Monday, September 26, 2011

Made in China : Sea-Gull

Founded in January 1955 by the PRC government, Tianjin Sea-Gull Corporation (天津海鸥) was originally called the Tianjin Sea-Gull Watch Factory, with only four watchmakers at its inception. By 2005, Sea-Gull were making more than 25% of the world's mechanical movements. Today, they are the second largest producer of mechanical movements in the world, coming only after ETA.

It wasn’t until 1992 that the company became the Tianjin Sea-Gull Corporation. That same year, a decision was made to discontinue the production of mechanical watches in favour of quartz watches, but five years later, the company reversed its decision.

As a consequence of the Chinese watch industry becoming overcrowded with basic mechanical watches, in 2003 Sea-Gull decided to introduce chronographs into their range, bringing in the ST19 movement, which has been used both for their own and other brands.

Since then, Sea-Gull has focused on mechanical watches, and become known for their price-accessible (insofar as tourbillons are 'accessible') and solid quality tourbillons. Sea-Gull currently have seventeen calibre families, including their version of the ETA 2824 (ST21) and 2892 (ST18).

Sea-Gull’s first tourbillon movement, the ST80, was released in 2005. The next year, the brand released their first Double Tourbillon, the ST8080, featuring one carrousel and one common axis tourbillon from their new calibre ST82 (a 'flying' tourbillon) geared together. It is available in a skeletonised version, as is the ST80. They also created a luxury version, the ST8080G, in 18k rose gold. Sea-Gull's ST84 is currently China's smallest tourbillon movement, intended for women's watches. 

This model is an ‘earlier’ tourbillon from Sea-Gull, circa 2006, with the ST82 movement.

Quite a simple conservative design, even down to its blued 'Breguet style' hands, with a nice aesthetically balanced dial and, at 38mm, a comfortably flexible size. Their current tourbillons come in either 38mm or 40mm.

Sea-Gull also introduced both a quarter-repeater (ST90) and minute-repeater (ST91), and a minute repeater that also has a perpetual calendar (ST9150). In 2011 Sea-Gull prototyped China's first microrotor automatic.

Their current range – tourbillons start from 3,865 € | 3,050 £ | 29,000 DKK for a 40mm time only tourbillon, going up to a 38.5mm 18k rose gold one with power reserve and 24-hour day/ night indicator for 10,950 € | 8,650 £ | 82,000 DKK.

Yes, many people will no doubt be commenting on how they wouldn’t spend that amount of watch on a “Made in China” watch, but Sea-Gull have gained recognition for their tourbillons, and this is a brand with history and credibility that is gaining more non-Chinese and non-watchnerd traction. They have  expanded to the U.S., Europe, and have even opened brand boutiques in Hong Kong and Singapore in recent years.

Oh and for those of you who still need some convincing, don’t forget that the Sea-Gull ST19 manual wind column wheel chronograph movement was developed from the Venus 175. In 1961 “Project 304” was initiated by the PRC government to develop chronographs for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force based on the cal.175, the tooling of which had been sold off by the Swiss brand. Venus had wanted to offload the cal.175 tooling to raise capital for development of their calibre 188. The USSR were not interested, but the Chinese were. The ST19 now has seven variants.


Friday, September 23, 2011

The Double Red Sea-Dweller (DRSD)

We have previously written about the Rolex Ref. 5510. Today, we look at another iconic and highly collectable Rolex, the Double Red Sea-Dweller. The Reference 1655, known as the “DRSD” by Rolex fans, commenced production in the late 1960s. Very much a tool watch, it was the first Sea-Dweller to be able to reach a depth of 2000ft or 610m.

With a Cal.1575 movement, the DRSD were produced between1967-1977. This particular example is a Mark III dial with a 351xxxx serial, which dates it to around the first quarter of 1972 (the production date also stamped on inside the case back: I 72).

The breakdown of serial number is as follows:

Mark I Dial, 1.6-2.2 mil
Mark II Dial, 1.6-3.5 mil
Mark III Dial, 2.6-3.5 to 4.0 mil
Mark IV Dial, 3.0-5.2 mil

There are two main cases associated with the DRSD. A thin case, similar to that of the Submariner, usually appears for those with a 1.6 mil to 2.2 mil serial number, and a thicker case for the others.

Every Double Red has its individual serial number engraved inside the case back, which co-ordinates to its case serial number. The last 3 digits of the watch’s serial numbers were engraved on inside the case back for DRSDs Mk 1 up to Mk 3 (which is up to circa 1974). After that, Rolex decided to engrave the entire 7 digit serial number on Double Reds from Mark IV until the end of their production in 1977.

Mark I to Mark IV were all the standard original tritium dials used for DRSDs. Starting from Mark V, up to Mark VII, the tritium was replaced by luminova material.

Some of the points of note in the Ref. 1665, well-known to Rolex aficionados but an enigma to the rest of us, include the following:

1. The “2000ft = 610m” is in small font, the first ‘R’ in ‘SUBMARINER’
2. The first ‘R’ in the word “SUBMARINER” is under the hyphen. In the "clear" Rolex Crown dial the ‘A’ in the word “SUBMARINER” is under the hyphen.
3. In the "Smudge" Rolex dial the ‘W’ in “DWELLER” will always be touching the ‘D’, where as in the MK111 version there will be a slight space. The ‘D’ in lines up with the ‘R’ in “SUBMARINER”. In the Mark II dial, the ‘D’ “SEA-DWELLER” lines up with ‘I’ in “SUBMARINER”. Compared to the dial in version II, the print is also similar, the depth markings are spaced differently, and the coronet is also different.
4. Sixes on the depth rating are so called 'open 6' for the Mark I to Mark III dials, after which Rolex changed to 'close 6' for Mark IV to Mark VII. Additionally, the fonts for the depth rating were written in standard small font ‘ft’ and ‘m’ from Mark I to Mark IV, thereafter replaced by italic letter with long tailed ‘ft’ and ‘m’.

As you can tell, the owner of this Ref.1665 prefers to wear his on a NATO style strap rather than the original bracelet (yet another area of esoteria). This DRSD, although a very desirable Rolex, is no safe queen, but a much-loved and worn tool watch.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Found at local high school : one high-end wristwatch

Darien High School

I came across a random small piece in a small online local newspaper from a place called Darien. It stated (to quote) that a “high-end wristwatch” had been found on the morning of 17 September at Darien High School, and that it had been handed in to the local police. Capt. Fred Komm was quoted as saying that the watch was likely to be worth "thousands of dollars”, followed by a comment that if you believed the watch to be yours, you should contact the Darien Police Department on 203-662-5300 with a description of your missing timepiece. 

The reference to it being possibly worth “thousands of dollars”piqued my interest, so I decided to look up the town of Darien.

Darien is a town in Fairfield County Connecticut, with a population of 20,732. According to 2007 estimates, it has a median household income of $160,274, and a median family income of $195,905.

In 2009, the median income for the U.S. was $50,221.

The median home price in Darien is approximately $1 million, and the town is considered to be one of the most expensive places to live in North America.

Darien High, where this unidentified timepiece was found, is no struggling small town high school. In 2005, it got a brand spanking new $73 million campus.

Curious about what this “high-end wristwatch” worth “thousands of dollars” is? So am I, but I guess we’ll never find out.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011


35-39 Auburn Rd
NSW 2144
Ph : (02) 9649 9167

One day I woke up and realised that I had a 'need' to go to Auburn for an Adana kebab. I then realised that the time elapsed since my last visit to Auburn was embarrassingly long, and amounted to  something along the lines of two years.

No time for procrastination. Back to where I had my first Adana kebab – Auburn institution Sofra, for lunch.

Adana Plate ($11)

Named after the fifth largest city in Turkey, Adana kebabs are hand-minced lamb that is shaped around an iron skewer measuring 0.5cm thick, 3cm wide, and anywhere from 90 to 120cm long. The shaped meat is grilled on an open BBQ over charcoal.

The cooked kebab is served on top of flatbread, typically topped by onions, diced tomatoes, parsley, cumin and sumac. It can also be eaten wrapped in a roll.

What’s the appeal? Freshly charcoal grilled meat served with bread (itself lightly grilled) that tastes of the kebab’s juices. The bread is fabulous to eat on its own, even without meat. Sofra’s Adana is juicy, tender, slightly spicy, and even better with a squirt of lemon.

Sometimes, all you need is grilled meat that is full of flavour, good bread and sides.

The chicken kebab ($14) was served with the usual salad sides, and a Turkish pilaf and orzo. The serving was too large, so I helped out. The chicken was decently cooked and flavoursome, but a little on the salty side. The side of bread was virtually uneaten, as the rice was more than sufficient as an accompaniment.

There are plenty of similar cheap and cheerful kebab eateries in the Auburn area. Which is the best? I can't say, as I have only ever tried Sofra, but on this particular day, of the dozen odd that I walked past, this was the most popular.


Sofra on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Girard-Perregaux seeks to reduce dependence on Chinese market

Unlike what seems like an increasing number of brands unabashedly wooing the financially important mainland Chinese market with varying degrees of directness, Girard-Perregaux has decided that it wants to expand in the U.S. and South America, and to reduce its reliance on China.

Despite it accounting for approximately 40 per cent of Girard-Perregaux’s sales, managing director Stefano Macaluso has announced that the company intends to broaden its customer/ business base by refocusing on an improving U.S. market, and engaging with South American buyers who are choosing to buy abroad rather than at home.

Even though Girard-Perregaux is changing their international focus, they still aim to maintain the existing percentage of sales the brand gets from China over the next few years.

Girard-Perregaux produces around 12,000 timepieces a year.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Yok Yor Thai Food Factory

Yok Yor Thai Food Factory
Shop G06, 323 Castelreagh St
Sydney NSW2000
Ph : (02) 9280 0013
Sun – Thu: 1100-0100
Fri – Sat: 1100 – 0200

Yok Yor has one of those misleading type of addresses. If, as I did, you launch yourself up that general vicinity of Castlereagh St, expecting it to be immediately obvious, you’ll not find it. Number 323 is a large well-known building, with frontage on three streets. It is on the Campbell Street side, opposite Chilli Cha Cha, that you’ll find this small eatery, its front completely obscured by building work paraphernalia on the day of our visit.

The first thing that strikes you about Yok Yor is its small size. Not uncomfortably so, as tables are decently spaced, but some furniture rearranging would need to occur if there were a number of  even medium-sized groups dining there.

Situated at the ‘far’ end of the plethora of Thai restaurants in the Pitt and Campbell Streets area, it is open for quite long hours. The space is informal, and the large menu, with most items clocking in at under $10, reflects this.

I met up with a friend for a lunchtime catch-up, and realised that at least three-quarters of the times we meet for a meal, he orders pork, and if there are dumplings involving pork, he’ll order those.

Twas ever thus…his first pork choice was Kanom Jeeb ($4.50), steamed pork and prawn dumplings with fried garlic and soy sauce. They looked rather like Siu Mai to me, but he enjoyed them thoroughly, particularly the sauce, which added a piquancy which lifted the dumplings.

Kanom Jeeb

One of my favourite dishes is the Vietnamese savoury pancake, Bánh xèo. The presence of Kanom Beaung Yourn ($9.50), Thai crispy crepe filled with shredded prawn and coconut, served with cucumber and red onion relish, left me no choice. I had to order it.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tech Talk No. 3: Platinum vs. White Gold Watches

There is a lot of talk about white gold versus platinum when it comes to wedding rings, but there seems to be minimal discussion on this topic in the watch world. So if you're wondering about the differences between white gold and platinum in watches, this is the place to be.

One common misconception people have about platinum is that it's harder than white gold. This is not the case.

Although they are both fairly soft metals, platinum is denser and heavier than white gold, but white gold is actually harder (how much harder depends on the alloy). This is because platinum is mostly used in an almost pure form (approx. 95% pure i.e. '950') compared to white gold, which is 75% gold and 25% other metal (such as silver and palladium). The density in platinum makes them harder to cast (higher temperature required - 1774 celcius vs 920 for 18k gold).

Platinum crystal (from wikipedia)

On the wrist, the same watch in different material will generally result in the platinum watch being around about 30% heavier than its gold counterpart. Weight is probably the easiest way to distinguish between platinum and white gold.

Looks wise, they look similar, but on careful examination white gold is 'warmer' whereas platinum is 'cooler, but truth be told, I can't tell the difference. More often than not, watch companies will produce a different dial for the platinum model in order to help differentiate it from white gold and steel watches. And quite often, it is produced in a limited number.

As an example - Platinum and white gold watches tend to come in different dial colour combos

Other ways to tell are the stamp on the back of the case (950 vs 750) and, of course, by scratching the case (if you can bring yourself to do it, or if you dare to do it). Scratching platinum watches merely pushes the material to the side (the material is displaced and you don't lose any precious metal content) and this can be restored, whereas with gold, you'd take a chunk out of it. Of course, you might need a fairly high-powered loupe to tell the difference...

One thing you may or may not notice is that most of the time, a platinum watch will be delivered with a white gold clasp, since it is a harder material. Platinum clasps might be more 'expensive' but due to it being a softer material, it'll wear quicker and not hold its shape in the long run, since it is a 'moving' part.

Platinum will also develop a patina after being worn for a while, which can best be described as a brushed, whiteish look. It is naturally white, and it is also hypoallergenic. White gold may cause allergic reactions to some people, but that really depends on what alloys are used. Nickel used to be mixed in with white gold, but as there are many people allergic to nickel, this is being used less and less in white gold these days.

Platinum used to be a lot more expensive than gold. That, coupled with the heaviness of the material due to its density, gives it a much higher perceived prestige value than gold. However, as the price difference is minimal nowadays (approx US$1830 per ounce of Pt vs. US$1790 per ounce for gold - correct as of end of August, 2011), platinum, perhaps, has become the better value precious metal?

Maybe, get in while it's cheap? 

Oh, and here's an unusual platinum watch we blogged about only recently.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Italian police seize 800,000 fake watches

Agence France-Presse report that Italian police have seized approximately 800,000 fake luxury watches worth 10 million Euros from a shop run by five Chinese nationals in the textile town of Prato, south of Bologna. As well as finding unfinished replicas of Dolce & Gabbana, Rolex, Omega, Patek Philippe and Mont Blanc watches brought from China, police also seized real estate, a car, three computers and watch-making equipment.

Since the beginning of the year, several such workshops have been closed down. Last June, a watchmaking workshop set up in a private apartment was targeted by the Guardia di Finanza police force, who seized 200,000 watches and watch components which were in the process of being marked and assembled. Watchmaking tools, punches and machines were also seized, and there were four successful convictions leading to custodial sentences obtained as a result of that police operation.

An industrial suburb of Florence situated in the centre of Italy, the city of Prato has a population of 180,000. One of its distinctive features is a large Chinese population estimated at 45,000 people, mostly working in the textile industry, many in illegal workshops and under appalling conditions, with some working up to 18 hours a day. Most of them come from the city of Wenzhou in the province of Zhejiang, just south of Shanghai, itself a textile manufacturing region. Legal Chinese residents in Prato on 31 December 2008 were 9,927. Local authorities estimate the number of Chinese citizens living in Prato to be around 45,000.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Chat Thai Westfield

Chat Thai Westfield Sydney
Level 6, Westfield Sydney
Ph : (02) 9221 0600
Open Mon-Sun: 10am-10pm

The latest addition to the insanely popular Chat Thai chain, now numbering five, this latest outpost, on Level 6 of Westfield CBD, is instantly recognisable, with minor amendments, including the lighting, which is rather dim in places. Oh, and they clearly expect that there will be queues at this branch too...

We were there early, and by the time we were ready to order, there were only three other tables occupied in the entire restaurant. Even during the 'peak period' of our meal, they were only about seventy percent full. I note this because of a recurring theme throughout this meal, a theme that was not confined to us, but which affected at a number of other tables within hearing distance.

The commonality? Perhaps it was down to teething problems, as they had been open for less than a week, but the service was consistently vague. It started when I tried to get an additional water cup, continued on to the drinks not arriving after 20 minutes (a reminder lead to further confusion), followed up with dishes arriving in a random order, and continued all the way through to the wrong dessert arriving. Not to mention the continual difficulties that plagued us in terms of getting anyone's attention.

For the neighbouring tables, in one case one dish out of four did not arrive (the table gave up), and two others found it difficult to get hold of anyone’s attention in order to place their orders.

The saving grace was the food.

First up - todt mun bpla ทอดมันปลา ($10) - dollops of fried fish cakes with pickled cucumber relish.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ruby & Rach - the Reuben

Good Living Growers' Market
3 September 2011

One of the things about twitter is that sometimes, the pace of your tweetstream is so rapid that without bookmarking it, it can be hard recall where you read about something.

In this instance, it was Tony Gibson's venture "Ruby & Rach", a new sandwich stall at the monthly Pyrmont Markets serving only two items - a Reuben sandwich, and a Rachel sandwich, and with its inaugural appearance on 3 September. I cannot for the life of me remember who tweeted about it.

The Reuben is what drew me there, as well being intrigued by the idea of someone being dedicated to producing only two sandwiches.

Inevitably, I chose the wrong way to do the market circuit in search of the Reuben, and it was one of the last stalls I came to. By that point, all you could hear from me was "WHERE IS IT?!?"

Examples of both sandwiches sit at the front of the stall for illustrative purposes. The Reuben ($9.50), described as "corned Wagyu, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing on Rye", is made from 72 hour brined Wagyu.

As each order is placed, the bread is toasted, the corned beef hand-sliced and then warmed up, the cheese melted etc, and the completed sandwich wrapped in a what appears to be butcher's paper, which is great, space wise, for sandwich consumption.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Swatch’s Trésor Magique

Back in the early-mid 1990s, there was what I think of as the height of Swatch limited edition madness, when the release of special models would lead to overnight queues at Swatch boutiques, and it would get a little crazy. I only queued once, for the Vivienne Westood 'Orb' Pop Swatch, which I purchased to give as a gift.

It was also during this period that Swatch came out with what may be the most valuable, gram for gram, Swatch that they’ve made, the Trésor Magique Platinum 950.

‘Millesimal fineness’ is the system of denoting the purity of platinum, gold and silver alloys by parts per thousand of pure metal by mass in the alloy. For example, an alloy containing 75% gold is denoted as ‘750’. 950 is the most common purity for platinum jewellery.

Made in an edition of 12,999, it was launched in 1993 by Nicolas G. Hayek at the NYMEX (New York Mercantile Exchange) for the official price of US$1618.