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click to enlarge
One of the original Navihawks

Stars and Stripes-click to enlarge
Navisail Stars and Stripes—another of the Navihawk family  


The Eagle has landed!

At first glance there might seem little to connect the space-age, 21st century Citizen Skyhawk with Captain Digges' problems in the mid-18th century. But there is. All of his angst could have been relieved if only he had access to one. For in that one small instrument, he would have had an extremely accurate clock which showed not only Greenwich time, but local time in 29 cities; a perpetual calendar; a stopwatch; a countdown timer; three alarms; a slide rule calculator; with the whole thing being wrapped up in a seaworthy case. Furthermore, he would have had no need to wind it or in fact do or change anything to keep it running for 20 years or more. All in all a remarkable timepiece—however, one that is not without its faults. Also, it should be noted that Digges would still have needed to take daily sun sightings to establish local noon, so that he could compare this time with the UTC (or GMT) time on the Skyhawk and thus work out his longitude. And as we have seen, in determining longitude accuracy is crucial—each error of one second equates to a positional error of 1500 feet or 0.5km. But enough of Digges and his tribulations for now. Let's look at the Skyhawk in a bit more detail.

The family history

THE SKYHAWK can trace its antecedents back to 1994 or thereabouts, when the original Citizen Navihawk, part of the Promaster series of sports watches, was released (click here to see my review). This battery-powered quartz watch was (and perhaps still is) the epitome of "geek heaven"—a large multi-function, multi-timezone 'pilot-style' watch with no less than four pushbuttons, analogue and large digital displays, a slide-rule bezel, and no crown. The whole thing was wrapped up in a heavy stainless steel case, water resistant to 100 metres. Its pièce de résistance was its ability, at the touch of a button, to switch the analogue local time with another timezone represented by the digital display—very handy for travellers and always fascinating to see. Over the ensuing years several versions of the Navihawk were released (apart from the Navihawk range there was also the Navitach and the Navisail), but the differences were largely cosmetic. I bought a Navi in 1997, and have had great fun wearing it and playing with all the features using it in a serious and professional manner ever since.
   In 2000 Citizen brought out 'son of Navihawk'—the Skyhawk. It has essentially the same functions but the appearance is very different. The styling is much sleeker as befits a 21st century watch, with rounded contours and integrated lines. Gone are the four round pushbuttons, replaced by a small crown and two flat pushers. Mode changing is achieved by twirling the crown backwards or forwards, as opposed to the uni-directional button pushing of the Navi. The subdials are laid out in a quasi-tricompax pattern at 10, 2 and 6 instead of the 6,9,12 configuration used in the Navi. Unfortunately, this has meant the digital displays are much smaller.
  Perhaps the biggest change of all is that the Skyhawk has the advanced cal. 650 Eco-drive movement, and is now part of the Eco-drive range instead of the Promaster range.
   The big question was, should I get one? I wrestled with this knotty problem for some time, but I'm sure, dear reader, you've already guessed the answer.

The rationale for purchase

CONSIDERING I already had a Citizen Navihawk with essentially the same features as the Skyhawk, why would I want a Skyhawk? I suppose there were three main reasons: the case and dial are quite different so that while there is a family resemblance they don't look the same; the very solid-looking integrated bracelet is much better than the standard Navihawk one; but more importantly, I wanted to sample the Eco-drive movement. The Eco-drive principle of using only light to power a quartz-accurate movement, with no battery changes and thus being environmentally-friendly, really appealed to me. Was it as good as it was supposed to be? There was only one way to find out. And with the price of the stainless steel Skyhawk tumbling to around US$200 on the web (half the original cost), the price was right.

Perfect packaging for the price point!
The package

AN IMPORTANT part of the watch-buying experience is how well the latest object of one's horological lust—or need, depending on your level of justification—is packaged. It is at this early point in the whole exercise that I find myself in a dilemma. There's something about a hand-crafted, highly polished mahogany box luxuriously lined with red or green velvet that appeals to the sybarite in me. Just looking at it, before you've even opened it, tells you that here you've got quality (even though the timepiece inside may be harbouring a common-or-garden ETA ebauche being passed off by the company's spin doctors as an in-house movement, simply because they've added a few swirls of perlage on the plates and engraved the company's name on the rotor). On the other hand, the pragmatist in me says, "You don't wear the box, do you? How much extra do you think they rushed you for a bit of wood, glue and velvet?" But then I always remember what a very wise (and very old) watch aficionado called Terry Russell once said: "Watch paraphanalia is important. Collect as much of it as you can."
   So it came as a bit of a relief to find that Citizen have got it just about right with the Skyhawk; a green cardboard outer containing an attractive green leatherette cylinder with yes, real simulated green velvet inside the cover. The whole thing is made in China and looks good if you don't examine it too closely. Perfect for the price point.
   Also in the box was the international guarantee and a rather daunting 218-page instruction manual in three languages—English, French and Spanish. Yes, 218 pages—with 74 of them in English. And I needed every one of them.

  Getting started

THERE'S no getting away from it, the Skyhawk is a sophisticated, multi-function watch—and it pays to read the manual thoroughly before attempting to do anything rash like setting the hands. Even though I was familiar with the Navihawk and its setting procedure, I found the Skyhawk somewhat more difficult to set up initially, especially if like me you live in a timezone which is not an exact hour's difference from GMT (or UTC as we say nowadays). But more of that anon.
   The first essential is to make sure the watch is fully charged, by exposing it to light if necessary. The stronger the light, the shorter the time needed. The manual recommends 3 hours under a lamp or 50 minutes in direct sunlight.
A three bar gauge indicates the state of charge. When I received the watch after its week's journey from the States two bars were showing; despite waving my arm around all over the place that day it refused to show more than two. However, by next morning all three bars were illuminated and it's been that way ever since. Even the slightest amount of light—natural or artificial— seems sufficient to keep it fully charged; it really is amazing.

The state of charge gauge (3 black bars = fully charged) can be seen in the left digital display. The watch is in chronograph mode, with 1 min 5.38 sec elapsed. STP (stop) and SPL (split time) indicate what happens if you press the top or bottom pusher respectively.

The hour hand is misaligned on this Skyhawk—it should be ¼ way between 12 and 1—but luckily it can be corrected.
The next step is to check the zero position of the second hand, minute hand, hour hand, 24-hr hand, UTC hour hand and UTC minute hand (phew). Luckily this can be achieved all at once by selecting the CHR (chronograph) mode and pulling out the crown two clicks. The aforementioned hands whiz round and should all line up at the zero (or 12 o'clock) position. If they don't (and mine didn't), they can be corrected by rotating the crown—slow movements give small discrete adjustments, a few rapid twirls cause the hands to advance automatically until the crown is touched again. It took me a while to cotton on to this as it's not explained very well in the manual.
   Initially the hour hand and 24-hr hand are corrected together; pressing the top pusher selects the minute hand, UTC hour hand and UTC minute hand for correction; pressing it once more selects the second hand, and so on through the cycle again. This linking of two or three hands for correction simultaneously caused me a few headaches when trying to adjust for my home timezone of UTC+9.5h in the time-setting phase.

The next thing one has to do is set the time and date, and that is done using the digital time and date displays. This is a much easier procedure than the zero positioning. Just select your home city (or timezone), and follow the instructions in the manual. Daylight saving can also be set at this juncture. Once everything has been set for one timezone all the others are automatically set too, including UTC. The built-in perpetual calendar is valid from the year 2000 to 2100. That should be enough for most purchasers.



THE SKYHAWK embodies some useful features, such as:

  • 24-hr chronograph with split times
  • 99 minute countdown timer settable in 1-min. increments
  • Separate UTC and 24-hr subdials
  • Three separate alarms, settable for different timezones
  • Easy switching of analogue and digital time
  • Three power save modes
  • Customisable for one additional city name
  • Warning functions for insufficient charge and time setting
  • Slide rule for computations
  • 100 metres water resistance
  • Overcharging protection
Some of these warrant further discussion.

The countdown timer is surprisingly handy. It's been invaluable in bringing an end to my opponents' otherwise agonisingly long attempts at guessing the correct answers in Trivial Pursuit or charades at dinner parties. This alone is worth the price of the watch. (Taking a proper stopwatch along to these events smacks of untoward professionalism, and is likely to get you crossed off the guest list for being overzealous.)

The UTC dial is of course useful if you have a need to know UTC. For no matter which timezone you're in, daylight saving or no daylight saving, this little dial will always show UTC correctly.
The 24-hr dial can be a boon if you switch the analogue time to a different timezone, and you have no idea if it's am or pm in that zone. The dial will show you.

The three alarms are handy but not loud enough, especially when the watch is being worn (skin contact seems to muffle the sound—it's louder off the wrist). Each can be set to a different timezone, so if you're living in London say, and want to call New York, Sydney and Singapore at 6pm their local time, you can set the alarm for 6pm in each of those zones and it will beep at the equivalent London time. Be aware you may be sound asleep when this happens (it happened to me).

The easy one-touch switching between digital and analogue times is perhaps the best feature of the Skyhawk and Navitimer range. To the best of my knowledge these are the only watches in existence that have this feature (although I've seen pictures of an Accurist that looks almost identical to the Navihawk), and it's invaluable for those who clock up the frequent flyer points. Not only is it simple—just press the two buttons on either side of the crown simultaneously—it's also accomplished without disturbing the watch's internal timing system. The hands take up position more slowly on the Skyhawk than on the Navihawk, and the minute hand has a little hiccup with each movement of the second hand, but the end result is the same. (The original Navi doesn't have a second hand and so doesn't hiccup.) Unlike the Navi, there is no 'hand retract' provision whereby the hands can be moved to the 12 o'clock position if they're obscuring the digital displays. To see an analogue/digital switch on the Navihawk click here (caution: 508kB download).

The power save modes are an advanced feature not found on most Eco-drives, and are ingenious. There's three of them, each a little more drastic than the preceding one.
   Power Save mode 1 comes into play when no light falls on the solar cell (which is built into the dial) for a couple of minutes. This could happen if say, it was obscured by a shirt or jacket sleeve. The second hand stops at the 12 o'clock position and the digital displays go blank. However the alarm, chronograph and other functions continue to measure time internally even though there is no display. When light again falls on the solar cell, the digital displays light up and the bright yellow second hand whizzes around the dial to its proper position. (To see an mpg video of this, click here. Caution: 1.4MB download.)
   I've seen comments by some other Skyhawk owners that the whizzing round of the second hand annoys them. I can honestly say that it's never worried me, and in fact I'm rather impressed by it. Furthermore, it reassures me that the powersave function is working. It should be noted however that it doesn't come into play when the secondary battery is fully charged and the overcharge protection function is working. I found that out when I proudly demonstrated the powersave feature to admiring friends, only to have the hand tick away like normal and completely whizzless. Doesn't do much for your street cred as a WIS, believe me. (WIS = Watch Idiot Savant.)

Power Save mode 2 takes over when mode 1 has been in force for three days and the minute hand reaches the 12 o'clock position. All hands stop moving and the digital displays remain out. The internal clock keeps working but the alarms, chronograph and timer don't (if set). Mode 2 is cancelled in the same way as mode 1, i.e. by exposure to light, at which time all the hands advance rapidly to their correct positions. This would really be something to see, but unfortunately I haven't had the patience to cover the watch for three days and then video it coming back to life just to give you a thrill. Citizen claim that the watch, when fully powered, can be left in power save mode 2 for up to four years and still wake itself up after that time. (And no, I haven't got a video of that, either.)

Power Save mode 3 is invoked manually by utilising the watch's "customisable city" feature. It apparently allows the watch to be stored in the dormant state for a longer period of time, but also cuts out the overcharging protection so mode 3 has to be cancelled before charging recommences. Given that mode 2 allows a storage period of four years, I find it hard to fathom why this feature has been included.

Adding a 3-letter city name of your choice is quite easy, the only restriction being that its timezone must differ from UTC by whole increments of one hour.

When there's insufficient charge to power the watch correctly, the second hand starts to move in 2-second jumps and 'CHARGE' flashes above the bar gauge in the digital display. If this continues for 1½ days everything goes dead until the watch is exposed to light again, and the time setting warning then comes into play—all hands advance to the base position, and the digital display flashes to warn that the time has to be reset.
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