Probably not news to the watch enthusiast is the relatively recent renaissance in digital watches. Whilst the likes of Casio have continued to produce LCD watches throughout the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, only recently have LED equipped timepieces become available as new items after their somewhat brief rise and fall some thirty years ago.
Indeed, there do exist the real collectibles from the dawn of the digital watch age; the early Pulsars fall smartly into this category and today command high prices when in the condition required by a serious collector. Aside from the collectibility factor of early digitals one has to ask as to why watches of the LED type are in demand at all in this day and age. They can drain batteries quickly, require user interaction in order to read the time, are hard to read in strong sunlight and of course more often than not, arguably display a lack of taste on the part of the designer! The latter point is perhaps the most interesting given today’s demand; we live in a retro world, people want the things from the 70s and 80s which in the 90s were considered to be laughable design wise. But then again, flared trousers are back and have been for some time.
Personally, I still get a kick out of a calculator watch and I like pressing buttons. I still remember my amazement when I saw Roger Moore in ‘Live and Let Die’ press the button on his LED wristwatch and wow! – there was the time displayed in red numbers! Things have moved on since the Pulsar however – micro technology has advanced enough to allow features to be incorporated into digital wristwatches that were unfeasible at the time James Bond was using an LED.
Japan might be considered to be at the centre of digital technology at this time. Perhaps more importantly is that Japan would appear to hold no bars when it comes to producing watch designs which are ‘different’ to say the least! Often, there can be nothing more interesting than leafing through a Japanese watch magazine at the latest domestically produced (or at least designed) timepieces. Of course, it doesn’t purely need to be Japanese watch magazines where one can look at some quite interesting and way out designs – web sites dedicated to the weird, different and often inspired offerings from the east have started to appear. One such site is Tokyoflash and to quote their homepage: ‘Nowhere else can you find such a unique collection of concept timepieces. These watches are so cool, they’ll literally freeze your wrist!
I have kept an eye on the Tokyoflash site for a couple of years and often my eyebrows have been raised at some of the offerings. Have I bought anything from the site? Well, no. The simple reason for that may be evident if you read other watch reviews I have written – I would suggest I am too old to wear some, well most of the watches they offer but it really is the proverbial candy store for those of younger years than me! This review concerns one of the latest designs from Tokyoflash which I must say has me fascinated: the Pimp Star Performer.
The first issue for me is of course the name of this watch, or rather the brand: Pimp. A slight raising of the eyebrows occurred when I saw this but this is 2004 not 1954 so I assume to the younger generation there is little shock factor!
The Star Performer is one of the latest products from the design group Tokyo Time Evolution. As is often the case, there isn’t that much readily available information on the company behind this watch, suffice to say that they have had input into Spoon watches and are a wholly independent engineering/design group who are more interested in the product than the mass marketing/large scale production approach that might be taken by companies such as Casio. This may be the very reason that they are happy to produce limited quantities of very unusual designs. Tokyoflash tell me that they have asked Tokyo Time evolution to produce more products but they have refused, stating that they are happy with the almost hobbyist approach to things.
So, here we have a watch that is unusual to say the least; it employs a series of LEDs to fulfil all functions and has fascinated me since it arrived on my doorstep. This is a true example of where the world is at in terms of combining the archaic with new technology and satisfying those with a penchant for gadgets as well as the younger generation who want something different.
My example arrived from Tokyoflash within 3 days of leaving Japan via EMS and was well wrapped in bubble wrap within the standard EMS shipping bag. As an aside, all my communications with Tokyoflash have been dealt with very quickly and courteously, all questions answered with no problem despite their sometimes ludicrous nature.
The watch arrived in a standard tin type box and was well protected by a foam insert which is cut to allow the watch to fit snugly and well protected. The watch itself sits in the cut out area and the excess foam is used as a fill between watch and bracelet. Functional and effective given that most of these will be sent via mail order to destinations theoretically worldwide. The bracelet is fully wrapped in plastic and the watch crystal has a protective sticker.
The tin itself has the word Pimp in large script and ‘star performer’ – Limited Production Collector Item. Tokyo Time Evolution are under no illusions as to the status they give this watch!
Included in the box is a double sided instruction sheet in Japanese and English and the translation is very good – I could find one or two small errors but nothing worse than I have seen from the likes of much larger manufacturers. The instructions are illustrated in colour which is a nice touch and the images do help one familiarise one’s self with the functions of the watch.
The whole concept of this watch centres on how information is displayed. Thus, in simple terms all timekeeping, day and date and year are displayed by numbered LEDs in red, orange and green. Simple? Well, yes, once one has familiarised oneself with the concept.
The dial comprises four columns of LEDs under silvered digits (0-9) printed on the underside of the crystal (the underside of the crystal is in fact fully silvered and screened black to create the digits). At the head of each column is an icon intended to represent a particular function (the instructions interpret one or two of these in an interesting way!),
from left to right:
Clock icon: representing the time
Sun icon: representing the day and date
Dollar sign: representing the year (instructions: ‘making more money year after year’)
Martini glass: representing PM (instructions: ‘drinking is usually done during this time’)
Therefore, depending on the current function, one of the above icons will be lit in conjunction with the relevant LEDs within the columns below them. The timekeeping functions available are:
Time in 12 or 24 hour format
Day and date
But that is not all! The watch is programmed to give a short burst of what looks like random LED activity under the following conditions:
every minute for 12 minutes after displaying the time
every minute between the hours of 6pm and 1am (the instructions refer to this as ‘Pimp Time’)
I am a little uncertain where the inspiration for the latter function came from but there you have it. The image above gives an idea of what the display looks like when the watch performs its dance.
There is a main function selection button on the right hand side of the case. The first press and the watch displays the time in either 12 or 24 hour format (depending on how one has set the watch) using all four columns; the second press of the button (whilst the time is displayed) and the watch displays the day and date using the first, third and fourth columns; the third press of the button and the year is displayed using all columns:
On first pressing the function button, the LEDs perform a little dance for 2 seconds and then the current time is displayed for 5 seconds. Reading the time is simply a case of reading the digits lit across the display – thus 1,2,4,1 would indicate 12.41 with the Martini glass lit if the watch has been set to 12 hour mode and it is 12.41pm, the day and date are just as easily read if one remembers the ‘code’ for the day with Sunday being 1; likewise the year is read in the same way as the time (2,0,0,4 being 2004).
The good news in the case of the Star Performer is that is is actually possible to read the display even in bright daylight thought I suspect that this may be an evening out watch for many wearers.
Setting the watch is via a recessed button also on the right hand side of the case. This is all fairly intuitive and is a case of entering the setup function from whichever mode you are in (e.g. to set the year, the watch must be displaying the year via the LEDs). Therefore one must be a little quick off the mark and ensure the setup button is pressed before the display extinguishes.
One question is of course the old chestnut with anything LED – battery life. The Star Performer takes a lithium CR2032 which I am sure it needs given that for seven hours every day by default the display is entertaining the wearer. No battery life estimations are given in the instructions but changing the battery should be a snip and Lithium cells are not expensive these days. With regard to accuracy then this is a quartz watch and whilst I haven’t tested accuracy I would safely assume that it will be far more accurate than the majority of mechanicals and just as accurate as other quartz equipped watches such as Casio and so on.
All good fun and certainly different. The little dances that the LEDs perform at various times are interesting to watch and I am sure would be a good talking point for those wearing the watch. I have to admit again that I find the whole thing fascinating in the least and this is a very novel way of telling the time.
The case and bracelet combination of the Star Performer weigh in at a not inconsiderable 130 grams. The case itself has dimensions of 29mm width by 56mm length by 11mm depth. The lug width is an unusual 21mm.
Tokyoflash state on their site that the case is all stainless steel; it is very well finished indeed and feels extremely solid. The brushing to the top is excellent, matching the bracelet very well and the polish to the remainder is also of a very high standard. Basic water resistance means that the watch is designed to withstand accidental splashing only – thus it would be inadvisable to wear it even whilst showering I would say. However, this watch will more than likely be an occasional wearer for many purchasers who would no doubt have something more sporty for diving into swimming pools and so on.
The crystal is a curved mineral with the underside treated as mentioned previously. The silvered icons and digits are a very clever design feature in my opinion and give the watch some character when they reflect the ambient light; preferable to a large expanse of black glass which would otherwise be the case. Of course, as befits this concept, the digits are of the ‘computer’ or ‘digital’ type font which works well – I don’t think anything else would suit.
The case back is brushed stainless steel with ‘Pimp’ in large letters and ‘Water Resistant’, ‘Stainless Steel Back’, ‘Lithium Battery CR2032’. As one might expect, the back is of the snap on type which should aid quick battery replacement and one corner has a raised tab under which a small knife should fit quite easily.
The overall ‘look’ of the case is very retro and reminiscent of many current Casio and ‘fashion’ watches such as Diesel et al. Another reviewer of the Star Performer mentioned that this may be a ‘man only’ watch. On this point I would respectfully disagree given the current penchant of women wearing men’s watches; furthermore, the dimensions of this watch probably matter even less to the target market.
I have to say that I like the bracelet on the Star Performer. The links are all of solid stainless steel and nicely brushed to the tops. The chamfered outer edges and sides are polished with the whole thing being reminiscent of a vintage expanding bracelet. It matches the watch perfectly and I would suggest that both case and bracelet came from the same manufacturer.
The clasp is double folding with two pushbuttons for release; adjusting the bracelet is via split pins (unusually, the instruction sheet shows a little diagram for bracelet adjustment) and there are plenty of removable links so sizing shouldn’t be a problem. My only concern about sizing the bracelet is that there is no fine adjustment – it could be a case of ‘just a little tight’ or ‘just a little loose’.
However, these are the words of a watch enthusiast; the target market for this watch probably has no concern if the watch wears a little loose (albeit maybe 3mm!).
If a strap was preferred to the bracelet then it could be a little tricky to find one of the correct width; as mentioned above, 21mm is an unusual lug width for any watch, 20 or 22mm being the norm for larger watches. However, a 22mm in reasonably soft material would no doubt squeeze in OK.
Overall a good quality bracelet, well constructed and finished to a high standard. What must be borne in mind when coming to any conclusions on the Star Performer is that this watch is not intended to compete with anything or to keep any traditions alive! This is a watch that is a design item with features that are novel as well as functional in their own way.
Addressing the issue of the brand name first: we must remember that this watch comes from a culture very different to that in the west and the Japanese are known for interesting names applied to products; in this case of course there are certain connotations that might be read from the name chosen for this item. Well, personally I don’t take offence and to be fair, the word ‘Pimp’ isn’t visible anywhere apart from the case back. Furthermore, Japanese manufacturers often design for and sell into the domestic market only. Yes, this watch is available to the world at large so it’s up to the buyer to decide as regards the name.
As for the watch itself, overall I think it is great fun; is it a ‘serious’ timepiece? Within its own sphere then it is, as it gives the user all required information. Put it alongside other watches I have reviewed then it may not appear to be quite so serious – it is a ‘fun’ watch but of higher quality than a ‘cheap digital’. Quality wise the Star Performer seems well above average with a good bracelet and case finish – the case buttons have good tension in them and don’t feel ‘cheap’. Overall fit is very very good and the watch does not smack of low budget manufacture.
Longevity of this watch I couldn’t comment on at this time but it will give a lot of pleasure to those who buy it for what it is. So who might those people be? I would suggest that wearers (not necessarily purchasers) would range from 17 to 25 years old, both male and female. Given that there are a maximum of 1000 units for sale outside of Japan (Tokyoflash being the only supplier for export) then I predict that it won’t be too long before it is sold out. Pricewise, the Star Performer comes in at Yen16,000 or about USD145.00.
If I were looking for a gift for a young and trendy who likes gadgets then I would have no hesitation in buying the Star Performer for them. It is different and above all, a fascinating watch to watch!