January 12, 2015
by Ariel Adams
There are three major collections of GPS satellite-controlled watch families currently available – all produced by the big three Japanese watch makers. They are the Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave collection, Seiko Astron collection, and the Casio GPS/Atomic clock controlled hybrid watches, such as the G-Shock GPW1000. While GPS satellite-controlled watches aren’t inherently super new, they didn’t enter the “watch industry mainstream” until Citizen released the original limited edition Eco-Drive Satelite Wave in 2011 (hands-on here). What was at first an experiment priced at almost $4,000 was ultimately adopted by watch lovers, so Citizen continued its GPS-controlled watch family and others followed.
This article, of course, is a review of the new for 2014 Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F100 ref. CC2006-61E – which is the newest and most wearable of the current crop of Citizen GPS-controlled watches. aBlogtoWatch initially debuted the Citizen Satellite Wave F100 watch here after seeing it at Baselworld 2014. What impressed us so much was its design as well as size. In between the original Satellite Wave and the F100 was the Eco-Drive Satellite Wave Air (hands-on here). The amazing thing is that if you look at these three Citizen GPS-controlled watches, you can clearly see a design evolution.
Citizen is careful not to strictly called the Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F100 a “GPS watch” because it cannot actually tell you where you are. I believe the implication they are attempting to avoid is the notion that the watch can use GPS satellites to tell you where you are. This would not be true. What is true is that the watch is able to receive signals from global positioning satellites in order to update the time of the watch. Having said that, some of Citizen’s competitors can use the GPS signals in a limited manner to tell you where you are. While none of the watches will pinpoint your exactly location using GPS data, others (such as the Seiko Astron – reviewed here) will update your time as well as your time zone location. I believe the Casio GPS watches will do the same. So in some senses, those other products are “GPS watches” while the Citizen Satellite Wave F100 is “GPS-controlled.”
Does the story stop there? Not exactly. I actually feel that it is necessary to discuss the competitor watches from the outset because I don’t think any of them are currently a perfect blend of features and wearability. Those interested in GPS watches will need to measure a few factors in order to choose the perfect watch for them. For instance, size is a huge matter. While the Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F100 has a few extra things the wearer needs to know (such as what time zone they are in), it easily wins in terms of comfort, size, and weight.
I want to go back one more step and discuss GPS watches overall and their placement in the market. In a sense, they mark a decided return to “high-end quartz.” The popularity of mechanical watches over quartz watches in the luxury segment meant that the majority of quartz movement-powered watches (those “with a battery”) went down market, leaving little room for pricier quartz timepieces. Over the last few years, the Japanese watch industry (ironically enough) has been slowly pushing back upmarket with quartz timepieces in terms of functionality, quality, and price. Citizen has its Campanola line, Seiko has some quartz models in the Grand Seiko collection, and Casio has some more expensive G-Shock and Oceanus watches. There are of course others. Nevertheless, high-end quartz is still a niche category, but one that I actually endorse because I feel that they are a good fit for a lot of people. That, however, is another discussion altogether.
Even though I use the term “high-end” quartz, they are still cheaper than most entry- to mid-level mechanical watches. I am merely talking about quartz watches priced at between about $1,000 – $4,000, for the most part. When it comes to Japanese GPS-controlled watches, current prices are between about $1,000 – $2,000. As I mentioned above, the original limited edition Citizen Satellite Wave was almost $4,000, with a retail price of $3,800. The Wave-Air went down to about $2,500 on average, and the Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F100 in this ref. CC2006-61E form is just $1,800 (lower than the $2,000 price announced to us when it first debuted) That is still a lot for a quartz watch, but Citizen has been good about pushing the price down, and pumping the value-proposition up.
Taking the GPS time-keeping elements of the watch out (which I will discuss at length below), what is it that you get for this money? First of all, the Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F100 comes in a totally titanium case which is wonderfully created and beautiful (the black bezel is actually DLC black-coated titanium). Not all titanium is created equally, and the work Citizen put into both the case and bracelet is extremely impressive. You also get a well engineered case that is comfortable to wear, as well as a sapphire crystal. While it is a matter of taste, I also like the dial of the Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F100, finding it to be both visually interesting and legible. In terms of sheer sexiness, I think Citizen currently beats the GPS watch competition. It is also very light feeling at just 1.6 ounces and has 100 meters of water resistance.
At about 45mm wide, Citizen nevertheless makes the Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F100 wear comfortably. Even at that size, it is among the smallest GPS-controlled watches on the market. One element that makes the Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F100 feel smaller is its relatively thin case which is only about 12.5mm thick – making for a very svelte timepiece in this category. Over the dial is an AR-coated sapphire crystal, and the bracelet design is wonderfully integrated and tapers for style and comfort. The angularity of the case speaks to me as being both a little bit futuristic, as well as surprisingly refined. Even items like the crown and the “skeletonized” pushers are given a level of detail you might not expect in a watch like this. The overall presentation Citizen was able to imbue to the Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F100 impressed me from the moment I first saw it.
The dial has a lot of interesting details and uses a lot of high-quality parts. You need to recall that like all Citizen Eco-Drive watches, the dial must be able to pass light through it to photovoltaic cells which power the battery. This means that you don’t need to change the battery, but the watch dial must regularly be exposed to light – ideally, sunlight. The center of the dial is where light passes through, and the rest is a series of layers making for an attractive three dimensional environment. I love the brushed hour markers and the visible hands even though they could be a tad longer. In addition to this deep gray dial version of the Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F100, there is a light gray, almost white, dialed version and a limited edition of 500 piece model in a DLC black case matched to a white strap (not bracelet).
One element that you might love or not love is the fact that some of the dial data is actually printed on the reverse of the sapphire crystal. This is actually welcome with the time zone reference city ring on the periphery of the dial, but not 100% welcome with the “NO RX OK” text over the logo (which itself is on the dial). This information is referred to when syncing up to the GPS satellites as the seconds hand often doubles as an indicator hand when in certain function modes. It is a minor quibble, but I wanted to mention it since so much of the dial is done so well.
In terms of functionality, Citizen seemed to want the Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F100 to be simple. So while you don’t get a lot of fancy dual time features or a chronograph, you do get a relatively clean dial. Having said that, there are actually enough functions in my opinion. When it comes to Citizen watches of this ilk, I actually prefer less functionality. The reason why is that Citizen is really good at making a “set and forget” type of watch – meaning the type of timepiece that after initially setting the date and time, you really don’t need to worry about it as long as you keep the battery charged.
While Citizen does a rather good job at making a beautiful watch, I often find myself confused when trying to operate or adjust them. This confusion usually ends after looking at the manual, but I don’t exactly carry that around. Complicated quartz watches are rarely known for being extremely user-friendly, but for whatever reason, Citizen watches even tax this watch expert’s skills from time to time. The funny thing is that I know Citizen is actually doing everything in their power to make the watches as simple to use as possible. Maybe it is my problem…
I say all that to remind you that if you are getting a Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F100 watch, you will need to learn how to use it with the manual. Further, unless you don’t plan on traveling you will need to recall a few necessary functions and how to use them. Certain things simply aren’t intuitive – such as the crown. In the majority of watches I’ve had, pulling out the crown to adjust the time is rather standard – not here, my friends, not here.
The crown actually pulls out in two positions. Actually, pulling it out to the first position and turning the crown is perhaps the most straight forward thing the watch does – and that is to use the seconds hand to change the time zone. There are 40 time zones, taking into account some of those 30 minute time zones. This makes it easy to change the time when traveling – but you will need to know the reference city of the time zone’s relationship to GMT (e.g. +1 or -5 GMT, etc…). There are two other functions you’ll need to learn how to use, and those are turning on or off DST (daylight saving time), as well as manually syncing the watch with available GPS stations in the sky.
Citizen boasts that the Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F100 connects to GPS signals faster than its competitors with an average time of about three seconds. In my tests, it was difficult to determine because in order to get a clear signal, you need to be outdoors in an area with little interference. I did find that the Seiko Astron was a bit more reliable when it came to connecting with satellites and seemed to be a bit more clear when it updated the signal. I did, however, use the Astron and the Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F100 in different circumstances and areas, so it was not a clinical comparison. I also often forgot the method of manually syncing to satellites, or wasn’t sure if I was doing it correctly.
The good news is that, assuming you are outside enough, Citizen designed the Satellite Wave F100 to automatically sync to GPS in order to update both the time and calendar information. The only thing that it will not do is update your location. Speaking of the calendar information, the watch has a full perpetual calendar, even though the dial only displays the date as well as the day of the week.
An interesting feature relatively new on some Citizen Eco-Drive watches is an indicator that tells you how well the current light hitting the dial is charging the movement. You’ll see a scale on the right half of the main dial that looks like a power reserve indicator. You’ll see a similar, smaller scale on the second half of the subsidiary dial. If you didn’t know better, you’d be confused as to why there are two. Well, the smaller indicator is the power reserve indicator telling you how much battery power there is (up to about two years when full). The larger scale is used to indicate how well the current light hitting the dial is charging the movement. All the hands come together in order to indicate this information when this mode is activated by pushing the upper pusher. This mode will also activate the smaller subsidiary hand to move away from the day of the week indicator to the power reserve indicator momentarily.