Sunday, February 27, 2011

G-Shock #8: Americas Cup and the Helly Hansen Gulfman

[Picture Credit Wikipedia]
Americas Cup is a famous match race between yacht clubs. It started in 1851 and was for the first 120 years a race only involving American and British yachts. In the 1970s, the Australians joined followed by the New Zealanders and in the 1990s, it became a real international challenge. After some controversy abort boat specifications in the 1980s, the arrangers settled on a new standardised yacht class, the International Americas Cup Class (IACC) which also meant it was easier to design and build boats to compete for the Cup. The changes brought in a number of new countries and entrants.

In 1992 it was time for the first Japanese entry from the Nippon Challenge syndicate with a boat named the Nippon (JPN 26). The Nippon was designed by Bruce Farr and skippered by Makoto Namba. 1992 was also the start of a new Americas Cup format where the challengers competed in a qualification series called the Louis Vuitton Cup where the winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup got to compete with the holder of the Americas Cup. Nippon Challenge did very well in the cup and ended up in third place, just outside of the challenger final.
[Picture Credit Louis Vuitton]
In the 1995 Louis Vuitton Cup the Nippon Challenge syndicate entered two boats, Nippon 94 (JPN 30) and Nippon 95 (JPN 41), again with Makoto Namba as main skipper. The boats were bult in Japan and designed by Ichiro Yokoyama. As in 1992, Nippon Challenge did very well and ended up in 4th place of the challengers.
For the 2000 Louis Vuitton Cup, which is the main theme of this story, things were a bit different for the Japanese team. As in 1992 and 1995, the head and main financier of the syndicate was Tatsumitsu Yamasaki, head of a large Japanese food company but the Asian recession had meant that the syndicate had less financial resources than before with a budget of only 25 MUSD. Also, Makoto Namba, the skipper for the two previous challenges and one of Japans most experienced sailors was lost at sea duning a yacht race in 1997. Instead, the Australian Peter Gilmour with experience from previous Australian challenges was recruited as skipper. Nippon Challenge entered two boats for the competition, the Asura (JPN 44) and the Idaten (JPN 52). The boats was desigend by a team from Tokyo university and again bult in Japan.
[Picture Credit Yamaha]
In the actual racing, Nippon Challenge again excelled and was beaten only by the Italian entry Prada Challenge in the initial round robin series. In the semi finals, Nippon Challenge had some difficulties and ended up in 4th place with the top two boats qualifying for the challenger final. In the final Prada Challenge beat the top US entry AmericaOne but was later defeated by Team New Zealand for the Americas Cup.
[Picture Credit]
Casio had long been engaged in sports sponsoring and was, together with for example Asahi Breweries, Yamaha and Toyota, one of the main sponsors of the 2000 Nippon Challenge where 20 Japanese companies had participated with USD 750,000 each in sponsorship. In connection with the marketing of it sponsorship, Casio issued four watches under the Nippon Challenge brand.

The first and most expensive was a MR-G, the Nippon Challenge Americas Cup (MRG-1001V-4A) introduced in March 1999 and priced at JPY 62,000.
[Picture Credit Casio]
Already in October 1998, Casio had introduced the MR-G Nippon Cup Tactician (MRG-1001T-2) at JPY 62,000 but I cannot find any references to this watch being associated with the Nippon Challenge.
[Picture Credit Casio]
The mygshock wiki also has two versions of a Nippon Challenge 8200 Frogman listed, the yellow DW-8200AC-8T and the grey jelly DW-8200AC-9T. Both of these are noted not to have been released in Japan.

After this very long discourse, we end up at the theme of todays post, the DW-9700NC-8T Nippon Challenge Gulfman introduced in November 1999 for a listed price of JPY 23,000.
Specifications are here:

The 9700NC is a collaboration with Helly Hansen, a Norwegian sports clothing manufacturer. Helly Hansen makes professional specification sail racing gear and has sponsored many sailing teams such as the Ericsson Racing team who won the 2008/09 Volvo Ocean Race. Helly Hansen was also a 2000 America´s Cup sponsor and an official supplier of the Nippon Challenge team.
For a description of the general functions of the 9700 Gulfman, the previous 50gs post on the USLA Gulfman (which came onto the market only a few months previous to the 9700NC) is a good reference.

The packaging on the HH Gulfman is very similar to the USLA version with the fold and arrow style inner box.
The box also has a Helly Hansen Sticker at the front.
And a Helly Hansen / Nippon Challenge sticker under the flap.
The watch looks like a standard Gulfman from the front.
Blue "G" and lettering on the case.
Matched buttons.
Most of the stock pictures show this watch as white but in real life (at least my version and a few others I have seen), it has a slightly grey color. I do not know if this is aging or it this was original. My guess is that it is a bit of both, as there were very few pure bright white G Shocks 10 years ago. To me, the gray color is good as it tones down the watch a bit and makes it more wearable than a pure white watch would be. Most cameras adjust the grey towards white but here you can see the actual color.
Branding theme continues on the strap with the Helly Hansen logo.
And the Nippon Challenge logo.
Strap keeper is standard and color matched.

Case back is normal titanium with a slightly boring Nippon Challenge / Helly Hansen inscription in the center.
Helly Hansen branding continues with the backlight.
To summarise, this is the classic 9700 Gulfman which to me has great functionality and simple but good design. It is wearable due to its realively small size and low weight due to its titanium construction.
The grey/white coloring together with the blue and red accents makes this a sporty and fresh design great for both summer and winter use.

The 9700NC is unusual but not extremely rare and turns up both on auctions and forum sale sites with some regularity. Pricing at NOS level with boxes etc would be about USD 150-200 which is an excellent price for a very nice watch. If you want something to complement the watch, one of the 2000 Nippon Challenge boats, the Idaten, is presently for sale (as the GBR 52) on the website below. No price is listed.

If you want to learn more about the Nippon Challenge and the Americas Cup, there is a book available as well.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

G-Shock #7: Burnin’

My new 50 Gs post is written during the past two weeks. A lot of photo's were made in the City Theater of Middelburg between performances of the musical production "Falta Empathica" produced by my school. It has become quite a long write up. I hope you enjoy reading and watching this article about probably my most favorite watch at the moment.
This Men In Burning Red Frogman is probably the watch that gets most wrist time since I got back from Japan. I was always impressed by the look of the GWF-1000. It was the price that hold me back from buying one. I was already on a tight budget last year, but even if I wasn’t, this Frogman seemed unaffordable for me. 
Casio's stock photo of the GWF-1000RD-4JF
Before I went to Japan, DragonJade already informed me about things to do and see. One of the things was go to his local supermarket and look at the current Men In Burning Red series. Indeed, when we arrived in Kobuchi on December 20th 2010, the shortest way to his apartment was through a supermarket. The complete series of Burning Red watches was on display, with a shocking price of 78750 yen (including tax) for the Frogman.
The entrance of Yodobashi Camera in Machida
DJ did not quite recommend to buy here. At a nearby Yodobashi Camera electronics store all models of these series were indeed 10% cheaper. That evening DJ was looking over Yahoo Auctions (Japan) and said they could be found much cheaper. I do not remember the precise prices, but I believe the Men In Burning Red Frogman could be bought from 52000 yen, which is of course way cheaper than in the electronics shops.
photo by Bernard Vercouteren
I spend the night calculating in my head if I could afford this watch. It was probably the only chance to get this model. Back in The Netherlands you got all those extra costs with shipping and waiting. In the morning (December 21) I asked DJ if he could order one for me. The same evening the watch was paid and on the way to DJ’s apartment.
Next day I went with my friend to Kyoto for 4 days. Also in Kyoto the Burning Red models were available in the electronics stores. I had a small accident in Fushimi. I fell from a small stairs in the road near the Momoyama shopping center and sprained my ankle pretty bad. I was not very mobile, so I decided the last day in Kyoto not to go on a planned cycling tour. Instead I went for a small walking tour to the 7Eleven store, a temple and the Big Camera on the way back. There I could not resist the GF-8250-9JR Men In Yellow tribute Frogman. While I was purchasing this Frogman I got a text message from DJ. It was also a nice reminder that it was Christmas. A strange awareness, as I was just shopping in a large store, full of people shopping. In the Netherlands shops are closed, the most even for two days and people visit family for dinners and celebrating Christmas in various ways.
When we arrived back in the apartment that evening I immediately unpacked this Frog. Wow, this frog was so cool. I hardly took it off for the rest of the trip and frankly it hasn’t been of my wrist now too. I pretty much alternate between my GF-8250 and this frog.
There is something odd with the November 2010 releases. The Frogman was announced as a “Men In Burning Red” model. In November 4 models were released in the same color scheme, this GWF-1000RD-4JF Frogman, a GW-9200RD-4JF Riseman, but also a GW-6900RD-4JF and a GW-7900RD-4JF. I thought Casio had fallen from their believe, as the series names beginning with “Men In…” are exclusively reserved for Master of G models, as the GW-6900 and GW-7900 are both basic models and Master of G models. Casio had found a way with this dilemma. The Frogman and Riseman are of the “Men In Burning Red” series, while the GW-6900 and GW-7900 are from the “totally different” “Burning Red” series. Personally I wouldn’t have released the last two models, or released them later, preferred under another name, so there wouldn’t be confusion about the series names. The GW-6900RD-4JF has great looks though. I have been thinking of buying one, until I discovered some good second hand stores, where I spend quite some money on nice Gs.
The “Men In Burning Red” series have deep red resin bezels and straps, while all accents are in black. The Riseman even has a negative display. As a Frogman never has a negative display, this one also has a normal display. The reason why there are no Frogmans with a negative display has probably a lot to do with the readability under water. While almost all G-Shocks are 20 bar (200m) water resistant, the Frogman is the only one tested under ISO norms. These means every watch is thoroughly tested, which makes the Frogman in production much more expensive than another Master of G model. I wouldn’t be surprised that readability of the dial/display is included in the ISO testing for a diver’s watch.
Where the Frogman models before the GWF-1000 seem to have evaluate from their predecessor, it seems the GWF-1000 model has been build from scratch. Sure, it still has the typical asymmetric shape and the two typical non-functional screws in the bezel.
The bezel has a more open structure, so parts of the actual (black anodized) case is visible. Therefore the looks of the GWF-1000 looks more evolved from the classic DW-8200 Frogman then from the newer GW-200 model.
 GW-200 below and GWF-1000RD-4JF on top.
 At the sides you can see the buttons are totally different from earlier models. They are all bigger and the buttons on the right side are not even round anymore, but have a kind of arrow shape, with a ribbed structure, probably to increase grip when used underwater. The buttons on the left side are, as usual, protected by button guards. They are larger and have a nice finish. On this MIBR Frogman, they are black anodized with a thin red circle, to give it a nice accent.
 The best looking part is the back. Like the case it’s black anodized stainless steel. I do not know why Casio changed from Titanium to Stainless Steel. I guess the weight reduction of a titanium case is minimal and anodized high grade stainless steel works good too. In fact shiny stainless steel was also used in the original Men In Yellow Frogman. I never have seen a rusty M.I.Y. Frogman.
The graphic on the back has changed. Instead of a swimming frog, it’s a walking frog. Some design of the Frogman return in the graphic. So you can see the round buttons in the shoulder and hip joint of the frog and are the new screws on the bezel used as eyes. I’m not sure this is a happy frog though. The big antenna dish is hanging under his chin, so the frog is forced to walk high on his feet. On his back he is still carrying his air containers. The frog seems not in his element on land. He walks, like we use to say in The Netherlands, “with a millstone around his neck”.
 I can assure you it doesn’t walk easy with a 5 foot diameter stone hanging around your body. I do also think this frog will not be happy swimming too. This antenna dish must work as a parachute under water. If I had designed a new frog for this frogman, I would have tried it a little more subtle. A streamlined antenna on the air containers and maybe sunglasses to symbolize the Tough Solar technology. A more streamlined design would make this frog look a lot happier. Still, this frog looks pretty sturdy and well equipped.
The usual serial number has unfortunately gone with this Frogman. Instead it has the batch number, as you currently also find on other newer G-Shock models. It’s now harder to trace when our Frog is produced and to figure out how many are made.
 I actually think this model is not really very limited. Every shop that sold Casio G-Shocks (and there were really many) in Japan had the whole series of Burning Red on display (including the GW-6900 and GW-7900RD). Also there were a lot for sale on Yahoo Auctions Japan. A limited edition normally means that Casio makes a certain model for a certain period. Probably the number of this model produced is not really high (a few thousand I guess), but the demand for this watch is also not really big as it is a more high end G-Shock model and therefore quite expensive.
The Men In Burning Red (Frogman and Riseman) and Burning Red (GW-7900RD and GW-6900RD) models. Photo taken by Riley of My G-Shock at the NYC Shock The World event 2010.
Let us take a look what is under the hood of the 3184 module and see what has been improved since the GW-200.
Overall, I think Casio has listened well about the comments that were made on the GW-200 model. I think the GW-200 is a great model, but at its release the model number already suggested it would have been a Waveceptor model (a model with Atomic Time Keeping). Maybe good it didn’t have this feature yet. In that time the Waveceptor function was only available in two versions. Three band for Japan and the US or one band (later two band) for Europe. Now we have 6-band Waveceptor function, that even includes a transmitter in China. Also a watch used on and under water should have a Tidegraph. I have heard people asking for this feature many times and I, living near sea, actually missed this feature on the Frogman too. Another complaint I have read several times was the ability of holding only one Dive Log. A bigger Log memory would be nice.
Log data. When viewing this log data the number of the Log Data appears right above the Dive Time. If this is th last log, it changes over to the Dive Interval time (time elapsed after the last dive, here 2 hours and 7 minutes). Left above is the time the log was started. Older dive logs show the date on the place were now the Dive Interval time is shown. Below the Dive Timer of the GW-200. The Log Data can only be seen when the LOG DATA button is pressed and hold. In the above display of the GW-200 the Dive Interval appears.
 The first mode you enter from Timekeeping mode is the Log Data. Casio wants to give you the impression this watch is made for diving. That’s for sure. Where the previous Frogman models could only hold one dive-log, the GWF-1000 model can hold up to 10 Dive Logs. 1000% improvement. The Dive Logs have a number, show the date, the time the dive started and the duration of the dive. The Dive Log also shows how long it is ago the last dive was stopped (up to 48 hours). This time is called interval. I do not know much about diving, but I can imagine there must be a certain time between some kinds of diving at greater depths.
Next function is the Tide function. The Tide function is coupled to the city that you have set your Frogman as your reference city. In my case, I choose Paris. If you have to choose a city from the list, try to take a city that has a close longitude, as a similar longitude has the same moon data and therefore also have the same Tide data (as tides are coupled to the moon). As the tide does most of the time does directly follow the moon, you need mostly to correct the tides. For Paris I had to correct 5 hours to get my local tides. Not shocking, as even in my small country the High Tides can differ 90 minutes from different locations at sea. Note that high- and low tides can be influenced by weather too, so a Tidegraph or tide table gives you an idea when to expect high water or low water. In reality you won’t notice if a Tidegraph or tide table is of for about an hour or so, as in this part of the curve the water level does not change fast. The constant moving of the water through the waves will hinder you to notice the exact times, so don’t worry if your Tidegraph is a few minutes off.
You can view the tide at a specific time. Also you can view the Moon Age if you press the ADJUST button shortly. Here it is possible to change the date too. You can use this date for finding tide predictions on other dates in the future if you return to the Tide mode (again, press shortly the ADJUST button). In the Tide function it is possible to adjust the High Tide time to your location (press and hold the ADJUST button for a few seconds). It is also possible to inverse the moon for the Southern Hemisphere. I never realized that people on the Southern Hemisphere see a the moon mirrored from the moon on the Northern Hemisphere. I’m doing some constructions here, but I am still wondering… How does the moon look at the equator?
Next function: The World Time function. Finally a full World Time function. The GW-200 had a funny Dive Locations function, with 10 dive sites. Funny, but frankly I think there are many more dive sites in the world. I live near the Easter Scheldt, which is a popular dive site for people from The Netherlands, Belgium and France. Nope, a World Time function is better. The GWF-1000 has 48 cities in 31 Time zones. There is always a city (except if you live Venezuela, where they seem to have alternative timekeeping) to refer as your home city. If you want to scroll the World Times it’s good to know where DST (Daylight Saving Time a.k.a. Summer Time) is applied. While it is winter on the Northern Hemisphere, DST is applied in certain parts of Australia, since it’s summer there. By press and holding the ADJUST button you can toggle DST on and off.
A nice extra feature is that you can show the World Time in Timekeeping Mode. I have World Time most of the time set to TYO, so in my case I can see the current time in Tokyo in Time Keeping mode if I use this feature.
The following functions on the Frogman are more common on other G-Shocks too. There are 5 alarms in the Alarm function, one alarm is a Snooze Alarm. Of course there is also the Hourly Signal.

A 24 hour Stopwatch and a 24 hour Countdown timer make this Frogman a very complete watch. The EL backlight is nice clear auqa green. It can be set to Auto Illumination. Other extra features are the Power Save function (standard set to ON) and the Mute function. These tow functions can be toggled on and off in the Time Set mode (press and hold the ADJUST button in Time Keeping mode). Personally I do not like the Mute function. The GA-110 models do not have a button beep. If you are used for years to hear a button beep, it feels like your watch has a defect if the watch is muted.
Pessimists probably are immediately going to say that a Depth Gauche should be included on a dive watch, but I like it the way it is now. I have a Seiko Monster, which is considered a Dive Watch too. You can only log your dive with a rotatable ring around the dial and it shows time and no Depth Gauche here too. A Detph Gauch would probably make the Frogman totally unaffordable and also it would require an extra sensor, that looks like the sensor on the Riseman. That would definitively break the looks of the Frogman.
The watch itself is very comfortable, which probably sounds odd with such a big watch. The fact that I wear it quite often says I am very happy with my watch. I know several owners of this model (strangely, most of them live on the Philippines) who also all are very happy with this watch. The red color makes it a nice model, that looks special on the wrist, but it doesn’t have a shouting color, so it is also suitable for people who don’t like too bright colors. A better use of the display space and smaller solar panels make the display clear and good to view. Although two full lines are used on the lower display, the display does not look clotted. I even have the idea the digits are a fraction bigger and bolder than on the GW-200.
I took a glimps at eBay and saw there are still 6 of these available, starting with a price from a little more than €600.- (around 70000 yen) shipped from Japan. It sounds expensive, but actually this is a very good price, as you probably pay similar in a Japanese electronics store (even with a usual 10% discount), but then have to ship it (you may add another 2500 yen for EMS shipping). A sneak peak at Yahoo Auctions Japan learns that the price has even dropped and bidding starts around 48750 yen. Mine was bought for around 52000 yen (exclusive shipping costs). It looks that this watch will be available for a while.
I think everybody has the right to know for him or herself if this watch is worth the money. I think it is worth it. In the beginning I was a little skeptic about the new design, but now I am totally happy with this. I hope there will be more variation of colors of this model in the future.