March 5, 2012
by Ariel Adams
It is watches like this that cause many people to totally overlook mechanical timepieces altogether. Brands like Citizen, Seiko, and Casio have been offering gadget-lovers watches with heaps of functions for years – functions that most mechanical watches could never dream of. Watches like this don’t offer the same type of “haute horology” experience that mechanical watch lovers seek, but are an extremely important flavor of watch in the market. They take timepieces to their logical technical limits, and keep pushing the boundaries further and further.
This Citizen Perpetual Chrono AT watch for instance is light powered (using Citizen’s famous Eco-Drive movement), atomic clock controlled, has a perpetual calendar, chronograph, and second time zone indicator… among other functions. This basically means that once you set it up you could go without ever adjusting it again for the rest of your life. The downside, especially as applied to analog watches that do all this is that the system is inherently complicated to learn and set up. Citizen offers a sizable instruction manual along with tutorial videos on their website, and you will need to reference them to figure out how to use a watch like this. Not that this is an issue, but people like me tend to be used to getting watches and figuring them out in a few seconds right out of the box.
The good news, like I said, is that once you setup the watch, most of its features are unnecessary to mess with again (assuming the watch remains powered). That means the time and calendar data is reliably accurate for as long as you need. That makes this watch more or less “set it and forget it” when it comes to most functions. That doesn’t apply to things like the chronograph, that you will still need to learn how to use. It isn’t exactly as straight forward as the apparent “start/stop” and “reset” pushers might suggest – but it isn’t a big deal.
All over the dial are hints of the watch’s intense level of functionality. There are indicators for some of the atomic clock radio signal reception features on the flange ring (H,M,L), and what looks like a power reserve indicator as part of the upper right subdial. Many of the settings and features aren’t even viewable in the default view. A good example is the perpetual calendar system.
On the dial you’ll see a date window and day of the week hand as the only calendar system indicators. There is a mention of “perpetual calendar” on the face of the watch, but you’d be forgiven for being confused as a perpetual calendar usually shows more than that. Basically, the Perpetual Chrono AT watch takes into consideration the month and leap year while setting the calendar. You need the instruction manual to do this, but once it is set, the date will always be correct. Logically speaking, the date and day of the week is what you really want to know. If you forget what month you are in, you have other problems.
By default the dial shows you a number of things. You have the time, date, synchronized 24 hour hand (for AM/PM), date, day of the week, and US timezone indicator. This version of the watch is clearly for the US given indicators such as LAX, DEN, NYC, and well LON. You can change the timezone easily by pulling out the crown and the time easily adjusts for you. Pulling out the crown and turning the crown is also how you access features such as the chronograph and alarm. If you press the pushers with the crown in other settings you’ll get other information that you may need the instructions to decipher. Once you learn it though, this watch proves to be nice looking and pretty geektastic.
In addition to having a lot of whiz-bang features and an easy to love convenience, the Perpetual Chrono AT watch represents a type of Citizen watch in terms of quality that you might have not known was around. For instance, this watch has a sapphire crystal – something that until recently wasn’t available on most Citizen watches that weren’t in high-end categories. The crystal is further AR coated. The case is water resistant to 200 meters, and comes with a warning that only the service center should open it up!
This version of the Citizen Perpetual Chrono AT is the reference AT4004-52E. It is 42mm wide and in a steel case with gold-toned accents. There are currently about eight versions of this watch. Each has a slightly different case color or style, and come on both bracelets and straps. The bracelet for this watch won’t have the heft of a high-end Swiss bracelet, but is comfortable and attractive. I have often joked about strange looking bracelets from both Citizen and Seiko in the past – but stuff like this is conservative and comfortable in style and looks. The deployment clasp is clean and offers a nice push-button operation in a relatively flush clasp.
Wearing comfort for the watch is very high – at least on my wrist. I also can say that legibility is quite good given the very busy dial. Rather than look too mismatched, the dial comes across as “cool” for most tastes and is surprisingly easy to read given the properly sized hands and excellent luminant. This isn’t just a watch, but a true information center on your wrist disguised as something between sporty and dressy. For fans of high-function Japanese watches that make the most out of quartz movements, pieces like this are a winner. The Citizen Perpetual Chrono AT ref. AT4004-52E retails for $575 – with its sister watches ranging from $450 – $795.