Sunday, March 19, 2017

Watch Review : Orient Mako II

Today (2017-03-19) I’m going to wax lyrical over my recently acquired divers watch – the Orient Mako II. I will cut to the chase immediately to say that I like it a lot, and think that for the money it is an absolutely fantastic watch, but it also has quite a few niggles that make it less than perfect. Could you live with these? There is quite a lot to say, so get comfortable and let’s begin at the beginning. First, have a good look at it.

 

Face

I think the best place to start here is at the face of the watch. This will also help explain how I decided on this model over the Orient Ray II which I was also considering. The first thing you notice about this watch when you see it, is that it is a very nice dark blue, both the bezel and face. It does come in black, but I really like the blue. The unidirectional rotating bezel is a matt blue, while the face is more reflective and has an eye-catching “sunburst” effect which makes it simultaneously lighter and darker than the bezel. You will find yourself rotating your arm slightly when reading the watch just to see this wonderful sunburst effect move around. It is, in short, beautiful – and I don’t use that word lightly. If you don’t like the blue sunburst effect on the face then I think this is not the watch for you. It really is one of the main features and to my eye is extremely well executed.

The edge of the face has a subtle beveled edge for the minute tick marks, with a slightly heavier tick for the 5 minute (or hour) mark. This is a nice touch – it makes the face less plain with this added topography and the face seem well integrated with the rest of the watch. It does however make the face seem a fraction smaller than it actually is.

Sitting just proud of the face on the chapter ring are the applied indicators. These are painted with white lume, which is a nice green in darkness. I will get into the lume later, but for now, just note that everything that is white on the face also glows green in the dark. If this was not enough, the markers are framed in silver, giving them a very refined look. The 12, 6 and 9 hour markers have the numeric indices, while the other hours (except 3 o’clock) are generous baton styles with a subtle sword tip pointing to the center of the watch. The typeface used for the numerical values is sans-serif and looks modern and pleasing. It does not quite match the typeface on the bezel, but it is close enough that it is not jarring.

At the 3 o’clock position is the day, date window. This is, like the indices and hands, framed in silver and adds to the consistent and refined look. The day/date text is black on white background, with the SUN only being red on white. There is a second language too for the date my model – I don’t use it and I think it is French, I can’t recall.  I really like having the day feature - it has become a "must have" for me. I know that manu watch purists prefer the cleaner design of no date window (and certainly no day), but for me it is just too practical a feature to miss out on. In this case the face is still balanced and it is nicely executed. In general I would prefer the day/date window text colour and background colour to be the same as the face - ie ideally here is should be white text on blue background. It is inverted instead but still looks very good. I find it very easy to read despite not having a cyclops window, the text is very clear and legible.

Next on the tour of the face is the Orient logo and text. The logo is a small but very precisely done crest, with a tiny splash of red to highlight the shield. Under this in all-caps is the makers name, ORIENT. Just below this is the word “Automatic” in small script. Just above the 6 is the text “Water Resist” (again, in script) then “200m”. All of this text is center justified and appears to my eye to be very neat, symmetrical and balanced. I have read of some people who dislike the choice of using a script font on the face – I do not share that view, I think it is appropriate and I like it. It is small but precise, and does not get in the way of reading the time on the watch.

Now to the hands – which as I have mentioned are sword shaped, with white lume filling and silver border. To clarify : when I say silver, I really mean a reflective chrome like look, I’m not actually suggesting they are made of silver. Anyway, the hands are well proportioned and are easy to read. The size difference between the minute and hour hand is something I think some watches get wrong, but not in this case. The second hand is thin with a red tip, complementing the logo. This splash of color and movement adds to the visual interest of the watch face, and again is very well done. A minor issue with it though is that there is no lume on the second hand, so there is no way to see the seconds in the dark.

Overall then, the face is … really very nice. It looks classy, without being overly fussy. I know that this is absolutely a point of opinion, so you may not agree, but it really ticks all the boxes for me in terms of what I am looking for in a watch face. I like the mixed numeric/bar markers for the hours as it strikes a great balance between clutter and legibility.

I can’t help but compare it to my other main watch, the Victorinox Swiss Army Officers Automatic (Model 241591) which has all numeric hour markers, even the 3 o’clock with the day/date window. The Victorinox has a slightly larger face so can pull it off, and the legibility is perfect as a consequence. However, the Mako is a very close second to this. With the numeric every 3 hours (the date window substituting for the 3), the hour hand will never be far from one, so working out the hour is very easy at any time. There is no 24-hour sub dial on the Mako II, and I actually like that as I don't use 24 hour time markers and can do it in my head (just add 12) in the rare times I need it.

It is probably worth pausing here and noting that this is the primary reason why I chose the Mako II over the Ray II. The Ray II has an all-pip hour face, which is very common with dive watches, I’d even say the most common face design. The classics all have them, from the Seikos all the way up to things like the Rolex submariner. It is a matter of taste, I repeat, but I like having some numeric hour markers on the face of my watch instead. It simply helps me read the time quickly and accurately, at the expense perhaps of some simplified all-pip style.If you don't agree with this, then the Ray II may be more your cup of tea. It has some other differences to the Mako II, such as the bezel font and strap design, so take that into consideration. I don't own a Ray II, so I can't really comment further on it.

 

Glass

To see this wonderful face you have to look through the glass, so I will talk about that next. The watch has a solid caseback, so there is no glass back there. The glass is where some things go a bit wrong with the watch, and there is evidence of some corner cutting, literally. Firstly, this is not sapphire crystal, which is the gold standard for good watch-face glass, instead it is a mineral crystal. Although this is better than normal window pane glass it is still capable of being scratched. It is flat and has no date magnification bubbles, so it is not particularly at risk of this. I would say that if you hit this watch on a brick wall or something you are most likely to catch the bezel rather than the glass but still, I would have liked it to be the better sapphire. One reason to not include this is that it would increase the price, so that has to be taking into consideration. I have not had my watch all that long, so it is without scratches at the moment, we will see how long that lasts. I am intending for this to be a weekend “beater” so it will not get any special treatment. I will update this review if/when it gets its first scratch.

The other things I have noted about this glass is that it seems to attract grease, and be quite reflective. If there is an anti-reflective coating on the glass it does not seem to be particularly effective. I find myself cleaning the glass more often than my other watches so that I can get a good view of the wonderful face it has.

Another subtle thing about the glass, and I will stop short of calling this a fault as I note that even Rolex’s have this, is that the join between the glass and the bezel is not flush, and has triangular shaped grove. In other words, the glass has a small beveled cut-edge which is most noticeable when looking at the watch on the side – you don’t really see it when looking dead on and probably won’t see it in any pictures of the watch. But when looking at an angle, it catches light and features on the face and gives visual anomalies at the glass edge, reflections of the indices and the like. If find this slightly distracting and a bit annoying, but that is mostly because I am very fussy about these sort of things. You may notice this in practice if you are trying to track the exact seconds by looking at the tip of the second hand and the outer edge of the face. One other disadvantage of this is that lint and dirt may collect over time in this groove. I would therefor think it would have been better if the glass was cut square and be completely flush with the bezel. There may be a reason for it that I am not aware of though – such as it helps with greater pressures.

Edit 2017-04-21 
I wanted to update this section with an update on the glass durability. I have been wearing the watch pretty much non-stop for over a month and noticed last night a hairline scratch on the face near the 12 position. It looks like there is a small hair permanently stuck to the glass, and with my nail I can feel it too. So that is somewhat disappointing. For comparison, I have worn my other sapphire glass watches for longer, and they have not scratched at all.

 

Bezel

So, the glass has one or two issues, notably where it meets the bezel. This also has a number of good, bad and ugly features. I will start with the good. It has a very pleasing shape which will not catch on things and gives a nice almost rounded profile to the watch edge. It is not very tall, which has some drawbacks in terms of gaining purchase to turn the bezel (more on that in a minute) but from a stylistic perspective is very nice indeed. The ring is made from three main components, an outer knurled steel frame, and inset blue metal minute marker and the lume pip in the zero mark. All of these are executed in an understated and very neat way. There are minute marks up to 10, after that there are numerals every 10 minutes and a bar every 5 in between. A subtle design element is that at these 5 minute bars the steel outer ring has a ever-so-slightly larger knurl which I imagine helps grip the inner ring in place. In addition, each notch in the knurl is in fact a minute mark also - there are 60 around the ring. The font is small, inverted (silver on blue) and very legible without overpowering the face.

The bezel has 120 clicks (I have not counted them, I will trust the specs on this one!) and this is where some trouble starts. There is no give, back or forward, up or down. The issue is that it is overly stiff to turn. So bad, that some reviewer have gone so far as to say it is basically not possible to do it while on your wrist one handed. I would not go that far myself, but out of the box if you do not get some fingernails well connected to the gnarling groves around the edge at several points, you are not going to get very far. To be honest, people don’t use this feature very often (a friend of mine has had a divers watch for years and had no idea how to even use the feature – the most concise explanation comes from Google : “To use a dive bezel, set the zero marker opposite the minute hand; as time passes, you can read off elapsed time on the bezel without having to do any mental calculations.”). However, I would counter that excuse with this : what makes a divers watch a divers watch is largely this feature, and it really should work as advertised. Moreover, a “diver” would have a wet-suit on and might not have fantastic grip with gloves and the likes. It is important that it is not too loose that it moves on its own, or shakes about on the face, but being too far in the other direction is an issue too.

I have actually attempted to solve this problem myself, to some success. I simply put some grease around the bezel where it contacts the case and pushed it in the gap a bit while turning it around. It has improved things a bit, but it is not exactly night and day so I’m not sure I would recommend this for everyone. This may also give me long term problems, like trapping grime under the ring that might otherwise not be stuck. All I know is that I can now turn it fairly easily when on my wrist with just my thumbnail in one grove, and one other finger on the opposite side for stability. Before I needed about three fingers worth of grip to move it, and even then I sometimes slipped of and damaged a nail.

Over time this may wear in and become slightly looser, I’m not sure. However, I don’t think a lot of people would get there as it comes. It is a genuine problem.

Edit 2017-04-21
After reading more online about the "Stiff bezel" problem, I decided to take mine off. To do this, I put two fingernails into the gap under the bezel at the 7-8pm position, and gently pried upwards. After not much time, it popped off. I was careful to mark the position of the metal insert before it came out, as it can go in two ways (at 180 degrees from each other) and only one way makes the 12 align correctly (so, actually 6pm does not). I half-heartedly bent the clip and applied a lot more grease and put it back together. Now it is quite smooth but still a little stiff to get going but better than how it shipped. As long as I get a nail in the knurling around the edge, I can now set it when on my wrist fairly easily. If this was stopping you from buying this watch, I don't think it should. 


Crown & Crown guards

The crown is signed with a fairly faint laser etch, is nicely gnarled and has very nice crown guards. To get the 200m depth rating, I believe the screw down crown is needed. This is actually the first watch I own that has this feature, so it is new to me. To do this it is simplest to take the watch off, then wind it counter clockwise. Once unscrewed you can hand wind the watch by turning it clockwise, or by pushing the crown back in towards the case screw it back on. This seems to be an interesting design choice as it means the watch is winding a little when you are screwing the crown back on. If you pull the crown out one stop you can adjust the day/date. If you pull it out once more the second hand stops (ie it’s hacking) and you can set the time. It all works pretty well as you would imagine it would, and it all feels pretty good to me. It can be a bit tricky to screw the crown back on, but it goes there without too much fuss once you get the hang of it. Actually, I have found some people who have threaded the crown and have had a lot of issue with it - see here.

 

Case / Caseback

The case is all polished steel, and smoothed out pretty much everywhere. The crown guards are very nicely done. I like thin watches, and I am reasonably pleased with this one but at 13mm it is clearly the thickest watch I own. But for a divers watch, this is actually pretty thin, and part of this thickness comes from a bulge in the caseback which goes into your flesh so it wears like a thinner watch.

The caseback is solid and screwdown with a simple etched logo and details. It is nothing particularly special to look at, and that’s fine with me as I rarely do look at the back of a watch. Display cases are nice, but only if they have a nice movement to show off, and this one is fairly utilitarian from what I understand.

 

Movement

The movement is an in-house Cal. F6922 Automatic, with a claimed 40h power reserve. My example seems pretty accurate, perhaps more so than Victorinox but I have not accurately measured it. One thing you are not going to see on a spec sheet are things like the noise the movement makes when it is ticking, or when automatically winding, and some are a lot noisier than others. The heartbeat of this watch is faint and pleasant, if a little tinny sounding. There is no noticeable noise from the automatic movement when it is winding itself – it does not rattle or make much sound when moving your arm around. Perhaps just a little, but certainly not in an annoying way. In summary, the movement seems fine to me, but I’m not really a movement snob so your standards may be significantly different to mine.

 

Band

When I first got my Seiko 5 watch, I was very disappointed with the band it shipped with. While it certainly looks good in pictures, in real life it was very loose, rattly and cheesy. In other words, for some less expensive watches this is an area where costs are cut, sometimes fairly dramatically. One tell is to look at the side of the links – sometimes they are folded over metal with little finishing. In the Seiko 5 case, this made the watch almost unwearable, as it pinched my hair and made a clinking and rattle every time I moved my arm : I hated it immediately.

Fortunately the Mako 2 is not like that! The 22mm lugs are a good standard and it tapers a little but still looks strong and neat. The square inverted Y shaped links are solid on both sides and the side. It does not have solid end-links, which I know bothers some people but not really me. The Y shaped links are solid, an slight improvement would be if they were also articulated but really they are fine. They are nicely put together, so that there is just the right amount of give without being rattly loose. The test is to hold the watch by the case and let the band hang loose, then move it from side to side.
Next is the clasp, and there is a fair bit to get through here. It is a foldover clasp with an extra safety clasp. To release, you have to lift the safety clasp out of the way then press both buttons on either side of the clasp. The clasp has 3 micro-adjustments which I think is a fantastic feature. You get the links removed until the watch is just loose on your wrist, then use the micro-adjustments to make it a perfect fit. For a divers watch, conspicuous in its absence is the divers extension. I doubt I would ever use one, I have been diving in my life and it was great, but I am no longer an active diver. The clasp is signed with a logo and the word ORIENT, in quite a well done way – I can’t quite tell if this is stamped or laser etched.

I have a few problems with the clasp though. Firstly I feel like the security clasp should be sprung so that when open it stays out of the way. As it is, it swings loose and can get in the way of the clasp when you are trying to close it. The bigger problem though is with the sharpness of a number of the edges. The corners of the clasp are quite sharp, and where it folds over with the security latch it protrudes in such a way that it could definitely hook onto things. In practice, I have felt this when driving and moving my arms fast around the wheel – I have felt the sharpness of these edges as my wrists went near each other at speed. In terms of ergonomics, it is a bit of a mis-step. The whole clasp is reasonably thick so extended time at my keyboard for a gaming session makes me take it off as it will annoy my wrist after a time of resting on it on a tabletop.

 

Lume

The lume on this watch is very good. All of the white elements on the face of the watch, and the zero pip on the bezel will glow green in the dark. Of course, this needs a “charge” of strong light to really work, and the effect wears off fairly quickly. If you want better than this, really you are after a watch with Tritium lume, which is effectively self powered for about 20 years.

I have noticed the lume when coming in from outdoors on a sunny day into a darker house. There is a noticeable green glow to the face. I would say the lume on this watch is at least as good as average, if not slightly better.

Edit 2017-04-21
I woke up last night at 2am and could read the time on the watch easily, without any special "charging" before going to sleep. I was impressed by this. I'd say the lume is pretty good! 

Price/performance

One thing I want to mention is the price of the unit. At the time of writing this is about $180 USD and for what you get, that is very good value. Actually, I can compare it favorably in many ways to watches MANY time as expensive. This watch hits far above its weight and certainly does not look or feel like a sub $200 watch.

 

Summary

I really like my Mako II watch. It is not perfect, but the things it gets wrong I can live with. The things that it does get right, it really gets them very right. It is attractive, comfortable and reliable. It suits the role as an everyday watch, and can be used in a variety of settings but to me this is a quintessential “jeans watch”. Go to the beach with it, have a holiday with it, have fun with it and don’t worry too much about it.

Pros

  • Stunning sunburst blue dial, looks amazing in sunlight
  • Very legible overall
  • Astoundingly good value for money
  • Very well built
  • Very comfortable to wear for the most part

Cons

  • Not sapphire crystal glass, and is a reflective smudge magnet
  • Very stiff bezel (but can be fixed fairly easily)
  • Clasp has no divers extension, and some fairly sharp edges/catches.
  • Crown can be tricky to screw back in