Orient Place

Orient Place

Thursday 27 June 2024

Orient's Complicated Dials

What does a watch brand do if it wishes to present to compete with higher-end watchmakers but it does not have the capacity to produce high-complication movements? What can it do to attract the more sophisticated buyers, who are looking for elaborate designs?

One way to go is, make the watches look more complicated than they actually are – and where a watch is made that does contain some level of fancy technical intricacy, emphasize it as much as possible. And this, Orient always knew how to do.

First of all, let me return to my thesis, which I first mentioned when discussing multi-year calendars, which date back to the 1960s. Back then, decades before the arrival of the smartphone, the wristwatch was the most advanced (and often, the only) piece of technology a person would carry around. The watch was not only functional as a time-telling device, it was the only item one could show off anywhere or fiddle with at times of boredom. Making it complicated, then, made sense.

Indeed, the multi-year calendar presented Orient's busiest-looking dial at the time. Showing a full month calendar, a year disc, the date, and, of course, time, owners had plenty to keep them interested.

Another great way to add interest (and visual heft) to a watch dial, is a World Time complication. A world timer bezel, with names of cities from all time zones, can become a pretty dominant part of a dial – particularly when coupled with a 24-hour track, as is not always – but often – the case.

Since the early 2000s, Orient also often included numerous sub-dials with its world time / GMT models – e.g. for the date, seconds, and power reserve – adding to the impression of a very sophisticated product.

Speaking of sub-dials, that is also a proven method of complicating things, in a good way. Add a small-seconds sub dial (instead of a central second hand), a power reserve etc., and you got yourself a smart-looking dial. Even if the sub-dials don't really add much information, they give the impression that they do.

And indeed, even the humble Bambino can benefit from an upgrade to its plain dial! Or does it?... many would prefer the basic, yet elegant, dress-watch design.

And then, of course, is the skeleton – particularly the semi-skeleton approach, which Orient so often uses. In its simplest, "open heart" form, it adds a bit of technical flair to otherwise standard dial layouts; but other times, it can be turned into a much more elaborate element and become the focus of the watch design.

Orient has indeed often did just that: while relatively limited in its ability to produce highly complicated movements, the brand's designers often excelled in delivering very imaginative expressions of time-telling, in watches like its "retro-future" series, or more recently the avant-garde skeletons.

Luckily, I'm fond of the Orient design philosophy. While I have much appreciation to a well-executed time-only dress watch, I find a busy watch dial to be entertaining – and when properly done, also very aesthetic.

And how about you…?

The pictures of the Avant-Garde skeletons and Bambino variants that appear in this post were taken from Orient catalogs. Other pictures that appear in this post are copyright of the blog. 

Sunday 9 June 2024

Traveling With… An Orient

We often talk about watches being rugged and capable of surviving the rough outdoors, beyond the office doors and the neon lights under which they look so nice and clean. In my reviews, too, I often take note of features such as water and shock resistance, as well as suitable appearances (I think a little gold dress watch would look very much out of place, getting beaten up and soaked in some river, even if technically it would not be damaged).

To make this a little less theoretical, today's blog post is about my experiences with Orients in the wild. Once again, it's the M-Force models that take up center stage, but whereas my recent post about them was a bit academic, this time, we'll be taking a deep dive into the real world.

The first Orient to accompany me on my journeys was the EX00. I was about to go on a two-week trip in the Pacific Northwest and was looking for a watch that would be sporty, tough, yet comfortable. An ad by a familiar seller caught my eye. This first-generation M-Force, with its titanium lightweight case, seemed right for the job.

And it was! The EX00 was almost 20 years old at the time, which is not old at all for this type of watch. The convenience of titanium made it a perfect companion for this relatively long journey. And while the region – particularly in the mountains – generally has a cool climate, it was still summer (Seattle in particular was scorching on the day I visited there!) so the cool feel of this metal was also appreciated.

In the pictures above, by the way, are Mount Rainier and Smith Rock State Park. These are just two of many spots making the PNW trip memorable.

Jumping a few years forward, when planning a trip to Iceland in 2021 I already had bought the then-new 3rd generation M-Force, and had gotten used to (and even grown fond of) its bulky crown guard. Being perfectly comfortable on the rubber band and seemingly more robust than the old 1st generation model, I chose it as my wrist partner for the trip.

To be honest, by that time I was already thinking of the older M-Force as "vintage". With its non-sapphire crystal (and particularly the easy-to-scratch cyclops), I wanted to keep it safe. I was planning some hikes in Iceland, and not knowing exactly what to expect on the remote island, going for sapphire and a newer case construction seemed to make sense.

Plus, to be honest, despite getting used to its design – I still felt I'd rather get the newer watch scratched than the old one (or any of my other dive/tool watches)…

The pictures above are of Vestdalsfossar waterfall and Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. It is honestly impossible to pick photos from a trip around Iceland. The picture with the watch, of course, was taken at the famous Reynisfjara beach.               

The newer M-Force was also my watch of choice for a shorter trip to Spain. More driving was planned than hiking this time; however, I always find the time for a short (or not so short) walk in the outdoors, so a watch that's ready for anything that might come its way is always a good thing.

The photo shows the lovely view of Málaga as seen from the Mirador de Pocopán. It is an easy 5 km hike with a surprisingly steep and slippery slope to the viewpoint…

Meanwhile, the 2nd generation "Beast" arrived. Possibly the toughest and boldest of the lot, this one also has two critical features: it's the heaviest of the lot, and – my favorite, design-wise. The combination of heft and not wanting to get it scratched or banged, means I don't usually take it on long journeys.

I do still take it, occasionally, on short trips close to home…

For the next trips, I went back to the 3rd gen M-Force. In Norway, this choice made sense. I arrived in October, intentionally aiming for the end of the tourist season. The timing earned me beautiful views of trees in fall, and much less crowded viewpoints over the fjords.

It's a risky affair, of course, as I did had to cancel one planned trip due to road closure (granting me instead a trip through the 25 km of the longest road tunnel in the world, Lærdalstunnelen, also a kind of experience). And I did find myself on a road that began to freeze with snow, forcing me to stop and wait for a little sunshine.

This also became my rainiest trip – though I was preparing for it. As I drove further away from Bergen, things got better, but I still found myself on some very slippery trails – one of which I just had to abort two-thirds of the way to the top, as things got too muddy. That was definitely a time when having a waterproof watch with decent case protection proved to be effective, as on some parts of the path I had to use my hands to climb safely.

Pictured below, a small stream just off the amazingly scenic road to Geiranger, and a place near Fjærlandsfjorden where I'd honestly be happy to retire to, one day... I must admit that among all the beautiful countries I have visited, I found Norway to be the true beauty queen.

A good place to wrap up this story would be the Faroe Islands. Going to this usually cloudy, often foggy location, with plenty of hikes and the memory of skiddy Norwegian paths in mind, I again went for the newer M-Force, now becoming sort of a habit – my go-to watch for remote trips.

The islands proved to be less rainy than I feared; indeed, I arrived in late May (yes, just a couple of weeks ago) relying on statistics showing this was actually the least rainy time of year, despite July – September being warmer. I really don't mind the cold.

Throughout the week I spent on these beautiful, calm – almost dreamy – islands, I encountered one really rainy day, five days that were cloudy but mostly dry during the day, and surprisingly – one day of sunshine and blue sky. As you can see above, in these two pictures taken near Norðradalur. 

Wednesday 5 June 2024

38 mm Small Seconds Bambino, Now in Japan

A couple of months ago we reported the announcement of Orient's new small-seconds Bambino in the smaller 38mm case. It was one of those rare occasions where a new model is presented as a world-wide release before it is announced in Japan.

Now finally, we're getting the Japan versions release, and as often is the case – with a few differences in the range of variations.

First off, three identical models are:

·         RN-AP0101B (same as RA-AP0101B) with a black and silver "tuxedo" dial and black leather strap;

·         RN-AP0104S (same as RA-AP0104S) with an all-silver dial and black strap;

·         RN-AP0105Y (same as RA-AP0105Y) with an ivory dial, and a brown leather strap.

The gold plated model (RA-AP0106S) was dropped from this release.

Perhaps more interesting are the two new models, and – anyone following Orient's announcements closely could have guessed that if the first batch had a gap in a reference numbers, it would be filled on the next batch. And indeed, it is:

·         RN-AP0102E with a dark green dial and gold-toned markers, on a brown leather strap;

·         RN-AP0103L with a light greyish-blue dial and black strap.

The new green and blue models are not limited in numbers, but are exclusive to Orient's online store. Other than that, all models are technically identical to the global versions.

Now that all models are on the Orient Japan website, we can compare prices too – and see that these small-second models are officially about 5% higher than the regular (center seconds) Bambino.


Sunday 26 May 2024

Cyclopes, and Where to Find Them

The "cyclops" is a magnifying lens, typically placed over the date window of a watch, intended to make the date more legible. The concept was invented by Rolex and was used for the first time with the 1953 Datejust. In the years that followed it was gradually adopted by other brands.

Orient started using cyclopes (which is the proper plural form of cyclops) in 1961, which makes sense as that is when the brand's first watches that featured a date wheel were introduced.

The first two models equipped with a cyclops where the "Lucky Calendar", and the Grand Prix Calendar. Later, in 1963, Orient also added a cyclops to some of its Olympia Orient Weekly models.

Over the years, Orient would occasionally add cyclops to certain models. While the brand never seemed to maintain a consistent, long-term approach to the use of this contraption, it did implement it regularly throughout the production of its "Rolex President" homages, both the day-date and the datejust variants. That too makes sense, considering these watches were the origin of the cyclops.

On a few rare occasions, Orient even placed a cyclops over both the date and the day, in cases where the two shared an aperture, or were placed adjacently. Such were the Orient Fineness, as well as certain models of the Chronoace, including a few "College" and "Racer" versions. A few of the 1970s

Note that the vast majority of Chronoace watches did not feature a cyclops, so a flat crystal is what you're likely to find when shopping for these.

A few "AAA" King Divers also featured the combined day and date magnification. You can see a few examples here.

Here are a few examples of how effective the magnification is; as you can see in the close-up photos of the Fineness above, and the Weekly Auto Orient AAA and M-Force below.

Note that only the early 1997-8 M-Force models featured a cyclops; later models did not. Keep in mind the first generation of this watch did not use sapphire crystal, and the lens protruding from the mineral glass was prone to scratches, particularly with a watch that's intended for rough use. So perhaps that's why Orient dropped the cyclops.

On one particular occasion, Orient started making a line of watches with the Cyclops, and then – removed it… this was the 2010 "Star Seeker" GMT line.

The first references of this model (WZ0011DJ, WZ0021DJ, WZ0031DJ) were introduced with a cyclops; after one year of production, Orient replaced them with new references (WZ0041DJ and WZ0051DJ) that did not feature a cyclops. Both early and later versions had a sapphire crystal. Why did Orient do that? Was it to simplify production? Was it a design decision? Who knows.

However, the change definitely helps to observe just how effective the magnification is. See how much clearer the date appears in the earlier model (on the right-hand side of the image).

These are, of course, just a few examples. You will be able to find other Orients equipped with a date magnifier, particularly among older watches.

But, despite the usefulness of the cyclops, especially in watches intended for older customers (such as the president homages were, indeed), Orient's current line up does not include a single watch featuring this lens.

Personally, I would have loved to see a cyclops on the 38mm Bambino, for instance, or the Orient Star Classic. What do you think?


The picture of the M-Force, AAA, and Fineness that appear in this post are copyright of the blog. Other pictures that appear in this post were taken from various Orient catalogs and sale ads. 

Sunday 5 May 2024

Orients with Stone Cases

If you go looking for vintage Orients, particularly Chronoace models, you would occasionally come across unique pieces where the case appears to be made of stone or marble. What are these? And why would anyone manufacture a watch case out of stone?

First of all, a stone case actually has its advantages. An obvious one would be aesthetics. Check out the pictures, and you'll see some of these are truly beautiful. Stone (or marble, or other similar materials) has a very different appearance from metal, of course. You get different textures and colors, and these provide a perfect match to some Chronoace versions like the Mexican and Jaguar Focus dials.

Some of these watches likely made use of reconstituted rock, where the raw material is ground to fine grains and then glued back together using resin. This allows for the addition of colors and a more consistent look, while still maintaining much of the character of stone.

Stone is generally also lighter than steel, though not by much. If you examine how these cases are constructed, you'll see the back of the case is made of steel – only the top material is different. Of course the movement itself also stays the same. So the difference in weight here is probably quite negligible.

While some stones are softer than steel, using marble or reconstituted stone can actually provide better scratch resistance. And where a more natural finish is left, the stone would also camouflage any scratches more effectively.

There are more reasons for not producing watch cases out of stone. The material itself is less durable and more fragile than steel. And then the manufacturing process isn’t just more expensive than working with metal, it is also quite different. A production line that is built around casting and finishing steel isn’t easily transformed into working with rocks.

Now, these kinds of watches were clearly not made in large quantities, and very likely not even produced in Orient’s main manufacturing facilities. It is not clear whether they were marketed as original Orients at all, or whether they were some kind of an aftermarket product.

I could find any original Orient catalogs featuring stone-case Chronoaces. I did, however, note such watches that were sold as new, i.e., these weren’t mods added on top of a used watch. Therefore, the rocky Chronoace watches were either some special editions by Orient, or custom made by Orient dealers or local Jewelers.

So, while verifying the authenticity of such items nowadays is hard, I can say that at least most of the ones that I saw that had the specialty Chronoace dials (again, Mexican, Focus etc.) seem to have all the right parts – case backs, movement, dial etc. Others, particularly ones where the dial is not a typical Chronoace one, would warrant caution.


The pictures that appear in this post were taken from various sale ads.


Thursday 18 April 2024

Orient Place Blog's 6th Anniversary

So, we pulled through and made it to another anniversary – the blog's sixth! And as I like to do on this annual event, it's high time for some stats and thoughts.

Let's start with the stats, shall we?

The blog website itself, has had more than 182,000 views in the past twelve months – an increase of about 29%, almost twice last year's growth in percents (and much more, in absolute numbers)! Pretty impressive, isn't it. Looks like people's interest in Orient is still growing – or that more of them have discovered this blog. Or both.

Thirty two (32) stories were posted on the blog during this time, about the same volume as in previous years. This includes five reviews of new or older modern models, a couple of vintage model reviews, three articles related to Orient's old calibers, nine new watch announcements (most covering more than a single new model), and the rest discussing various other topics.

The most popular stories during this time were our coverage of the release of New Diver and Classic Models From Orient (basically Mako versions and Bambino with sub-dials), Orient Mako 40mm Hands-On Review, and Orient's June Releases: New Bambino V4 and Divers (that also covered the release of the Mako 40).

Together with Comparing the Mako 40 to Citizen's Promaster, articles about the 40mm Mako received more than 9,000 views from direct links – that is, excluding viewers who read those stories when they were fresh at the top of the blog page – definitely making this watch the most interesting new release of the past year. This is despite the odd issue with the minute markers in the early production batches, which has since been fixed.

In Social media, too, the Mako 40 seemed to get most of the attention. The top two most liked photos posted on my Instagram account (which is largely, but not solely, blog-related) were of this piece.

The other three, which completed the top five popular IG posts, actually had little in common. They showed a bunch of Orients against a Rolex catalog, the lovely Orient Star ref. WZ0221ER, and an AI-generated mock-up of some souped-up watches.

Now, some may say that if a fairly conventionally designed diver is the most exciting thing that came from Orient during the last 12 months, they'd be disappointed. I mean, obviously we've seen really lovely new models announced, but they are all at the highest price point of the brand, well above what 99% of Orient customers are looking for.

To be fair, I think most of what fans of the brand would put on their wish list would be high-end too – whether it's a new saturation diver, a new GMT, or anything more innovative than what the basic F6 movements currently provide. Plus, it seems that with its recent enhancement of the range of smaller models (not just the Mako but also Bambino variations), Orient was really listening to its customers.

If we look at last week's Watches & Wonders event in Switzerland, we'd see that this was actually the same trend for almost all other brands – Swiss and others: very few novelties in the accessible range, with innovation mostly focused on the very high end of each brand.

So, no reason to be disappointed really. Let's just hope the brand keeps its VFM and ensures quality is in line with the recent price updates (in truth, I've seen some watch brands do the exact opposite), and maybe come next year's anniversary, there will be more cool stuff to look back on!

Until then, thanks again to all blog followers, here and on the various social media channels, keep following, commenting, and providing feedback!


Sunday 7 April 2024

Orient's "Alpinist"

In 2007, Orient presented a curious model of Orient Star Sports. It looked like a GMT, but it was not. What was it then? Let's dive in and find out.

The most obvious influence that likely pushed forward this design, was the introduction of Seiko's SARB series Alpinist the year before – a watch that became an instant classic (while actually duplicating the brand's own decade-old SCVF series, or "red" Alpinist).

The Alpinist featured an internal compass bezel, rotated using the crown at 4 o'clock – that actually looked more prominent than the main crown, as it was not hiding between crown guards.

Orient's design, albeit quite different and as far away from a copy as possible, takes two key elements from the Seiko: the internal compass bezel, and the crown at four. Hereafter begin the differences.

The model had four versions, which were references WZ0071FE, WZ0081FE, WZ0091FE and – the one I am looking at now for the writing of this review: WZ0101FE. The four differed in their dial color, and in that all but the WZ0101FE came bundled with a steel bracelet, whereas the latter was sold with a leather strap.

Now, I don't usually read a watch's instructions manual unless it is particularly complicated. So when I got this watch I immediately wanted to pull out the crown and set it… so the first surprise was that it's a screw-in crown. Why was that a surprise, I don't know, it just didn't strike me as one; at the time most of Orient's crowns were just pull-out, except for the more expensive models – which this wasn't.

The second surprise was when I tried to rotate the bezel. No crown position or winding direction seemed to do that, so went online to read about the model and found out that indeed the bezel is fixed!

When you think about it, this actually makes sense. Why would you rotate a compass bezel? The angle of the North has nothing to do with the time or the dial. You can just move entire the watch around (never mind that the whole thing is just decorative and carrying an actual compass when you're out and about would probably be a lot more helpful).

But then you think some more and once again, the logic is gone. Because this watch uses Orient's caliber 46P, which drives a 24-hour hand, and was used in some of the brand's earlier GMT watches. And indeed this watch features the 24 hour hand – and its internal bezel, besides the directions of the compass, also shows the 24 hours of the day! This thing really ought to be moving! But it does not.

So I believe we have established that from a functional point of view, this watch is rather silly. I mean, not completely – it does show the time, it is rated to a reasonable 100m of water resistance and it has a front sapphire crystal. But still, there's plenty of silliness to it.

Other than that it is a very nice piece. A 39mm wide barrel case which is practically lugless makes a very wearable watch that would fit most small-to-slightly-larger-than-average wrists. The lug width is 20mm, so changing straps is easy and you can even fit a standard steel bracelet without having to find a suitable end-link.

The dial looks good, and in fact – if you ignore the functional drawbacks, the entire watch is properly handsome. The black and red combo on this reference is sporty and sharp; other variants are a little different, with the white dial version a bit more elegant and the red – maybe more "interesting".

The dial colors are also nicely contrasting, making the watch very legible. The hands and markers have a decent lume too. It's a comfortable watch, then, sufficiently durable and useful. So maybe we were a bit quick to judge its functionality harshly.

As an Orient Star, it is also well made – although the finishing perhaps is not as impressive as most current OS production. The case has radial brushing on top and polished sides, and the overall curvature of it makes it look a little more upscale than it actually is.

The bottom line is this: it is a fine little watch. It looks good and is kind of special. If only that bezel would rotate it would be so much nicer… but still, it is what it is.