I'm a proud owner of a YES Zulu wrist watch and thought I'd post some of my impressions.
YES Zulu 4.0
I first heard about this watch here on the WUS public forum and immediately knew that this was a concept that I had been looking for. As an eager nature photographer and astronomy enthusiast the functionality of the watch held a great appeal to me. So, I placed an order at the manufacturer's website in July 2011 and received the watch promptly.
Let’s have a look at the key functions of the main display:
The main features at a glance
The Zulu in a clever way displays data regarding the movements of the Moon and the Sun in the sky. The dial is divided in 24 hours by 15 minute sectors. The colour of the sector tells whether the Sun or the Moon is above the horizon. These data are rather accurate as the location can be set precisely in latitude and longitude. Alternatively, one can choose one of the almost 600 preset locations.
At a glance one can see the day length and whether there will be moon in the sky. The single 24h hand indicates the current point in time. The digital time can be turned off so that the display remains very simplistic and elegant. I have learned that I can easily read the hand for approximate time that usually is more than enough (I’m rarely more than 5 minutes off). In case more precise time is needed, the digital display can be made visible by a single push of a button.
A wealth of data available
The LCD display is surrounded by two concentric dials. The inner dial is fixed and under the crystal but the outer dial, the bezel, can be turned freely. The bezel has many functionalities: it can for example be used to run another time zone all the time. I have found this to be very handy. In addition, the Zulu has the ability to set both “home” and “away” locations. These locations are set digitally and by a double push of a button you can view the time and all the other data for either of these locations.
N.B. I ordered mine with inner 24h dial while the Zulu normally ships with a 12h inner dial. Living in Europe I find the 24h inner dial a must.
I recently made a trip to Iceland and these functions proved indispensable. Here the Zulu is at the Northern coast of Iceland near a small village called Siglufjördur.
There are plenty of other data available. A single push of a button initiates a sequence that tells the precise times of the moonrise/moonset, sunrise/sunset, the dates and times of new and full moon, the percentage of the Moon currently illuminated as well as the number of the week and the day of the year. In addition, there are alarms, stopwatch, countdown timer, automatic DST and backlight.
Alarms can be set for both sunrise and sunset and to top it all off the Zulu can actually calculate all these data for the entire century from the year 2000 to the year 2099! And it does not end there. Also included is a NASA style Phase Elapsed Time function that gives you the time left to any point in time within 9999 days. I have set mine to see how many days there are left until I turn 50. It kind of makes you think.
The Zulu can be used as a compass on a sunny day. The bezel has two colourful beads, the “sun stone” and the “moon stone”. Turn the sun stone (the yellow bead) to the point of solar noon (see the above image from Iceland) which is the point where the sun is highest in the sky, in the middle of the daylight part of the day. Then point the hand towards the Sun and the Sun stone will indicate south and the moon stone north. Pretty simple and useful. I have often used it to orient myself when on a photo trip.
The sunburst pattern that celebrates equinoxes and solstices
Furthermore, the Zulu recognizes both solstices and equinoxes. A beautiful sunburst pattern is displayed on these days. Similarly, the Zulu recognizes the days that are exactly halfway between equinexes and solstices and markes these too with the same sunburst pattern. Thus, a beautiful reminder of the yearly progress can be seen eight times a year.
Materials and build quality
Zulu is a big watch. That’s one of the reasons I bought it, I like the size and the reassuring heft. The case is made of titanium and the crystal is AR coated sapphire as befits this price point. The bracelet is titanium as well, which to me personally is a big plus: it wears lighter and is not so cold against the skin as stainless steel is.
Testament to the quality is the fact that the Mythbusters host Adam Savage wears Zulu and claims not to have scratched the crystal during five months of use. So far mine is also pristine. The crystal is noticeably convex which adds to the way light and reflections play on it. I like the effect but at the same time I tend to worry about scratches. Perhaps I should not as the crystal seems quite tough.
The Zulu is a big watch.
The digital and analog movements are separate from each other: they even have separate batteries. They function beautifully together and so far I have no complaints regarding accuracy. Quartz movements as they are, they are reliable as long as the batteries hold up. The nominal ratings for battery life are 2 years for the digital movement and 5 years for the analog. The analog movement comes from Switzerland and the digital from Japan. The crystal is manufactured in Germany.
The case is water resistant to 100 meters. I find such rating adequate for normal everyday use but as a default I would only swim with a watch if it rated 200m or more.
Bearing in mind the construction of the watch and the price point I find it quite amazing that the Zulu is shipped in a gorgeous, polished wooden presentation box that includes two additional bands (leather and diver style) and a tool to resize the titanium bracelet!
The presentation box oozes quality
Each Zulu is individually serial numbered and there is a beautiful engraving at the case back. In conclusion, I find the construction of high quality and pleasant to wear.
Philosophy of time
Bjorn Kartomten, the designer of the Zulu (and other YES watches) says that he wanted to create a watch that connected the user to the ancient, planetary rhythms of time. These rhythms, the cycles of the moon and the planet Earth in the solar system are, of course, behind the standard 12/24h time used globally. The way these cycles are brought together in Zulu is fascinating and I must admit that wearing the watch really does seem to produce a different way of “seeing” time.
My experience is that the Zulu effect is twofold. First of all it gives me a “bigger picture” of time, distancing me from the exact moment and making it easier to see and make plans about longer periods of time. At the same time, somewhat paradoxically, it appears to make time more intimate, making it “my time”. I can see my day in the dial and easily visualize various events. The ever changing day length and phases of the moon provide a gentle reminder of the passing time. It urges me to make the best of it.
The Zulu in very low light nearly two hours after the sunset. Latitude 61,5 N in July 2011.
I’m a keen observer of natural phenomena that occur in space and in the atmosphere. The Zulu is a magnificent tool in explaining and illustrating these phenomena to other people as the dial is so easy to read. It's all about the Earth turning and travelling in space.
I have grown quite keen on the watch. It’s definitely a keeper. Not just because it was actually a gift from my wife but because of its uniqueness and beauty. It feels like a time machine tailor made for me.
Wishes for future
I hope one day I’ll see a variation of the Zulu that takes design cues from diver watches. I’d like a sturdy bezel that gives protection to the crystal. I would love to see large dots of top quality lume on the inner dial and smaller lumed indices on the rotating bezel. Hard coated titanium would add to the outdoorsy concept. Solar power and an automated electroluminescent backlight would be a nice touch. Solar power would indeed add to the cosmic feel that the watch possesses. It would also be very cool to be able to see in degrees where the Moon/Sun will rise or set. That would help when planning for, say, a moonrise shot.
That's it for now. Thanks for reading.