Fratello Friday: Everyone Needs at Least One, Right? My Top 5 Digital Watches


Tissot T-Touch ExpertPerhaps it is a bit like cursing in a church when discussing digital watches on a site devoted primarily to luxury watches, but I am certain that everyone should own at least one. Why? Firstly, as a reference watch that you can use to set all your other timepieces; secondly, because the digital watch does have its own place in horological history.

Being a child of the 1980s, I grew up with a black plastic Casio as my first wristwatch. In 1985, when I was eight years old, I received it – after asking for one for a long time – from my parents during a holiday in the U.K. I still have that watch, and it still works. It was the era of home computers, bad taste in clothing, and digital watches. The biggest advantage for me was that it had beeping alarms with which me and my friends could annoy our teachers.

Fast-forward to the late 1990s, when I got more interested in luxury watches. It amazed me that even some of the big brands that focused on luxury mechanical watches also had digital watches in their collections. The Breitling Aerospace and Omega Speedmaster Professional X-33 were odd watches, in my opinion, and I never paid them much attention — until I started to find out what makes these particular digital watches different from a $100 Casio G-Shock.

Besides the cases, bracelets, and other parts of these watches having a grade of finishing a few notches higher than that the black plastic Casio watches, their electronic movements are also different. These (often) thermo-compensated movements are made with the same care and eye for detail as mechanical movements, but the focus is on functionality and durability. They are tried & tested during all stages of development and some have functions developed with the help and input of pilots and astronauts. These watches can withstand shocks of over 3500 Gs, have extremely loud alarms, and large readouts (necessary because noisy planes and their dark cockpits are not the ideal circumstances in which to use a traditional watch).

Some of the functionality in these watches is also especially developed for professional use, such as mission timers, countdowns, logbooks, multiple timers, and programmable calendars. Of course, if you don’t need all that, and just need a digital watch that is radio-controlled in order to set your precious mechanical watches, you can always settle for a cheaper model.

For this week’s Fratello Friday, I pick five digital watches that are among my favorites.

1. Casio G-Shock GW5600BC

In 1983, when Casio introduced the first G-Shock, I immediately wanted one. However, I was a little boy and these watches, especially for that time, were huge. I didn’t buy one until 2003, 20 years after the introduction, a 20th anniversary edition that came in a nice wooden box and actually had a metal case with a rubber/plastic shell. This GW5600BC has the same design as that first “Project Tough” Casio G-Shock in the 1980s, but with a multi-band (radio controlled) movement. It’s ideal to use for setting your other watches and you can wear it during all sorts of activities without worrying about scratches, dings, bumps, cracks, et cetra. Worst case scenario, you just replace it with a newer, funkier model. If you want to learn more about G-Shocks, and the best tips on collecting them, read our interview with a true G-Shock guru here.

Casio G-Shock GW5600BC

2. Breitling Emergency II

Although the Breitling Aerospace was the one that got me interested in these digital watches, the Emergency has one of the coolest features on any watch watch ever. Introduced in 1995, it was the first watch with a transmitter that used an air distress frequency. The Breitling Emergency II takes it even further, using satellites to notify search-and-rescue teams about your whereabouts. It has an easy-to-use system: just turn the crown that reads “Antenna” and two wires will come out as the watch’s signal is activated. An indicator is located in an hour marker at 12 o’clock that will start to blink. Now, you can sit back and relax while choppers begin searching for you.

Breitling Emergency II

3. Omega Speedmaster Z-33

I already mentioned the Omega Speedmaster Pro X-33 in the introduction, but my pick would actually be the newer (2012) Speedmaster Z-33. In 2011, I was told by Omega that a new model would be launched that would have the look of its famous 1960s/1970s Flightmaster watch, but with digital readouts. In 2012, Omega presented the Z-33 (nicknamed “Spacemaster”). At first I thought it was the successor of the X-33 in a different case, but this was an incorrect assumption. The Z-33 is developed for pilots, where the X-33 was developed for NASA astronauts. In terms of functionality, this means that it has a number of features specially designed for aircraft pilots. One of the functions is a flight logbook to record 10 flights. Also, the watch has a UTC plus two time zones, either in 12-hours or 24-hours; a loud alarm; a chronograph; and a countdown timer. We featured this watch on my blog, Fratellowatches.com, here.

Omega Speedmaster Z-33

4. Tissot T-Touch Expert

In 1999, Tissot introduced the first T-Touch model. That first T-Touch watch had six functions that could be activated by touching the crystal. Tissot further developed this technology and now offers a range of  T-Touch models with different functions and appliances. The T-Touch Expert model has 15 different functions, accessible by touching the tactile sapphire crystal. With a 43.6-mm diameter, it is certainly not for everyone — or perhaps just not for every occasion — but it is certainly useful for outdoor activities. You need to be able to access the watch quickly and without too much hassle, so the size seems appropriate. The T-Touch Expert has an impressive lineup of functions, including compass, altitude difference meter, altimeter, countdown timer, and, of course, chronograph.

Tissot T-Touch Expert

5. Any Smartwatch

Whether it is a Sony, Apple, Samsung, Pebble or Google watch – time will tell – my fifth choice would be a smartwatch.  As soon as these watches are widely available on the market so I can choose between different brands and models, I will certainly try one (mostly out of curiosity). Although you will still need your smartphone or a WiFi signal to be connected so you can fully use the capabilities of a smartwatch, I do see uses for some of these watches — whether it is simply telling time, notifying you about new e-mails, Tweets, and Facebook messages, or displaying the weather forecast.  I am still a bit skeptical, though, since it seems that all these functions are available on my iPhone, which has a larger screen and is something I can grab out of my pocket almost as fast as I could roll up my sleeve to actively ‘operate’ a Smartwatch. In any case, I would love to see cooperation between Swatch (or another watch brand) and a technology brand like Samsung, Apple, Sony or fill-in-the-blank, which could make these smartwatches look less like something from “Star Trek” and more like something that appeals to us watch freaks.

16 Responses to “Fratello Friday: Everyone Needs at Least One, Right? My Top 5 Digital Watches”

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  1. Abd Rahman Abd Razak

    I got a gift from my employer a Tissot touch screen model T002520A racing -Touch man watch but I do not know how to adjust it…

    Reply
  2. Captain Robert D High

    Love my Emergency! Don’t get underway without it. BTW, Breitling will pay to rebuild it if it saves your life. How coukd you go wrong. Paid $8k for version one when I received my 1600 ton Master’s license.

    Reply
  3. daPhantom1

    It would seem like for features, price and value…. the nod may have to go to the Citizen Eco Drive Skyhawk

    Reply
  4. fraser stewart

    Omega SMP 300 41.3mm. Purchased in 1998, the most accurate watch in the collection, love the look, keeps my mechanical watches on time and probably, with subby, the only ones I’ll never part with.

    Reply
  5. MrTissot

    I have a Tissot T-Touch Expert Titanium also and my only piece of advise to all interested is to never ever attempt to buy one of these over the internet as it could be an ugly experience. They are after all an electronic device meaning so much can go wrong with them. I bought mine from an authorised dealer and that was enough of a problem! Only when I took it home I realised the Barometer function wasn\’t working. I demanded a new watch and they refused and would only offer to repair it. I totally lost it and went ballistic and took it all the way to the top at the Swatch Group and presto I was given a new watch. Bear in mind though that this is more of a situation where the Authorised Dealers were just uncooperative and uneducated imbeciles. They didn\’t even understand or know how to demonstrate the functions of the watch. Anyway with all that said I can say that my experience with this watch has been very good. I agree that having to remove the watch from the wrist for a correct temperature reading is a little annoying. Only really useful for morning just before putting it on. All the functions still work perfectly. The Altimeter function is amazing! Just a shame it can\’t work in an aircraft once the passenger cabin is pressurised as it would be amazing to see the altitude reading climb.

    I agree that everyone needs to have a digital watch as a reference watch to aid in adjusting mechanical watches in the collection but having one that is cheap and also fun to wear is preferable as well and this is my choice. If money wasn\’t an issue then I would probably buy the Breitling Emergency II. It could save your life!

    Reply
  6. Kello Kalle

    I agree with Ahmet Senoglu. Suunto is outstanding watch and readability and looks are great.

    Reply
  7. actually there are 6 digital watches you missed out “Citizen Eco Chrono Time (ref; BYO100-51H)
    I have one 20yrs old now and STILL going strong “a great watch”!!

    Reply
  8. I bought a Tag-Heuer digital diving watch 20 years ago which I still wear despite it looking a bit aged. I didn’t think about it at the time of purchase, but it is digital. Later, when I thought of replacing it with a TH Formula 1, I found they were digital also, well over priced for digital watches (compared with Seiko and Citizen eg), but now TH produces Formula 1 with a kinetic movement, I may go ahead and buy one.

    My daughter has just bought my grandson (13) his first watch, a G Shock!

    Reply
  9. The Tissot has all the right ingredients on paper – however in real life I have found it fails terribly.
    I work in the jungles of Papua New Guinea and actually need the functions that Tissot offer to work as opposed to a fashion accessory. I’ve had to send it back to the factory twice for re-calibration and it absolutely HATES high humidity. Where I work, it averages 90% at 36C.

    The biggest complaint though is the temp measurement which is on the underside of the watch.
    Which means that when your skin is hot – it affects the temp reading by 3-5 Degrees. so what is the point of having it? Tissot’s explanation and suggestion was to take the watch off, place it somewhere – wait a few minutes and get an accurate temp reading. Really? Other brands place the sensor on the side or top of the watch which makes more sense.

    It is such a shame as the concept is wonderful and practical. I’ve found other watches that have some of those functions – but not all. My Tissot will be sold soon and my search for the perfect jungle watch continues.

    Reply
    • MrTissot

      I have a Tissot T-Touch Expert Titanium also and my only piece of advise to all interested is to never ever attempt to buy one of these over the internet as it could be an ugly experience. They are after all an electronic device meaning so much can go wrong with them. I bought mine from an authorised dealer and that was enough of a problem! Only when I took it home I realised the Barometer function wasn’t working. I demanded a new watch and they refused and would only offer to repair it. I totally lost it and went ballistic and took it all the way to the top at the Swatch Group and presto I was given a new watch. Bear in mind though that this is more of a situation where the Authorised Dealers were just uncooperative and uneducated imbeciles. They didn’t even understand or know how to demonstrate the functions of the watch. Anyway with all that said I can say that my experience with this watch has been very good. I agree that having to remove the watch from the wrist for a correct temperature reading is a little annoying. Only really useful for morning just before putting it on. All the functions still work perfectly. The Altimeter function is amazing! Just a shame it can’t work in an aircraft once the passenger cabin is pressurised as it would be amazing to see the altitude reading climb.

      I agree that everyone needs to have a digital watch as a reference watch to aid in adjusting mechanical watches in the collection but having one that is cheap and also fun to wear is preferable as well and this is my choice. If money wasn’t an issue then I would probably buy the Breitling Emergency II. It could save your life!

      Reply
  10. Oliver Strebel-Ritter

    PS – sorry – Ref the Citizen Sky Hawk – missed out – 24 hrs clock, UTC feature, manual/automatic time check/correction, slide rule/calculator, power reserve indicator……..

    I generally prefer and collect Breitling, Panerai, ORIS and Sicura but this little baby very much impresses.

    Reply
  11. Oliver Strebel-Ritter

    Hi there

    A very obvious one to me is the Citizen Eco Drive Sky Hawk – does just about everything except run your bath in the morning……..28 time zones, two alarms, timer, chronograph, the usual date day time, analogue and digital with quick swap over function for travelling – no fiddling with time and date when you arrive at a new destination – pressing two buttons does it all, you never need batteries and it has an 8 month life on single charge – finally many of the watches are atomic/radio time so they check regularly for the correct time via satellite, solid and robust and water resistant to 200 feet ………..and they look good as well

    Reply
  12. Nice list, prefer the X-33 to Z-33, but since it’s no longer available to the general public, get why it’s not on here. The new Aerospace Evo is quite nice. I think the ultimate digital is the JDM G-Shock GW-5000 with screw back and DLC, much nicer than the GW5600BC.

    Reply
  13. Ahmet Senoglu

    What about Suunto Elementum series watches? They are beautiful and well built digital watches with style.

    Reply
  14. My T touch has been a daily wear for 10 years, it’s a fabulous piece and very fun with its hand activation.

    Reply
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