A little over a week ago, I received a new thermocompensated quartz watch from Citizen: The Citizen, Model AQ1020-51E. This is the third model offered by Citizen with its new eco-drive (light-replenished battery), thermocompensated A010 movement--Citizen’s latest top-accuracy caliber. A little history predating this watch may be useful.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CITIZEN (QUARTZ MODELS)
Edit: It has just been brought to my attention by fellow-forumer and friend, artec, that Citizen also makes a very nice and very recent automatic watch that is also labeled The Citizen or, more commonly, The Citizen Automatic. These are models NA0000-59A, -59B, and 59E, depending on dial color and are completely different from the watch under review. I note here that I'm referring to only the quartz The Citizen in what follows and thank artec for bringing this possible source of confusion to my attention.
Citizen created its first top-end thermocompensated watch, The Citizen in 1995, with the high-accuracy movement #0350. This was followed in 1998 with an improved movement, A610H, and in 2000 with the still-better A660H movement. It wasn’t until 2005 that Citizen labeled this watch “Chronomaster” on the dial. Today, The Citizen, Chronomaster, with the A660H movement is still available. All versions of The Citizen, originating in 1995, have had the ± 5 seconds per year (s/y) specification, albeit with the proviso that this accuracy level assumes wearing the watch for approximately 12 hours each day. This immediately-prior iteration of The Citizen (for example, with the A660H movement) has a battery life of 5 years. It’s a beautiful watch with an unmatched 10-year warranty.
In 2011, Citizen introduced a new line, still named The Citizen, but now with the new, eco-drive A010 movement. This movement represents an improvement over the A660H in that it uses the Citizen light-replenishable battery technology they label “eco-drive,” which extends battery life by a large factor. No one believes, I think, that these light-replenishable batteries will last forever, but we can likely assume that they will go 10-15 years without any need of replacement of the solar cell and main battery.
The first model Citizen introduced with the A010 movement was AQ1000-58E, -58A, and 58B, with differing color dials and stainless-steel cases and bracelets. I wrote a review of AQ1000-58E here:
Review of The Citizen AQ1000-58E - Part 1,
and a follow-up review of the accuracy I got from the watch here (first link is for on-wrist performance; the second for off-wrist):
The AQ1000 series was announced at Basel in 2011, and the first specimens arrived in fall, 2011. At just about the same time, the AQ1010 series appeared, also stainless steel, with wider hands and a more-detailed bracelet, and in spring, 2012, the AQ1020 series (51E, black dial and 51A, silver-white dial) was announced, with general delivery in late June. The big advance of the AQ1020 over the AQ1010 series was the titanium case and bracelet, with the same detailed (5-link across) bracelet design. Prices have risen from AQ1000 at a MSRP of 210,000 JPY, and an on-the-street price of about $2000 US to AQ1020 at a MSRP of 346,500, and a widely-advertised price of about $3500 US. Although this review is of AQ1020-51E, with its black dial, almost everything noted applies to AQ1020-51A with its silver-white dial.
The Instruction Manual for all A010-movement Citizen models follows:
1. Pictures. In this section, I will be presenting some pictures taken from the Web, rather than posting my own, which would—given my lack of good photographic equipment and any skill in this area—be vastly inferior. The first and best I could find is from the Inoue Clock Shop website. This company is a good source for all high-end Japanese watches, Citizen and Seiko (Grand Seiko, Credor).
The next pictures of AQ1020-51E are from Citizen’s own website.
For those interested in this model's silver-white dial sister, AQ1020-51A, here's a small picture from the Citizen website:
2. Measurements. The following measurements were made on my specimen AQ1020-51E with a Vernier caliper and differ slightly from published figures:
Case Diameter: 38 mm. (advertised as 37 mm.) excluding crown
Case Thickness: 12.3 mm.
Lug-to-Lug Length: 45.05 mm.
Lug Opening: 19 mm.
Weight: 80 g.
A comment about the case thickness: As can be seen from the side photo above, AQ1020-51E has a slightly domed crystal (which is double AR-coated sapphire). This accounts for this model’s greater thickness (12.3 mm.) than that of AQ1000-58E that I reviewed earlier, which had a thickness of 10.4 mm. Other than the domed feature, there’s not obvious reason for this later model’s having any greater thickness, since both use the same movement.
3. Purchase and Warranty. AQ1020-51E is a JDM model, which means that, at least at present, it can be purchased only in Japan. As with other JDM watches, a number of Japanese dealers offer this model worldwide via an online purchase, the best-known being the three amigos: Higuchi, Chino, and Seiya. I can speak from experience only for Katsu Higuchi, from whom I purchased the watch (and several others before it). From my own experiences and those of others I’ve read about, such purchases are almost always very smooth, prices are good, and shipping is very fast.
Like all versions of The Citizen, AQ1020-51E has the virtually-unmatched warranty of 10 years. In addition, during those 10 years (more precisely in Years 2 and 8), the watch may be shipped back to Citizen for any needed timing adjustments and an overall checkup, free of charge. Presumably, if Citizen technicians saw that the light cell or rechargeable battery needed replacement, they would do so. If a specimen were to be performing outside of the accuracy specification, it could be sent back to Citizen on the warranty, and they would either adjust the movement or replace it with a new one. A friend who has owned a number of Chronomasters had two that were slightly out of specification and sent them back to get them to perform within the ± 5 s/y standard, and this was done by Citizen at no cost.
Since these watches are JDM, however, the watch must go back to Citizen for warranty work and the free inspections through a Japanese owner. Higuchi (and I imagine also Chino and Seiya—along with the other online Japanese dealers) does this for his customers—that is, acts as the middle man. My friend, thus, sent his Chronomasters back to Higuchi, who then sent them on to Citizen. They were returned to Higuchi and then back to my friend.
4. Features. As with all The Citizen models (at least since those with the A610H movement), AQ1020-51E have a perpetual calendar and an independently-adjustable hour hand, the latter feature making time-zone and DST changes extremely easy. The watch has a WR of 10 BAR, has a screw-down back, but non-screw-down crown. The A010 movement has a 32 kHz oscillator and is thermocompensated via Citizen’s proprietary technology. Although some have speculated that this system that Citizen uses employs the digital-count method like ETA and thermocompensated Seiko movements (e.g., their 9F series), no one has been able to determine exactly how Citizen’s thermocompensation process works. We do, however, know that it does work!
According to the Instruction Manual, this movement has what is termed an “automatic hand position adjustment function.” In describing this, the Manual states: “The hand positions are checked at regular intervals. Any misalignment detected will be corrected immediately to keep accurate time.” At this point, I must confess that I’ve not seen this feature in action—although maybe it wouldn’t be seen, just executed when necessary.
As seen in the pictures, this watch has a charge indicator on the dial at the 10 o’clock position. The Instruction Manual provides estimated time remaining in the rechargeable battery for various positions of the pointer in the charge indicator. Some object to the presence of this indicator on the dial, finding it aesthetically off-putting, but, in time, with my AQ1000-58E, I got used to it, and it did not prove distracting. Although I wore this latter watch for months with long sleeve shirts and jackets, the charge indicator pointer rarely dropped very far down the scale, and I think it’s safe to say that only months of total darkness would likely drop the indicator to the bottom and stop the watch. The Instruction Manual states that, once fully charged (which doesn’t take long in natural light), the watch will continue to function for 160-210 days in complete darkness. When depleted, the user is warned by the seconds hand moving once every two seconds, and when this occurs, approximately 3 days of operation remain. Once fully depleted, the watch can be recharged to full operation with 40 minutes to 1 ½ hours of direct outdoor light or 3 ½ hours of light from a 30W fluorescent lamp. In sum, it would be hard to see the watch ever running out of juice with anything approaching normal use.
The bracelet, shown clearly in one of the pictures above, employs pins, rather than the more-desirable screws, and lacks any micro-adjustments in the clasp. This latter makes really precise sizing slightly more difficult, but certainly, at least in my opinion, is not a serious shortcoming.
The most outstanding feature of all versions of The Citizen, since its birth in 1995, and certainly including the present iteration, is its phenomenal time-keeping ability: ± 5 seconds per year, noted earlier in this review. This accuracy standard places The Citizen at the top of all quartz watches, equaled only by the very few specially-selected limited-edition Grand Seiko quartz models brought out to commemorate company anniversaries. No ETA-movement thermocompensated quartz model (seen almost exclusively in the Breitling line) matches this standard as it comes new in the box.
Most reports I’ve seen of accuracy for the Breitling models fitted with their Super Quartz movement (an ETA thermocompensated module) show typical accuracy performance on the order of ± 10-15 s/y, and it has been reported that Breitling will not adjust their movements to finer specifications. For a few intrepid souls who are willing to attempt accuracy adjustments to these ETA-powered watches by removing the back, a digital calibration port is present inside. Concerns about the warranty would prevent me from doing this, but others may wish to do so. As far as I can tell, none of The Citizen variants (including the present one) have possessed such a digital calibration port. Some would consider this a weakness of the Citizen thermocompensated movements—0350, A610H, A660H, and now A010—but my feeling about this is that, if indeed one’s specimen lives up to the ± 5 s/y standard, then no adjustment would ever be realistically needed.
5. Physical Features of the A010 Movement. The recent Citizen A010 movement can be seen from the picture above to be quite different-looking than its predecessor, A660H. The backplate is decorated with “Tokyo Stripes,” and the movement has an astounding 30 jewels. This is a high jewel count for even a mechanical watch, but really extraordinary for a quartz one. The previous A660H movement had 17 jewels, which was also a high number for a non-chronograph quartz movement with really only one complication (date). It is well-known that jewels are far less important in quartz than in mechanical movements, and many quartz movements have no jewels or a small number. For perspective, Seiko’s very best thermocompensated quartz movement, the 9FXX series, has 9 jewels. Still, one could presumably expect a very long life for the Citizen A010 movement with friction reduced at so many points in the movement.
6. Performance. So, how has The Citizen stacked up in this (accuracy) department? In other words, have these watches generally lived up to their ± 5 s/y standard? In a word, Yes. A number of owners of the earlier versions with the A660H movement have reported obtaining accuracy of this level when the watch has been worn the number of hours specified by Citizen (approximately 12 hours per day). Those of us who have experimented with watch accuracy and compiled results reported from around the Web have found that The Citizen does deliver the advertised accuracy, but falls out of this narrow accuracy band when the watch is stored for long periods of time. In my own case, with three Chronomasters (A660H movement), I have obtained accuracy more in the ± 10-12 s/y range, with these watches off the wrist. This is, of course, no indictment of Citizen, since they do issue the proviso about expected precision.
With two watches with the newer eco-drive A010 movement (both AQ1000-58Es), the on-wrist accuracy of mine and a friend’s averaged 4.42 s/y, and off-the-wrist accuracy averaged more like about 6.5-7.0 spy on average—still very very good. A much more-detailed explanation of the accuracy performance of these two A010-powered watches (for both on- and off-wrist conditions) can be found at the following (also provided above):
The reader should keep in mind that the above-reported performance figures are for two different watches (albeit having the same movement) than the one being reviewed here. Since I have had the watch for not much more than one week, no stable results can be reported on it yet, but I will say that in the one week of use, the watch gained exactly .00965 seconds, which pro-rates to about .503 s/y. In other words, so far, so good, but I will now track this watch’s accuracy over the standard 3-month period that I use and will report results in a separate thread at the end of that time. There’s no compelling reason to expect this specimen to depart much in performance from that of the two earlier A010-powered AQ1000-58Es, but individual differences are certainly found in watches with the same movement, and only time will tell just how well this specimen will perform.
7. Impressions. My impressions of the aesthetic qualities of AQ1020-51E follow. Overall, it is an improvement over AQ1000-58E, the first model on the A010 movement. It should be, I guess, given its much higher price (given earlier). The two main advantages I saw for AQ1020-51E over its predecessor were: (a) titanium construction (which reduces weight by about 32%) and (b) its wider hands, which would make perception easier. I had found that picking up the location of the hands in certain conditions was difficult with the thin hands of AQ1000-58E and had hoped that the wider hands of AQ1020-51E would ameliorate that weakness (at least for these aging eyes). I’m sorry to report, however, that the present watch’s hands, which lack lume, are also difficult to pick up in certain light conditions. This is my one regret about the watch. Not only the hands, but also the dial markers lack lume.
The dial is an improvement over that of AQ1000-58E, in my opinion, with its vertical-line texture, easily seen in the picture above. On AQ1000-58E, the dial was untextured. On both, the dial is not a flat jet-black (as it is on the earlier black-dial Chronomasters), but instead throws off a different effect because of the need for it to permit the passage of light to the solar cell beneath it. In some lights, the radial sheen or sunburst effect (for lack of better descriptors) associated with this light-permeable dial is apparent. The overall effect is, in my opinion, quite attractive, but may not appeal to those used to deep-black dials. In certain lights, one gets a sort of purple tint coming off the dial, due, undoubtedly, to the AR coating on both sides of the crystal. This too is, in my opinion, quite attractive, but will probably bug some potential owners. In general, my opinion of the dial work is high.
Had Citizen desired an opaque, standard dial in connection with the new A010 movement, it would seem that they could perhaps have adapted the technology found in their Eco-Drive Metal collection. Here, Citizen has devised an ingenious method by which the light cell is found in a vertical metal ring that runs around the periphery of the dial. This ring is completely unobtrusive and looks like the inside of a standard bezel. However, with all the light captured by this ring, no compromises are necessary with the dial. This technology can also be seen in the two newest eco-drive Citizen Campanola models, BU0020-03A and -03B. In a way, I wish Citizen had used this technology with the new line of The Citizen models. Still, as noted, I don’t find the light-permeable dial off-putting in any way, although some undoubtedly will.
The metal work is first-rate. After peering at it through a lighted 10X loupe, I’d rate the quality of the case, bezel, hands, and hour markers as slightly superior to that on AQ1000-58E and about equal to that found on the previous generation of Chronomasters and the Grand Seiko quartz models. The hour and minute hands are beautifully-made, dauphin-style, faceted and highly-polished. The hour markers are 7-faceted and nicely finished and polished. The 12, 6, and 9 o’clock hour markers are more elaborate, 10-faceted and beautifully made. The frame of the date window is carefully constructed with tasteful striations (not random machine marks) on top. The date window has the white-on-black configuration that I believe is preferable on a black dial to the opposite black-on-white pattern.
One change from AQ1000-58E and the earlier Chronomasters is the chapter ring which on AQ1020-51E is an angled separate ring with the minute markers applied. This can be seen in a couple of the pictures above. The minute markers are definitely applied and, under 10X magnification, can be seen to consist of a somewhat-granular application. Not really unattractive, but my preference would have been to have the minute markers at the periphery of the flat dial and consist of polished slivers of stainless steel, rather than the granular substance used in this model (and in AQ1000-58E).
The design and lines of the case and bezel are very appealing to this reviewer. Most of the case and the bezel are highly polished, with small brushed top surfaces of the lugs. This, when combined with the alternating brushed and polished links of the bracelet, provides a very attractive effect. As with AQ1000-58E, the case side has a nicely-contoured facet that, on AQ1020-51E, is polished.
As noted, the bracelet of AQ1020-51E is a big improvement, to my eye, over that of its predecessor, AQ1000-58E and is similar to that found with the stainless-steel AQ1010 series, the immediate predecessor of AQ1020-51E. The alternating brushed and polished links—5 across—provide a very attractive bracelet.
The case, bezel, and bracelet have Citizen’s excellent Duratect surface treatment. We are not told the exact composition of the metal substrate—whether it is a harder titanium alloy or simply titanium hardened at the surface. The Duratect process produces a very hard surface finish, much harder than untreated stainless steel, and all Duratect-treated Citizen watches I have owned (two titanium Chronomasters, AQ1000-58E, and the new radio-controlled CB0100-52E) have shown excellent scuff- and scratch-resistance.
SUMMARY AND CLOSING THOUGHTS
In summarizing my views of this watch, I can say that I believe that Citizen has produced a truly excellent timepiece with The Citizen, AQ1020-51E. I would have to rate the relatively-new A010 thermocompensated movement as the best thermocompensated quartz watch movement to date from any maker. The combination of truly spectacular performance specifications of ± 5 s/y combined with the light-power feature places this movement right at the top of super high-precision watch movements. The AQ1020 models (-51E and 51A), with their titanium case, bezel, and bracelet, represent the best Citizen has yet offered with this new movement.
For me personally, the only substantive shortcoming of this watch is the difficulty I have in picking up the exact position of the hands in certain light conditions (as noted earlier). The heavier, broader hands of my radio-controlled Citizen CB0100-52E, which also have lume, are much easier to read in all conditions, and my major suggestion for improvement would be to make the hands easier to read—by whatever means. I’m not a big fan of lume generally, but to the extent that it would solve this problem, it might be a useful improvement to AQ1020-51E. In addition, an exciting development by Citizen would be to incorporate the new “ring” light-gathering technique found in the Eco-Drive Metal series into the A010 movement, assuming that this could be done without having to design a new movement. I believe that with the removal of the constraints on the dial imposed by the need to allow light to penetrate, this would be an even nicer watch.
I would like to conclude this review by inviting any forum members who have purchased any Citizen model with the A010 movement (from any of the three series of models: AQ1000, AQ1010, and AQ1020) to forward accuracy results to me (a PM would work). A good reference on determining watch accuracy can be found at:
Methods of Determining the Accuracy of a Watch
I now will have results for three specimens, and with a few more, we will have a sufficiently large sample to know more definitively the long-term general performance level of this excellent new movement. Accuracy results for the present AQ1020-51E specimen will be posted on this forum when sufficient time has elapsed to have stable results in hand.