Monday, May 22, 2017

VENDOR REPORT: Reflections-of-Infinity Web Store Sells Replacement Victorinox Swiss Army Watch Bands

Writing a blog about older Victorinox Swiss Army watches can generate a lot of questions from my audience. They can ask "what kind of watch is this?" or "where can I get a watch band for that?"

Most of the time, I can answer their questions, but sometimes I get stumped. When that happens, it is always good to have an expert just an email away. I am talking about someone who has forgotten more about Swiss Army watches than I currently know. This expert is named Colin and he runs an online watch shop named Refections of Infinity from the UK.


Over the years, I saw Colin's store referred to on watch forums as the place to get hard-to-find watch ands for Victorinox Swiss Army watches. While you might think that it is easy to just go to the Swiss Army web site to get a replacement, it is not always as straight forward as it could be. This is partly because of the way the Victorinox web site is set up. By comparison, buying a replacement watch band from Refections of Infinity is easy, especially if you know a simple hack you can perform from your browser. I'll get into that later.

Where Refections of Infinity shines is providing Victorinox watch bands that are no longer available on the brand's web site... hundreds of them. Victorinox offers replacements for watches while the model is on sale and for a few years after, but eventually that ends. However, that does not mean the supply of watch bands dries up instantly. Existing stock is stored throughout networks of dealers and distributors... and this is where Colin's expertise comes in. 

Colin has been in business a long time and has many connections to this invisible pipeline in the UK and Switzerland. If he does not have a watch band in stock, he might know where to get one. I can tell you this from experience because he found me a metal bracelet for my rare Swiss Army SeaPlane Chronograph like the one seen in this vintage ad. Those are extremely difficult to come by because they were an additional expensive option that had to be bought separately from the watch.

In addition, you might be surprised to find that Refections of Infinity has many watch bands and bracelets already in stock with a special page dedicated to Victorinox Swiss Army at https://www.reflections-of-infinity.co.uk/straps2.html. 

Some of the more common watches have a visual listing that has everything you need to know and way more information than Victorinox's own web site. Attention to these details makes using the page quick, and removes the ambiguity on the manufacturer's web site. 

In the sample below,  you can see a photo of the bracelet, the watch is fits an most importantly, a list of all the compatible watches that can use the watch band. This cross-reference is helpful because many of the watch bands are interchangeable between different watch models. It might also point out what is not compatible. For instance, don't assume that watches with the same family name but from different release years will use the same watch bands. While many times it might work, the listing will confirm it in advance saving guesswork.

Helpful model and compatibility information is shown on some listings
The cost and delivery details are also listed. For Americans and Canadians who might be worried about buying from overseas... don't be. The transaction is simple, and the currency is converted to U.S. dollars or Canadian dollars in the Shopping Cart so there are no surprises (no taxes either). You can see in the screenshot below that the currency is automatically converted to the country you are in... very helpful to those of us across the pond.

British Pounds are converted to local currency in the shopping cart
For me, the shipping is as advertised too. If the item is temporarily OUT-OF-STOCK, then you have to allow Colin time to find the part, order it, repack it and send to you. It is really a small thing to be patient when he is finding you the hard-to-find watch band.

There are over 800 watch band SKUs on the page so the trick is finding what you need without having to visually scan all that text. Luckily, the instructions on how to do this easily are right on the page.

Use the browser's FIND tool to narrow your search quickly
This feature should be standard because it is so helpful when searching for your watch bands. Simply find the model number on the back of your watch, type it in and the results will be shown highlighted on the web page. You can even use the arrows on the FIND tool to jump to the spot on the page. If the watch band is available, hit the BUY NOW button. If the item is not available (like the sample for the Hunter Mach 3, then there is a snowball's chance in hell of finding one. You will have to just pray that a random one appears on eBay.

Search by model number
You can also type in the name of the watch model in the FIND window. This may not be as helpful if you do not match the spelling exactly is it appears on the site. 

Search by model name
You can, however, type in partial words and narrow your search quickly. For example, 45 matches that contain "air" are shown below. This is helpful if you do not know how to spell the complete name of the watch. 

Do partial word searches if unsure of the complete name or spelling
By comparison, Victorinox's consumer website does not have watch model numbers cross-referenced with their watch bands. You have to know the name of your watch and hope you get it right. This is counter-intuitive since the model number (not name) is permanently etched into most watch backs. It is easier to search by number because it is hard to misspell a number.

You also cannot tell if the watch band will fit on another watch with a similar lug width. This is a failed opportunity for Victorinox in my opinion. Another problem is that you cannot use the browser's FIND tool because Victorinox does not load all the watch bands at one time and you have to keep hitting a button to load more. It is annoying and slow. I suppose you could call customer service and ask for help, but they may not have this information readily available either. It might just depend on who answers the phone... I have had hit or miss experiences (sorry).

Victorinox's watch band listing is less user-friendly and ultimately a lackluster user experience
I would like to take this time to personally thank Colin for all the help and insight that he has generously given to me and by extension my readers with their questions. I can honestly say that Refections of Infinity might make you a repeat customer for all your vintage and obscure Victorinox Swiss Army leather, rubber, textile and metal watch bands. 

If you are unsure what you need for your watch, simply contact Colin. He can let you know what is possible. I have sent scores of readers his direction in search of a Victorinox Swiss Army watch band so he can probably help you find your replacement too.

UPDATE: Colin told me that he is building an even more comprehensive database of watches and compatible watch bands. Victorinox released some of this information to retailers over a year ago, but chose not put it on their consumer web site. I am sure that Colin's updated compatibility list will be a valuable sales aid for those looking for a Victorinox Swiss Army watch band.

Monday, May 15, 2017

MEET THE WATCH: Rare Swiss Army Airboss Mach 4 Limited Edition

Some watches are mysteries, even to their owners. This was initially the case with my ultra-rare Swiss Army Airboss Mach 4 Limited Edition. Only 50 were made, but I have only sighted 3 confirmed numbers in the series. I think that counts as ultra-rare, wouldn't you? Who knows how many are left ticking since the watch was released in 2003, but that will be a subject for a later post when I attempt to track down other Swiss Army Airboss Mach 4 Limited Edition owners. This article seeks to unravel some of the mystique surrounding this stunning watch.

My Swiss Army Airboss Mach 4 Limited Edition watch on the original brown leather watchband



Some Background...

Before I owned my Swiss Army Mach 4 Limited Edition, I had seen it only once in a Google photo search. The image surprised me because I thought that I knew all of the Airboss Mach 4 models.

Frustratingly, there were practically no details available about this rare watch. Victorinox Swiss Army has a vacuum of information about watches in this era. It was the dark days of the internet so maybe we can forgive them.

After years of searching, this unicorn of a watch eventually blipped on my "Watch Radar". This is my homegrown system of robotic auction searches, helpful tracking software and my obsessive personality when it comes to finding timepieces. I bought this rare watch from a salesman who used to work merchandise trade shows around the world, which is probably how he had possession of it as a promotional display.

Unfortunately, I only got the watch and not the other items that came with it. I'm usually a stickler for things like that, but decided to buy it anyway because I thought I might not see another anytime soon. Luckily, I know another owner and he sent me photos of the special box and the contents including a certificate of authenticity, numbered card, and user manual. Thanks Scott!

The special edition box for the Swiss Army Airboss Mach 4 Limited Edition. Only the brown strap is original.

What came in the box for the Swiss Army Airboss Mach 4 Limited Edition
Victorinox Swiss Army is a watch company that produces thousands of timepieces a year, so making a small batch of just 50 watches should be unusual for them. I thought there had to be a story worth pursuing here so I contacted customer service. They were kind enough to provide the following details, however I later discovered additional information that they left out:
  • It was released in 2003
  • It is authentic
  • The MSRP was $650
  • It came with a limited edition box, numbered card, user manual and certificate of authenticity
  • It was a Europe-only model (MIGHT BE WRONG)
  • There was no special meaning to the yellow sub-dial (DEFINITELY WRONG)
That was it... Victorinox did not provide any other information. I was about to assume it was just a design exercise and did not commemorate anything in particular. However, that is rarely the case for limited editions. Zooming into the photo provided by my buddy revealed important details.

The included card told more information about the Limited Edition Airboss Mach 4 than customer service did
It reads that this limited edition was created to celebrate the new Airboss Mach 4 model and that "only 100 were produced and issued worldwide" so the reason for this watch was to introduce the brand new Mach 4 model.

This card shows the model number of the watch V 25078, and its number in the series (21/50).
Wait a second!... the number on the back of my watch and even the UPC tag says that only 50 were made, not 100. Also, the Certificate of Authenticity claims that the watch is decorated with Cote de Geneve finish, but it has blued screws instead (a feature not on the other Airboss Mach 4s). These discrepancies are interesting to watch nerds like me.

A better view of the blue screws used in the Unitas 6498-2 movement
I wonder what the story is here? Maybe it was Swiss Army's best intention to make 100 watches with Cote de Geneve finishing and they ran into manufacturing issues requiring that the simpler blue screws replace the Geneva stripes. Maybe they ran into supply or timing issues so only half were made. Perhaps they changed their minds before producing the watch and never reprinted the Certificate of Authenticity. Maybe there were 2 batches of 50 for different markets, but that does not make sense with the numbering scheme. Or it could just be 2 giant typos. These mysteries remain unsolved.

The compressor style of watch with 2 crowns often appears when internal bezels are used
While the yellow spot dial is unique to a small number of limited edition watches, the specs are similar to other Airboss Mach 4 watches. They all use large 45 mm cases that have double crowns, an internal countdown bezel, and a small seconds sub-dial at the 7:00 position. Most are powered by the hand-wound Unitas 6498-2 movement, which is related to pocket watches. I will be writing more about the entire Swiss Army Airboss Mach 4 family in a future post.

The yellow dot of the limited edition Airboss Mach 4 really stands out from the rest of the Airboss Mach 4 watches

Why is it so special?

Besides so few being produced, the Airboss Mach 4 Limited Edition watches are unique because they were the first of the breed. Also, they look like no other Swiss Army watch, which is the point of a limited edition. The large yellow sub-dial at 7:00 is the distinguishing characteristic that sets it apart. The small red seconds hand also seems to be unique to this model, and I like the way it relates to the red shield of the Swiss Army logo.

The Airboss Mach 4 Limted Edition has a ompressor style case with 2 crowns on aftermarket NATO strap

Even though some Airboss models (and a few other Swiss Army watches) used yellow accents, none of them use this much of the stuff. If you are wondering "why yellow?" then I invite you to read the fascinating origin story of Swiss Army's Airboss watches.

This limited edition model came with a brown leather watch band with brown stitching and a signed buckle (the Swiss Airforce logo variation). Several of the later Airboss Mach 4's use this same watchband. To my eye, this color does not compliment the watch, however that seems to not have been Swiss Army's intent. Since this is the launch model, they were using the watchbands that would later be used on the standard issue Airboss Mach 4s. It just did not have that much pizazz for me personally.

What the Swiss Army Airboss Mach 4 Limited Edition looks like on the original leather
Luckily, straps are the easiest thing to change on a watch and the AirBoss Mach 4 LE looks great with a variety of watch bands. I never feel like a watch is truly my own until I find the perfect strap. The right combo can make a ho-hum watch into an humdinger. 

The original brown watchband was not that bad, but I wanted to try something else.
It took me several attempts to find a replacement watchband that I loved. Before I spend money, I sometimes create a digital mockups to explore different watchband options... as seen in the strap swap series. Pixels are cheaper than spending real money...

Digital mockups of my Swiss Army Airboss Mach 4 Limited Edition on 23 mm Luminox watchbands
My first physical experiment used a black leather strap from a Swiss Army Airboss Mach 8 that I already owned. This look was pretty good since it allowed the yellow sub-dial to be the star of the show. This particular watch band added the convenience of a deployment clasp. However, I wanted to try a more playful look since all-black can be so serious. I next tried using a Luminox watchband because they are one of the other manufacturers who produce 23 mm straps. That pairing did not excite me.

Changing the watchband on the Swiss Army Airboss Mach 4 Limited Edition
Swiss Army makes a fantastic 23 mm metal bracelet that fits several of its watches, and the Swiss Army AirBoss Mach 4 Limited Edition looks good on it. I sometimes wear it for special occasions when all steel is what I want, but still I prefer softer watchbands more often.

The steel bracelet changes the look of the limited edition Mach 4 to more of a tool watch.
Changing color direction of the watchband from dark to bright, I tried to find a matching yellow NATO strap or leather band. Yellow leather is sometimes tricky to find for men's watches. So called "yellow leather" might not really look yellow and can appear pink or tan. I did not want the yellow to look "mustardy" or "lemony". Funny how colors can be described with food terms.

Yellow leather comes in a variety of shades
A perfect match was not found, but that is okay because I don't think I would wear a yellow strap, which might minimize the visual impact of the large yellow dot. To be sure, I made another Photoshop mockup. Yep, I don't like it.

I did not like the way a yellow watchband looked on the Airboss Mach 4 LE
My last idea seemed to work, but it might be a little flashy for some people. Instead of emphasizing the yellow spot with a yellow strap, I decided to use red to complement the color in the shield logo and the small seconds hand. I purchased a vintage red leather strap from StrapsCo, which had antiquing and darker edges to give the strap a timeworn appearance. Not being used to wearing red watchbands, my eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. It sure was bright!

My customized Swiss Army Airboss Mach 4 Limited Edition on a red Strapsco watchband
I was going to remove it when my buddy, Scott, said it looked like a limited edition Ferrari watch, and who doesn't like Ferraris? Hmm, he could be onto something. Red, black and spots of yellow are as Ferarri-ish as one could get. He sure knows how to talk me out of my comfort zone... and I have since grown to love the classic red-yellow-black combination. 

My Swiss Army Airboss Mach 4 Limited Edition looks amazing... even in soft light.
My nickname for the watch is now my "Ferarri Airboss Mach 4." That works well for me, but probably not for the Italian brand, who has nothing to do with it. Whatever, this is my fantasy...

Similar colors as a Ferrari badge, but not a perfect match
Since cars and watches seem to go together, I decided to take my newly customized AirBoss Mach 4 LE to a local Atlanta Car Show and see how it compared to real paint. I figured the color might match several red or yellow exotics. Finding a perfect match ended up being more difficult than you might think. The red was pretty close, but I wanted to match the special yellow on the dial.

Probably not a real Ferrari 250, but it looked great anyway.

I made it a game to take photos of the Swiss Army Airboss Mach 4 Limited Edition with as many interesting cars as possible. Who knew that there were so many variations of yellow in the automotive world? I'd say the Ferrari below matched pretty nicely, so my watch's nickname could stick.

A yellow Ferrari would totally work for me. I already have the watch so I had better start saving pennies.
What about other car brands? Perhaps, a sweet customized Porsche would match. Nope... it was more golden hinting at orange.

A custom Porsche paint job did not match my Swiss Army Airboss Mach 4 LE
Maybe a bold Lamborghini Gallardo would match? Darn! No such luck here either.

No match in the Lambo section... bad luck I guess.
How about a Mercedes SLS AMG Coupe Black Edition? No match there either because the paint was a deep metallic mustard. Too bad... that was a mean looking car, and not your grandpa's Mercedes.

Mercedes SLS AMG is beast... with refinement, but no color match for my watch. 
A cute baby Porsche 914 with a targa top looked like a spot-on match. Not bad at all if you want a go Kart (a avery nice go kart admittedly).

Porsche 914 in brilliant yellow matched my watch to a tee.
Soon, I ran out of exotic cars to compare so I wandered into the more affordable section of the show. I saw a rare Honda BEAT made for the Japanese domestic market with right-hand steering. The color was almost exact, but economy cars are not exactly what I wanted to associate my beautiful limited edition watch with. However, the Honda badge reminded me of something.

The imported JDM Honda BEAT.
Just like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz who discovers "There is no place like home," I remembered that I already had the perfect car to match my watch with a bight yellow spot sitting in my garage. Of course I am talking about my "Spa Yellow" Honda S2000, which is more practical than a supercar, and it is already paid off. It's good to love what you already own, and no sparkly high-heel clicking was required to get it.
My Spa Yellow Honda S2000. Matching SNJ warbird not included.
While my trip to a car show to prove or disprove color combinations for a watch and its watchband seems silly, it does prove that inspiration for making a watch your own is all around you. Just look and you might find the perfect watch/strap combo. You also might realize that you are perfectly happy with your Honda and don't really need a Ferrari.

The Swiss Army Airboss Mach 4 Limited Edition is definitely a keeper for me. Knowing that I have the 2nd one ever made (#2/50) makes it even better... and #2 is 1 louder than #1, right? Yeah... of course it is.

 Sorry, I'm not going to shave my arm for photos of my Swiss Army Airboss Mach 4 Limited Edition

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Riddle of Bronze - How Nostalgia Is Fueling a Desire for Bronze Watches

Is the Bronze Watch Trend Really Just a Case of Collective Misplaced Nostalgia?

Watch companies who are dabbling in bronze watches often have their creations described as retro or seem to be claiming to "return to the past," but I am not so sure that is really accurate.


The magic of bronze watches... A closeup of my Lum-Tec Bronze Combat B18
Let's play a thought game to find out. Think of the oldest watch you have ever seen. Next, slowly move through time imagining all the watches between that first one and the watches manufactured today. Ask yourself if you saw a lot of bronze watches during this mental exercise? No? I didn't think so. Could this mean that using bronze to make watches is really a modern fashion trend? Maybe...

Admittedly, the lure of bronze is ancient. It was over 4,000 years ago when early man first used it to make tools, weapons and jewelry. This wonderful alloy of copper, tin and other metals may not be as durable, chemically stable or as hard as modern stainless steel. Yet somehow, it has made a "comeback" and is being used by a handful of manufacturers to make intriguing niche watches.


Bronze weapons from (you guessed it) the Bronze Age. Photo: Wikipedia
While some brands are pushing the boundaries of steel metallurgy and other high-tech materials like carbon, bronze watch makers are looking the other technological direction. Instead of pushing the state-of-the-art, they are choosing to make an artistic statement. Manufacturers are creating  bronze watches that seem to be reminiscent of the distant past....but who's past?

Just some of the bronze watches available today or in the recent past
Do modern watch wearers really have a collective memory of bronze watches from some bygone era? Our fathers did not wear bronze watches, nor did their fathers. My point is, that the use of bronze is more for artistic vision instead of outright technological performance, and it does not have any widely-manufactured historical precedent that I can find unless one considers bronze ship clocks from the days of sea travel.

Where are the real retro bronze wristwatches? Certainly not in the early 20th century. 
What I really think is happening is that watchmakers are using a bit of perceptual trickery. I’ll call this the “steampunk effect”, which gives a modern object the look of an ancient one… perhaps from an imagined history. Hollywood does this all the time with mash-ups of “old” and “new” creating an illusion of what we think an old object should look like. You have seen this hundreds of times in movies where the props look aged, ancient or worn, but might have been made just the week prior.

A fantasy steampunk camera that has been aged with patina. Photo: Shutterstock.com
The result is a product that looks like it has survived over many years and bears a patina to prove it. There is perhaps no better way to give the illusion of age on a watch than to replace perfect finishes with imperfect bronze. Unlike the chemically inert nature of stainless steel, bronze changes over time gaining a patina that makes each watch uniquely different as its owner. Exposure to the environment or even to the salt and oil in our skin can tarnish the case… and that’s a good thing, right? For many watch collectors looking to stand out from the crowd, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

One-off bronze watches seen on watch forums or small-run batches for sale on Kickstarter seemed like the pioneers this material, but the earliest example that I could find was Geral Genta's bronze Gefica Chronographe released in 1995... not exactly ancient times. I learned about it on www.revolution.watch, and that blog is worth checking out... and full disclosure... their bronze watch article pre-dates mine by almost 4 years so this bronze trend is not exactly new in 2017.

You'll have to Google to see the Gerald Genta watch because sadly, I don't own one.
Bronze watches used to be the domain of off-beat entrepreneurs and micro-brands, but that has changed. However, with prestigious Swiss companies like Panerai, Bell & Ross, Tudor, Oris, and Zenith getting into the act, bronze has become more mainstream (but still not common), regardless of the perceived downsides.

The Bad and the Good…

There are a few things that potential owners should know about bronze watches because they can behave differently than their stainless steel counterparts. First, some people with nickel allergies may suffer a skin reaction, or there is a chance that skin exposed to the bronze may turn green. Bronze is heavier and softer than stainless steel so it may more easily scratch or dent. Some even say it can produce an unpleasant odor once the oxidation starts.

For the most part, manufacturers are aware of these shortcomings and design countermeasures into the watch to mitigate potential problems. For instance, stainless steel or titanium watch backs and buckles are used to minimize the direct contact of bronze to skin.

A stainless steel back protects the user from contacting the bronze directly.
Regardless of minor negatives, bronze can elevate the charisma of a watch beyond its steel cousins. The character of bronze cannot be understated, and it is not completely predictable. Bronze is forever changing by oxidizing in an endless show of surface effects and subtle colors. What starts as a brassy gold, can morph into warm brown and even green.

Bronze patinas can take on different colors. An exaggerated palette is shown above.
However, you don’t have to accept what nature gives you or even wait. The patina on a CuSn8 bronze watch can be artificially created for a wide variety of colors. It’s counter intuitive, but the patina layer actually protects the metal underneath from further oxidizing. The muted warmth of bronze can be more appealing for those who find gold unaffordable or too flashy.

A quick Google search will reveal a world of trailblazing bronze alchemists with their own special patina formulas and techniques. Bronze is a forgiving material so if you get less than ideal results, you can easily polish your watch back to the shiny virgin bronze that it left the factory with. The possibilities are endless, and the risk of ruining the watch is low making this the perfect customizer’s watch.

Many chemicals can change the patina on bronze (and brass) watches. Image: Google search
Who might wear bronze watches?

The person who wears a bronze watch does not have to be a skinny-jean hipster with a waxed mustache and gigantic beard, but he probably is someone who values originality, adventure and a bit of unpredictability in his life. He is willing to be different and not wear the latest smart wrist gadget or something for brand name recognition alone. These intrepid people might very well be the target market for bronze watches. Bronze offers character without being pretentious. It is the “anti-tech” answer to predictably perfect steel watches.

Cool guys wear bronze watches...
From my own personal experience, I can honestly say that I have a special connection with my bronze watch. I do not think of it as a retro watch, but a thoroughly modern one that only appears old. My Lum-Tec Bronze Combat B18 is one of my favorites, and I doubt that I will ever sell it. Look for my review on this watch soon.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Using Instagram to Discover New Watches

There are many social media avenues available to connect with other people who share common interest. While I am on sites like Facebook, some of those have become highly politicized and sometimes contentious. Last year, I finally decided to join Instagram and it was one of the best things as a watch collector that I have done.

Some of my Instagram Posts as @watchhunterblog
8First, Instagram let me connect with people around the world who love watches. Each one of them is unique and has something to offer. From purist vintage watches to audacious horological machines on the wrists of the ultra-rich, each can be appreciated for different reasons.

Watches, watches and more watches...
For research, Instagram is one of the best platforms to discover new watches that you might not have seen before. It is so easy to flip through hundreds of photos in a few minutes. Finding a cool image can often lead to following another watch collector. Following another collector can turn you onto what he or she might have in their box.

Many of my photos are taken with my other loves... my Boston Terriers on our daily walks.
This sense of community spans the borders of language, country and culture. I find it reassuring that someone else in the world appreciates the same things that I do, even if we have a different outlook on life. Literally one of the hashtags is #watchfam, which is watch family. I think that is pretty telling because some of my best friends share this watch collecting addiction.

I attempt to take one new photo a day of one of my watches or maybe one that I meet in the wild. This has allowed me to reconnect with items that I have owned for years, appreciate their beauty and not take them for granted. It has also moved me to appreciate the happy accidents inherent in impromptu natural light photography in lieu of complex studio photography.

This crazy color is in-camera using ambient light.
Lastly, Instagram pushed me to join the daily conversation that is going on between millions of people around the world. I invite you to connect with me at watchhunterblog on Instagram and let's share our passion for watches. See you in cyberspace.