March 2, 2020
by Ariel Adams
If you are looking for something “Grand Seiko quality” from Japan’s Citizen, then look no further than the very impressive Citizen Caliber 0100 — which also happens to include the world’s most accurate self-contained timepiece movement. I will get back to that in a moment. It actually makes me quite happy that the Citizen Caliber 0100 watch (here as the reference AQ6021-51E) is lovely enough on the outside to get copious compliments from those who have no idea what it contains on the inside. Elegant and well-proportioned, among its other virtues, the Caliber 0100 is a glowing example of Japanese dress-style watch excellence and humility. The timepiece fits so well in line with values from the culture that created it, one might argue that Citizen’s goal with the Caliber 0100 was to honor Japanese engineering in general.
It has been my experience that the Japanese manufacturing mindset values precision, efficiency, performance, and durability, above all else. These values seem to be at play when understanding each aspect of the Calibre 0100, from its visual design to its strengthened titanium case and bracelet. The Calibre 0100 began its public life merely as a movement in a not-to-be-sold pocket watch case in 2018. A year later, in 2019, Citizen finally unveiled the Caliber 0100 (aBlogtoWatch hands-on here). In 2018, Citizen only wanted to focus on the movement technology, as it was a major innovation offering accuracy of within one second per year. Compare that with the best Rolex watch money can buy, which has an advertised accuracy of within two seconds per day (highly impressive when compared with other mechanical watches). Most watches don’t even list the estimated accuracy of their movements — that’s how little many timepiece makers actually value accuracy these days. Accuracy, mind you, is not a simple matter to achieve, but let’s get back to talking about the movement later. For now, I’d like to keep talking about the bigger picture of the Caliber 0100 as a wristwatch and not just a movement.
Citizen, for all its careful preparation making a frame to house this beautiful movement, also seemed to forget giving that frame (the watch) a name. This is the Caliber 0100 watch that contains the Caliber 0100 (cal.0100) movement. That is going to make discussing these each individually a bit complex for many people. “Reference AQ6021-51E” also doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. As this is a thoroughly Japanese watch, I’d really like to see it next time with an equally Japanese name.
The timepiece itself is charming and so very nice to look at, with modest, sensible dimensions at just 38mm-wide (it is actually closer to 37.5mm). That’s about as small as I’ll go as someone who prefers short sleeves. It would be accurate to say that the Caliber 0100 seems made to be worn with sleeves. Having said that, the dial, which never shies away from light (even as it collects it), is eye-catching enough to be worn with short sleeves and some moderately casual attire. Most serious Japanese watches tend to be about this width and certainly formal in style, so the design direction fits in with what you’d expect from any particular Citizen timepiece that has been crafted with incredible pride.
The case is only about 9mm-thick (despite the deep dial) with a roughly 44mm lug-to-lug distance. It is also water resistant to 50 meters and is topped with a lightly domed sapphire crystal. I want to stop here and compliment Citizen on making sure the sapphire crystal was ideally made with the right amount of anti-reflective coating so as to offer no glare. If anyone ever wants to know how a domed sapphire crystal is done properly, simply consult the Citizen Caliber 0100.
Most people are surprised by the Caliber 0100’s incredible sense of lightness, even on the bracelet. The watch is made entirely of grade 5 titanium, but that on the case itself has been polished like steel. That means an entirely polished bezel, which is remarkably hard to do in titanium. Even when you could polish titanium like that, most companies don’t. Why? Because little else (than, say, platinum) picks up scratches like polished titanium. I’m not worried because, again, this is a Japanese watch, and in Japan there is a real hatred for visible wear and tear. The Caliber 0100’s case uses Super Titanium, a proprietary Citizen process for creating a hard, scratch-resistant layer over the base titanium.
Citizen certainly offers Super Titanium in less expensive watches, but most other dress watches on a bracelet out there aren’t this light… or if they are, they certainly aren’t as scratch resistant. So there you have it, the dress watch in titanium that doesn’t need the wearer to immediately worry about scratches — how wonderfully Japanese is that?
Some versions of the Caliber 0100 watch come with a strap, but I always prefer metal bracelets when they are available. This bracelet is very comfortable and, as I mentioned above, lightweight in its feel. It is a seven-link-style design that uses a handsome integrated foldover push-button deployant clasp. Everything about the bracelet is well made, but the design is a bit generic for some. Also, sizing the bracelet is something that might be best done by a professional, as Citizen designed it to be just a bit more complex than it might appear at a glance. I also would have loved for the bracelet to offer a small micro-adjust feature. I think with some effort, Citizen could have designed an exceptionally practical and discreet micro-adjust for the bracelets on its finer products.
My favorite part of the Caliber 0100 dial is something that is easy to miss, and that is the gracefully curved second hand. This feature is the most engaging part of the dial, both visually and intellectually. First, let’s talk about how the hand is made and how it operates. Most quartz movements have a serious limitation when it comes to the weight of hands it can carry. Lightweight hands are often shorter and not nearly as attractive given their relative simplicity. Some quartz movements are “high torque,” which implies they have the strength to operate heavier hands. The Caliber 0100 is just such a movement.
The movement was designed not only to carry heavier seconds hands but also to eliminate the whiplash effect that makes ticking seconds on lesser watches “stutter” as they move around the dial and end up looking cheap. Yes, the Grand Seiko 9F movement also has this feature, but Citizen ups it in a few ways. Each Caliber 0100 watch is hand assembled, with part of the assembly process being seconds hand alignment. Grand Seiko does this, but to my knowledge it doesn’t include an anti-shock system that realigns hands that may have been shaken out of place. This is a feature that Casio also has on its fancier products, and now Citizen has made use of this intelligent system to keep the Caliber 0100 movement operating with precision for many years.
The second hand on the Caliber 0100 is thus precisely hand-adjusted to accurately hit each mark, directly on the mark, and is curved down to further prove that fact. Watching it operate is a true watch-nerd joy. It also happens to be produced from coated brass, which gives it a high-end look mostly associated with mechanical watches, which tend to carry heavier hands. Then, there is the fact that the timepiece is all about being accurate to one second per year — a detail that you’ll be reminded of as you obsess over the perfection inherent in the operation of a small ticking piece of metal. I want to also add that Citizen included a feature mostly uncommon in quartz watches, that allows you to adjust only the hour hand. This allows you to adjust the time while traveling or for daylight saving time, without interrupting the accuracy of the movement’s time keeping operation.
Dial design itself is simple, if not also minimalist. Aside from some tiny text at 6 o’clock, the only text on the Caliber 0100 dial is an applied Citizen logo. Most of the dial is dedicated to the diamond-polished (with brushed sections, as well) hands and matching hour markers. Their super-flat polished surfaces reflect light for a luxury feeling but do not blur light, which would hamper legibility. The dial also has thin, printed second indicators and pretty much nothing else. The dial is not devoid of detailing, however.
A close inspection of the dial reveals spirited shapes used for the hands and hour makers, as well as an attractive and masculine elongated hexagon pattern for the otherwise black face. This face is also designed to offer a hidden prism effect, which allows light to pass through it. Citizen is the most sophisticated company in the world when it comes making light permeable dials as a result of it creating the Eco-Drive, light-powered watch. A bit of light on the dial goes to charging the luminant, as the hands and four of the hour markers are painted with small sections of lume.
Even though the Caliber 0100 is very traditional in theme, it is anything but a retro watch. Citizen masterfully incorporates elements of historic Japanese watch face design but renders it with a modern sense of shape, textures, and finish that I find really appealing. A small nod to the “contemporary” character of the watch is the atypical geometric crown, which probably gets to look that way as Citizen doesn’t intend for the wearer to use it very much (unless they are traveling, that is). On the rear of the watch is a display caseback with a view of the Caliber 0100 movement.
While no longer novel, it is still fun to see a high-end quartz movement proudly display its movement through the back of a watch similar to mechanical watches. The Caliber 0100 movement is decorated and offered in a mostly anthracite finish that nicely matches the dial. One of the neat features on display when viewing the movement is the tightly copper wire-wrapped motor system.
A movement like this you want to see, and I hope that when Citizen continues to produce the 0100 after this initial limited edition run, it will choose to keep showing it off. Now, let’s end the review by talking about the Caliber 0100 movement itself. In previous aBlogtoWatch articles about the Citizen Caliber 0100 watch and movement, most of the movement’s technical story is discussed. I recommend that readers interested in the inner workings of this movement and its developed consult the linked articles above. I will, however, briefly discuss the key talking points and help put the Caliber 0100 movement into perspective.
If you want better timekeeping on your wrist than the Caliber 0100, you’ll need to strap on a watch with an atomic clock in it. These do exist and require an exotic and separated system that measures a stable form of nuclear degradation to basis time keeping around. Those rare watches are anything but elegant (not to mention not wearable or practical). And, as Citizen argues, those movements aren’t autonomous either — the Caliber 0100 doesn’t need to rely on a third-party system to gets one second per year accuracy.
The Caliber 0100 is essentially like a typical quartz movement but on steroids. It also happens to get by with a beefier system while relying on sipping power from a battery that is being constantly charged merely by the light. The Caliber 0100 might be the greatest achievement of any Citizen Eco-Drive movement because it generates enough power for a high-frequency quartz movement. How this is possible is a mystery to me and one that Citizen understandably keeps close.
How high-frequency are we talking about? Note that an Omega MegaQuartz watch (from about 45 years ago) that operated at a lower frequency has a battery life of about six months (on a pretty big cell). Light-powered watches operated by using special tricks to keep power consumption down. Most quartz watches (including most Eco-Drive movements) operate at 32,768 Hz and offer about 10-15 seconds of accuracy per month. The Citizen Caliber 0100 operates at 8,400,000 Hz, which is how it is able to get accuracy of just one second per year. 8.4MHz is literally the speed of a primitive computer processor, and its speed in terms of a watch movement allows for mere nano-sized portions of error (which negatively effect accuracy).
While their strategy for implementing this structure in a wristwatch movement is still a secret, Citizen is very open about the fact that the Caliber 0100 uses a different shape of quartz crystal than the “y cut” found in most other quartz watches. Instead, the Caliber 0100 uses an “AT cut” quartz crystal oscillator that can deliver more performance but is also more affected by its environment (always an issue with wristwatches that end up in whatever environment their wearer happens to be in). Citizen’s engineering team was able to find a technique for using this novel (for watches) piece of quartz timekeeping technology, and again, this is just one of the impressive engineering stories in the Caliber 0100 movement.
Now you might understand why Citizen waited until its 100th anniversary as a company to unveil the Caliber 0100 movement. From a watch enthusiast perspective this extremely elegant wristwatch contains a tour de force of micro-engineering innovation and offers class-defining (and record-setting) performance. Any lay consumer can understand and appreciate the superlative accuracy of the movement, as well as the durable case and lasting aesthetic style of the Caliber 0100 watch case and dial design. Bringing together so much of what Citizen as a company does well, the Caliber 0100 watch isn’t just a compelling limited edition timepiece that ups the bar for the entire brand, it is also a workforce’s love letter to the company they work for delivered on the important occasion of 100 years making timepieces.
Citizen is not unfamiliar with luxury watches, per se, but unlike Seiko, it has not yet enjoyed too much global success with its higher-end fair. A number of years ago, Citizen got a lot of attention when it launched the Campanola (one of which was the second or so timepiece I ever reviewed on aBlogtoWatch) that was aligned as a high-end quartz watch collection. Those timepieces remain niche at best, these days. Citizen also later purchased a few Swiss luxury watch brands and also owns the La Joux-Perret factory in Switzerland. I say all this to give some context for Citizen’s involvement in the luxury timepiece space. The Caliber 0100 is not priced like the typical Citizen watch. You get a lot more for your money, but its not common for consumers to spend Rolex money on a Citizen.
That said, Citizen knows that, when entering a new space, it can take years to really penetrate the market. My hope is that the Caliber 0100 is just the beginning of a long legacy of high-end true luxury quartz watches from the brand that built off of this initial core promise of being Eco-Drive with one second annual accuracy. It is off to a great start. Price for the Citizen Caliber 0100 reference AQ6021-51E (limited edition of 500 pieces) watch is $7,400 USD. Learn more at the Citizen website here.
>Model: Caliber 0100 (reference AQ6021-51E as tested)
>Price: $7,400 USD
>Size: 38mm-wide, 9.1mm-thick, ~44mm lug-to-lug distance
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a daily wear when wanting to view my wrist and view a glimpse of otherwise impossible perfection. Certainly as a dress watch. When for any other reason extreme, analog accuracy is needed.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Accuracy and precision nut who loves the classics as much as they love science fiction.
>Best characteristic of watch: Movement performance is incredible and beautiful in a way a luxury timepiece should be. Overall design of watch exemplifies the people who made it in a very satisfying way. Dial design and legibility is excellent. Case is very lightweight and Super Titanium construction is highly reassuring.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Bracelet is nice but could have a bit more character. Case size is small for a number of wearers. New higher price point for Citizen will take consumers some time to adjust to.