It is not uncommon to find watches drawn from the designs of dissimilar objects. In these pages, I've reviewed racing car watches, submarine watches, even espresso machine watches. At their best, themed watches capture the essence of the original object; but at their worst, they are campy caricatures. Bearing that in mind, I approached the camera-inspired TACS Automatic Vintage Lens with a healthy dose of skepticism. I'm glad I gave it a chance as the Vintage Lens has some clever elements that make it an enjoyable design exercise, even if it is perhaps a bit flawed as a wristwatch.
Yoshiaki Motegi of Japan is the creative talent behind TACS. He believes that design should embrace everyday elements. In this case, he has embraced vintage cameras. The connection between camera and watch seems odd at first, but makes sense when you consider how film cameras and mechanical watches are both analog devices in a digital age. In fact, a friend who recently returned from Japan told me he noticed that most shops that sell vintage watches there also sell vintage cameras, so perhaps the connection is even more obvious than I thought.
The analog camera theme is apparent from the moment you open the box. The warranty card is the size of a 35mm slide and tucked into a little cardboard sleeve. The watch itself is shrouded with a protective leather cap - a lens cap, which is a pretty cool item with its embossed face and gold rivets. It almost seems a shame that it will likely only be used once. You could conceivably wear it with the watch as a hunter style protective cover, but that would be somewhat awkward. No, this is just for memorable presentation, and it certainly does the trick.
Pop that cover and you will find a convincing replica of a camera lens. Under the domed sapphire crystal is a thick sapphire fish-eye with a wildly exaggerated curve. In its center is an aperture through which the movement and inner part of the black and gold baton hands are visible. The minute hand extends past the aperture and a third of it actually passes under the fish-eye. Below the second crystal is the dial's floor, which is black with two stepped rings and a recessed rectangle. The dome-within-a-dome is a tremendous effect, and it does feel like you are staring down the business end of an SLR, but it is not exactly easy to read. The hands are black and gold against the respective colors of the exposed movement and dial, but it really does not provide enough contrast for readability. The markings inside the dial are also photography themed like distance scales and aperture settings. They are another clever touch but provide no assistance in measuring time.
The bezel continues the illusion. It looks for all the world like a focus ring and being bidirectional without any detents, it feels like one too. The printing on its narrow insert also carries the theme. You don't normally see diameter printed on a watch bezel but you would on a camera lens, so it makes sense here. What it lacks, is any form of useful timing marker, so even though it rotates, the bezel serves no purpose.
The watch has a massive 47mm wide barrel-shaped case. Short, angular lugs limit its length to 51mm, which is just barely enough to fit my 6.5" wrist. The case has two layers of brushed and IP treated stainless steel: gold for the main body with a black upper section and case back ring. The topmost layer is set into the case and is highly textured with pale striations. It covers only three-quarters of the surface; the top left corner has a recess filled with a black decorative screw. A single, drilled crown guard pokes out below the polished and signed crown. At first, I thought it might have been a mounting tab for a hinged crown guard, but taking a step back, I noticed how it was mirrored by the black screw in the top left corner. I believe these are meant to look like the attachment points for a camera strap.
The signed, push-pull crown is the only polished element on the watch. It has no texture to the edge, but its size makes it easy to grip. The Vintage Lens is hardly a tool watch, but it is sealed for 100m water resistance, which is probably far more than your old Nikon.
In profile, the case is 16mm thick and decidedly angular, with sheer sides and hard edges. TACS wisely left the branding off the dial and committed it to an engraving between the lugs. The model number is on a plate affixed to the left side. This sizable chunk of steel straps on with an equally hefty 24mm Horween strap that tapers to a 22mm, screwed-in, Pre-V style buckle. The brown leather displays a pronounced pull-up effect when bent for a proper vintage look.
The TACS is not just designed in Japan, it is made there as well, and carries a Japanese movement too; a 21 jewel Miyota 82S0 automatic decorated in gold with Geneva stripes and a skeletonized rotor. The mechanism is visible through both the dial and the display case back.
In the end, the watch is an intriguing novelty. It nails the camera look, that fish-eye dial is quite a sight, and it has some clever details, but it certainly trades form over function. The TACS Automatic Vintage Lens will list for about $550 with a Kickstarter price of $429. Look for the crowdfunding campaign to start around September 27.
Pro: Crazy crystal lens.
Con: Oversized, awkward to read.
Sum: A camera lover's watch, but maybe not a watch lover's watch.