A robust tool watch makes its way into my collection
When I created this site, I wrote on the About Me page that my hobbies include horology and watches, and those passions have grown significantly over the past few years. Everything about watches interests me, from their visual and technical design and internal engineering, to the many ingenious ways that watches have been used to represent different aspects of tracking time.
Some examples of unique and sophisticated mechanical watches include those that track the phases of the moon, the shifting ocean tides, the movement of the stars, and even something as esoteric as a watch made by Japanese craftsman Masahiro Kikuno that tells time using a temporal hour system that shifts with the changing of the Japanese seasons. If you’re intrigued by that, watch this excellent video that explains the temporal hour watch that Masahiro built. All of these things I’ve mentioned are done micro-mechanically! Incredible craftsmanship…
Like many watch enthusiasts, I have a list of types of watches I would like to add to my collection over time. I’m a pragmatic buyer, selecting watches for the specific purpose or interest they serve for me rather than just being a random pick from a brand or a fashion statement.
One type I’ve always wanted is a versatile “tool watch”. A well-built, robust, water-resistant utility watch that pays homage to some aspect of horological history in its design. These are the Swiss army knives of the watch world.
Like many sports/action-oriented people, I currently have an inexpensive Casio G-Shock that’s still functioning perfectly and looks like new despite the beating it’s taken during sports, family adventures, and regular backyard activities. Mine is at least ten years old, and you cannot kill those things. It’s definitely a tool watch, but I was looking to upgrade from its capabilities and design into a nicer overall package with stainless steel case, as well as adding in the historic nod mentioned above.
When looking to purchase a watch of this type, Citizen is a natural choice to consider. Their Promaster lineup is full of activity/sports oriented watches grouped under the themes of Air, Land, and Sea.
Some of my priorities for this watch were that it include world time capability with dual time zone display, alarm, chronograph, countdown timer, day/date perpetual calendar, clear legibility of the time (considering the expected complexity of the dial), a standard lug width to make band purchasing and swaps easy, a large dial presence, and some aspect of horological history mixed in.
After considering those priorities, I chose the Citizen Promaster Blue Angels Skyhawk A-T (Model #JY8078-52L) with stainless steel bracelet. This article outlines the reasons why I chose it and will give you some things to consider as you shop for a watch of this type.
NOTE: There is a sister version of this watch with Reference #JY8078-01L that comes with a blue/yellow leather strap instead of a steel bracelet, and a white chapter ring (instead of blue) as part of the integrated slide rule bezel. Aside from those two things, the watches are technically identical.
First impressions and vital stats
The Skyhawk is a pleasing eyeful to look at. I was immediately grabbed by the deep blue color of the dial and bezel, with the contrasting white hands and dial markings. A yellow seconds hand and yellow bezel highlights add an additional pop of color. The complexity of the dial is great to look at.
When I opened the box and picked up the watch for the first time, I noticed that it’s…big. It’s not one that will covertly slide under long sleeves, and you’re quite aware that it’s on your wrist due to the size and weight. Despite that, or maybe because of that, it “feels good”. If you’re a watch person, you know what I mean by that. The weight of the watch, the balance as it sits on your wrist, the density of the stainless steel case…just feel good for some reason that you can’t quite articulate. John Mayer referred to exactly this feeling in an interview he did with the New York Times about one of the first larger and heavier watches that he purchased when he said:
“You take it home and you study and you wear it, and the first thing you notice is, ‘Whoa, this thing is heavy.’ You’ve never felt weight shift like that on your wrist. It’s heavy in weight, but it’s also heavy in the sense that all these pieces are working together. It’s what I call the ‘density of design.’ ”John Mayer in New York Times interview
For reference purposes, I’m 6’3″ tall, weigh 195 pounds, and have 7 1/4 inch wrists. This Skyhawk is just within what I would consider an acceptable size on my wrist without that awkward “too big” look that sometimes accompanies large watches. The wearability is helped by the steeply angled lugs that keep the band drop-angle close to the case on my particular wrist.
A tip: If you have doubts about whether or not this watch will fit you, take a quick trip to one of the department stores or jewelers that stock it and try it on first. I was able to sample a different Skyhawk, but it had the same case size as the one reviewed here, so I knew what I was getting before I purchased.
The vital stats of this watch (including the Citizen feature diagram below) are as follows:
- Reference #: JY8078-52L
- Caliber: U680
- Release date: 6/7/2018
- Case width (without crown): 46mm
- Case width (with crown): 49mm
- Case depth: 15mm
- Lug-to-lug width: 22mm
- Lug-to-lug length: 49mm
- Crystal: Saphire, anti-reflective
- Bracelet: Stainless steel
- MSRP price: $695 USD
- What I paid: $414 USD
I’m not a fan of metal bracelets, so I took it off the watch when I received it and replaced it with one of my other 22mm bands. I purchased the bracelet version of the watch because it had the specific dial design that I wanted. This is not a criticism of the Citizen bracelet, I just find bracelets generally uncomfortable and I never get quite the right fit when using them. If a particular bracelet can’t be micro-adjusted to a precise fit then you end up with it being too tight or loose, which can be quite annoying. Additionally, it’s a minor point, but watch bracelets can easily scratch many of the things that they come into contact with throughout the day, and I’m not keen on that. So far I’ve tried the Skyhawk with brown stitched leather, black silicone, black leather, and its own stainless steel and they all look great.
The watch arrives in a mini carrying case, almost like the school lunch box that you had as a kid. Unlock the latch and open the lid, and inside is the Skyhawk (you can see mine with it’s brown leather band on in this photo).
With those first thoughts out of the way, let’s get into the heart of this review with the things that I like and don’t like about the Skyhawk.
There’s a lot to like about this watch, so stay with me on this. I’ll summarize it in a way that people can use to determine if the Skyhawk might also be for them. I’m not going to explain how to use every feature because the detailed instruction manual covers all of that well enough.
My favorite points include:
Overall appearance: The Skyhawk, particularly this Blue Angels version, is sharp looking. The stainless steel case and deep blue dial matched with contrasting white and yellow markings make for a handsome watch. I sometimes find myself staring at it to admire the design and dial complexity. It makes you think.
The mix of the analog sub-dials and dual digital displays works as well as can be expected in a hybrid-dial watch (meaning that you either like that style, or you don’t). The thin rotating slide rule bezel allows the dial to be prominent and large, which I prefer because I don’t like thick bezels that rob valuable space from the face area of the watch.
Case: The stainless steel case has a nice variety of angles and surfaces. Citizen chose to mix the finishing between brushed and polished surfaces to add diversity to the appearance. This approach catches the light differently based on how the watch is angled and gives it more visual appeal than just a singularly polished or brushed case.
When you turn the watch over, the press-on case back has all of the information about the watch etched into its edges and there’s a Blue Angels logo in the center. Not sure what the logo is made of…maybe acrylic? Note the warning message on the case back about not opening it. You would be wise to adhere to that, because this watch is rated at 200m depth for water resistance and they achieved that with only a press-on case back. That implies that it must be a real bear to get that case back off and then back on again without damaging the watch or seal. It’s not something that you want to mess with, and there’s nothing user-serviceable inside anyway. The 200m water rating is nice…no worries about getting it wet during swimming or water sports.
The granular-surfaced crown looks good and matches the top and bottom pushers, so the styling is unified. The grained surface makes the crown easy to grab when you pull it out.
Looking at the case from the side, the blue bezel nicely breaks up the profile between stainless steel and deep blue, and it looks great. The design is topped off by the Citizen logo imprinted on the crown.
Dial: I really like the stepped-down and sunken design of the dial. You start up at the top with the rotating bezel and visually step down through the two chapter rings of the slide rule before you get to the main time-keeping surface. The power-reserve indicator, UTC, and 24-hour sub-dials are also slightly sunken to give more depth, and then finally the two digital displays are sunken further.
The depth is nice to look at, and it gives you the feeling that you’re looking into the watch instead of just looking at it. Slightly raised/applied hour markers complete the look.
All of this is covered and protected by a flat anti-reflective sapphire crystal which should prove to be highly scratch resistant. Nice touch!
Legibility of the time: The main purpose of a watch is showing the time, and this Skyhawk scores fine there. Watches with complex dials can often make it difficult to see the hands and tell the time easily (especially in the dark). Citizen nicely handled that here with white hands and markings against the dark blue dial, which makes glancing at the time easy.
Lume: Tying into the point above, the luminescence of the hands and hour markings is good, and the lume is blue in tint when it’s visible in the dark so it fits the Blue Angels theme. I tested it by holding it close to a standard 60-watt light bulb for one minute at 11:30 pm and it was still quite visible/usable at 6:00 am the following morning. If you sleep with your watch on, just hold the dial under bright light for about a minute before bed and you’re good to go.
Eco-Drive: The Skyhawk uses Citizen’s Eco-Drive solar charging system. You never need to change the battery or wind the watch. Great!
Atomic timekeeping technology: Using internal radio reception, the watch automatically synchronizes on a daily basis to the nearest atomic clock signal and adjusts the watch automatically to keep perfect time. The signals travel over long distances and are broadcast from centers in the US, China, Europe and Japan. For example, the signal coming from Fort Collins, Colorado in the U.S. reaches my home in New York which is 1,800 miles away.
World Time function with switchable dual displays: You’ll have no problem tracking the time zones as you go through your travels. Your home city is displayed in the left digital display and the analog hands of the watch tell the time in that location. You can display the time of one of 43 other cities in their respective time zones in the right digital display. When traveling to an alternate location, these displays can be quickly switched just by pulling out the crown and simultaneously pressing both side buttons. Easy and useful!
Power-reserve indicator: For a solar powered rechargeable watch, it’s handy to have a power reserve meter included on the dial without having to press buttons to find out the charge level.
No cutoffs: A pet peeve of mine is when dial designers cut off numbers and markings to fit in the sub-dials and other features on the watch face. I don’t want to see half of a number in order to squeeze in a dial feature, it’s just not my thing. Citizen did well here by filling the dial with the desired details without cutting anything off.
22mm lug: The 22mm lug-to-lug width makes it easy to shop for replacement watch bands, as that’s a common size.
The nod to history that I like about the Skyhawk is the aviation aspect of it. I’m a big aviation buff, and I’ve learned a lot about the watches that pilots used to wear to aid them if the navigation instruments in their plane ever failed or they wanted to double check some aspect of their flight using a slide rule. Looking at the Skyhawk dial and seeing aviation design references, I’m reminded of flight and my hobby, and that’s enjoyable to me.
With that said, the Skyhawk includes several aviation-oriented features such as:
1) The slide rule bezel that’s derived directly from the E6B flight computer, which pilots today are still required to learn. Will I ever use the slide rule? Probably not. Will I learn how to use it? Yes, because I’m interested in understanding how to perform calculations with it just for the sake of learning.
2) The UTC time sub-dial indicates Coordinated Universal Time, which is the common time standard in aviation. This ensures that all pilots, regardless of where they are located, are using the same 24-hour clock. This avoids confusion when flying between time zones.
3) World Time function, which is frequently used in travel. It’s particularly useful for me because when I’m going through extended periods of time working with my colleagues in different time zones on tasks with deadlines, it’s convenient to know what time it is in their area so we can keep things on track during each of our respective business days. When I travel, I use it to easily know what time it is at home.
The Skyhawk has all the key features I mentioned above that I was seeking in a watch of this type. If you’re curious, you can read more detail about them in the product description link or the full instruction manual.
All is not perfect in watch-land, my friends. While there’s a lot to like about the Blue Angels Skyhawk, as with any watch there are also a few minor things that could have been better or different, including:
Color: The blue color is great looking but considerably darker than I expected from viewing the product photos. You can tell the dial is blue, especially if you’re wearing the watch with a black band for some contrast, but I would have liked a slightly lighter blue that’s truer to the “Blue Angels blue”.
24-hour sub-dial: It’s tiny, not numbered, and is basically useless for anything other than an AM/PM indicator. Perhaps Citizen could have put something else more useful and readable in that space.
LED light: The LED light for viewing the LCD displays is not bright enough. You can read the displays with it, but it would have been nice to have that a bit brighter. Better still, it would have been additionally effective to add a second light that worked along with the LCD display lights, and Citizen could have placed it in a notch in an empty area of one of the inner bezels of the slide rule to disguise it. Casio does a good job of that in many of their G-Shock watches, and that approach cleverly disguises the LED and lights up the dial of the watch so you can easily read the hands in the dark. Finally, the orange color of the LED is not preferable. Make it a white light, and call it a day.
Sounds: Timer and alarm sounds are short and not very loud. This is typical of all electro-mechanical watches of this type with these functions, so it’s not a knock on Citizen. Just keep in mind that if you set a timer or alarm and you’re doing anything noisy like driving, listening to music, or you’re in a loud location like a restaurant, etc, then it’s very likely you will not hear it when it goes off (which of course defeats the purpose of using these features in the first place).
The above is in contrast to using these features on a smartwatch or phone, where when the time is up they will happily vibrate and squawk at you for hours until you respond to shut them off, ensuring you don’t miss whatever you set them for. So just use timers and alarms on this watch with those cautions in mind…
Low light legibility: The combination of dark blue background and tiny print makes most aspects of the watch hard to read in low light except for telling the time. This is a problem with crowded dials, tiny print, and low light in general so it’s certainly not just the Skyhawk, but the dark color exacerbates this.
Crown usage: Having to pull out the crown for all common functions is not optimal, because doing that with the watch on your wrist can damage the crown stem if you accidentally put too much up or down pressure on it while pulling it out.
Citizen could have added pushers to the left side of the watch and moved that functionality there instead to address this, but my guess is that they were technically unable to do that because that’s where the atomic time radio reception antenna is located inside of the watch case.
To avoid damaging the crown stem and enable me to pull the crown straight out with no pressure on it, I put the tip of my middle finger of my right hand under the lower pusher while the watch is on my wrist to lift up the case just a bit. With the watch slightly lifted, I can then more easily pull the crown straight out with my thumb and pointer finger and not put any pressure on the stem.
The emotions and thoughts we attach to watches
Moving into the intangible section of this review, and with watches in general, I want to touch on the emotion and thought that we attach to the watches we buy. In fact, we attach emotion to many things we buy such as cars, a favorite jacket, a special piece of jewelry, etc. These objects, and the thoughts around them, make us “feel good”.
Everyone buys watches for a reason whether it’s a specific function, because we like the design, as a gift for someone, or even because we’re an aficionado of the brand. Whatever that reason is, those thoughts and emotions get attached to the watch permanently. For example, I will never forget tearing open a gift from my parents of my first little mechanical watch when I was seven years old. I loved that watch back then, and I still have it to this day for that sentimental reason. It was my first watch.
In the case of my Skyhawk, I bought it for functional reasons, but also because I like the design and its nod to aviation history. Perhaps it sounds silly, but when I look at this watch and I see the UTC sub-dial, slide rule, and the dual time zones, it subconsciously reminds me of travel, airplanes, and the great experiences those things bring me…and that makes me feel good. It reminds me that there’s a bigger world out there. Those certainly aren’t intentional thoughts every time I look at the watch, they just occur in the background of my brain from the subtle visual cues of the watch’s design. That’s the power of how design can impact people, and it’s a great thing when it’s done right.
I like the Promaster Blue Angels Skyhawk A-T a lot. Great watch! It checks off all the points that I desired in a tool watch with only a few minor negatives to consider, and to be fair some of them are just the nature of complex watch dials in general.
If you’re considering this watch, be aware of its large size and heft. If that’s not your thing then this watch is not for you. If you like that style and can wear the case size without it looking too big, then it’s a hit!
The Promaster Blue Angels Skyhawk is a great combination of utility, appearance, durability, and price. It will get heavy use in my collection, and the positive impression that it makes would lean me toward buying another of the Promaster line in the future. Nice job, Citizen!
Below are some relevant links for the Citizen Promaster Blue Angels Skyhawk A-T (JY8078-52L):