This thread is dedicated to Victorinox Swiss Army (VSA) Lancers, particularly the Lancer 100 models. Why now, more than 30 years after their releases, will you ask me ? Well, to put it simply :
- They're damn good watches.
- They started it all for Victorinox's activities in that domain.
- They are becoming more and more popular among collectors, at the point that despite being listed regularly on Ebay, some models can get bought in a matter of hours. And thus deserved a resources gathering thread even nowadays.
I - LANCER 100 - REVIEW
a - History
Victorinox is a renowned Swiss brand, founded in 1884 by Karl Elsener. The brand, which is still managed by the Elsener family, is known for its Swiss knives, which they first provided to the Swiss army in 1891, to the point they became their official provider in that regard. The name Victorinox came later, by the fusion of the INOX (french for stainless steel, which is the cornerstone of their manufacture) with Victoria (the first name of Karl Elsener's mother).
Yet , it's only in 1989 that they started creating watches, with an independent subdivision of the motherhouse, Swiss Army Brands. Inc. The Swiss Army brand was later reintegrated to Victorinox, but even nowadays, they are still faithful to the style that popularized them. Which began in the US, with the affordable Lancer series.
b - The Lancer 100
Sold as « built for land, sea and air » the Lancers are tool watches, made to withstand multiple environments and mistreatment without faltering. Though designed with a divers aesthetic in mind, and a military inspired style, they are in fact more akin to all-terrain field watches than actual divers (the Lancer 200 being an exception to that).
They were first distributed in the 90', with a number of variants created though their commercialization (till the mid 2000). This implies that most of the Lancers currently available are between 30 and 15 years old, granting them the rank of vintage. This also means that most of them are more or less bruised, so if you thought one scratch was bad on your new watch, or if seeing those makes your blood pressure higher, I suggest you take a good seat ; because « Attack of the Scratches » could be another name for this thread. ^^
The actual model we're going to review here is the L100-LG-Green, LG standing for large, opposed to other models' midsize dimensions.
Here are the base specs :
Reference : L100-LG-GREEN
- Case size : 39 mm.
- Case thickness : 10 mm.
- Case back: solid, stainless steel. Snap back.
- Lug width : 21 mm.
- Lug to lug : 40 mm.
- Total weight : 125g (case + bracelet).
- Water resistance : 330 ft - 100m.
- Pricing : $295 original price, then $325 in 1996. Between $40 and 150$ pre-owned nowadays, depending on condition and gender.
c - The dial
Though the bezel suggests a diver, the dial is a field watch's one, with clear, legible Arabic numbers all around, and even the 24H military time with smaller digits. The relatively dark background dominant green also feature a good contrast with the chapters markers, and the numbers, enforcing the readability. The iconic Victorinox shield was already there, smartly replacing the 12th figure.
Double sword hands do complement quite well the ease and precision of the read ; while the second hands distinctive colors pleasantly differentiates itself from the other two.
The chosen lume was tritium (as hinted by the double T around the Swiss Made inscription), whose luminosity was independent from sunlight, while its radioactivity could be easily dampened by the watch's case and crystal. It was spread around the hours markers and on the minutes and hours hands.
By the way, the brown color of the hands' tritium you see there isn't the original one, as it would normally be the exact same than the one you can see near the chapter. It is in fact what happens when the hands are rusted (I wasn't aware of how a watch was supposed to be serviced some years ago, I'm afraid XD).
The crystal is mineral hardened, which makes it partially but not completely scratch resistant (as proven by this example XD). It's not as good as a sapphire crystal in that regard, but would leave some (limited) room for polishing, and is less prone to reflections, which makes the read quite comfortable once again.
d - The bezel
Made from lacquered stainless steel (roughly, resin poured into a steel bezel mold), the bezel is rotatable in an unidirectional fashion, which allows it to be used just like in a real diver, as some form of underwater chronometer. The amount of pressure required to do so is just right, while the feeling in the process seems solid and precise.
e - The crown & water resistance
Heavily knurled with diamond shaped patterns to be easier to grasp (just like the outer bezel), it requires just enough pressure to be pulled in and out for the result to feel secure. Has two positions in order to adjust the time (seconds stopped), or for a quick date correction.
It is NOT screw down on the Lancer 100, but rather push-pull, which is one of the reasons why the Lancer 100 should not be considered as a real diving watch. It still features an honorable 330 ft/100 m water resistance, but while this is enough to swim safely, it's also lesser than the minimal 660 ft/200 m that would be required for real diving.
f - Caseback
Snap-on back, which somewhat also limits the water resistance ; it's still duly engraved (though VSA didn't feature serial numbers at that time). With its 10 mm thick, the case is quite thin and feels quite pleasant on the wrist. You will also notice the solid endlinks for the bracelet, and most particularly the spring bars connecting it to the case's lugs : those are one of the weak points of the watch as a vintage craft, as the bar tends to get stuck inside the link, while the effort to take them out and back in tends to deform the connecting pins. The result is added space between the bracelet and the case, with the endlink rotating instead of remaining solidly pressed against the case.
g - Movement
Technically it features :
- 3 hands, centered seconds.
- 3 o' clock date window complication.
- 11,5" caliber - 25.6 outer diameter (26.3 mm max), 3,70 mm height.
- Rotary stepping motor with deadbeats seconds (1 step/s).
- 3 positions crown, including a hacking function and fast date correction.
- -15/+15s per month.
- 38 months ≈ 3+ years battery life (SR920 = 399/395 battery).
Noteworthy attention, the date wheel has been customized, in order for it to match the color of the dial.
h - Bracelet
Only one option regarding all the Lancers, and that is their stainless steel bracelet. Yet while steel is prone to scratching, this one was well engineered ; and goes from 21 mm at the lugs, to a slimmer 18 mm near the opening. This one is an engraved deployant clasp, which locks a first time by the pressure, and then by a secondary buckle. Despite that last element being somewhat hard to open, this secures the bracelet, and ensures it'll never get unvoluntarily open.
Since there's only one bracelet, it's the same than the Lancer 200's, and so inherits from it's divers' extension, which allows for quick enlargement in order to wear it over a suit. Contrary to the lugs, it's extremely easy to adjust the length of the bracelet, with a number of removable links. It even features inbuilt micro-adjustments, making it quite complete in terms of functionalities.
The other detail it inherits, is that Made in China inscription. You'll ask me how this is possible, since the watch is labeled as Swiss Made ? Well, it's a matter of proportions : as long as ≥ 50% of the parts are Swiss, and as the assembly is made in Swiss, the product can boast it is Swiss Made. If less than 50% of the parts are, of the assembly is performed elsewhere, then only a lesser Swiss Parts label can be claimed. And so it's probable most Lancers' bracelets were made in China, while the most parts of the watch and final assembly are indeed Swiss.
While not particularly fragile, no bracelet is invincible, and the thin bars connecting the deployant mechanism to the closing clasp are unusually slim. Good watchmakers can get around this if needed though, as with the years, for some owners, the Lancer as a whole became associated with its bracelet.
i - Overall
This is an excellent watch. As it was made at a times where VSA's name wasn't associated to watches, they made sure they would start with quality, and packed more than the 290$ price would have suggested, with a solid rotatable ceramic+steel bezel, decent water resistance, a rock solid yet honorably precise movement, and a metal bracelet. Even the 39 mm size makes it a good fit on most wrists.
The only letdowns I can see are the tritium paintings, which stop glowing after 12-15 years, and the relative rarity of the watch outside of the US. It is also relatively prone to scratches though.
Great everyday watch in all other regards.