The $15 Ceramic Diver

May 26, 2013

From the unpublished archives. This blog was written in May of 2013

FOR the past few months, watchgeeks have been gushing over Sottomarino watches. This, the house brand of the retailer Precision Time who have both a chain of brick and mortar stores and an Internet retail presence. It seems to be treading in the TV brand space with oversized cases and inflated MSRPs.

Precision Time routinely runs specials on the Sotto brand with deep discount sales sweetened with coupon codes. It was one of these scenarios that was too good to pass up: the Ceramico on a rubber strap for $15. Two things stood out at this price; a ceramic case and a sapphire crystal. I figured it would be something to write a review about and for the price and materials would be a great summer beater. Perfect for shade tree mechanical jobs, yard work and eating sand later in the summer as the surf smashes me into the beach.

It took about five days to reach my mailbox. It shipped in a large, tin case similar to what you see with Fossil but with a hinged lid. as i opened it, I was initially taken back by the high-end look. Nice finishing, a clean aluminum bezel ring with sharp fonts and nice clean dial details. The first thing I noticed when pulling it out was the weight. As this is a ceramic watch I was expecting it to be a lot lighter until I got a good look at the caseback.

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Where to start…

The Case. The face and side of the case looks great. It is a matte finish ceramic that is very pleasing to the touch. But flipping it over reveals that the case construction is actually two pieces – the stainless steel bottom of the watch with the ceramic fitting over it like a shell. The finish between the two case pieces is night and day. The stainless steel base is rough and poorly finished; this in sharp contrast to the well crafted ceramic top. The edges are super sharp and the tolerances are terrible with uneven gaps between the caseback and the surrounding ceramic top. Immediately the spell was broken. This was not much different than those Chinese switchblades at the flea market that seduce from afar and reveal their true hackiness up close.

Matte ceramic also has an odd quality in that when it gets covered in sweat and dries, it looks like the thing is covered in boogers.

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The Bezel. With any dive style watch, a unidirectional bezel is pretty much the standard and the Ceramico is no exception. The clicks were solid with none of the sloppiness one would expect in a cheap watch. That was until I rotated it about a quarter turn and it immediately seized. It was then that the overall flawed bezel design became apparent as it is much too thin to be adequately manipulated with wet or dirty hands. I literally had to work it for several days to get it to reliably move through an entire one hundred degree rotation.

The Crown.

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Here’s one from the spring that i never got around to publishing. I ended up replacing the terrible silicon band with a Panerai style leather band. Even with all of the flaws, this thing has taken a ton of abuse and keeps time. It looks pretty good in the wrist and has become my beater work watch.

As I went to unscrew the crown to set it, something seemed wrong. It felt like it was cross threaded. When I looked closely I found that it wasn’t centered properly into the case and that it was actually rubbing against the lower crown guard. Yet another detail missed.

The Dial. I can put up with a lot of flaws on a watch but an uncalibrated, inaccurate second hand drives me crazy. Couple that with haphazard dial markers and lume that’s worse than Invicta’s proprietary Tritinite and you’ve got a real mess. My biggest peeve is that the minute markers do not seem to be equidistant.

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Interestingly enough, the hands have a great matte silver finish and are three dimensional.

The Strap and Buckle.

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The silicone strap is okay but has proven to be a lint magnet. The buckle is nice and solid in a style reminiscent of Panerai.

The Crystal. This is actually the best feature of this watch. Very solid and thick and it has taken quite a beating. As expected, the optics distort the as it is viewed from the edge.

For $15, I kinda except all of the flaws. The retail of $399 is laughable. Even an Invictard would not put up with all of these issues from a yellow boxed behemoth. I’ve worn this thing to do a lot of manual labor and dirty jobs and knocked the hell out of it. It looks exactly as it did when I got it six weeks ago. Granted, it’s analogous to a really attractive woman with crossed-eye.

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FIFTEEN years ago, I really believed that the strides being made in CAD and CAM would result in an on-demand future rapidly prototyped into physical being. A future where designers would be king and a lot of products would be produced and assembled locally leading to a new wave of industrial revolution and infinite customization.

And while on-demand is not as pervasive as i thought it would be, companies like rvndsgn are halfway there. Industrial designer Zach Raven began his project to create the world’s first rapidly prototyped timepiece with the help of a Kickstarter campaign to finance his initial pieces. It has been less than a year since he kicked off his campaign and he is already taking orders.

rvndsgn utilizes Selective Laser Sintering to create their cases; they are literally printed and built layer upon layer. Stainless steel powder is converted into solid cross-sections by a CO2 laser until a solid, three dimensional case is formed. Bronze is infused into the steel to replace the binder used in the printing process. It is nickel free so the finished product is allergy free. Final finishing occurs by tumbling the cases in husks to remove any sharp edges leaving a grain pattern behind that is unique to each piece as a result of the sintering process. It makes for a look that strikes me as organic; almost like the hives built by paper wasps. As a fan of the Japanese Mokume technique and the classic, organic designs of Isamu Noguchi, I find it aesthetically appealing.

The cases are manufactured in The Netherlands and measure a modest 40mm across. In these austere times this is a nice break from the pie plate sized watches that some brands would have you believe are the new normal. Any color finishes are applied over the stainless by the same company that creates the cases.

The dial is created in New York using a similar rapid prototyping method but materials are nylon and acrylic. The movement holder is incorporated into the face creating a single piece design.

Final assembly takes place in Grand Rapids, Michigan on a made to order basis. Delivery can take anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks on US orders.

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The bands and buckles are sourced from Italy and are a single piece, in form very similar to the G10 style. They pass through the case and could easily be replaced with a 20mm NATO or Zulu.

THE only downside to me is that it has a quartz movement – the Swiss Ronda 513. I prefer automatics. While Mr. Raven doesn’t have plans for an auto, he has assured me that he does have plans for additional styles that could accommodate an automatic movement. This illustrates one of the unique aspects of his method: there is no tooling to change. He just alters the measurements in the CAD file and produces it.

Mr. Raven is also looking to leverage his product toward a greater good:

I’m looking into doing a limited edition with a partnership with a large charity with the profits going to them.

rvndsgn started accepting orders as of last Friday with the exception of the all black and all white pieces. They are priced at $275 and shipping on both domestic and international orders is included in the price.

For more information, check out the rvndsgn website: http://rvndsgn.com/RVNDSGN/Home.html

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