end post, twelve months ago, concluded with four wishes – of which Orient did deliver on one (making the brand's online stores accessible in global markets), but did not see eye to eye with my other wishes (specifically for a new 300m diver, and a new GMT movement).

So let me repeat those wishes for 2024, and of course – also wish all blog readers and followers, their families and friends, a happy holiday season, and a peaceful and prosperous new year!

Thursday 7 December 2023

The "Planet Orient"

Planet Orient was the nickname for a series of sporty watches released by Orient in the late 2000s, sold around 2008-2012. These became quite popular, having something of a cult following to this day. A good reason to borrow my friend B. B.'s Planet Orient for a few days, and check out what made this watch so special.

But first, as usual, a bit of history. Where does this model get its planetary name? It certainly does not feature any map or earth-like elements. The reason lies elsewhere…

In 2005, Omega launched a new line of watches, the Seamaster Planet Ocean. The first Planet Oceans had a black or orange bezel, but it was the orange version that caught most of the attention. Orange became known as the Planet Ocean color, despite being nearly invisible on some of the models.

So, when a few years later Orient released its own line of watches having orange elements (some more, some less), it was naturally given the unofficial name, "Planet Orient". And just like its Omega spiritual father, it did not really matter that most versions had very little orange in them.

Orient introduced six variants of the model (note that as always with Orient, models starting with FM can be found as FFM or CFM, too).

·         Reference FM00001B with a black bezel insert, black dial, and steel bracelet.

·         Ref. FM00002B with an orange bezel insert, black dial, and steel bracelet.

·         Ref. FM00001S with a black bezel insert, "tuxedo dial" (black and white), and steel bracelet.

·         Ref. FM00003B with an orange bezel insert, black dial, and black leather strap.

·         Ref. FM00004W with a silver bezel insert, white dial, and brown leather strap.

·         Ref. FM00005D with a dark blue insert, dark blue dial, and brown leather strap.

The model I got my hands on for this review is the most orange of the lot, and therefore also the most sought-after: the orange bezel FM00002B. While over a decade old, its owner did not actually wear it much, and the watch is really in very fine condition, so I could review it as if it were new.

The watch stands out immediately with its rugged appearance. The visual impact is made by both the chunky case, and the massive-looking five-link steel bracelet. The playfulness of the orange bezel does not detract from this impression – it just makes it sportier.

The actual dimensions of the watch are not as intimidating as its initial appearance may imply, or as the advertised 44.5mm width may suggest. That is actually the dimension including the crown guard. Without the guard, the case (and bezel) width is 43.2mm, which is still not small but also not unusually large. 

Lug-to-lug, the Planet Orient is a reasonably 49mm long. Lug width is 24mm, but the integrated bracelet then tapers to a comfortable 20mm. The whole thing weighs about 180g.

While not a small watch by any means, it is perfectly comfortable to wear. The bracelet works well here, both visually and practically. It flows nicely from the drilled lugs, hugs the wrist well, and from a design perspective matches the angles of the case and grooves of the bezel.

The bracelet is very good quality, and provides a good counterweight to the case itself. With no hair pulling, an elaborate finishing, and solid end-links, it is a step above standard Mako bracelets – and indeed, when released, the Planet Orient was positioned – and priced – above the basic divers, closer to the M-Force. The clasp however, is more standard, similar to the Mako bracelet.

The case itself is well made and shaped less conventionally than, say, the aforementioned Mako. There's use of polished and subtly brushed surfaces, as in the bracelet, and the angular design makes it more interesting.

The bezel does rotate, however it is not as grippy as on typical dive watches – and indeed it is not a diver bezel. It feels quite tough and reassuring though as it moves through its 60 clicks.

Looking more closely at the dial, one can appreciate again how this watch is above the brand's entry level. The markers are big and very three-dimensional. The various sections and sub-dials are clearly separated and somehow – in what is an Orient expertise in my opinion – create a pleasingly balanced and uncluttered layout.

All these components work together to produce a very legible watch face. I must admit I usually prefer a date window to a pointer, but the date sub-dial here is large compared to some other Orient models, so reading it is relatively easy.

Lume is pretty good too – it's not particularly long-lasting, but the sheer amount of it makes night-time legibility more than decent. There's even a little bit of lume on the power-reserve needle.

You might wonder then why, with the bezel, lume, and even a screw-down crown, this watch was not designated as a dive watch, and was only rated to 100m. This is probably more due to product management considerations by the brand than any technical limitation.

The caseback provides a glimpse of the movement, Orient's automatic caliber 46U40. This one does not feature hacking or hand-winding, but like all Caliber 46 variants it is a very reliable and resilient movement. It's even nicely decorated.

All in all, it's easy to see why people liked this watch. It has a very distinctive look and just the right amount of Orient quirkiness, but not too much; it's built like a tank; and it was very reasonably priced – still is, if you can find one, a fairly doable task.

Indeed the chunky design is not for everyone, nor is the size, and it is still not as robust as an M-Force, contemporary models of which featured sapphire crystal, better shock resistance, and true dive-watch specifications. However, for those who like the style of the Planet Orient, that is indeed a very lovely piece to own.


Sunday 19 November 2023

Orients With Yellow Dials

A watch with a yellow dial. How does that make you feel? Clearly, not a color for every occasion – and not one for every watch. Which is why yellow is far from being the most popular or trendy shade of dials. But, put it on a sports watch and suddenly it fits.

Yellow is bright. It has to be; there is no dark yellow, really. Yellow conveys a sense of energy, zest, and liveliness. It reminds us of the warmth of the Sun. It makes us think of bananas, that provide us vitamins and minerals.

Orient was never shy of dishing out yellow versions of its watches, particularly divers – but not just. Today, however, you can browse the brand's entire range of models currently in production, and you won't find a single yellow piece.

I'm not talking about muted yellow dials that are really crème or beige. Yes, you have some watches with a little splash of yellow here and there, but I'm not talking about any of those either. I'm talking about a properly bright, unashamedly yellow dial.

Let's take a look at some past yellow models from the brand.

Perhaps the most celebrated yellow watch from Orient was the 300m Saturation Diver, shown here in Orient Star guise alongside its little brother, the 200m Air Diver, aka "Revolver".

Orient released the yellow Orient Star Saturation Diver in both the 1st and 2nd generation of the watch, as references WZ0271FD and WZ0191EL. It also released the yellow Revolver with both a steel bracelet and a rubber band, as references WZ0391FD and WZ0371FD, respectively.

Another famed lineage of sports watches from Orient was (and still is) the M-Force. Many past generations bearing this name had proper yellow dial versions. Such as the EX04 shown above – or the two versions seen below, belonging to the EX07 family (on the left) and the EL family (on the right, very similar to the Revolver).

Yellow also popped up on various other product lines from time to time. Below you can see some random examples of that: a yellow semi-skeleton model; a Racer; and one of the early divers preceding the Mako.

By the way, you might be wondering why that Racer looks so similar to the EX01 M-Force, and you would be absolutely right – it is in fact a re-branded M-Force! Why and how this happened is the topic for another story…

Orient also applied yellow to its uniquely sporty yet elegant Somes series, in the form of reference WZ0051FR, seen above. You can check out my old review of the black-dial variant of this watch to see what a huge difference this color makes.

Last but not least is the yellow Mako below. Orient released this baby in 2014, to mark the 10th anniversary of the popular diver.

This makes one think… 2024 is coming up and it will soon be the Mako's 20th anniversary. I wonder if we are going to see a new yellow Mako next year, either the 42mm or the newer 40mm version…?

What other current production model would you like to see Orient fire up with yellow? 

Pictures that appear in this post were taken from old Orient catalogs and sale ads. Pictures of the 10th anniversary Mako are from Monochrome Watches. The Yellow Mako 40 is, of course, a mock-up prepared by the blog.

Thursday 2 November 2023

The Weekly Auto Orient AAA

This will not be the first "AAA" covered on the blog. I've already posted a story about the Orient AAA Deluxe a while back. This time though, I felt like going for something more classic-looking, and whereas that DXO was quite distinctively Japanese, the model I'm looking at now is clearly influenced by Swiss designs.

More specifically – the influence of the Rolex Day-Date. That iconic watch – the first to display the full day of the week along with the date – was introduced in 1956, and by the mid-1960s when this AAA was produced, its design had already become an object of admiration and source of inspiration for watch designers worldwide.

This AAA, while clearly not a "replica" and having a fairly distinct and more simple-looking dial, displays such clear day-date elements, like the fluted bezel, cyclops, and of course – the combined day and date display.

At the time Orient released numerous versions of the Weekly Auto, differing in jewel count (generally ranging between 19-25, with some rare models going as high as 30) and in their dial layout – with a few featuring the arched day window (like the Rolex) while others having a rectangular window.

This particular piece I'm holding is the 21 jewel, rectangular day type. I do like that it's quite different from my other Weekly Auto (which is the King Diver with the arched window) and as mentioned, also different from my other AAA.

The hands on this watch seem a bit short, as both minute and second hands do not reach the hours markers. I was wondering if the hands were possibly replaced at some point; however, I did see numerous photos of weekly auto's with a similar set of hands (as well as variants with longer hands). So possibly this is original. 

Also, while lumed hands often got replaced when the paint degraded, these watches generally had simple metal hands with no paint, so hands rarely needed a change. And this watch is generally in excellent condition – the case is nicely kept, the dial is clean and the crystal and cyclops without any visible scratches – so the hands should not have been damaged.

Indeed upon close inspection one can appreciate the nicely brushed dial, well-polished markers and aperture frames. While lacking the more intricate design elements of the Deluxe (like more elaborate marker design and matching hands), it's still a handsome watch.

The fluted bezel was first used by Rolex on their cushion-case Oyster in 1926, but it received its familiar iconic shape when it got attached to the round case of the Datejust in 1945. It adds sparkle and elegance to the watch, even if it is not made of gold…  

The cyclops too was a Rolex novelty, just another one of their numerous inventions in the prolific 1950s. What is it about this little extra piece of crystal that goes so well with fluted bezels, I don't know. Perhaps we just got used to this combination so much. Anyway it's a nice addition. It's hard to estimate its magnification here, but it helps to read the date. As for the weekday, you'll have to wear your glasses.

Then there's the beads of rice bracelet, another key component of this model's style, though not actually a day-date thing; while Rolex did use some BoR bracelets in the 1940s, it later adopted its self-designed Jubilee bracelet instead. BoR did remain a favorite of other top-tier brands looking for an elegant alternative to Milanese bracelets.

The BoR bracelet here (Orient's original) is of the quite common 7-link type, with the broad outer links. It is a very comfortable bracelet, and visually makes a perfect match for the bezel. Quality is more than adequate and it does not pull any hair.

Let's look at dimensions. The case width is 38mm without the crown, and lug to lug it is 45mm. That's a perfect size of a dress watch even by today's standards. It's also larger than older Weekly Auto AAAs that had a 37mm wide, 43mm long case. And maybe that even holds an explanation to the short hands.

All in all, a very nice watch. In typical Orient manner (and indeed like other Japanese brands), the brand paid homage to a design that became popular in Europe a few years earlier, but while doing so it added some of its own distinctive styling. Despite all Rolex elements, the dial is still very "Orient" with the logo, AAA and tristar symbol, and of course – the push-button for changing the date.

Prices for Weekly Auto AAAs today generally go between 200 to 400 USD, depending on condition. A watch in good condition, with clean dial, original crystal with cyclops, and original bracelet, would probably go for closer to the upper end of the range.


Sunday 15 October 2023

Orient Mexican

In 1970 Orient presented the Jaguar Focus dial, its own contribution to the growing global trend of colorful watches. A couple of years had passed and someone over at Orient's design department obviously figured that simple gradient painting was not enough, and came up with the Mexican Focus dial, or simply – "Mexican".

Why was it called Mexican? I've seen a few theories. The most probable one is that Orient used colorful Mother-of-Pearl that was made to resemble Mexican Opal, a shiny and vibrant gemstone that can in its top form be very expensive (way more than MoP). Another theory, is that was simply made from Mexican MoP, which can be produced from the Pinctada Mazatlanica oyster.

I actually found references to both theories in descriptions of Orient Mexican models… Anyway, here is the first Orient Chronoace Mexican model from 1972, along with some Mexican MoP and some Mexican Opals. You can make up your own mind on this question. Maybe it's just Mopal…

Whether the intention was to resemble opal or simply to boast the natural beauty of mother-of-pearl itself, the material used was certainly MoP.

A few words on this substance perhaps… Mother-of-Pearl is the iridescent lining of the inner shell of some mollusks. When a foreign substance, such as a grain of sand, gets inside the mollusk's shell, it can be an irritant. To protect itself, the mollusk secretes a smooth, crystalline substance called nacre around the irritant. Over time, as layers of nacre are added, a pearl can form. The inner shell, which is lined with this same nacre, acts as a kind of "mother" to the pearl. Thus, the name "Mother-of-Pearl" suggests that this material is the source or "mother" from which pearls are born.

Most Mexican models were Chronoace, that is – day-date models equipped with variants of Orient's caliber 42. The most popular dial colors were green and blue; some models also featured silvery dials, and a few dials showed a bit of purple and violet.

In addition to the Chronoace, which was generally a men's watch, Orient produced ladies' Mexican models as well. Such were the Mexican Minimatic, Chamade and Selene.

Watches boasting the "Mexican" dial were priced considerably higher than their standard counterparts. For instance – A Chronoace costing around 17,000 JPY at the time, would have been closer to 22,000 JPY with a Mexican dial.

The same was true for the ladies' watches. A Mexican Minimatic would have cost 15,000 JPY compared to a similar regular Minimatic costing 12,000 JPY. A similar 3,000 JPY premium would have been charged for Mexican versions of the Chamade and Selene models.

There was even a top-of-the-line Chronoace that combined a non-scratch case and MoP dial (you can see its picture in the related article). I'm not sure what price tag was attached to this baby, but it must have been quite high!

I have also seen other watches being referred to as "Mexican" in sale ads and posts.  For instance, I saw "Orient Crystal Mexican" and "AAA Mexican". However, I did not see any official catalogs that used that verbiage, which leads me to think that possibly, some sellers have adopted the term "Mexican" to any vintage Orient with a MoP dial.

Indeed MoP remains a popular material for Orient in adorning some of its high-end models, like some recent Orient Star releases. Needless to say, not all that glitters is Mexican!


Thursday 28 September 2023

Comparing the Mako 40 to Citizen's Promaster

Before wrapping up my time with the Mako 40 and returning it to Orient, I thought it might be interesting to see how it fares against a comparable dive watch, at a similar price range, from a different Japanese brand. Enter the Citizen Promaster!

Specifically, I'm looking at the Godzilla limited edition, ref. NY0080-21z. I picked it from my personal collection, and as it is of the older, 42mm case models, which are closer in size to the Mako. Note that newer Promaster automatic divers (NY015x series) look very similar but have a 44mm case.

Despite the wider case on paper, the two watches are very similar in how they are worn. The Mako is slightly shorter at 46.5mm lug to lug, compared to the Citizen's 47.5mm, both are about the same 12.8mm thickness and same lug width of 20mm.

Visually the Promaster looks a bit smaller than its 42mm, as the bezel is slightly narrower than the case; likewise the Mako looks a little bigger than its 40mm width, thanks to the visual impact of the steel bezel, and the greater volume occupied by its lugs – compared to the Citizen's.

In terms of styling, the two watches take quite a different approach to the dive concept. The Orient has more flat surfaces and a simpler design language. With its rectangular markers and hands, and raw steel bezel, it looks like a tool watch first, and a diver second. The Citizen is more rounded, like a pebble, and includes some more elaborate shapes among its hands and markers (and I'll ignore the Godzilla dial for now…)

Personally, I do like the Mako style, and particularly the finishing, a bit more. I find Orient's choices of where to have it brushed and where polish the case bright, quite appreciable.

Technically, too, there are some clear differences between the watches. The crown of the Citizen is easier to handle – it is bigger and screws / unscrews more smoothly; on the other hand, it is left-sided, which makes setting the time a little confusing (I hold it upside down for that purpose), and while setting the time is smooth, changing the day and date feel a little plasticky compared to the Mako. It's kind of a draw here, really.

The Mako has a sapphire crystal, while this Promaster uses mineral crystal. I believe the new 44mm Promasters use sapphire as well, as do some Fugu versions of the older 42mm Promasters, but here's it mineral.

Legibility is very similar; both watches stick to the dive watch dial rulebook that dictates large, lumed indices and hands. There's no clear winner here, they're both really good. However, for those who care about diving functionality, the lumed pip on the Citizen bezel might gain an extra point.

On the subject of diving, note that while the Orient is just a "diver style" watch, as Orient puts it, the Citizen is a true diver with 200m rating. This difference is also apparent in the brand's choice of bands. While both watchmakers offer steel bracelets for these models, Orient's other strap of choice for the Mako 40 is leather – while Citizen's is a rubber band. Mind you, I found the Citizen rubber to be too tough and uncomfortable, so I switched it to an Uncle strap. I did not try Orient's rubber with the likes of Kamasu and Mako 42, but the rubber on both OS Diver and M-Force is considerably better than the Promaster's.

Bezel action on the Citizen requires less force than the Orient's but is equally accurate with very little backplay. I guess those who just like to fiddle with the bezel would prefer the Promaster, while those who seek a very secure bezel would prefer the Mako – despite this possibly going against their diver/non-diver orientations.

In terms of accuracy, my Mako measured +11 s/d deviation – while the Citizen does -3 s/d. Better accuracy from the Citizen 8204 then, however, many would prefer a watch running slightly faster than slower. The Orient movement's overall better specs (+25/-15 vs. +40/-20) indicates it might also be easier to regulate to higher accuracy.

So these are both pretty good watches for their 300-400 USD range, with different but comparable specs and characteristics. I admit to liking the Mako styling better (though I like the Godzilla dial on this particular limited edition Promaster). I feel like while objectively the Citizen might have the slightly upper hand in technical specs, somehow it's the Orient that gives a tougher and more capable impression. I do believe the objective differences are small enough to justify whichever of the two you subjectively prefer.


Wednesday 13 September 2023

New Bambinos

Last week Orient got us excited with the flashy new "M Collection" of high-end Orient Star watches, now it's back to basics – and nothing is more basic (in a good way, like T-shirt and jeans) than a Bambino.

First, there's a new model – though with a familiar movement. The "Bambino Sun and Moon" is a new variation on Orient's well-known (and likeable) adaptation of the "24 hour sub-dial" concept.

This model is larger than most Bambinos but smaller than the V4, having a 41.5mm wide case. It's also smaller than the classic sun-and-moon that comes at 42.5mm. Other dimensions are 47mm lug to lug, 14.2mm thickness, and 21mm lug width.

The crystal here is mineral glass – unlike the sapphire used for the classic model. It also comes with a simple buckle, unlike the three-fold one in the classic model. Water resistance is 3atm. These are all standard Bambino features – part of the model's charm (and relatively low price).

Four references were announced today:

·         RA-AK0801S with a rose-gold color case and markers, and white dial (also available as JDM ref. RN-AK0801S, limited to 500 units)

·         RA-AK0802S with a steel case and white dial

·         RA-AK0803Y with a steel case and ivory dial (also available as JDM ref. RN-AK0803Y)

·         RA-AK0804Y with a steel case and brown dial

All references come with a matching leather strap, and feature a transparent case-back where you can see the F6B24 automatic movement. Price is around 340 USD, which is higher than most Bambinos – but lower than Orient's other automatic sun-and-moon models.

In addition, Orient also present some new dial color options for the 38mm Bambino. Whereas the first batch of this watch included classic dress-watch colors (white, black and ivory) the newly announced variants are more vibrant and warm hues.

The new references are RA-AC0M05G (cream-yellow dial), RA-AC0M06L (light blue), RA-AC0M07N (dove grey – a kind of warm beige-grey shade), and RA-AC0M08Y (copper). These are all limited to 360 pieces, for some reason; there are also equivalent JDM models with similar colors, each limited to 30 pieces and exclusive to Orient's online store.

The models all come with a grey nubuck leather strap. They are technically identical (and similarly priced) to the previous 38mm Bambino.