Thursday, 30 May 2013

Omega Railmaster Co-Axial Automatic (36.2mm) - REVIEW


Fate had conspired against me on this one. But Kharma was in my corner. I have wanted one of these since they were released, but never had the spare cash to snag one. I was even presented with the chance to purchase any Omega watch at a staggering 70% off the retail price, but both my VISA and Amex cards were on life-support when this offer was made, so I had to pass on it.
The Omega Railmaster Co-Axial was released alongside the First Generation AquaTerra series in 2003 and it was a faithful re-issue of a classic Omega watch that was first released in 1957. Back then, the Railmaster was primarily pitched at engineers and other professionals who worked in close proximity to machinery emitting high magnetic fields and, as such, these watches contained an iron cover over the movement to protect against magnetic interference.
In the 1950s, Rolex had produced their legendary Milgauss model and IWC had recently released the Ingenieur in an effort to cater to this niche segment of professionals and also to show that they could produce a cutting-edge wristwatch that was robust enough to handle more than just the everyday activities of the nine-to-fivers.
Here's what a mid-Fifties IWC Ingeneur looks like;
The Real Source Of Inspiration For The Vintage IWC Ingenieur
And here's the Rolex Milgauss from the 1950s, with its distinctive lightning-bolt second hand;

Picture scanned from "Vintage Rolex Sports Models: A Complete Visual Reference & Unauthorized History" Revised & Expanded Third Edition by Martin Skeet & Nick Urul, Schiffer Publishing, 2008

And this is what a Fifties Omega Railmaster looks like;
Photobucket
picture courtesy of www.chronocentric.com (special thanks to J. Wong)
Omega’s decision to re-introduce this classic design in a modern interpretation was a stroke of genius, in my opinion. The dial is clear, sparse and sharp. With no date window, this watch is designed for those times when all you need is the time.


New York, December 1956
"She fell for her photographer. I'm told it's an occupational hazard among fashion models. Should'a seen it coming. Too much of a coincidence to wind up working with the same shutterbug on six different shoots. On the upside, I just got that bonus. And I know just the thing to take the edge off a bad break-up.
Think I'll get it in 'Tahitian Pearl'."


This Railmaster re-edition was released around 2003 and was soon available in three sizes. Initially, Omega released it in a 39.2mm and a 41mm diameter version, with the 36.2mm model arriving on the market soon after. I began to notice back in 2002 that some watch brands were bringing out larger and larger watches. I blame Breitling and, to some extent, IWC for this. It was these two brands that went beyond the standard 42mm sizing which had been the maximum diameter across most brands. And even then, this size was reserved for dive watches and chronographs. Most dressy watches were still being manufactured in a 36mm to 39mm case. This seemed to suit most people’s wrists.

The original 1950s Railmaster  measured 38mm in diameter, which was slightly larger than the standard 35mm diameter of most watches back then. Thirty-five mil was considered the average, all-purpose size. However, here we are in the 21st Century and there aren’t many manufacturers that produce a men’s wristwatch with a 35mm diameter. Some brands have even begun to release watches in this size for the female market.

And so, the early part of this century saw most brands pushing dress watch sizing towards 40 millimetres. Omega was no different. Much of their dress watch range hovered at about 39mm. I should perhaps mention what I consider to be a dress watch, since my opinion differs from that of many other watch collectors to some extent. I view a dress watch as the kind of watch that most men wore throughout the 1950s and ‘60s. Plain designs, legible dials, and perhaps a little window with the date. All easily visible.

As far as I know, the original Railmaster was produced for only a short time, about three years or so. As such, these vintage Omegas are highly sought-after by watch collectors. Personally, I think Omega should have kept this watch in uninterrupted production, much like Rolex did with their Explorer model. Even though they have made various design changes to the Explorer since the 1950s, the DNA of the classic Reference 1016 model is still somewhat evident in the current iteration available today. In my opinion, the modern version positively ruins a classic design, but I'm certain that Rolex's sale figures would prove me wrong.

Anyway, back to the Railmaster that I'm reviewing here. But first, I should give a brief rundown of the movement that powers this wristwatch. Get comfy, folks, this may take a while.

A little word about the Co-Axial Escapement...

English watch-maker, George Daniels (1926-2011), was considered to be the finest horologist of the 20th Century. Sometime in the 1970s, he began working on a new kind of watch escapement. The escapement is the part of a watch movement which-...nah, I'm not even going to try to explain it in watch-making terms. Not because I don't think you'll understand it, but because I don't know it myself.
I don't know how it works, but I do know what it does. A main cause for any major deviation in the timekeeping of a wristwatch will usually have to do with friction, due to the breaking down or drying up of the lubricating oils used throughout the movement.
The part of a watch movement that suffers the greatest amount of friction is the escapement. 
Here's a picture of what a normal wristwatch escapement looks like compared to the Daniels Co-Axial Escapement;




picture courtesy of http://forums.watchuseek.com/f45/press-release-10-years-co-axial-escapement-225721.html


Basically, the pallet stones, which are attached to the pallet fork, are shaped in such a way as to significantly reduce the amount of friction that occurs within the escapement of the movement. This has a two-fold effect. Firstly, it considerably reduces the amount of oil required to lubricate this part of the movement and, secondly, this allows the watch to run accurately over a longer period of time, thus lengthening the service intervals required on the movement. Follow this link to an animation video over on www.timezone.com which shows how these two escapements differ;

http://people.timezone.com/library/horologium/horologium631670193290479607

The George Daniels Co-Axial Escapement was thought by many in the horological industry to be the greatest leap in watchmaking technology in 250 years. Yeah, that's right. Two hundred and fifty years.
From what I've heard in the watch industry over the years, Daniels shopped this new escapement design around to various watch-making houses and none of them showed much interest.
He continued utilising this design in wristwatches that he designed and built himself (from scratch) for collectors until The Swatch Group decided to implement his creation in some of the De Ville models of the Omega range in 1999. A limited edition run of 2,100 watches were made. A thousand in yellow gold, another thousand in rose gold, and one hundred models in Platinum.
Since it wasn't a completely new watch movement that Daniels had created, Omega used the pre-existing (and tried & tested) ETA Calibre 2892 as the foundation for fitting the Daniels Co-Axial Escapement to. This newly-modified watch movement was then given the Calibre 2500 designation. So confident was Omega of the reliability of this new movement that it stated that the Calibre 2500-fitted De Villes would require maintenance servicing every ten years, effectively doubling the service interval of current mechanical watch movements, which needed servicing every three to five years.

It is a truly elegant design. The pallet stones barely touch the teeth on the escapement pinion and escapement wheel. This is where the vast reduction in friction occurs and this is why this movement can go longer between servicing. 

Union City, New Jersey, February 1957 
"I've had this car less than a month. Now they're sending me to the Turkish Desk in Istanbul till further notice, dammit! I'll have to put this baby into storage. Spicy food won't do my ulcer any favours. Wonder if I can get buttermilk in Istanbul?"






It has to be stated that the movement did indeed have some teething problems in its first few years. This is to be expected with any new technology, especially one that is retro-fitted to an existing technology. However, Omega technicians were able to regularly consult George Daniels for advice with regard to issues with the Calibre 2500 as they occurred, and he was more than able to make suggestions which corrected the initial problems. In recent years, Omega has revised the service interval recommendation down to six-to-eight years instead of the original ten, although I personally feel that one could still stretch a Calibre 2500 out to ten years without any issues. 

Over the last three years or so, Omega has produced its own in-house movement with the Co-Axial Escapement totally integrated within the design. This new movement is the Calibre 8500. The brand has now returned to making its own calibres the way it used to during the Golden Age of Watchmaking in the 1950s and '60s.

George Daniels passed away in October 2011, yet he left behind a legacy in the world of horology that will be difficult to surpass.

Okay, that's enough (fractured) history for one day. And if there are any watchmakers reading this, my apologies for any and all technical inaccuracy. Hopefully, the links I've provided will explain it all better than I did.


picture courtesy of Omega.I figured there ought to be ONE decent picture of the watch in this review.

This watch's full name is the Omega AquaTerra Railmaster Co-Axial. The case design is identical to the AquaTerra range which is part of Omega's Seamaster line-up of watches. The model number is 2504.52.00. 
The particular model that I'm reviewing here was one that I sold to a great customer named Reese (not his real name) back in 2009. He rode a mountain bike and did a little mountain climbing in his spare time. And he wore this watch throughout all of it. Sometime last year, he had regretfully decided to sell this watch in order to thin down his collection. Because he's a true gent and stand-up guy, he called and offered me first-dibs on it.
How could I refuse? I didn't know if I'd ever get another chance at one of these in such clean condition, despite the minor scuffs added by his mountain climbing, and his price was fair, too. Very fair.
I snapped it up.

The Box
While I always appreciate a nice box for the watch, I sometimes prefer if it's not so flashy since it's just going to get packed away someplace. Omega make a nice box for their watches. I suppose it's all part of the cost. The nice thing about their boxes is that you can actually remove the insert that the watch sits in and then use the box to store other stuff, like M&Ms or pencils.
Most of their watches come housed in a nice red leather (actually, in twelve years of selling watches, I never thought to find out if they are genuine leather or vinyl) box. Some of the more expensive or limited edition models are usually presented in a polished woodgrain box. 
I would be happy to include a photo of the box, but, as I mentioned above, it's packed away someplace. Anyway, a quick Googling of 'Omega red box' should bring up a tonne of photos. 
Besides, I'm reviewing the watch, not the box.

So anyway, about the watch.
First things first, though- if you need a watch with a date window on the dial, stop reading now and go do something more important. This watch has no date display.

The Case
As stated above, this watch was available in three sizes, but Omega also brought out a staggering 49.2mm hand-wound version as well. Here it is, the Railmaster XXL, slaughtering my 6.5 inch wrist. Lousy photo taken with my iPod Touch back when I used to sell wristwatches;


At almost 50 millimetres in diameter, this watch takes no prisoners. It houses a Unitas 6497 pocket watch movement that was developed in the 1950s. This alone would explain its size. While I do think it's a great watch to wear on those days when one is feeling a little more flamboyant...


...those kinds of days could be few and far between. Still, if I were ever invited to The Mad Hatter's Tea Party...

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, sizes. While the 39.2mm model would have worked quite well on my small wrist, I preferred the old-school styling of the 36.2mm version. Luckily for me, that's the size that my customer, Reese, was selling me. His wrists are a tad larger than mine, but he too prefers the olde worlde sizing of this model, since it harks back to the Golden Age of Watchmaking of the 1950s and '60s.


At thirty-six mil, it sits squarely on the middle of my wrist. I saw watch sizes get larger and larger over the ten-plus years that I sold wristwatches (man, there's a lot of repetitive info in these watch posts of mine!)  and, if I've learned anything in that time, it is that you shouldn't worry about fashions and trends when it comes to something like a wristwatch.
Choose wisely and you'll have it a long, long time, so you may as well go for something that suits your height and build as well as your wrists. I have seen too many guys of average height walking around wearing some huge "Hey, everybody, look at me!!!" kind of watch that just doesn't suit them. 
Yes, yes, I know, it's your money and you can spend it on whatever you like, but really, gentlemen, do you need some huge watch to announce that you've walked into the room? I prefer to rely on my personality to make an impression (good OR bad, depending on my mood).
Besides, over the past year or so, I've noticed a slight shift downward in watch sizing to more respectable dimensions for watches of similar look to the Railmaster. Pilot's watches, dive watches, yeah, they can look good if they're large, but a dressy, everyday watch like this one should be 40mm or under in diameter. Just my opinion. If you're up for it, then trawl through my  earlier "How To Buy A Wristwatch" posts for more details about your wrist and your next watch. You're welcome.

Istanbul, June 1958                                   
"I didn't even have to think about it. 'Anybody but Sheldrake' was my first thought. That guy's too tightly wound. Loves to argue just for the sake of it. I went down to the Post Office to send a reply. Three days later, Sheldrake knocked on my hotel-room door. Half an hour after that, we were yelling at each other."


The case of this watch is nicely finished, with both brushed and polished steel highlights used throughout. Notice how the lugs have an outer edge that's brushed steel, a flared section that's polished and an inner edge, next to the bracelet end-links, that's brushed.


The brushed steel case sides hold up fairly well after a few years of wear. The bracelet itself is a basic three-link design and this is given a brushed finish. I have found that brushed steel tends to hide scuffs and scratches a little better than polished steel.
Most well-made Swiss wristwatches use surgical-grade 316L stainless steel which tends to be extremely hypo-allergenic and corrosion-resistant. Rolex uses 904L, which is meant to be even more corrosion-resistant. However, let me ask you, if you ever spill something on your wristwatch that is so highly corrosive that your watch can survive it, shouldn't you be more worried about your wrist that the watch is clamped around?

ANECDOTE. Yes, this really happened;

INT: WATCH STORE-- AFTERNOON

The young man turns the Oris TT diver watch over and notices the see-through case-back of the watch.


                          YOUNG MAN
                  
                   Can this watch withstand an
                   electro-magnetic pulse?

Teeritz sighs, ever-so-slightly.

                          TEERITZ

                   Do you plan on being any-
                   where where an electro-
                   magnetic pulse will be
                   detonated?

                           *****

The Railmaster, as well as the AquaTerra models on which this watch is based, is water resistant down to 150 metres, or 500 feet. That's pretty much more than you or I are going to need. This is due to the screw-down winding crown, which offers greater water resistance than a standard push-in crown found on most watches of this styling. The Rolex DateJust models have 100 metres water resistance. Rolex learned long ago that this amount of water resistance was more than adequate for almost any recreational water activities. It's certainly good enough for a day at the beach or snorkeling. So, 150 metres should be overkill for somebody like myself.

The original Railmaster of the 1950s was designed for professionals who worked in close proximity to high magnetic fields. As the name suggests, it was aimed at railroad engineers. Therefore, in order to withstand exposure to magnetic interference, the movement inside the case was covered by a thin plate of iron. The dial of the watch was also thicker to help protect against magnetism.
The modern version dispenses with the whole anti-magnetic side of things. This watch is a Railmaster in name and outward design only. Not that that bothered me any. Omega didn't make this new version in order to appeal to engineers. As with their AquaTerra series, the Railmaster also came fitted with a sapphire crystal case-back to showcase the movement inside the watch.


The Movement
The Calibre 2403 is another Omega movement equipped with the Co-Axial Escapement. Couple of things to mention about these movements used by Omega. Firstly, it is a movement supplied to Omega by ETA, a prominent Swiss watch movement manufacturer which supplies a vast number of Swiss and German wristwatch companies with movements. ETA and Omega are both owned by The Swatch Group. I got a lot of respect for The Swatch Group, since it pretty much rescued the Swiss watch industry about twenty years ago. As the Japanese Quartz Revolution pushed its way through the 1970s and '80s, quite a few Swiss companies couldn't compete with these mass-produced, cheap watches coming out of Japan. As such, many watchmaking companies went bust. Others merged, in order to stay in business, while others still, switched over from mechanical watch movements to battery-operated quartz ones.

Uh-oh, time for another digression. Here's a fascinating story about Zenith. I don't know why nobody's written a book about it. Zenith was one of Switzerland's oldest watch manufacturers, having been started up in 1865 by a 22 year-old named Georges Favret-Jacot. In 1969, Zenith released their famous El Primero calibre, the first automatic chronograph movement in the world. Prior to that, all wristwatches with stopwatch movements were hand wound. This particular calibre was used in the Rolex Cosmograph chronograph wristwatch up until around the turn of this century. You might not think that's a big deal, but, for a company that has always prided itself on the fact that it makes all of its movements in-house, Rolex's use of an out-sourced movement is a pretty big deal and was not common knowledge among watch enthusiasts.
Then, in the mid 1970s, Zenith was struggling financially and was bought out by Zenith Electronics of the US. The reason? They had the same name. 
The auditors went in. Once they stepped into the workshops, the conversation went a little like this, but don't quote me;

Auditors- "What's all this stuff?"

Head of Watchmaking- "It's the equipment used to manufacture the mechanical movements for our wristwatches."

Auditors- "Mechanical?! No, no, no, this company's going electrical, with the expertise of Zenith Electronics behind it. Quartz watches from now on. You'd better believe it. Gonna beat the Japanese at their own game."

Head of Watchmaking- "But what of all this equipment? Where will it go?"

Auditors- "We don't care, as long as it's out of here by Friday. Get rid of it."

The watch technician then spent the next week taking all the machinery apart and attaching labels to each piece. He spent another couple of days transporting these pieces back to his house where he stored them for almost two decades.
Fast-forward to sometime in the 1990s when Zenith electronics sold their watchmaking division back to the Swiss and the former Head of Watchmaking contacted the new owners to say that he had all the machinery needed to manufacture mechanical watch movements again.
Imagine if Porsche destroyed all of their blueprints for the 911 twenty years ago. Sure, you could start from scratch, and you may end up with something better or worse than what you had before, but it just would not be the same.  All of the lathes and machines required to manufacture all the parts of a complete watch movement were saved. This Head of Watchmaking at Zenith saved the company's history. And its future. And he had the technical know-how to teach the new batch of technicians at Zenith. I don't know why there isn't an entire hospital wing named after this guy, whose name I don't remember. I've got it written down somewhere. Fascinating story.

Anyway, the calibre used in this Railmaster is a base ETA calibre 2892a, modified to accept the Daniels Co-Axial Escapement. Now, I have spoken to many watch collectors over the years who snobbishly tell me that it's not a true in-house movement by Omega. BFD. I have always said that I don't care if there are two baby mice running on a treadmill inside my watch. As long as it runs accurately and/or doesn't cost an arm and a leg to service, that's all I ask from a watch movement. Since around 2008/09, Omega have returned to in-house production of watch movements with their totally in-house Calibre 8500 and its derivatives. These have been designed from the ground up to fully incorporate the Co-Axial Escapement. 
I, for one, am glad that George Daniels got to see his technology used in a new, purpose-built watch calibre before he died. It was always Omega's intention to return to production of watch movements in-house. The cynics would argue that, in doing this, Omega wants to court a large piece of Rolex's customer base. Others say that Omega wanted to return to its watchmaking roots. I sit somewhere in the middle, with a slight lean towards the romantic notion of Omega going back to its watchmaking history.

The other thing to mention about the Co-Axial movement in my Railmaster is that it is COSC-certified. I've explained this before, so I'll try to be brief. Actually, I'm gonna go point form on this;

* The Swiss government runs something called the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute, or COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres) , as it's known to watch nerds like myself. This institute tests watch movements for accuracy.

* Any watchmaking company in the world can send its movements to COSC for testing.

* The watch movements are tested (outside of the case) continuously for fifteen days.

* In five different positions, since gravity can affect the running of a movement.

* Under three different temperatures, since fluctuations in temperature can affect the running of a movement.

* The movement is permitted to lose as much as four seconds per day.

* Or gain as much as six seconds per day.

* If it falls within this plus or minus range, it is considered 99.9% accurate (as accurate as you can get with a mechanical movement) and it is then given a Chronometer Certificate, which states that it has passed this level of testing. 

Chronometer certification seems to be the direction that Omega have been heading in over the last few years.  Fine by me. This particular model seems to hover around four seconds fast per day, so it sits well within the accepted range. Having said that, if I were really pedantic about it, I could place the watch down in a different position at night on my bedside table in an attempt to determine which resting positions cause the watch to gain time and which ones cause it to lose time. This way, I could manipulate the timekeeping over the course of a week. But I have better things to do with my time. 



Istanbul, January 1960
"The government put a muzzle on the Foreign Press and I had a story to get out. Then I had an idea, thanks to a half-forgotten conversation I had with my brother Travis last Thanksgiving in Bridgeport. Gilles, a correspondent from 'Le Monde' gave me his copy of "L'Etranger" in exchange for a fifth of Scotch. Camus had been killed in a car accident a few days ago and I felt a twinge of regret at cutting up his most famous novel. Gilles and I drank a toast to him. Then we had another for luck while I folded the short note and glued it to the inner spine of the book. Hopefully, it would get over the Turkish-Bulgarian border where Travis would be waiting to mail it on to Old Man Bennett at The New York Times Building.
It's handy having a brother in the CIA."


The Dial
The Railmaster's dial is an exercise in minimalism coupled with extreme legibility. For me, a wristwatch has to tell the time clearly beyond all else. While I have a few vintage Omega watches that are very nice to wear throughout the day, offering a clean and legible dial, the Railmaster is what I tend to wear when I want at-a-glance readability of the dial.


























Since my photos don't really do this dial justice, here's a detail from Omega's picture above.


Notice the raised section in the numeral '3' and the triangular marker next to it? It's loaded with a compound called SuperLuminova. It basically glows in the dark after exposure to either natural or artificial light. Once upon a time, watch manufacturers used something called Radium, which had radioactive properties. Radium was replaced with a less toxic compound called Tritium. Thankfully, a non-harmful solution was found in the form of SuperLuminova which, while it doesn't stay luminous in total darkness for years on end the way Tritium does, it does present no risks whatsoever to the wearer and, more importantly, the people who handle the watch dials all day long during manufacture.
The Railmaster dial has a healthy dose of SuperLuminova used on it. Each arrow-head hour marker and the triangles and numerals at the dial's cardinal points all have SL coatings. The hands are also in-laid with Superluminova, providing easy readability in very low-light conditions. You tend to find this amount of SuperLuminova on dive watch dials where legibility in low light is crucial.

I gave the dial a five-second burst from a torch (flashlight) and then placed the watch down on the bedside table for this shot below;


The SuperLuminova gives off a soft greenish glow which lasts most of the night. Not as long-lasting as Radium or Tritium, but a whole lot safer if strapped to your wrist for sixteen hours a day.

A quick word about the lack of date window. In my humble opinion, a date window would ruin the symmetry of this dial. The watch is better off not having a date display, despite the fact that many customers of mine considered no date on a wristwatch an absolute dealbreaker. 

The dial itself isn't quite jet black. It actually reminds me of that deep dark charcoal grey that's similar in hue to that of a blackboard. Again, to me this helps give the watch an old-school (pardon the pun) look. 
If I have a gripe about anything, it's the crystal. The watch has a sapphire crystal. It's nicely convex with a very finely bevelled edge. I just wish that Omega had given it an anti-reflective coating. While the dial itself is supremely legible, the crystal does reflect light that's bounced against it. An A/R coating would have made the watch look as if it had no crystal, thus making the entire dial stand out even more. My watchmaker friend tells me there's a mob interstate who can put an anti-reflective coating on this crystal, but I think I'll just leave it be.

As for the hands, they are perfect for this dial design and layout. The minute hand has a lume-filled arrow-head to help further distinguish it from the hour hand. The second hand mimics this with its luminous snake's-head with a longish lancette at its end. Aside from the curves of the numerals on the dial, the rest of this dial and hand layout is an example of sharp lines and jagged triangles. It is impossible to mistake the time on this wristwatch.
Two forty-five cannot be mistaken for nine-fifteen, etc.


Istanbul, May 1960    
"General Gursel made his move against Bayar and Menderes. Meanwhile, a car exploded just outside our Press Office...about a minute after I'd stepped out front to have a cigarette. Serves me right for working back late. Never again. My left arm took a lot of shrapnel, but my typewriter survived in better shape. Even landed right-side-up, although the letter 'e' key was now jammed up.
The medic at the US Embassy patched me up. Said it all looked worse than it was, but then, he wasn't the one wearing a bloodstained shirt. I spent a day in the infirmary. Gilles came to see me. Told me Levent the old janitor back at the office said he could fix my typewriter. I was a little dubious, but I had a deadline looming. Tensions in this country were running high and I had a story to file. Even if I had to type it one-handed.
When I got back to the office, the typewriter was sitting on my desk. Fixed. One of the lever rods underneath had been snapped in half from the blast. Levent later told me he rigged up a new one using a spoke from an old bicycle wheel. Son of a gun.
Of course, he wouldn't accept any payment. I told him I'd get him a bottle of Scotch. He said he'd prefer a bag of sugar.
I got him ten.
And a new bicycle."
The Bracelet
The Railmaster's bracelet is a standard three-link arrangement, similar to the kind found on many other Omega models. This type of design is tried and tested, offering excellent strength and durability, along with very good fit on the wrist. The links themselves aren't too large and this allows for a fit which closely follows the curvature of the wrist. The bracelet itself is held together by a pin and tube system.

Each of those holes has a pin running across the width of the bracelet. Generally, about eight to ten links can be removed from a bracelet when sizing it to your wrist.

A small metal tube sits within a channel drilled through the middle link. The outer links are also drilled to allow a thin steel pin to run through them. The pin is as long as the width of the bracelet. This pin is hammered into the bracelet link and the tube in the middle link provides enough friction to hold it in place. In fact, for added grip, the tube has a slight crimp in it and the pins have a slight groove around their circumference. Once hammered into place, the crimp on the tube 'bites down' into the groove on the pin to hold it all together.
It's a good system, used by many other brands although over the long term, the pins may tend to wear out as the bracelet links swivel slightly while on the wrist. However, replacement parts are available from your local Authorised Omega Service Centre.
While I'm here, I might as well do a quick recap on bracelet and correct fit. Ideally, the six o'clock end of the bracelet should be shorter than the twelve o'clock end.  This is to prevent the 'rolling' effect that can occur when you perform a simple twist if the wrist, like when you'd use a screwdriver or turn a door-knob. Your forearm is made up of the radius and ulna bones which do not turn in unison when you twist your wrist. If the bracelet is incorrectly adjusted, you end up with the case of the watch rolling towards the outer edge of your wrist. Best-case scenario, it gets annoying after a while. Worst-case, the watch presses against the bone and also puts added stress on the bracelet links. It's explained in a little more detail in my "How To Buy a Wristwatch" posts.
Another option is to put the watch on a strap. The Omega factory strap is a nice brown alligator which you might think doesn't work with the black dial of the watch, but it actually works quite well. It gives the watch an old-style look.

The Omega Railmaster is a wristwatch that I can't really fault. I've been interested in watches since I was a kid, having a mad fixation on the Rolex GMT Master, thinking it was the watch that James Bond wore in the movies. It wasn't until my late teens that I realised that he wore the Rolex Submariner model in the films and quite possibly (though never properly proven) a Rolex Explorer in the Fleming novels.
I began collecting watches in the late 1990s and have amassed a steady (and my wife says excessive) collection over the years featuring a variety of styles. The Railmaster sits in a category all by itself. The dial is all no-nonsense, almost lifted straight off a dive watch design with its clear contrasting numerals and dial. And while, at first glance, it might be mistaken for a military or pilot's watch design, a closer inspection will show that it is indeed neither of these.
While available in numerous sizes, as mentioned earlier, I knew that the 36.2mm diameter would best suit my 6.5 inch wrist. Bear in mind that 34 to 37 mil was the standard size for a watch of this style from around the late 1950s until around the early 2000s. While I was tempted to go for the 39.2mm model, I thought it too close in size to some of my other dive watches and chronographs. Once I made that realisation, I was convinced that 36.2mm was the perfect size for me.


Mediterranean Sea, August 1960
"I filed my story on the Turkish coup. Old Man Bennett was happy, since The New York Times managed to scoop every other paper in the country. So happy, in fact, that he let me come back to The States a few months later. My job here was done. Although, I'm gonna miss Turkey. I'd even just gotten used to the coffee, too. A British Royal Navy submarine was due to pass by the port at Mersin. Travis pulled a few strings and managed to get me aboard. 
The Captain, a big fella named Sinclair, said it was all 'highly irregular', but a message from his superiors soon calmed him down. The sub was headed back to England. I'd catch a flight back to La Guardia from there. Sinclair and I had a cup of tea up on the conning tower soon after we were underway. Even lent me a Peacoat to wear. 'Keep it, old boy. We have hundreds', he said when the sub arrived in England.
Half-way home. Can't wait to get behind the wheel."

Despite its bold appearance, the Railmaster is an understated wristwatch. People who aren't into watches have commented on its neat appearance. Even some watch nerds that I've met are surprised to see that it's an Omega. They weren't aware that Omega made this style of wristwatch.
The Railmaster wasn't in production for very long and I think its lack of date window was the reason for its discontinuation. I doubt that it sold in large quantities compared to its AquaTerra cousin, seen below;




Still, as I stated, I think a date window would have ruined the look of the Railmaster. Production of this watch ceased around 2009 and there were hopes that Omega would release a new version complete with in-house movement. Alas, the Baselworld wristwatch fair, held early last month in Switzerland, showed no new Railmaster model from Omega. Maybe next year.

In the end, it doesn't matter. If you hunt around, the Railmaster can be found on the second-hand market from time to time. As I've said, I was impressed when I first saw this watch, but I couldn't justify getting it because I felt that my AquaTerra, above, was too similar. Although, the more I looked at the Railmaster, the more difference I saw, despite the fact that the case and bracelet are identical in these two watches. But the dial provides the greatest point of contrast. I had often said to colleagues that it would make an ideal retirement watch, when needing to know the date perhaps isn't of great importance.
When I was presented with the opportunity to buy the Railmaster from Reese, I decided that I didn't want to wait until I retired.
It's a great all-purpose wristwatch.




A FINAL NOTE: I read through this review and am aware that it's a little silly to write about a watch that is no longer in production. There are already a few reviews on the Railmaster out there on the internet, but I've been so impressed with this watch since I got it that I just had to throw in my 2 cents about it.

Thanks for reading!



CREDITS:

Special thanks to Mrs. Teeritz and the kids for helping out with the photo-taking.

And a HUGE THANKS to Wayne for letting me take some pics of his '57 Chevy Bel Air!


Once I found that December 1956 National Geographic with the Chevy advertisement in it, the idea for the photo vignettes began falling into place, and Wayne letting me take some pics of his car was very much appreciated.
Man, that car's in immaculate condition!



Monday, 20 May 2013

The Other Three Films In My Top Five Best Movies EVER Made...In My Humble Opinion. Part 2

So, what I thought was going to be a short and cruisy post about my five favourite movies got a little out of hand once I began writing about the first film, "Casablanca". I realised that, to talk of these films properly, I was going to have to split the write-up in two parts.

Here's Part 1. It's okay, I'll wait...;


...Okay, now that you're up to speed, I'll continue with Movie Number Three, "Chinatown". However, I won't say too much about it, since I already wrote a little bit about this film last December. And here's the link to that post;


The early 1970s saw a slew of movies set in 1930s America. While the Sixties gave us films like "Bonnie And Clyde" (Dir: Arthur Penn, 1967) and "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" (Dir: Sydney Pollack, 1969), the early Seventies produced films such as "Cabaret", "The Sting", "Paper Moon", "The Way We Were", and Roman Polanski's "Chinatown".

#3


                                           Directed by Roman Polanski
                   Paramount, 1974
                    Screenplay by Robert Towne


It was back in 1984 that I did Cinema & Film Studies. My lecturer was a fellow named- actually, I won't name him. That would be bad form. Anyway, he'd divided the year into three separate genres of film. In Second and Third Term, we would be tackling The Western and Alfred Hitchcock respectively. However, Term One would deal with Film Noir. 

"Oh, this is gonna be great!", I remember thinking. I had already immersed myself in some Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett crime fiction, so I had some understanding of the Classic American hard-boiled detective and his world, but to some extent, "Chinatown" would go against much of what I thought I knew about fictional private detectives in America of the Thirties.

Robert Towne's brilliant screenplay mines Los Angeles history as it touches on the severe drought conditions that threatened to wipe out farming communities on the outskirts of the city in the late 1930s. The story concerns itself with Private Detective J.J.(Jake) Gittes, who is hired by a woman to gather evidence of her husband's suspected infidelity. Her husband just happens to be the city's Water Commissioner, a man named Hollis Mulwray. Jake Gittes does indeed get photos of Mulwray with a young woman and these pictures wind up splashed across the front page of the newspaper before another woman claiming to be Mulwray's wife appears with a lawsuit against Gittes, stating that she never hired him to investigate her husband's affair.
Gittes decides to find out who set him up and why. The film then goes into the corruption underlying City Council and Big Business as Gittes is drawn further and further into a conspiracy. I won't say any more about the plot. This really is a film worth seeing for yourself.

The character of Jake Gittes is, as far as I'm concerned, Jack Nicholson's finest hour. Others would say that "Five Easy Pieces" (Dir: Bob Rafelson, 1970), "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" (Dir: Milos Forman, 1975) or "The Shining" (Dir: Stanley Kubrick, 1980) was Nicholson's best role, but I beg to differ. Nicholson is a great actor and the role of J.J. Gittes fits him like a glove.
I suppose when one thinks of Jack Nicholson these days, it conjures up an image of a slicked-back receding hairline above a pair of black Wayfarers above a freshly-lit Marlboro Light. However, he is one of the finest actors of his generation. Even The Joker couldn't kill him AND he was cool enough to have kept all those purple suits after "Batman" finished filming.


Faye Dunaway plays Evelyn Mulwray, the Water Commissioner's wife and she delivers a beautifully nuanced and realised character that is at turns confident and brittle. You can see her struggle to maintain her composure whenever a certain person is mentioned to her. I always thought Dunaway was fantastic in "Bonnie And Clyde". And although she had a good career with films such as "The Thomas Crowne Affair", "Little Big Man",  "Three Days of the Condor" and "Network", I feel that she was underutilised. One of the better actresses of the 1970s.



The great John Huston plays Noah Cross, a self-made millionaire who wants to see a new dam built on the edge of Los Angeles, one that will starve the farmers of their precious water. It's kind of fitting to see him appear in this fine film, considering that his cinematic debut was back in 1941 when he adapted the screenplay for and directed the classic noir film "The Maltese Falcon", starring Humphrey Bogart.

Robert Towne's screenplay is a masterclass in how to write this kind of detective story for the screen. All of the classic elements are here- a private investigator with a smart mouth, a mysterious femme fatale, shady businessmen, sadistic thugs.
However, Towne throws in some major curveballs. Perhaps the most famous private eye in fiction would be Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, a P.I. who didn't do divorce work. Jake Gittes, however, appears to earn a living mainly from getting pictures of cheating spouses. And he does alright out of it, based on how well-tailored he is in the film.

The classic private detective is a product of the city and it is interesting to note that whenever Gittes steps outside of the urban boundaries of the city, he lands in harm's way. There's a particularly nasty encounter that he has with a short, knife-wielding creep, perfectly played by the film's director, Roman Polanski. I've read different things about the knife used in this scene. I've heard that the blade had a small hinge in it, and I've heard that the blade was real. I believe the latter, knowing Polanski.

The score by Jerry Goldsmith is mainly horns and some piano, and it works well for this film. The opening music over the credits is quite wistful and in many ways creates an image (in my mind, anyway) of a vintage Los Angeles on a summer's night as Jake Gittes steps out of his office at close of business, lights a cigarette, and gets into his car to drive home to an empty apartment.

I don't want to mention any more about the plot. It's a beautifully structured film, and we as the audience are, like Gittes himself, one step behind everything that's going on. There are a couple of truly shocking moments in this film which have lost none of their impact over the years, despite the fact that there have been a few variations of these story elements in other films since.

"Chinatown"  had the benefit of a solid script, which played around with the conventions of film noir and the private detective story,  and a respected and gifted director (till 1977, anyway), one who was able to take a classic American art form and sift it through a European sensibility.
These are just a couple of reasons why "Chinatown" remains a classic film from Hollywood's last great Golden Age and why it easily sits in my Top Five Favourite Films.





The next film features my other favourite actor from the old Hollywood era, Mr Cary Grant. Truth be told, a lot of my favourite films are Cary Grant movies. And this film is also one of Alfred Hitchcock's best. Apologies in advance for the annoying 'Pause' symbol that appears in the lower left corner of each picture.


#4


                                   
                                                      Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
                        M.G.M., 1959
                          Screenplay by Ernest Lehman

My third semester of Cinema and Film Studies was all about Alfred Hitchcock. We watched "Dressed To Kill" (1980), directed by Brian Di Palma, at the end of the course in order to get an understanding of Hitchcock's influence on other film-makers since his death in 1976.
If you ever decide to sit down and watch Alfred Hitchcock's output of the 1950s and then find yourself hungry for more, check out "Charade" (Dir: Stanley Donen, 1963), starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. It is the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock NEVER made.

"North By Northwest" represented the fourth and final time that Grant and Hitchcock worked together. This collaboration concerns slick New York advertising executive Roger Thornhill, who is mistaken for a man named George Kaplan, a government agent who is trying to foil the plans of a man named Phillip VanDamm, wonderfully played by James Mason. It's a simple 'wrong man' scenario that has been done often in Hollywood films, and you can see a variation on this tactic in the recent Steve Carell/Tina Fey comedy "Date Night". "We are the Tripplehorns."


Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill, wearing what some have called the best suit ever worn in film. It perfectly represents Thornhill as the modern, urban and ordinary Everyman who finds himself thrust into extraordinary situations.  Grant can do no wrong in my book and by this late stage in his career, the smooth and urbane Cary Grant persona was very firmly established. "Everybody wants to be Cary Grant", he once said. "Even I want to be Cary Grant", he added.

Hitchcock films are well-known for clever uses of camera angle and placement and the way the camera represents the viewpoint of the characters. There are a couple of instances in this film which highlight Thornhill's increasing isolation as the story progresses. This shot here, for example...


...see that diagonal pathway, leading to the Yellow cab,  in the top left side of the frame? That speck in the middle is Thornhill making an escape. Beautifully staged shot. Cinematographer Robert Burks did some very fine work for this film.

This film also features another 'Hitchcock Blonde' in the form of Eva Marie Saint as Eve Kendall, a woman whom Thornhill meets aboard a train, and one who may or may not turn out to be his ally. Hitch had a thing for blondes throughout his films of the 1950s and '60s and Saint's character stays in your memory long after the final credits roll.


She may be a classic, icy Hitchcock blonde, but she smoulders. Eva Marie Saint as Eve Kendall.

Screenwriter Ernest Lehman has written a chase thriller that moves at a great pace. Hitchcock threw in what he used to call a 'MacGuffin'. Usually, it's something that everybody in the film wants, but we, the audience, never find out what it is.
In this film, it is a statuette which contains a microfilm that VanDamm is planning to take out of the country. We never find out what's on the microfilm and it doesn't matter. Hitch was a shrewd filmmaker and he knew that the MacGuffin was merely used to move the story forward. Quentin Tarantino did a similar thing with the mysterious briefcase that Marcellus Wallace was chasing in "Pulp Fiction" (1994).
The blueprint of this film is what Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman sought to replicate when they were in the process of bringing James Bond to the screen with "Dr No" in 1962.  They even approached Cary Grant to play Bond. He said he'd do one film, but he didn't want to lock himself in to a series. After filming "Charade" in 1963, Grant was wise enough to realise that he couldn't play the leading man to much younger women (on screen, anyway. His last two marriages were to women considerably younger than he, the lucky devil) anymore, and he retired from acting after completing "Walk, Don't Run" in 1966.
The Bond producers hung a main aspect of the plot of "From Russia, With Love" (1964) on their own MacGuffin, the Lektor cipher machine that Bond is sent to retrieve before embarking on a cross-continent chase that includes some further borrowing from "North By Northwest".
Lehman's script also provides the cast with some great dialogue filled with wit and innuendo. There are no wasted words in this script.

There are countless classic scenes from the first sixty years of Hollywood film that flicker 24 frames per second though the projector of my memory; The Little Tramp meeting the blind flower seller, Groucho Marx walking into a room, Astaire gliding across one, Dorothy clicking the heels of her red shoes, Philip Marlowe and Vivian Sternwood talking about horse-racing...or are they?, Gilda "Putting the Blame On Mame", Charlie Allnutt pulling The African Queen through the water, Sefton being beaten by his fellow POWs, Vince Stone throwing a pot of scalding coffee into Debby Marsh's face, Sugar Kane walking along a train station platform...and Roger Thornhill running for his life as a cropdusting biplane descends towards him.


This has become a classic action scene. Totally preposterous way of trying to kill somebody, but Hitchcock never really concerned himself with reality. "Most films are slices of life. Mine are slices of cake", he once remarked.

Hitchcock was wise enough to highlight the strengths of his cast and accentuate their iconic status. Cary Grant left home at a young age to join an acrobatic troupe before he became an actor. There's a confidence in his physicality and Alfred Hitchcock makes good use of this in the crop-dusting scene above, where Grant slips into a smooth run that increases in speed as the plane makes repeated attempts to kill him, and later on when Grant climbs out of a multi-storey hospital window and stands on the ledge before making his way in through the window of an adjacent room. This scene also plays on Grant's sex appeal when the woman in this room yells out "Stop!" before putting on her glasses, taking a clearer look at Grant and then repeating, but in a breathy, come-hither tone "Stop".
Cary Grant was 55 years old when he made this film, but he moves like a man ten or fifteen years younger.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN'T SEEN THIS FILM. (SHAME ON YOU)

The finale takes place on the monuments at Mount Rushmore. Wonderfully staged, you begin to think that the cast were actually climbing around the faces of these historic Presidents.
It's a nail-biting scene.

SPOILER OVER

The film wraps up very quickly after that, and Hitchcock throws in some phallic imagery just to keep film students pondering for the next fifty years. There's a minor gaffe that occurs in the film's Third Act. Check out the kid in the café. I'll say no more.

"North By Northwest" is a slick film. And certainly, film scholars sit and analyse Hitchcock's other films such as "Vertigo", "Rear Window" and "Psycho" to within an inch of their lives. And while I think that those films of his are worthy of repeated viewings and analysis, I tend to prefer his other movies such as "The 39 Steps", "Saboteur", "Notorious", "Rope" (80 fantastic minutes long) and "The Man Who Knew Too Much". Here's an exercise for you; Get a copy of his 1956 remake (of his previous version) of "The Man Who Knew Too Much", starring James Stewart and Doris Day.
Watch this film with a few friends. I guarantee you that somebody will scream when a particular scene comes up. It's all to do with the framing of the shot. Hitch was a master at composing a shot to reveal information. When I first saw this film as part of my studies, one of my female classmates screamed when this shot appeared. People go on about the shower scene from "Psycho", but this scene from "The Man Who Knew Too Much" will make your stomach muscles clench.

And it's always a buzz when a film does that to you.


picture courtesy of http://www.everydayminerals.com/fan-club/play/544-akiko-stehrenberger


Film Number Five in my list is one that I've heard is screened every year at Christmas on at least one TV station in the US. It is perhaps a little dated in these cynical times, but the romantic in me loves this movie.

#5


Directed by Frank Capra, RKO, 1946, Screenplay by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra and Jo Swerling.
Based on a story by Philip Van Doren Stern.

As with the other films in my Top Five, much has already been written by film historians, reviewers and scholars about this film. I can really only write about why they appeal so much to me. This story has been retold over the years, most recently as "The Family Man" (Dir: Brett Ratner, 2000), starring Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni.
However, the 1946 James Stewart film is the most famous version of the story of a man who gets a chance to glimpse what the lives of his loved ones would have been like if he had never existed. The film concerns a man named George Bailey, who runs the family Building and Loan business in a small town called Bedford Falls.
George has dreams of travelling the world to explore far away lands and build cities of the future, but has always been held back by obligations to the business and there is a powerful and mean old rival banker named Henry Potter who is looking to ruin Bailey Building and Loan so that he can then have a stranglehold over the entire town.
George's Uncle Billy is entrusted with a large sum of money, which he promptly misplaces and this throws the future of the family business in turmoil, with George facing embezzlement charges and a jail sentence. It's at this point that George Bailey decides that his family and his business would be better off if he were dead. I'll say nothing more about the story.

James Stewart was perfect for the role of George Bailey, a decent man. A nice fella who just never seems to get a break where things go his way. He is utterly likeable. Makes you wish he were a friend of yours, although, in a way, he is, by the time the end credits roll. His George Bailey is just the kind of guy that you'd entrust with your life's savings. It was the type of role that Stewart was made for and I don't think it would have worked with many other actors of the era. Although, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda or Spencer Tracy would have been interesting in the role. However, Stewart embodied a certain kind of American, one that looked like he'd just stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

I was running a film bookstore in the city on the day that I heard James Stewart had died. Robert Mitchum died about three days later (or was it before) and I began to think that the end of the world had begun. "Thank God for Kate Hepburn!", I remember thinking to myself.
I know that nobody lives forever, gang, but it still packs a wallop when somebody from old Hollywood throws in the towel. I was devastated when Cary Grant died, as I mentioned in Part 1.
I'm gonna be a friggin' mess when Connery goes.




Stewart is beautifully matched by Donna Reed as the girl who's had a crush on George since childhood, Mary Hatch. If there's a girl worth staying in Bedford Falls for, it's her. Reed gives Mary a nice girl-next-door quality and their relationship is well written, from when they're a couple of kids to when they become adults. But George dilly-dallies so long that Mary winds up dating another man and there are some tender moments during this segment of the film. The telephone scene is classic and is regularly used in compilation clips about the history of Hollywood film or James Stewart's career.


Donna Reed and Stewart receiving a distracting phone call.


Lionel Barrymore plays the town's powerful rival banker, Henry F. Potter. He is wheelchair bound and a mean, old, cranky man who wants to crush Bailey Building and Loan so that he can then be the only bank in town.
Barrymore was one of Hollywood's finest character actors, having started out in 1908 in silent film. Born in 1878, he, along with his siblings John and Ethel, became one of Hollywood's first acting dynasties, one that continues today with their Great-niece Drew Barrymore.
Barrymore plays the crotchety old man schtick very well. Still, I can't hate him too much because I watched him in "Key Largo" (Dir: John Huston, 1948) and he played a more loveable character in that film.
SPOILER ALERT***SPOILER ALERT***SPOILER ALERT***SPOILER ALERT***
If there is one criticism often mentioned about this film, it is the fact that Henry F. Potter doesn't get his comeuppance in the end. We, as the audience, don't see him brought to task for hiding (or stealing?) the money that Uncle Billy misplaces earlier in the film.
END OF SPOILER***END OF SPOILER***END OF SPOILER***END OF SPOILER***
I haven't seen this film for some time. My DVD copy is in a box among 24 other boxes in the garage and I'm waiting to see if my wife has a copy at the library branch where she'll be working tomorrow. Actually, wait a sec, I'll just check the library's database...
...okay, I've just reserved a copy at the branch where she's working tomorrow. Nice. I hope it ain't scratched to hell.

THE NEXT DAY...

Right, I've had dinner, plus a stick of Kit Kat (or two) and I shall now repair to the lounge room with a cup of Earl Grey (black, one sugar) to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" for the first time in about eight or ten years. See you in 130 minutes (approx.).
                                                           
Yes, it STILL holds up. Some of the acting is a little hammy here and there, but this is to be expected for a film from this era. At just over two hours, I had forgotten how the story played out in between the more well-known scenes and I'd forgotten that this film's running time was so long. However, Capra keeps the story moving and it covers the years from around 1919 right up to 1946 when the story is set. Capra has sometimes been accused of being overly sentimental with his films. "It's a Wonderful Life" is, after all, a Christmas story, but there are moments of great cruelty in it. I said to my wife while watching it that I felt the nasty moments in this film seemed to outweigh the good ones.
I can see why this film is replayed every year at Christmas. It's a story of hope, one that's there to remind us that we are fortunate with what we have, even if we don't know it at the time. And it's a reminder to us all that we have an effect on those around us.
As one character puts it; "Each man's life touches so many other lives."
And that line leads me into a little detour about a book I bought back in the mid Eighties called "Suspects" by film critic and historian, David Thomson. If you're a fan of film noir, this book is a must. Narrated by George Bailey at the age of 75, it links characters from over 80 Hollywood films, from Casablanca's Rick Blaine to Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle. In some way, they are all connected through George Bailey and it is an astounding trick that Thomson has pulled off in overlapping their lives. It may even tarnish your opinion of George Bailey by the time you're done. Well worth hunting down.

In the end, "It's a Wonderful Life" still resonates with me. By the time the end credits rolled on my viewing last night, the good moments overcame the bad as I sat there in my lounge room with eyes welling up.
I love it when a film does that to me, but I find that, as I get older, films do that to me more and more.
I must be mellowing in my old age.




I must admit that there are too many films that I consider favourites. These that I've written about are my Top Five, but I can see myself doing semi-regular write-ups on other films that I like. There are easily five or ten other films that come to mind, without thinking too hard.
Anyway, those are posts for another time, I suppose.

Thanks for reading!