November 4, 2007
by Ariel Adams
Once in a while, there is an object of art that remains in your mind. You might see it once or a few times before realizing the appeal that it has to you. I first noticed the Citizen Campanola Grand Complication in an advertisement in a watch magazine. I actually tore out the page for quick reference when I wanted to take a look at it. I even (and still today) placed an image of the watch as the wallpaper of my computer’s desktop. This watch combines so many desirable features and details that it is hard to resist. This review focuses on the one Citizen Campanola that I own, that being one in the Grand Complication series.
Citizen Campanolas are a line of watches, actually. This is just one example, and there are several more. They represent the highest level of product that Japanese watch maker Citizen is able to produce. Unlike other Citizen watches, these are each completely hand made. This means that they are assembled by hand, and that many of the components are made by hand as well. Not all the models in the Citizen Campanola line appeal to me as this watch does, but they all combine time telling with interesting calendar functions.
For a watch enthusiast, the movement of a watch is a first priority of inquiry. The Citizen Campanola is a quartz movement, which is inherently not “mechanical.” Most people investing in watches such as this will demand an entirely mechanical watch, as there is a premonition that quartz watches are cheap. This may be so for the most part, but Citizen was correct to use a quartz movement in this watch. The reason is the level complications. A mechanical watch that does everything the Citizen Campanola Grand Complication can do would be at least $80,000. A brief list of the main complications are: time indication, full perpetual calendar with leap years, 12-hour chronograph, moonphase indicator, and a chiming mechanism that tells the time in a series of chiming sounds if you can read the simple code. All these features together are possible in a mechanical movement, but are rare and very expensive.
The quartz movement that Citizen created for this watch is completely hand assembled, and offers the reliability and smooth operation that a quartz movement can deliver. My only qualm about the movement is the ticking second hand. This however is more or less required (unless you have a Seiko Spring Drive) in a quartz movement, and Citizen tastefully understates the seconds hand by placing it in a sub-dial. Giving this movement a sweeping seconds hand, such as in the Seiko Spring Drive would exceed the technology as it exists today, and require a far more expensive movement. Having a ticking versus sweeping seconds hand is a small negative. Some Citizen Campanolas have eco-drives (not this model), meaning that are solar powered. These however must make visual sacrifices as they need to let light in through the face for the energy generation function to work.
Due to the high number of complications in this watch, there is a small learning curve required in order to figure out how to use them all. For example, to use the chronograph, the watch needs to be in chronograph mode. This requires pushing down the push-button below the crown which aligns the hands for time-measuring operation. Further, reference back to the manual is probably required to change the date or moonphase. Again, these are small issues as the operation is about as logical as it can be, and you would not want the watch littered with buttons. It you are familiar with the mechanical alternatives to this watch, then you will know that the operation of those watches can be outstandingly complicated. Even requiring a trip to the dealer to just change the date, no joke.
Regardless of the fact that the face has an array of dials and hands, legibility is quite good. This is often a concern with watches that try to do too much. You have so much going on, that your eyes are strained in just trying to figure out what time it is. The Citizen Campanola Grand Complication employs a simple yet very effective tactic to battle this. The periphery of the face involves the placement of large beautifully painted Arabic numerals (Roman numeral versions are also available). The choice of font for these number is impeccable. Reminiscent to me of luxury without pretension. Much like the numbers used on large European clocks in the 18th Century. The hour and minute hands are white in contrast to the darker face in order to permit a better reading. They are not luminescent, meaning that night viewing is not available. One version of the watch that I noticed had the hand filled in with luminescent material for night viewing. Later apparently, Citizen decided to remove these areas and make those spaces empty to allow for better view of the operations below. This was probably a good decision and the previously thick hands would have obstructed the view below. Little touches like this are part of what I so enjoy about this watch.
One area of the complication that confuses me a bit is the chiming function. The chiming function is known as a minute repeater. A minute repeater is a watch that chiming upon the pressing of a button or performing some mechanical action to the watch. Alternatively, the most sophisticated version is a sonnerie, which is a watch that chimes in accordance with specific time intervals. Such as every hour, or every 15 minutes. The Citizen Campanola Grand Complication will tell you the time when you operate this minute repeater function. You press a button and a little song of chimes is played. These chimes come in two forms, and when interpreted, will tell you what time it is. The problem is that reading the chimes requires one to count and remember how to read them. Honestly, I learned when I first received the watch and have forgotten since. The quality and sound of the chimes themselves are beautiful, and likely to be equal to those of a mechanical minute repeater that uses actual hammers and gongs in the housing of the watch. The Citizen Campanola Grand Complication emulates these sounds perfectly and does so to “repeat” what the time is. Again, I can understand a bit of why Citizen chose to do this, and it is likely to do with power requirements. The watch uses a battery, like most quartz watches. If the watch were to chime all the time, it would likely deplete the battery life much more quickly. Alternatively, allowing the user to choose when the watch chimes, will lengthen the battery life. The only change I would make is to ensure that when the watch chimes, it is not a mathematical endeavor in figuring out what time it is. Still, thought did go into this and I realize the usefulness of the codes. Imagine for a moment if the watch was to indicate “9:58” in chimes. Having to make sound indicators for each number would take 20 seconds or more. 9 chimes for 9 o’clock, then another 58 chimes for 58 minutes? Think about this for a minute and realize what would go into such a function. No one would be able to keep count of what time it is. Instead the code will chime indicating intervals of 15 minute increments and such. While, the inclusion and operation of the chiming function can be debated, it is a nice feature to have, and showing your friends how it works always impressed. Displaying the watch and saying “listen to this,” always yields a positive response.
Have no doubt that this is a large watch. The case without crown is 45mm. I personally love this size, but many are confused about the trend of large watches. Hear me this, the Citizen Campanola series of watches are meant to be shown and appreciated. Each detail is meticulously applied. The face of the watch employs a three-dimensional look with a raised minute counter and its many hands. The outer portion of the face with the numerals is also raised up from the middle of the face. You look into this watch, not at this watch.
As stated above, the little details about this watch are what make it a pleasure to look at. Notice the small face designed into the moonphase, which itself is gold plated. This is a commonly used feature in luxury watches, and represents that while measurements are important, one should take time in stride and not focus on limits of time, but more on the elapsing of time. The dial of the watch is crafted in what is called “Japanese Rose Wood.” A special lacquering technique used to create a reddish brown that sparkles as though it contained small stars. This slightly cosmic look goes with the stars in the moonphase indicator and is reminiscent that our calendars and time telling itself base themselves on the skies and Earth movement through the cosmos.
There was an extensive article in an issue of WatchTime a few months ago about the construction and people who go into making Citizen Campanolas. I was impressed with WatchTime taking the time to discuss these watches, but it indicated to me that there is a growing appreciation of the Citizen Campanola series. The article mentioned how many hours are taken in to simply polishing the watch cases. The one artisan who polishes all the Japanese Rose Wood dials has been practicing this technique for so long, that he longer has noticeable finger prints because his hand polishing over the years wore them permanently off his hands. Further, the steel cases are polished to an excellent high gloss, which also includes the parts on the band clasp, and curved pieces under the watch that make the watch sit more comfortably on the wrist.
Being an excellently fitting watch, Citizen throws in two straps for this piece. The attached alligator band as shown in the pictures, along with a more military brown colored calf leather strap which is very smooth and flexible. In order to preserve the life of the band, the watch uses a clasp as opposed to a buckle to ensure the life of the ends of the straps. This is a common technique for nicer watches, and had not been over looked in this watch.
It is difficult to sum up the Citizen Campanola Grand Complication Ref. AH4000-01X. It is true that this watch is not perfect, as I discussed above. Although, this watch is easily wearable everyday, has no annoying quirks in regular use, and is stunning to look at. Distribution is limited, and getting one outside of Japan can be a chore. I sat and waited on eBay for a long time until one showed up, then it was a bit of a heated battle to win it. Regardless, I got a good deal (as always). If you can get a Citizen Campanola, I recommend it. This is a watch that will increase in interest over the next few years. Very few are made, and each model is unique and beautiful. Enjoy it if you have one, I know I do!
I am entertaining of getting another model in the Campanola series as I love these watches. Again, these watches are very hard to come by. If you know of one of these for sale let me know, or get it yourself.
December 2007 Update: I previously mentioned that I was interested in acquiring the above pictures Citizen Campanola Limited Edition Eco-Drive. This is a very rare watch, but I got an option to purchase one and was able to play around with the watch. This is a very interesting time piece, but different than the Citizen Campanola Grand Complication that I own. It has a much darker feel to it, due to the black tones and Gothic font used to display the numerals. The watch is beautiful really, but I was not prepared to hand over the price that the seller was asking.
One thing that irked me, is that despite having the little double bell logo, the watch was not a minute repeater, further it was not a perpetual calendar to my knowledge. Because this watch lacked several functions I had become accustomed to on the Grand Complication, I was not ready to purchase the Limited Edition Eco-Drive.
Nevertheless, it is a beautiful watch, and I am still enamored with the Citizen Campanola line of watches. Have no doubts that other Citizen Campanolas will come into my ownership in the future.
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