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Reader Review: Citizen Promaster PMD56-2951

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This Reader Review from Eric Hansen has it all: international intrigue, titanium, and a Citizen you’ll want to wear while playing baccarat. Let’s hear what Eric has to say about obtaining and wearing the watch that was never meant to leave its island home.

As my watch collection has grown and evolved, I found myself on the hunt for a time companion on outdoor activities like hiking and fishing, as well as around the house use. High legibility was important, as well as something in the mid-size of the spectrum (<= 40mm width). And given the envisioned active use, the lighter the better. You might say “toolish” with “grab and go” were the main criteria. And while I’m a fan of automatics, quartz offerings weren’t ruled out, and thus a robust search ensued.

Having owned a few Citizens in the past I was interested in becoming better acquainted with their Japanese domestic market-only offerings (“JDM”), and ended up looking through plenty of reviews and pics online and in the forums. After some late night obsessing, I pulled the trigger on the Citizen Promaster PMD56-2951. As far as I’m aware, JDM models are available mainly through importers and Internet shops, and I was able to locate one through a Japan-based authorized dealer which took about a week to arrive at my U.S. doorstep.

The Promaster checked a lot of boxes I was looking for, including being mid-size, having high legibility, low weight, and a no-maintenance solar movement with added capabilities. Of note, the PMD56-2951 is one of Citizen’s titanium offerings that employs a Duratect hard plating for extra durability and scratch resistance. This seemed ideal for activities where knocks and bumps would be common.citizen-pmd56-2951-11

Out of the box, the Promaster comes in an all-titanium case with matching all-titanium bracelet, with the combo weighing in at a feathery 89.9g. The case and bracelet are nearly entirely brushed, save for a thin 0.5mm edge on the base of the bezel which is polished. It’s amazing how much difference the weight-savings of titanium makes while on the wrist, seemingly weighing nothing at all as compared with my steel watches on their steel bracelets. I can see how low weight might initially turn some people off, if equating weight and “heft” with quality, or you’re just the sort of person who wants to be reminded that there’s a chunk of metal wrapped around your arm. But for active situations involving free and unexpected movement, it’s something I have quickly come to appreciate.

The finishing on the Promaster’s case and bracelet is crisp, and arrived with no blemishes or other factory machining marks. The top of the case and lugs are circular brushed, transitioning crisply to slab sides, then down to a sharper edge at the bottom of the case. The all-brushed titanium appears more steelish and “whiter” than other titanium watches I’ve seen, which makes me believe this is grade 5 titanium alloy (vs. grade 2 pure titanium). And perhaps given to its JDM exclusivity, in my eyes the execution of the Promaster noticeably exceeds that of the standard department-store Citizen lineup. And therein lies one of its appreciable stealth properties: to the untrained eye, it’s just a Citizen, right? No big deal.citizen-pmd56-2951-7

Duratect is Citizen’s proprietary plating process that is supposed to add surface hardness and scratch resistance. While it’s difficult to find any detailed information on their process and how much measurable “hardness” it adds, I would liken Duratect to other surface hardening treatments such as Sinn’s tegimenting. All I can say is that in nearly a year of wear, I can’t find any marks on mine. I’m sure I will get a ding or dent eventually, but to date it’s been resilient and still looks new.citizen-pmd56-2951-2

The dial of the PMD56-2951 is a matte forest green color, which projects anticipation for its next outdoor adventure in the woods, mountains and streams. While this is unabashedly an electronic device, the green dial combined with the Eco-Drive solar movement endow it with an organic sense that’s good for the soul. (Note that there’s another Promaster version, the PMD56-2952, which has a more race-inspired colorway with a dark grey PVD bezel and a charcoal grey dial.) The sword-style hour and minute hands are white, while the white stick seconds hand has a Citizen letter “C” crossed thorough the balance. Arabic numerals make reading the time a breeze, and the day-date information is presented in a slightly larger sized font than I’ve typically seen. The printed specs on the dial are a little verbose, but the size of the lettering is compact and it does not distract from overall legibility.citizen-pmd56-2951-13

As far as night time viewing is concerned, the hour and minute hands are filled with green lume, and the applied hour numerals are also raised with luminous paint. The lume strength is average in my opinion but remains legible through the night when in a pitch black environment. The 12-o’click pip is a larger inverted triangle similar to classic field and pilot designs, also lume filled.

On the right side of the case we have integrated crown guards with an inset button at 2pm, a crown at 3pm, and a polished oval shaped pusher at 4pm. Keeping with the Promaster line’s objectives for durability, the watch has a 200m water resistance rating, which is aided by the knurled screwdown crown. The crown snuggles smoothly into its guards, with high tolerances and no extra edges or gaps that might otherwise snag on clothing. The crown is signed with a polished Promaster “fork” logo that matches the one on the dial above 6 o’clock. To my eyes, this logo is reminiscent of the inverted fork logo found on vintage military spec watches such as the IWC Mark XI, and it resonates well with the watch’s field intent.

The dimensions of the watch case range from 39.9mm (2-8 width) to 42.6mm (3-9 width, including screwed down crown.) The bezel width is slightly smaller at 37.5mm. Lug-to-lug, the width is a very reasonable 45.0mm, which should make the watch very compatible with any wrist size smaller than that of a professional arm-wrestler. The case thickness as measured from the bottom of the case to top of the crystal is 12.0mm. I will say that due to the somewhat narrow bezel and the robust height of the watch, on the bracelet the Promaster wears slightly larger than its dimensions might suggest. On my 7.25″” wrist, it seems just about the perfect size.citizen-pmd56-2951-4

Most of the Citizen JDM models seem to have sapphire crystals, and this one is no exception. The crystal appears to be single domed with a slight curvature on the top. There is a thin bevel at the edge of the crystal but otherwise it sits nearly flush with the bezel. The time is easy to read at any angle.

The bracelet on this model is very nicely finished, with just enough flex and no rattle. It’s fully brushed titanium with solid end links that fit flush into the lugs, and it tapers from 20mm to 18mm at the clasp. Over the years, my watch habits have vacillated between preferring bracelets vs. preferring straps, but in general I now enjoy both options and will switch back and forth as situations dictate, assuming the bracelet can easily be removed and replaced. And indeed, I found the bracelet on the Promaster easy to work with. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time wearing it on a Nato strap, which of course makes it ultra light and is suitable for many outdoor situations.

Due to the bracelet’s adjustable ratcheting clasp, it can be tightened or loosened on-the-fly across three sizes. I have found this little feature invaluable during warmer vs. colder days, where it just takes a few seconds to adjust the tension of the bracelet. Ideally, I want a bracelet that is sized so that doesn’t squeeze yet doesn’t slip/rotate, and the adjustable clasp here seems to be the perfect solution.

The clasp is machined (not stamped), and has both release buttons and a flip lock to keep things confidently in place. The design is pretty standard but well executed, and the Duratect coating rebuffs potential desk diving marks during those rough days at the office.citizen-pmd56-2951-6

This watch houses Citizen’s H100 quartz movement, which features an atomic radio sync. Alas this one only recognizes the radio in the JP (Japan) region, so you’re on standard quartz timing whilst roaming the rest of the world. In addition to the JP radio sync, the movement has a few other nice features such as a perpetual calendar, and a convenient travel offset feature which lets you adjust the hour forward or backward to other time zones without having to fiddle with minutes or seconds. As you might know, there is a computer simulator called JJY (http://www.jrcomputing.com.au/Set_Watch/Set_Watch_Manual.html) which cleverly emits a tone through your speakers or headphones that these watches will reportedly detect after a few minutes and synchronize with. I did not attempt this, so your mileage may vary. In my experience, the accuracy of the un-sync’d movement has been typical for a higher end quartz, losing about 5-6 seconds per month. And unlike many common quartz movements, with the H100, the second hand snaps perfectly into place with no bounce, hitting the mark every time.

The case back is deep-etched with the Promaster globe artwork and feature specifications. Of note, this model has an actual screwdown caseback, and is not integrated with the case like on some other Promaster “monocoque” models such as the Ray Mears.citizen-pmd56-2951-8

On the wrist, the Promaster has a utilitarian theme with what I’d call elegant, understated refinement. There’s nothing really catchy or gimmicky about this one that draws attention, which in certain circumstances is exactly what one wants. I’ve found myself wearing it to work with all types of attire, ranging from casual to business. I’ve used it for more formal settings where it slips under a dress shirt cuff, but also for casual outings and dinners where it holds it own along with khakis and a polo. I appreciate the legibility and spartan style of the face, and to my aging eyes, the larger-than-typical text on the date and day wheels is also a plus.

In my use, its field watch credentials have been repeatedly put the the test on activities including hiking, backpacking, fishing, swimming, golfing, snowboarding, snow shoveling, tubing, ultimate frisbee, long boarding and biking, to name a few. It’s been plunged repeatedly into an ice cold river, and later the same day braved the hot burning embers of a campfire to retrieve a fallen marshmallow. As a practical time companion, the motto seems to be “don’t think about it, just go do it.”

The watch is not without its faults or room for improvement. For example, I’d love to have some extra lume for better nighttime viewing, and design wise I think it would be interesting to see this with a plain second hand balance that forgoes the “C” logo. And sure, drilled lugs would be a benefit as well … but the nits are rather minor, and easily outweighed by the strengths.

At a street price of approximately US$500.00, this is not an inexpensive watch, let alone for one with a Japanese quartz movement. I think that when you consider the higher-grade, hardened titanium alloy that is used throughout the case and bracelet, along with the high likelihood that you’ll never see another one of these on someone’s wrist outside of Japan (and even then…), the value proposition starts to be better understood. At the same time, it’s not an ETA automatic and it still easily falls within the “affordable” end of the spectrum. Thus I consider it a “well appointed beater,” and if I lost or totally trashed it, I’d be bummed but by no means would it be a financial tragedy. For me, the combination of materials, size, legibility, tech and wearability were key buying criteria from the outset, and I’d say the Promaster PMD56-2951 checks all of these boxes.

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