Monday, May 29, 2017

MEET THE WATCH: Yamaha MT-01 Motorcycle Limited-Edition Mechanical Watch by Victorinox Swiss Army

I might be considered a boring guy. I don't really view television, but spend most of my spare time reading about watches, writing about watches and searching (you guessed it) for watches. While this may seem a bit obsessive, it is entertaining nonetheless. I get excited when I "discover" a design that I have not seen before. While browsing different auctions on eBay, I ran across a rare watch that does not come up for sale very often. Here is what it looked like.

A limited edition mechanical watch made by Victorinox Swiss Army for Yamaha Motorcycles. Photo: cytochrom
I contacted the seller, Rafal aka cytochrome, to see if he would allow me to use his photos in this article and he agreed. All images of the watch with the MT dial were made by him, and I'm thankful that he let me share them with the watch world. 

You may be wondering what kind of watch you are looking at. Readers of my blog may think it looks familiar since I have written four other articles on this style of watch, but I am jumping ahead. Let's talk first about the origin story of this timepiece.

This watch may look familiar, but it is highly modified from an exisiting Victorinox model. Photo: cytochrom
In 2005, Yamaha released a mean-looking motorcycle named the MT-01. It was a naked bike without plastic fairings and was powered by Yamaha's largest V-twin engine. To my eyes, it looked like many of the standard upright Japanese motorcycles of the 1980s, except it had a twin cylinder engine instead of an inline four. Because this blog is dedicated to watches and not motorcycles, you can learn more about the vehicle at 2005 Yamaha MT-01 review on Motorcycle USA.

Victorinox Swiss Army made a promotional watch for Yamaha's MT-01 motorcycle. Photo: Yamaha
As part of the promotion for this motorcycle, Victorinox Swiss Army created 400 limited-edition MT-01 watches. Instead of starting from a clean slate, Victorinox modified one of their existing  watch models, the SeaPlane XL Mechanical, which was released in 2003. I wrote a detailed article about it at: MEET THE WATCH: Swiss Army SeaPlane XL Mechanical, and you can view the photo below for reference.

Swiss Army used the SeaPlane XL Mechanical as the starting point for the Yamaha MT-01 watch
Below is the Yamaha MT-01 version. See if you can tell the differences between the two. I counted 8 variations on the front and 3 on the back of the MT-01 from the original, and that does not include the box and its contents, which I assume would have been different as well. A list will appear at the end of the article if you want to jump ahead to check your answers... 

Can you find differences on the Yamaha MT-01 watch compared to the original SeaPlane XL? Photo: cytochrom
First, let's talk about what design features remained unchanged. The basic layout of the dial is similar with no date window and a sub-dial at the 6:00 position. The Swiss Army Shield is still present, but a branding change required the addition of the word "Victorinox" in the logo. 

You can see the distinctive guilloche pattern on the dial that looks like a spiderweb. On high-end watches, this pattern is etched by hand using 100 year old machines, but I would suspect that it is stamped here. Regardless, it is a stunning effect. 

There is also a sloped chapter ring with metal applied and printed indices. In a way, it mimics the outer slope of the watch. Showing a thin edge of metal on the bezel helps reduce visual bulk here.

The SeaPlane rendered in all stainless steel for an industrial look. Photo: cytochrom
The neon green skeleton hands of the original SeaPlane XL were replaced with polished stainless steel versions. This one modification had the biggest effect on the personality of the watch taking it from fun to serious.

On the sub-dial, the yellow seconds hand was replaced with a red one, and the word SEAPLANE was removed from the sub-dial. In its place, a Transformers-like logo was added at the 60 mark. 

Yamaha MT-01 watch with a sloping chapter ring and tapering case. Photo: cytochrom
Victorinox used the same 45 mm lugless case as the original Swiss Army SeaPlane XL Mechanical. Lugless is a literal description as you can see that the watch looks like a perfect circle from above. The case does not have the normal protrusions that hold the watch bands in place. Instead, there are lug-like structures built into the bracelet that keep it and watch case aligned while making a smooth visual transition between the parts.

The Yamaha MT-01 watch was based on Victorinox's SeaPlane XL modular watch. Photo: cytochrom
All SeaPlane watches, including the Yamaha MT-01 Limited Edition, were designed for tools watch band changes. Most regular watches require tools to attach or remove a watch band, but the SeaPlane's quick change system did not. Below you can see how the pieces would fit together with the ring working as a locking bottom. A clockwise turn of the ring on the back would lock the wristband to the case. The parts are precision-engineered and crafted with great skill. There are likely many hours of machining to make this seemingly simple system work.

Yamaha MT-01 watch with the steel bracelet and locking ring. Photo: cytochrom
The Yamaha MT-01 watch came with a very special 9-link metal bracelet. This was an expensive accessory available for the Swiss Army SeaPlane XL so it is nice that it was included for this limited edition. This increases the appeal of the watch in both value proposition, aesthetic and practical terms. The Swiss Army SeaPlane came with a plastic watch band that was susceptible to ripping over time. If you are planning on keeping a SeaPlane watch, you will want to invest in a metal bracelet or face the fact that one day, plastic watch band replacements may no longer be available. The metal bracelet might be considered "bullet-proof" and should never rip.

An integrated deployment clasp maintains the streamlined look of the metal bracelet. Photo: cytochrome
Notice how thin the bracelet is and that the bulk of the deployment clasp is hidden with the bracelet. I love the way the clasp is just two end links with buttons on the side to operate the latch. Rendering the Yamaha MT-01 watch parts in stainless steel and removing the neon colors of the original SeaPlane XL Mechanical gave this limited edition version a no-nonsense industrial personality. Where the original colorful SeaPlanes were more trendy in the mid 2000's, the Yamaha MT-01 stainless steel version seems a better fit for a bad-ass marauder of a motorcycle.

The metal bracelet is thin and elegant in design. Photo: cytochrom
Looking at the crown side of the watch shows additional evidence of Victorinox designers muting the colorful playfulness of the original SeaPlane, which had the words ADJUST in a circular arrow graphic. The screw-down crown is plastic so great care should be taken not to stress it because replacing it might be impossible.

The crown has been simplified without writing on it. Photo: cytochrom
The back of the Yamaha MT-01 Limited Edition mechanical watch has a display window showing the hand-winding Unitas 6498-1 (maybe 6498-2) pocket watch movement. The Yamaha MT-01 triangular logo appears to be etched onto the glass. The function of the locking ring should be clearer from this view and the words "OPEN" and "CLOSE" inform the user which direction to turn the ring to lock and unlock the watchband.

The Unitas 6498 movement can be seen through the display window. Photo: cytochrom
In closing, the partnership between Victorinox Swiss Army and Yamaha Motorcycles produced a memorable and highly collectible limited edition watch series of only 400 units. This makes the MT-01 watch fairly rare. While care was given to cater to the the owners of the Yamaha MT-01 motorcycles, the appeal of the watch goes beyond that small demographic. Even if you don't know what a MT-01 is or even ride a motorcycle, you can still appreciate the watch's design. 

The MT-01 watch feels like it is from some alternate future, but also tied to an industrial past. The design simultaneously lives between both eras. The neon colors of the original SeaPlane watches were replaced with polished surfaces that reflect what is around it instead of projecting its own color... save for the single red seconds hand that reminds me of a tachometer needle. If I ever got hold of one of these, I might be tempted to bead blast if to a satin finish for a customized tool watch. Overall, I think Victorinox delivered a stylish commemorative watch for a beast of a motorcycle. 

If you own this watch and a Yamaha MT-01, send in your photos and I will post them with the article!

 A fitting limited edition watch for the Yamaha MT-01. Photo: cytochrom

ANSWERS: Differences between the original Swiss Army SeaPlane XL Mechanical and the Yamaha MT-01 Limited Edition Watches:

  1. SWISS ARMY logo replaced by Victorinox Swiss Army
  2. Neon green skeleton hands replaced with polished stainless steel skeleton hands
  3. MT letters added to 3:00 spot (3 removed)
  4. SEAPLANE word removed from sub-dial
  5. Logo added to sub-dial removing 60
  6. Yellow hand in sub-dial replaced with red hand
  7. Crown does not have words "ADJUST"
  8. A 9-link stainless steel bracelet replaced the plastic watch band
  9. A MT logo appears on the glass display back
  10. The limited edition number is engraved in the case
  11. The model number has been changed to v.25076 from v.24076

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 

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