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Review: Citizen Nighthawk

Featured | Review | 04.25.2012

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The Citizen Nighthawk might be old news to a lot of watch people out there. It’s been around for a few years and has gotten a decent amount of attention in its day. But despite that we felt that it had a place on worn&wound, because it’s one of the best mass-market quartz offerings out there in terms of affordability, good design and value.  For $237, the Nighthawk delivers in ways that many more expensive watches don’t. It has useful complications and features, distinctive looks, solid build quality, good water resistance and a solar powered movement that lasts 180 days on a full charge and never requires a new battery. Forgetting that it is a cool looking watch for a second, between the GMT hand, the slide rule bezel and the solar movement, you have 3 outstanding features that can actually be useful on a daily basis. As James Enloe pointed out in his guide of GMT watches, being able to track a second time zone has very practical implications. Slide rule bezels can allow you to do division, multiplication, convert various distance units and much more on the fly. And knowing that your watch is never going to suddenly stop as long as it sees a little sunlight here and there is a great feeling.

Case: Stainless Steel
Movement: Citizen Eco-Drive GMT Solar
Dial: Black
Lens: Mineral Crystal
Case Back: Screw down
Strap: Steel Bracelet
Water Res.: 200m
Dimensions: 41mm, 46.3mm lug-to-lug
Thickness: 12.5mm
Lug Width: 22mm
Crown: 6mm Screw down
Weight: 141g
Warranty: 5 year

Case

The Nighthawk has a 41mm stainless steel case with a lightly brushed finished on the body and around the outer bezel. The case is constructed of 3-parts, as is standard, but has a very pronounced outer bezel that houses the internal slide rule. This gives the 12.5mm tall body a slightly greater perceived height. The main portion of the case has a unique form with harsh geometry and strong faceted shapes. It is an interesting form that emphasizes the aviation roots of the watch, and gives it a unique and modern look. At 8 and 3 are two crowns, operating the internal bezel and basic time setting functions, respectfully. Both crowns are straight cylinder shapes with a knurled finish and chunky crown guards protecting them. The knurling provides both excellent grip and a visually pleasing texture. Both crowns also operate very smoothly and are indicative of a good quality build. The crown at 3 also screws down, facilitating the 200m water resistance, and is adorned with a Nighthawk logo. The case back is a standard screw down type made of polished steel. It has a very light etching with basic information and a Citizen Nighthawk logo in the center. The case back could have used a drop more attention, in my opinion.

The overall look of the case is rugged and aggressive. Its design is clearly aircraft inspired, though while having a unique look it does not distract from the dial or feel overly finessed. If anything, it actually does a good job of receding to the background when looking straight on at the watch, as the watch will then appear to be all dial. One thing to note is that 22mm lugs are fairly close into the body, while this makes the watch fit on the wrist well, it can’t handle thick or heavy/leather NATO straps.

Dial

When you talk about the Nighthawk, you can’t help but spend most of your time talking about the very intensely information-laden dial and internal slide rule bezel. It is a love-it or hate-it type of dial that at first glance is bewildering, but as you look closer and get used to it, it becomes very clear and easy to read. I’ll reserve talking about the function of the bezel until later, but starting on the outer-edge of the watch you have the angled internal slide rule bezel, which is comprised of a logarithmic scale broken into a multitude of markings in white and red, including numbers, tick marks and a few conversion factors relating to fuel and volume. Stepping down to the dial, on the outer most edge you have another logarithmic scale that corresponds to the internal bezel’s. In addition to the scale there is a second index that relates to time-distance conversion. Visually, this area is very dense and complicated, but once you get a sense of where it ends, you can teach yourself to ignore it when you want to simply tell the time.

The main hour index consists of a series of applied markers that are coated with lume. 1 – 5 and 7 – 11 are rectangular and have a slightly pointed tip, facing the center of the dial. At 12 and 6 there are larger numerals in a slightly decorative font. Aesthetically speaking, the hour index, specifically the 12 and 6, add a touch of retro appeal that creates a nice and well-needed disruption from the otherwise purely informational dial. The added height and lume of the applied markers also separates them visually from the dial beneath. Citizen uses a cool blue lume on this watch that is fairly potent and very nice to look at. Other than the roman-sword styled minute and hour hands, the hour index is the only lumed part of the dial, so when the lights are out, the effect is actually very serene, almost soothing.

At the center of the dial is perhaps my favorite aspect of the watch in terms of clever ways to organize information. The GMT index consists of two nested arcs that sweep about 98 degrees, from 6 – 12, one in white and one in red. Closest to the center is the white index, which indicates from 0 – 12 hours. Surrounding that is the red index, which indicates from 12 -24. Both index extend a little past their end time to create an overlap area (hence the about 8 extra degrees). Now, to read this set of arcs you look at the GMT hand, which is a double-sided hand with airplane shaped pointers. On one end the pointer is white, the other red, and you read the arcs depending on which side is currently over them. These indexes break up the symmetry of the dial and condense some of the information on the dial. In doing so, it helps further organize each piece of information on the face, making for an easier at-a-glance read. The little-double headed GMT hand is also just a great design that looks good, serves a purpose and adds a bit of personality.

The nested arcs also open up area on the right center of the dial, where there is a Citizen Eco-Drive logo, a Nighthawk logo (as both a symbol and written out), and text indicating the water resistance. At 3 there is a date window, which has a white border. The date disc underneath is white with black text. While that is the inverse of the rest of the dial, which tends to make dates stand out too much, given the amount of markings around it, the added contrast helps with legibility. The dial itself is a gloss black that has a slight purple tinge to it, which I believe is due to the solar-energy collecting surface. Overall, the quality of the dial is impeccable. The printing, which gets very fine at points, is crisp and crystal clear and the applied markers, which add a drop of necessary texture, are pristine.

Features

The Nighthawk is a very full-featured watch, designed as a tool for pilots, but is also handy for traveling. The most basic feature, apart from time and date, is the GMT function. This allows you to have two time-zones represented on your watch. On the Nighthawk, in order to set the main time and GMT time separately, you put the crown into first position and by turning the crown away from you, you will make the main hour hand jump forward an hour at a time, without disturbing the minute or GMT hand. The usefulness of this function is undeniable and not only in regards to traveling, perhaps your business has a sister office in a different time zone and you need to keep track of when they are open. Or perhaps you have family overseas and don’t want to call too late…it’s very easy to think of situations in which this complication can come in handy.

The other main feature of the Nighthawk is clearly the slide rule bezel. I’ll be honest, I had never used one of these before getting my hands on this Nighthawk, and at first I was a little intimidated by it. There really is a lot of information, layered on top of itself, that does everything from converting units to indicating how long it takes to travel X distance at X speed to basic division and multiplication. And without a guide on how to use it, it isn’t exactly intuitive. That being said, with a little research one can find out the how-to, and then realize just how practical of a feature this is to have on a watch. So, to give you a head start I’ve included a little video showing you the most basic functions of the slide rule: division, multiplication, conversion of distances, as well as one practical real-life usage. For more complicated tasks, I recommend scouring youtube, as there are plenty of instructional videos there.

One note on the Nighthawk’s slide rule bezel, it doesn’t line up perfectly. When doing calculations, I found that the answer was usually a little off of where it was supposed to be (i.e. in multiplying 30×2, with 30 over the origin, I would find the solution, 60 would be off mark by a hair). While this doesn’t really affect the ways in which I would use the bezel on a daily basis, which would allow for a margin of error, you should be aware that it is there.

Bracelet & Wearability

The Nighthawk comes on a stainless steel bracelet that is surprisingly nice. The bracelet has a typical 3-link Oyster-esque design, but rather than having a relatively flat profile, it has a fairly dramatic tear-shaped profile. This creates a sort of rolling surface over the top of the bracelet that has a very nice texture. Since the surfaces are basically rounded, they pick-up and reflect light in interesting ways, that while not being flashy, still has a certain decorative nature. The build quality is decent enough, it doesn’t feel cheap or light, but at the same time doesn’t feel like an expensive bracelet. It certainly is well enough constructed to hold up in daily wear for a long time. The clasp is very secure and has a double locking system consisting of a standard branded fold-over lock, and then a two-button deployment mechanism.

As I mentioned before, the lugs are too close into the body to allow for particularly thick straps or thick/leather NATO straps. I was able to get a vintage styled leather Hirsch I have on to it, which has a very nice effect. The reddish-brown leather plays well of the occasional red markings on the dial, and the contrast off-white stitching works with the rest. I think this is a necessary option to have for the watch, as it gives it a more casual look that also refers to a classic pilot watch style. Given the overall sportiness and intense technical dial, the leather works to make the watch easier to wear in more situations. The bracelet looks great, but it adds to the severity of the design. It is unfortunate that a classic NATO style wont fit (*update, thinner NATOs can fit, but I had to remove the spring bars and fasten the NATO in, rather than slip through), but brands like Maratac do have 2-piece variations that would probably work and be a great alterative for the warmer months.

The watch wears very well. At 41mm it is a comfortable medium-large size, but given its all-dial design, it appears much larger and really stands out on the wrist. The faceted design of the case matched with the information intensive dial give the watch a fairly aggressive demeanor that can be very eye-catching. In fact, this watch has garnered more attention from people around me than most of my watches. Given the masculine lines, good build, 200m water resistance and bold dial, this is a great option for wearing in active situations, but it still maintains a level of refinement making it welcome at the office and other less casual places.

Conclusion

There are many reasons why the Citizen Nighthawk is a very tempting watch to own. It is rich with useful features like a GMT hand and a slide rule bezel. It has looks that are unique, modern and eye-catching. It is well-built, has good lume, a nice bracelet and is solar-powered. At this point, I would say that these qualities would justify the purchase of a watch costing quite a bit of money, but the Nighthawk comes in at only $237. If you travel often and are looking for an affordable watch to put up with your jet setting, if you are active and want an interesting and different looking sport watch, if you want a modern styled pilot to add to your collection without breaking the bank, the Nighthawk might very well be exactly what you are looking for. *update As per the comment from Mr. Hubbard, I found a link showing the many many different variations of the Nighthawk, including Titanium, PVD and Sapphire versions. And remember that case back I found underwhelming? Well, in Europe and Asia, the watch is available with a highly detailed engraved version…hmm

Thank you watchco.com for supplying the review Nighthawk unit

By Zach Weiss

  • http://watchotaku.com Paul Hubbard

    Can you include weight in your reviews? That’s nice to know.

    I think the Nighthawk also had other versions you can find online – sapphire crystal for sure, think there was a titanium version too?

    Great review.

    • http://www.zachstarrweiss.com w&w

      Hey Paul,

      Thanks for the comment, we’ll definitely add weights to our reviews from now on!

  • Neil

    Great review for a great watch. Could you also review SNZ-G13 Seiko? It is one of the most popular automatic watches in the $100 range.

    One suggestion – Please set the aperture on your video camera lens a little bit smaller so that the watch doesn’t go in and out of focus while your hands are shaking. It makes the viewer dizzy and slightly annoyed :) (at least to me). The DOF is very thin and I noticed that you had to adjust the focus a few times. Just my two cents :)

    Good going and love your reviews!

    • http://www.zachstarrweiss.com w&w

      Hi Neil,

      Thanks for the comment, we’ll definitely look into the SNZ-G13.

      And thanks for the suggestion on the video. We tend to use a wide aperture because of the lighting needs of the camera (at low ISO) and for the aesthetic qualities added by a nice bokeh. Sometimes it does get tricky to stay in focus, given the DOF, but we are learning ways around that issue. The slide rule bezel video was particularly tricky, since I had to have a straight on shot and couldn’t brace my hands against anything. Regardless, I apologize for making you dizzy, nauseous or annoyed :)

      Best,
      Zach

      • Neil

        Absolutely – Love the aesthetic quality of the videos :) May be stopping down the lens by 1 or 2 stops would still maintain the much needed creamy bokeh and at the same time – increase the DOF.

        On a side note: I visit your site daily! The selection of the watches you review on this site is really geared towards the common man – sub $1k range :).

  • TedJ

    Thank you for the great review of an iconic Eco-Drive watch.

    I’m not sure why you think NATO straps are out of the question though, it’s a very common combination seen on SCWF and WUS… I imagine some of the super beefy Zulu straps or a leather NATO may be tricky, but a regular NATO or Zulu should be fine.

    Anyone looking for more detailed videos on utilising the slide rule, this particular variant is usually referred to as an E6B flight computer.

    • http://www.zachstarrweiss.com w&w

      Hi Ted,

      Thanks for the comment. I just tried some natos again…the leathers were a definite no go. I was able to get a maratac nato on, but only by taking the spring bars out and then fastening the strap in. I couldn’t push them through…that being said, one CAN put a NATO on, you are right, so I will amend the review to indicate this.

      Thanks for the tip on the bezel too!

      Best,
      Zach

  • http://URL Alex

    That was a great video, what an awesome, in depth review! I really wanted to get this watch, but I saw that beautiful Hirsch strap you had in those photos.

    Can you tell me the name of that strap, where you bought it, or where I can find it online? I’d really appreciate it.

    Thank you!

    Alex

  • http://URL Rick

    Hi,

    thanks for a great review. The one you wrote about the Steinhart OVM triggered my shopping instincts!

    I would appreciate a clarification: in the review of the Citizen you mention a price of $237. I was checking the Citizen watches on their webpage and they mention a price of $395. If your price second hand or what does explain the difference!

    Thanks in advance for the clarification,

    Rick

    • http://URL Darrin

      Go to jomashop.com I entered a code for 10 bucks off and free shipping it came to 207.00 for the night hawk

  • http://URL Matt

    I too would love to know! Can’t seem to find it anywhere.

  • http://URL Thom

    Thanks to your great review, I bought the UK only RAFAT Red Arrows version of this watch. As an ex-pat living in western Canada, I find the second time-zone feature particularly useful and the watch has already been quite a talking point after only a week, lots more comments than my old Seiko Kinetic Auto-Relay from 2003.

    E6B is quite tricky to get used to, but your how-to helped greatly.

    Would highly recommend this watch or any ov it’s derivatives to anyone with either a watch or an aviation interest, or like me, if you’re rather into both!

  • http://URL Rob

    Great review thanks! The images of the watch with the leather Hirsch strap are they all the same color? They look different although it could be the angle and lighting…?

  • http://URL Kevin

    Great review, it is very helpful.

    Do you know a place where I can buy this watch in Europe? I don’t want to buy from the US because of the high taxes here in Denmark…

    • http://forums.watchuseek.com/member.php?u=179843 MP83

      Ebay

  • http://forums.watchuseek.com/member.php?u=179843 MP83

    Great review, I was considering buying this watch and shortly after reading this review I knew it was the right choice and I bought one, and I bet there are more people out there that did the same. Citizen should give you a cut ;)

  • http://URL Jeff

    Great review. I really enjoy my nighthawk. I’ve noticed other users have struggled to find the photographed vintage hirsch style leather strap as well. I have found similar straps but none as striking as the one shown. Can you provide the name of the strap or possibly a link for an online purchase?

    Thanks Much.

    Jeff

  • http://URL Simon

    Just bought one of these, be very appreciative if you could tell me the exact make of the leather strap here….

    http://wornandwound.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/CITIZEN_NIGHTHAWK_WHOLE2.jpg

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  • http://URL K. Holm

    The strap is a Hirsch Liberty.

  • http://h R Ward

    I wear my brown dial (Asian market, BJ7010-24W) Nighthawk on a FFF leather strap; it is far too thick to push through or use with fat bars, but with standard bars it was easy to install. I find it gets the most comments of any watch I’ve ever owned. Amazingly comfortable, masculine without being aggressive looking, wears wonderfully.

  • http://URL Johan

    Hi, thanks for a great review.

    When looking for the same watch to buy I can´t seem to find the exact same version as you have reviewed, i.e. the ones I find seem to lack the nice silver border on the 12 and 6 numbers and also miss the Nighthawk print on the dial. Which is the exact model number on the watch in the review? Thanks!

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  • http://URL Sebs

    Hi,
    great review indeed ;)

    I cannot watch the youtube video on how to use the bezel because it says it is “private users only” can you change that?

    Thanks,