It’s not unusual to see cool new features and functionality packed into digital watches these days: MP3 players, infrared remote controls, cameras, compasses, flashlights, PDAs. Telling time has even become secondary for many watches by companies like Casio, Timex, Suunto, Fossil, and dozens of small new high-tech watch manufacturers. What is unusual, however, is to see a new and innovative high-tech watch whose primary function is not only to tell time, but to do so in traditional and even ancient ways. The YES Zulu watch combines fine Swiss quartz movements with Japanese microchips and complex algorithms to provide the most complete and comprehensive picture of time that I have ever seen in a watch.
The YES watch philosophy is that time is more than just 365 days in a year, 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, and 60 seconds in a minute. Although that is how most of us experience time day to day — and indeed, YES watches do capture the concept perfectly well — there are other cycles and rhythms that play very important roles in our lives, whether we choose to acknowledge them or not. Most notably, sunrise and sunset, moon rise and moon set, solar noon, high and low tide, and lunar phases — all of which (and more) the YES watch captures and conveys.
(Note: this review uses some terminology that may not be in all watch enthusiast’s everyday vocabulary. The end of the review contains a short glossary of terms like solstice, equinox, solar noon, etc.)
Features and Functions of the YES Zulu Watch
- Digital timekeeping. Although the YES watch’s specialty is celestial timekeeping, of course it conveys standard hours, minutes and seconds, as well. The upper portion of the watch’s face is a dot matrix LCD which, in standard “home” mode, ticks off time just like any other digital watch.
- Analog timekeeping. Both in contrast to and complimenting the digital portion of the watch, YES watches have a single analog 24-hour hand powered by a Swiss-made quartz movement. The 24-hour hand makes one full revolution per day, indicating the time in both 12 and 24 hour formats, and also indicating the sun’s current position in the sky, which brings me to my favorite feature of the YES watch:
- Solar time. The digital and analog portions of the YES watch collaborate to convey solar time. Below the dot matrix LCD, the YES watch contains a sort of pie chart consisting of a bunch of thin LCD slices representing 15 minute intervals which divide the watch face very intuitively into day and night. As you change the watch’s location, or as the year progress, the LCD changes to represent the appropriate day/night ratio so that it is accurate anywhere in the world, anytime of the year (up to the year 2100). When the 24-hour hand reaches the first shaded LCD segment, the sun is setting, and as it moves out of the shaded portion of the watch face, the sun is rising. A quick glance at the watch indicates how much light you have left in the day, or how much darkness is left in the night.
- Lunar time. The YES watch’s outer LCD ring indicates the time the moon rises and sets, similar to the way solar time is indicated.
- Lunar phase. The YES watch contains a small circular LCD which waxes and wanes along with the moon. A quick glance at the watch will let you know how much of the moon is currently illuminated.
- Date. Press the upper right-hand button and see the month, date, and the day of week.
- Multiple time zones. You can use the YES watch to officially keep track of three different time zones, though it occurred to me that you can eke out a fourth if you really need to. The digital portion of the watch supports two time “profiles”: home and away. Each are set by picking from a list of 583 cities around the world, or by specifying your longitude and latitude. You can maintain a third time zone by rotating the outer 24-hour bezel to compensate for the offset between the time indicated by the 24-hour hand, and your third time zone (much like a Rolex or Omega GMT watch). If you really need to, you can actually track a forth time zone by first setting your 24-hour hand to a third time zone (so that it is out of synch with the digital time), then setting the 24-hour bezel to a fourth time zone. The celestial data will out of whack, though, but in a pinch, it will get you through. Anyway, without cheating, it easily supports three time zones.
- Sun and moon calculator. The YES watch can calculate sun and moon data for any location between the years 2000 and 2100. Simply select the location, year, month, and date, and the watch will give you day of year, longitude and latitude, sunrise, sunset, solar noon, moon illumination percentage, moon rise, moon set, date and time of the next new moon, and date and time of the next full moon.
- Phase Elapsed Time (countdown timer). Rather than simply specifying a number of hours, minutes and seconds as you would with a standard countdown timer, the PET lets you specify a date (year, month, and day), and a time. The watch then counts down the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds to that event. For instance, as of the time of this writing, I know there are only 340 days, 22 minutes, and 51 seconds until Christmas, 2005. If you specify a date in the past, the time actually counts up rather than down. In other words, the watch indicates how much time has elapsed since a particular event. The documentation states that the PET feature is a NASA standard. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I certainly do see how it could be incredibly useful for counting down to a mission.
- Automatic daylight savings adjustment. The digital portion of the watch will automatically adjust for daylight savings time based on your location and the date. This function can be manually overridden if you’re in a location with non-standard DST rules. The instruction manual contains a chart outlining the DST rules the watch observes for specific locations, so you can be sure if it will work for you or not. Unless you live a pretty exotic life, however, and frequent some pretty obscure areas of the globe, it will work just fine. (Note that the analog 24-hour hand will not automatically adjust, so remember to reset it manually.)
- Stopwatch. The YES watch contains a 24-hour stopwatch with a lap function. Time is only measured in full seconds — no fractions. The interface is not like any other stopwatch I’ve used before. You use one button to start it, and another button to stop it, but there is no way to reset it. Instead of resetting it, you can either restart it again at 0, or simply leave the stopwatch mode. It threw me off for a minute, but you can actually do all the same things with it that you can do with any other stopwatch, and in fact, one could argue that it’s more efficient since it saves you a step between resetting and restarting.
- Alarm. The YES watch contains a single standard daily alarm. The one unique feature it has is a 10-minute snooze. The volume is adequate. I was thrown off by the fact that the alarm is not accessed by cycling through various modes as it would be on pretty much any other digital watch. When in time mode, you access the alarm feature with the upper left-hand button as opposed to navigating to it via the mode button on the bottom left. I think the idea is to make the alarm quickly and conveniently accessible, which it certainly is, but it makes the watch slightly less intuitive for the first-time user.
- Sunrise alarm. The sunrise alarm will sound 30 minutes before sunrise, and right at sunrise. The tone is different from that of the daily alarm to make them easily distinguishable.
- Solar noon indicator. Rotate the bezel so that the “sun stone” (the yellow jewel at the top of the bezel) is halfway between sunrise and sun set. When the 24-hour hand points to the sun stone, it’s solar noon.
- Compass. Not a magnetic compass like you might find on a Casio, Tissot, Timex, or Suunto, but on a sunny day, you can align the sun stone to solar noon, then point the 24-hour hand toward the sun. The moon stone (the blue jewel at the bottom of the bezel) will point north, and the sun stone will point south.
- High and low tide indicators. Rotate the bezel so that the moon stone is halfway between moon rise and moon set. The tide will be high when the 24 hour hand hits the sun and moon stones, and low tide will be where the bezel changes from light to dark. (Note that these are only indicators, and one should not bet one’s life on the YES watch’s ability to determine high and low tide since it cannot take into account topographical features that also effect tides.)
- Solstice and equinox alerts. The YES watch will alert you on solstice and equinox dates by the center LCD turning into a sun icon every 30 minutes, and either the word “solstice” or “equinox” flashing on the dot matrix LCD.
- Time data rotation. If you press and hold the upper right-hand button for two seconds, the watch will cycle through all kinds of time and celestial information like location, year, day of year, week number, longitude, latitude, sunrise, sunset, solar noon, moon illumination percentage, moon rise, moon set, date and time of the next new moon, and date and time of the next full moon.
- One-handed time. I don’t know what the official term is for this function, or even if there is one, but I think it’s an interesting feature nonetheless. Push the backlight button twice and the dot matrix LCD goes blank, leaving you to deduce the time from only the single 24-hour hand. If your life is planned down to the minute, this isn’t going to do you much good, but since each hour is divided up into 15 minute intervals, you can actually get a pretty good approximation of the time.
- Electroluminescent backlight. The backlight makes everything easily visible: the digital time, analog 24-hour hand, moon phase indicator, day/night LCD, and the outer LCD ring. The only things you can’t see are the inner dial and the 24-hour bezel. (See the YES Zulu watch photo gallery for a picture of the backlight in action.)
- Titanium Jubilee bracelet with locking clasp. The bracelet is a bold five links wide, and I love all 22 millimeters of its width. The columns of links alternate between a brushed and a polished finish which gives it an interesting and very attractive look. (See the YES Zulu watch photo gallery for pictures.) The watch even comes with a tool for removing links so you can size it yourself, which I think this is great since the last thing you want to do when you receive a new watch is to have to take it to a jeweler before you can wear it. I managed to remove three links just fine, however it’s easier to scratch and leave blemishes in titanium than you might think, so if you really want to protect the beauty of your watch, you might want to take it to a jeweler just to be safe.
- Rubber band. The YES Zulu comes with a rubber band that you can use rather than the titanium bracelet. Personally, I think it would nothing less than a crime to replace the beautiful titanium bracelet on this watch, but to each his own.
- Sapphire crystal. I noticed this watch is prone to slightly more glare than a typical analog watch with a sapphire crystal due to the LCDs, but it is still very easily readable.
- Water resistant. 10 ATM (10 BAR, 100 meters, or 330 feet).
- Individually numbered caseback.
- Two year limited warranty.
Putting the YES Zulu Watch Through Its Paces
By chance, I happened to receive the YES Zulu watch on my birthday which ended up irking my wife since I was more excited about it than anything she got me (and unfortunately, I didn’t do a very good job of hiding it). It came in probably the nicest packaging I think I’ve ever seen for a watch — far nicer than even a brand new Rolex. The box is wooden with a rich dark finish which you immediately get grubby fingerprints all over in your haste to behold what’s inside. The two parts of the box are joined with high quality hinges, and an off-white felt lining and cushion house and protect the instrument inside. To the right of the watch is a little felt hatch over a compartment containing your rubber band (with extra spring pins), and the tool you need to resize the titanium bracelet. In a pocket in the top of the box is your instruction booklet.
The watch is big and beautiful. Even my wife, who has seen so many new watches come into the house that she has become almost completely desensitized, was caught off guard by its striking design. The size doesn’t bother me a bit as I am completely accustomed to (and actually prefer) oversized watches, but it may be a consideration for some. Keep in mind that comfort is just as important as size, however, and the Zulu sits very lightly on my wrist, primarily due to its titanium construction.
I adjusted the bracelet, secured the watch in place, and realized I had no idea how to use it. Fortunately, it was configured for my time zone (not sure if that was a coincidence, or another example of the exceptional service I received from the YES watch folks), so at least I was able to use it as I got acclimated. Typically I can navigate 99% of the features and functions of new watches with my eyes closed, and if I’m unfamiliar with a new watch, I’ll often spend a few minutes experimenting with it before resorting to any literature, but I must admit, after testing a couple pushers on the YES watch, I decided I’d better crack the manual. I’m sure I could have figured it out eventually, but the whole thing seemed so impeccably synchronized — the digital time, the 24-hour hand, the day/night ratio, the moon phase — that I really didn’t want to inadvertently throw something out of whack. Nothing less than the balance of the universe seemed to be at stake.
I left on a trip to California the next day, so I had six hours to familiarize myself with the watch on the plane, though fortunately it didn’t take nearly that long. The watch is more complex than your average timepiece — there’s no question about that — but the interface and button sequences are pretty consistent and well designed. I found the most confusing thing about the watch to be the fact that you use a different button to put the watch into alarm mode than you use for any other mode, but otherwise, I have no usability complaints.
I liked wearing this watch while on the road. I usually wear a GMT watch when I travel, but I left it at home this time in order to give the Zulu a chance to prove itself. Being able to track multiple time zones was handy, though rather than using the “away” digital time profile, I used the 24-hour bezel to reflect the time back east so that I could see it at a glace (without having to switch between home and away profiles). Where you really see the benefit of tracking multiple time zones, however, is when you travel internationally since it’s not hard to subtract three hours in your head to calculate the time on the east coast. Calculating the time and date in Africa or Australia, however, is another story. I have some trips to Asia planned this summer at which point a watch like this will be imperative. I can also see how the solar time feature could really help a traveler orient himself after a long international flight. All you have to do is pick your new location, and you can instantly see how far through the day you are, and when you should plan on trying to get to bed in order to minimize jet lag.
While familiarizing myself with the watch, it occurred to me that it was actually two watches in one: a digital watch with all the digital features (and far more) that you’d expect, and an analog watch that effectively integrates with, but is still completely separate from, the digital watch. In fact, the digital and analog portions of the watch even use separate batteries, and the analog hand must be adjusted independently. The two are so well integrated, however, and work so well together, that the experience is completely seamless.
You can expect the battery powering the digital portion of the watch (CR2032) to run for about 3 years and the battery powering the analog 24-hour hand (V346) to last for about 5 years. The YES watch folks will replace the batteries for you, or you can take the watch to any competent jeweler (meaning not the apathetic 15-year-old kid working at the kiosk in the mall). When the digital battery gets low, a battery icon will appear to the left of the time.
The pushers on the YES watch are big, easily accessible, and provide good feedback. The bezel is bi-directional, and turns smoothly. The clasp is secure, the bracelet is thick but light, and the overall craftsmanship and quality of the watch is very high.
Since wearing the YES Zulu, I have found myself incorporating more natural temporal rhythms into my life. For instance, one Saturday, I had several things I needed to get done around the house — some inside and some outside — and the YES watch helped me prioritize as the day went on so that I was able to get the outdoor tasks done before dark. Recently, we got several inches of snow, and my neighbors and I didn’t get around to shoveling until late afternoon at which point we immediately took to socializing in front of our houses. A quick glance at my wrist told me we had better get back to the task at hand if we hoped to get inside for our cups of hot chocolate before dark. Admittedly, these aren’t profound and life-changing epiphanies, but I love the way the YES watch adds an entirely new dimension to timekeeping. And one can certainly come up with all kinds of non-trivial applications for this type of technology, as well.
Applications for the YES Zulu Watch
- Outdoorsmen. Obviously anyone who hunts, fishes, hikes, or otherwise spends time outside can benefit from being better aware of solar time.
- Astronomers. Professional and amateur stargazers alike can use YES watches to better plan observations. Not only will they know exactly when the sun will set wherever they happen to be in the world, but they can plan around moon phases which can effect their ability to gather light from far away heavenly bodies.
- Cinematographers and directors. Movie makers can use YES watches to better plan their shots. In fact, the film crew for “Charlie’s Angels 2 — Full Throttle” wore YES watches to help ensure they made the most of the natural light.
- Photographers and painters. Anyone whose job is to collect or capture light will find that YES watches will make their lives easier.
- Religious observations. Those whose religious practices involve solar or lunar time will find the YES watch makes planning their religious observations easier.
- Military personnel. Not only does the YES watch report time in both 12 and 24-hour formats, but I would imagine its solar time and moon illumination feature would make planning covert nighttime operations easier.
- Travelers. The YES watch can track multiple time zones, and can help orient you after a long international flight.
- Gamblers. Ever notice how casinos never have windows to make it more difficult to keep track of time? Enter the YES watch! (Ok, this one might be a bit of a stretch.)
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I should point out that YES watches obviously don’t make any information available for any of these applications that isn’t already available elsewhere, however it clearly makes it faster, more convenient, and easier to access. (For additional applications, see the applications page of the YES watch website.)
The Bottom Line
The YES Zulu watch is truly a unique timepiece. It’s innovative, refreshing in both design and functionality, and most definitely unusual. I only review and write about watches that I find especially interesting, and even among my collection, the YES Zulu watch manages to stand out. It’s the only watch I know of that blends modern and ancient concepts of time — artificial and natural rhythms and cycles — and presents them side-by-side in a way that makes them complimentary and relevant to just about all of us.
YES watches are available in three different collections: the Zulu, Inca, and Cozmo. Retail prices range from $745 (Zulu) to $395 (Cozmo). See the YES Watch photo gallery for pictures of all three models.
Glossary of Terms
- Solstice: The two times each year when the sun is furthest from the equator. The sun is furthest north on June 21st (the summer solstice), and it is furthest south on December 21st (winter solstice). In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice is the longest day of the year, and the winter solstice is the shortest.
- Equinox: The two times each year when the sun is directly over the equator. On these days, the night and day or approximately the same length. The vernal equinox occurs in the spring when the sun is headed north, and the autumnal equinox occurs in the fall, when the sun is headed south.
- Solar noon: The point each day at which the sun reaches its apparently highest point in the sky. This is exactly halfway between sunrise and sunset.
- New moon: When the moon is least illuminated, it is said to be a new moon. New moons are either not visible at all, or are visible only as tiny slivers. This occurs when the moon is between the sun and the Earth, meaning the illuminated portion of the moon is facing away from us.
- Full moon: When the moon is most illuminated, it is said to be a full moon. Full moons occur when the earth is between the sun and the moon, and the entire illuminated surface of the moon is facing us directly.
By Christian Cantrell