Posted by Nick L. on May 21, 2020
If you’re like me, you enjoy experiencing different mechanical watch complications. If you’ve been collecting watches for a while, you’ve probably owned watches with a day and date, a chronograph, and maybe even a GMT. It’s fun to experiment with the different ways that you can use these functions in your daily life. But have you tried out a mechanical alarm watch? If not, the Poljot Aviator alarm is a great way to experience one without breaking the bank.
A mechanical alarm watch is (as the name implies) a watch movement with a mechanical, rather than a digital mechanism to activate an alarm. Typically, a second mainspring is wound by a second crown to store the energy needed to activate an alarm. When the actual time reaches the alarm set time, the energy stored in the spring is released, and a small hammer vibrates against a metal spring to create the alarm sound and/or vibration.
Considering how useful it is, this function is surprisingly not very common in mechanical watches. Perhaps because it is complicated and expensive to produce. The most famous mechanical alarm watch is probably the Vulcain Cricket. Unfortunately, if you want to pick up a modern one, you’ll be spending at least $2000-3000. Seiko’s Bell-matic is a more affordable option, but Seiko stopped producing them decades ago. While they are attractive watches, the styles and case sizes will not suit you if you are going for a contemporary look. My personal favorite alarm watch is the JLC Deep Sea Tribute Alarm, but used ones run in the $8-12k range.
Like the Bell-Matic, most of the Russian-made Poljot Alarm watches were produced decades ago, and have tiny cases and, let’s say, eclectic styling.
Every so often though, a Poljot Aviator Alarm will pop up on eBay or a watch forum. From what I have gathered from the internet, most of them are NOS alarm movements installed in bigger cases. Many of the Aviators have funky pictures of dolphins or airplanes on the dials, but if you are patient, you can find one with a plain military/pilot dial.
I purchased this watch on eBay for less than many entry Seiko dive watches. Sellers typically ask in the $150-300 range and the clean dials can command more money. The watch that I found had very little information given in its eBay listing, so I do not know its history or what movement is inside. The dial just says that it has 18 jewels.
It arrived without a box, and with a low-quality leather strap with white stitching which I promptly removed (I’ve been wearing it on various straps from my site StrapHabit.com (if you like this review, please check out the site, it will help me continue to deliver watch content)!
The Aviator has a sand-blasted 40mm wide stainless steel case that is 12mm thick and has a 20mm lug width. In other words, the perfect modern size.
The military-style means that it looks great with many different straps, including my new sailcloth quick release models.
It has a sloped bezel, and lugs that curve down to meet the wrist. The size and shape make it fairly comfortable, and it is fairly light at 54g without a strap. The domed crystal adds 1-2mm of thickness, so it wears thinner than 12mm would indicate.
The case-back appears to be snapped on, rather than screwed, as there is a small lip next to one of the lugs to pry it off. According to the text, it is water-resistant to 5 atm (50 meters).
The Aviator features diamond-shaped hour and minute hands which are lumed. The edges of the hands are black, and the minute hand is fairly thin. The lume does not extend to the end of the hand. This plus a slightly busy dial hurt legibility, especially considering that this is a pilot watch.
The seconds hand and alarm had are both reddish-orange down their entire length (the seconds hand does have a black counterbalance). The seconds hand is bent down at the tip. I’m not sure if this is to improve legibility, or because a too-long seconds hand was all that was available and someone bent it to fit! The 24 ring on the dial lines up with the alarm hand, making it easier to set the alarm.
The dial is a functional, if slightly busy, mix of pilot and military-style.
It features minute hash marks around the outer edge, along with 5-minute markings. Inside that, it has lumed squares and lumed 12-hour markings that are greenish-white in the daytime. Inside that, it has a white circle, and 24-hour markings indicating military/PM time. It looks a bit busy but has minimal text indicating the brand, model, number of jewels, and alarm function.
The green lume on the hands seems to have a thicker application than the dial, but it is still very legible at night.
The watch features what appears to be a domed mineral crystal.
I was worried about the watch functioning correctly, but the time-telling and alarm functions have performed flawlessly thus far. It also keeps time as well as you could expect from a Russian watch with a movement of unknown age or service history. When I first checked, it ran around the upper end of a Seiko 4R accuracy range of +20 to 30 seconds per day.
Both crowns screw-down, which was surprising, especially considering that the case-back does not and that both functions require manual winding to operate.
The crown at 4 o’clock winds the time-telling mechanism when unscrewed, and sets the time when pulled out to the first and only click.
Based on what I had read online, I expected the watch to have a 30 hour power reserve. When I tested it, however, it ran for around 48 hours!
The crown at 2 o’clock winds the alarm mechanism when unscrewed, and sets the alarm time when pulled out. Note that the alarm hand can only be moved counter-clockwise when being set. It’s a quirk but does not affect the functionality. Also, because the alarm hand is so short, it is difficult to set the alarm to the exact minute. It should only be used if you have a 5 minute or so window.
On a recent 10 day business trip, I used the alarm every day to wake up for work. The experience of setting a mechanical watch every day instead of my phone was quite satisfying. It is fairly loud, and my wife hates the sound. Otherwise, I would use it as my alarm at home too.
You can hear what the alarm sounds like in the video below. It also produces a slight vibration that can be felt on the wrist.
The alarm does not have an on/off function. If you wind the alarm, it will run for about 15 seconds when the watch reaches the set time. It cannot be stopped until the spring winds down. If you don’t wind it, obviously nothing will happen. It also cannot determine AM or PM, so it cannot be set more than 12 hours ahead of the desired time.
So why should every watch collector own this watch? The mechanical alarm is such a fun and useful complication. I think that anyone who loves watches would have fun using and interacting with an alarm watch. It is always a fun surprise when it goes off, for example, to remind you to check your parking meter or leave for the airport. There are higher-quality options out there, but the Poljot seems to be the only modern-looking option at an affordable price. If you’re a true watch nerd, it’s worth having an alarm in your collection!
Do you know of a better affordable alarm watch? Or is there an affordable and uncommon complication that you prefer? Please let me know in the comments!
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