To be honest with you, I don’t really like shopping for watches. I’ve visited some high-end stores, but have never had a good experience. Haughty and ignorant clerks make for a bad time. It’s somewhat understandable in that most customers are not watch geeks, but I’m still averse. So keep that in mind when I tell you that I had a blast visiting the watch showroom at Arizona Fine Time for their Grand Seiko roadshow. This is an unusual place indeed.

(Ariel visited last time, and I recommend reading his writeup here as I’ll try to not duplicate what he said.)

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To my mind, the most interesting thing about AZ Fine Time is the back-story of how they came to be selling fine watches and cigars. Mitchel Hirsh, the owner, was a former commodities trader from Chicago who got started selling cigars, and then a few of his personal watches.What he found is that men, just like me, were not well served by watch sellers, and that a relaxed, guy-friendly atmosphere made for much happier customers. AZFT has a well-used (and free of charge) lounge with televisions, and is completely devoid of high-pressure sales tactics. The staff know their watches to an impressive degree, and will proudly tell you about their personal Grand Seikos they bought and wear. All in all, a refreshingly different experience.

I do have to admit that I was unprepared for the cigar smoke though, and had to send my coat off to the dry cleaners. I’m not a cigar fan, so do keep that in mind.

That’s the lounge. Relaxed and inviting.

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For the event, they brought in a superb taco truck for food. A casual and delicious choice.

Host Joe Kirk, helping a customer.

A customer admiring the one-of-twelve-in-the-US Seiko Spacewalk.

Grand Seiko movements and parts, with magnifiers for appreciation:

The highlight of the evening was watching master watchmaker Ito disassemble and reassemble a Grand Seiko movement, the high-beat 9S85.

This was astounding to watch. To give you a hint of the complexity, here’s the exploded diagram as held by his translator, who used it to translate terms for us:

Ito-san made it look easy, which having done a bit of amateur watch destruction, I can tell you it’s not.

That’s a particularly tricky bit, the installation of the balance cock with balance wheel. Go ahead and have a laugh, everyone does when they first learn that one-side-attached plates of metal are historically called ‘cocks.’ Two-sided ones are bridges, by the way. In the pictures, his fingers look odd as they are wearing finger cots to protect the movement from the oils found in skin.

The 9S85 has Seiko’s new alloy, Spron 510, in the hairspring. It’s much tougher and more resilient than its predecessor, as dramatically demonstrated. Here, Ito abuses a hairspring horribly by pulling it out 4cm sideways:

He did it twice, once with the old alloy and once with Spron-510. Guess which is which?

The Spron-510 (right) spring looks original, the other is ruined. An amazing demonstration, especially when he reassembled the movement with the stretched spring, put it back on the Timegrapher and it ran within spec!

Ito-san also let people put their watches onto his Timegrapher to see movement performance, here’s what I was wearing:

That’s the MIH watch, review coming soon, doing chronometer performance right next to its Seiko competition.

That’s Joe Kirk, posing next to Ito-san. As I said, the staff are serious watch fans and were thrilled to meet him and watch him work.

I also went around and took some snaps of the display cases. They have a nice assortment of brands, all the way up to Grand Seiko.

The Seiko Astron.

The Frederique Constant desk clock I covet, as well as their line of watches.

More Astron GPS models. They’ve sold dozens of Astrons, very popular. That made sense to me, as the Astron GPS is expensive but a genuine innovation and fantastic for travel.

The snowflake dial, just stunning in person. Seiko really is superb at dial making.

If you’re considering a Grand Seiko, I recommend a trip to Scottsdale. The GS line is worth the trip, and it’s good to see it in person. I am glad to finally find a group of people like myself to buy from, and now I just need to convince my wife that I should get a GS diver for Christmas!

My thanks to everyone there for the invitation and hospitality at AZ Fine Time.

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