December 7, 2019
by Ariel Adams
Los Angeles-based watchmaker Cameron Weiss recently introduced this limited edition “Ultralight” version of his American Issue Field Watch produced with a grade 5 titanium case and using 7075 alloy aluminum for the movement’s major bridges. It’s a lovely composition that takes the vintage military field watch style look of the American Issue Field Watch and puts it into a rather lightweight package — 56 grams (with the strap), according to Weiss. As the “Ultralight” name implies, it does feel significantly less heavy than most similar watches in steel.
It was probably brands such as Richard Mille (with the original Nadal watch) that offered an alternative idea of what a high-end watch should feel like. Traditional wisdom says that a good timepiece is heavy because it uses either gold or other solid metals in the construction. Thus, a heavy watch was supposed to be solid and reliable, whereas a lightweight watch was cheap with questionable durability. In our modern times with access to loads of exotic lightweight materials — the paradigm has changed.
The new paradigm is that, in addition to heavy, solid watches, a high-end watch can be solid but extremely lightweight. Not only is creating a lightweight structure its own special engineering challenge but wearing a lightweight watch is actually more often than not a superior experience to wearing a heavy one — if only when considering comfort.
To make this 42mm-wide American Issue Field watch lightweight, Weiss uses grade 5 titanium for the case itself. Brushed very nicely, I’d say the case is a high point of the Ultralight watch. The case is further 12.8mm thick and water resistant to 100 meters. Over the dial is a domed sapphire crystal, along with another sapphire crystal over the rear of the case offering a view into the movement.
The simple, manually wound movement is known as the Weiss caliber 1003, and it is a further evolution on the type of manually wound mechanisms Cameron has liked to work with. Aside from a few specialized parts, the movement is crafted by Weiss at his workshop in Los Angeles. This 3Hz, 46-hour power reserve movement architecture began life a long (long) time ago as a pocket watch movement and has been modified and re-rendered for wristwatches many times over. In this form it is entirely unique to Weiss and accordingly the the 1003 has major plates, colored black (anodized), produced from 7075 aluminum. Weiss mentions how this same aluminum alloy is used for a series of aerospace applications.
Aluminum is a great material for use in watches, but rarely as an actual case material given how soft it is. It makes sense how it is used in the American Issue Field Watch Ultralight because it is visible, but not touchable… and it helps the movement be lightweight since these places would normally be in colored brass. The neat look of the movement is certainly a highlight of this timepiece.
The American Issue Field Watch Ultralight in this limited edition form has a deep blue dial with white printed indexes. The dial design is simple and consistent with the “field watch” style Weiss is going for. The proportions are good, but there are some issues in my opinion with the detailing. The most important issue to me is not with the dial, but with the insufficient application of AR coating on the sapphire crystal. While the dial is legible, it will experience glare in most lighting situations, which is advisable to avoid. To do this Weiss needs to use more anti-reflective coating or a less-domed (or flat sapphire crystal).
The next issue is with the polished hands. The hands are stamped and thus slightly rounded all over, as opposed to being flat. Being flat would avoid the light blurring that occurs when light is reflected off of curved surfaces. Thus, if Weiss wants to improve the hands, the company should either give these hands a non-polished finish or make the polished surfaces perfectly flat. This isn’t a huge deal, but in my experience, a lot of watch enthusiasts specifically go to brands like Weiss because of their boutique nature and because of the idea that a solo watchmaker is ensuring that all of their products meet high standards. Thus, small things like improving the hands could allow Weiss to even better connect with those customers who love the idea of a small volume vintage-style watchmaker located in Los Angeles (my home town).
I am also a bit ambivalent about the dial text, which reads “Cal 1003 Ultralight, G5 TI + 7075 AL.” I think that second line can go and be placed on the rear of the watch. I know that these two lines of text make the dial feel a bit more balanced, but the information about the case and movement material on the face just doesn’t seem too relevant after viewing the dial many times in a row during daily wear.
Attached to the case, Weiss pairs a 20mm-wide Horween leather strap in a handsome, honey/tan color. The strap is comfortable and on par which what a watch at this price point and style should have. What I look out to avoid are overly stiff straps — and thankfully, this is not one of them.
Weiss indicates that this American Issue Field Watch Ultralight in the 42mm-wide titanium case with the blue dial is a limited edition of just 100 pieces. Pricewise, you pay for the exclusive nature of the watch, as well as for the benefit of getting something from a boutique brand. For the money, you can get a more complicated watch in terms of overall construction from a larger group — but when getting a Weiss watch, you at least know you are directly supporting the watch maker. Price for the Weiss America Issue Field Watch Ultralight is $2,800 USD. Learn more at the Weiss Watch Company website here.