Orient Place

Orient Place

Wednesday 31 May 2023

Orient Ana-Digi Models

A few months ago I posted an article here about Orient's digital watches. However, throughout most of its history, Orient stayed true to analog watch designs, even during the 1980s when much of the production went quartz.

Could the two worlds, the digital and the analog, converge? They sure could. A possible driver that accelerated this trend was the introduction of the Breitling B1 in 1998. An heir to the 1985 Aerospace, the B1 added a couple of chronograph-style buttons for a sportier look. Orient, as we know, was never late to pay homage to a successful design.

Orient adopted the Miyota T241 Analog-Digital quartz movement to form the basis for the new watch. The model was identified as a family of references starting with VZ00 (all T241-based models were identified by the VZ movement code).

The T241-based models featured all the goodies one could expect from a digital watch, including perpetual date correction, millisecond stopwatch and count-down, chime, and more.

The design proved a success – while immediately recognizable, it was different enough from the Breitling and its soon-to-arrive cheap copies, and definitely much better built than most lookalikes. And it was smaller than the B1, at 42mm vs 43mm, and lighter.

In a move also quite typical of Orient, it then took the design and evolved it to be less derivative and more unique, giving birth to four more variations, VZ01-VZ04, each of which can be found in a few colorways.

One thing that the T241 lacked was a backlight for its LCD display. Orient could (and did) add lume to the analog hands, but the digital display was thus rendered mostly useless in the dark. This might have been the main reason that Orient introduced a second line of Ana-Digi models, with the GX movement code.

The GX movement was probably also cheaper, having just one digital display instead of the VZ dual display, allowing a lower cost of these new models. It was also generally simpler, for instance only offering a "complete calendar" instead of perpetual – namely, the February month-end date had to be adjusted for leap years. But it did include backlight.

The GX lineage was much shorter than the VZ; admittedly, it was not as attractive. Orient also tried some other designs, but none was as popular as the VZ00, and the further the brand tried to distance its styling from the VZ00's, the less successful it was. In fact, while most of Orient's ana-digi watches remain fairly obscure, the long-discontinued VZ00 remains highly sought after to this day.

Orient's Japan-made lineup does not feature any new analog-digital watches. Yet, some consolation can be found in the production of sibling Orient Brazil.

Pictured above are two of the Brazilian branch Solartech models, featuring a single digital display. This watchmaker also produces Anadigi models under its Neo Sports line, with two LCD displays. As you can expect, these are beefy 45mm watches, not at all bad looking, and fairly hard – though not impossible – to obtain outside Brazil.

Pictures that appear in this post were taken from old Orient catalogs, user manuals, Orient Brazil website, and sale ads.

Sunday 14 May 2023

Orient Star Retro-Future Bicycle Watch

Orient's "Retro-Future" family of models was the subject of not one but two stories I posted here not long ago: an overview article, and a list of references. This owes to the great interest these watches draw among Orient collectors, partly due to their peculiar but mostly attractive designs, and partly as they're just so many of them, so you're always likely to come across a nice one that you haven't seen before, up for sale.

It should therefore come as no surprise that shortly after posting those stories I came across a good looking Orient Star Retro-Future Bicycle – the very first reference WZ0011DK – and obviously, had to get it. And here it is!

Looking at this watch, you can notice both the distinctive, bicycle-themed design elements of the model, and some more unique, reference-specific aspects.

As mentioned in the overview article, the design of this model features a number of nods to bicycle components: the unique tube-like lugs, the bracelet that is reminiscent of bike chains, the dial cut-out resembling the wheel and the seat and chain stays, and other bits and pieces that look like bike parts.

One such piece is the unusual cogwheel, shaped possibly like the chain ring or sprocket (or any other toothed-wheel element in a bicycle, of which there are many!), which functions as a second "hand". A red line is painted on it to show the time, but it has no specific direction… well, it's too small to see anyway. This watch is not intended for people who need to know the exact time.

Other than that, the watch is actually pretty legible, at least considering it has a mostly skeletonized dial. If you just want to know the hour and minute, you're good. Even in low light, the lume is more than decent.

Another thing typical of this Retro Future model is the lefty crown position. Presumably, it makes wearing it with cycling gloves easier. It does feel a little strange at first, when winding the watch and setting the time. Once worn, however, it really makes no difference.

On the wrist this watch is incredibly comfortable. It's not small – 42mm wide, without the crown, some 56mm lug tip to lug tip, and 13mm thick. However, the secret sauce here is the unique lug structure. The lugs slope down sharply, making this model wear more like a 50mm lug-to-lug watch.

Another element contributing to comfort is the bracelet – and I believe this is particularly true of the rubber and steel version attached to this reference (as well as to WZ0081DK and WZ0091DK). The hardened rubber links feel very light – lighter than steel, and at the same time offer more "breathing space" than regular rubber bands. The unique design and comfort make the bracelet a real standout feature of this watch.

The yellow color, specific to this reference, adds much sportiness to the watch. Other versions of the Bicycle have their unique flavors, but the color scheme here is definitely my favorite – along with the matching yellow stripe around the case.

All in all, this is an Orient through and through, with its quirky looks and numerous little details that create a very enjoyable wearing experience. It's well made, and while not every bit here shouts out "Orient Star Quality" (no Zaratsu polishing here, mates!) it is by no means a cheap looking piece.

This takes us to the question of prices. You can find Orient Star Bicycle watches on eBay anywhere between USD 300-800, but dig a little into Japanese online shops, and you can get your hands on one for less than $200.

These are not super-rare watches; however, note that many used ones come with a shortened bracelet and may miss some links. You can get any 20mm aftermarket strap, but it would be a shame to miss on the unique original one. So it's worth waiting a little (or spending a little more) to buy one with the full bracelet, or at least having enough links for your own use.