Ciga Design may not be a brand that you are familiar with and to be honest nor was I until they approached us to have us take a look at one of their watches – in this case, their Z Series DLC Automatic. But let us rewind and go back to the start. Ciga Design was established in November 2012 by Zhang Jianming, an accomplished designer with over 30 years of experience in industrial design and is known for being in the top ten designers in China. Just a mere one year after founding Ciga Designs their first watch was created and went on to win the prestigious Red Dot Design Award. The accolades didn’t stop there as in 2014 they became the first Chinese watchmaker to be exhibited in the Brand Hall of Baselworld. Three years later in 2017, Ciga Design won an iF Gold Award and in 2018 were one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns reaching 1835% funding.
It’s clear that in their short history CIGA Design have made quite an impact and looking at their catalogue of products it’s easy to see why. They’ve taken a different approach to watchmaking and design, and it hasn’t held them back at all.
Awards and accomplishments aside, do their watches make sense on an everyday basis and do they provide good value for money or are they just showpieces?
- Dimensions: 40.8mm wide
- Thickness: 12.3mm
- Lug width: 22mm
- Lug-to-lug: 48mm
- Case material: DLC coated 316L stainless steel
- Crystal: 1.2mm thick Sapphire
- Dial: Skeletal
- Movement: Seagull ST2553JK
- Power reserve: Quoted up to 40 hrs / tested approximately 53 hrs
- Accuracy: -15/+30 per day
- Jewels: 25
- Water resistance: 30m
- Weight: 90g
- Strap: Standard silicone / Red ltd edition strap / leather strap for first 500 orders
- Warranty: 2 years
- Price: £215
- Buy here: https://cigadesign.co.uk/collections/our-watches/products/z-series-dlc
The Z series is unlike any other watch I have had the privilege to get hands-on with during my time on WIAA, but is that a good or bad thing?
Well, the first grabbing attribute has to be the styling, it’s very unorthodox to say the least, but I like it. The immediate thing that draws you in is that the watch is transparent and you can see through most parts of it. This honestly took some getting used to as it’s my first real experience with a skeleton design watch, though I was taken back by the beauty of it all. You can see every little detail including the balance wheel, the jewels in the movement, even when the mainspring is fully wound or unwound and then even right down to the gear train that moves the hands, it’s quite marvellous actually. I mean I appreciated the art of an automatic before experiencing this watch, but now seeing all the minute parts adds a whole new perspective. Just by eye, it looks fantastic, but under macro, you see so much more. I even love the craft that’s gone into the framework, the skeleton of it all – it’s certainly not boring and adds to the complex beauty of it. I get why some dislike this as it somewhat a lot to take in, but I love it. Is it practical for telling the time, nope, not at all.
Enough of the fanboying, why don’t we get a bit more serious. Starting out and working in, we have the minute track and markers; these are nicely-designed and suit the aesthetic, though they are somewhat hard to see at a glance. The squarish nature does little to help matters either which can make telling the time a bit more difficult as you have to stop and look to get an accurate sense of the time. Looking towards the middle you’re greeted with the handset; these are partially skeletonised and feature a red-tipped arrow at the end. There is also a slight arrow of lume which is frankly all but useless as nothing else is lumed, so when they glow, it’s nigh on impossible to tell the time. Admittedly I do like the design of the hands and they perfectly mesh with the scheme, though they do little in the way of helping. The second’s hand is finished in a bright red and does stand out quite nicely – at the end of it, you can see a needle eye counterbalance which again is befitting. And finally, you’ll note the applied Ciga Design logo at the 3 o’clock position.
Honestly, there’s a lot to take in here, and it can be overwhelming and somewhat difficult to tell the time even in the best conditions, yet there’s still something that makes me want to gaze at it, and I can’t say that for many watches around £200. A final thing to note would be that there appears to be some minor dust particles inside the watch as well as a small imperfection in the red portion of the hands. This is more than likely an uncommon issue, though it does somewhat detract from the overall quality.
The heart isn’t the only interesting design element of the watch as the crystal is not dull either. The Sapphire crystal is 1.2mm thick which is impressive in its own right, but that’s not even the best thing about it. The crystal curves ever so slightly with the profile of the watch – flat just wouldn’t have worked here, and I’m glad Ciga have gone the extra mile to make the crystal flow so well with the profile.
There also appears to be some very slight AR coating on the inside of the crystal, though when the movement and hands catch the light, it doesn’t do a deal to reduce the glare from them.
To the case and again this is something full of little flourishes you don’t often see. Starting with the front, the first thing that takes you in is the exposed polished cube design elements, these don’t appear to have any function in terms of structure, but they do look pretty cool, and they tie in with a common theme which you’ll see further down in the review. These cube elements are set into two curved cut-outs in the case that allow you to see all the way through, again not necessary, but just another factor that adds to the coolness of this watch. Via these slits, you can also see part of the crown stem which is a design element all on its own. The top section is also very nicely brushed, which is done to a good standard. I’m also a fan of how the designers managed to blend the curves of the side of the case with the more angular components between the lugs, this is hard to do, but they pulled it off very well. For me, it just works, but I get not everyone will be a fan. One last thing to mention is that the case finish does pick up dust and lint quite easily, as well as showing fingerprints so keep that in mind as it can become a chore to keep clean.
The right-hand side of the case is where you’ll find some very robust crown guards which are integrated into the side of the watch. These are then flanked by more of those shiny cubes. This is probably my only gripe with the design, and I think these two are probably not needed as they upset the balance somewhat. I think here they should have perhaps DLC coated them, so they blended rather than stood out so much. The crown is a simple push-pull affair and is signed as well as featuring a nicely knurled grippy texture which makes it easy to use. The guards don’t impact the crowns use either which is a big win.
On the left-hand side of the case, you’ll find some stealthy branding that in certain light you can’t see, but in the right light it stands out nicely. The design pattern mimics the crown guards without them being integrated there. The branding appears to be slightly embossed on a sand/bead blasted portion. It’s hard to describe, but it looks great and has a nice tactile feel. That isn’t all as Ciga has taken things up a notch with a carbon coating that adds an extra layer of durable protection as well as looking stunning too. This is achieved with a DLC (Diamond-like) coating on the watch head.
To the back of the watch and here you’ll find a flat piece mineral crystal that acts a viewing window to see the rear side of the Seagull movement and the custom DLC coated rotor. The caseback is held in via four screws and features a similar finish to that found on the front of the case. You’ll also find some nicely engraved information on the watch.
Ciga’s movement of choice is the Seagull ST2553JK which is a 25 jewel movement that has a beat rate of 21600/hour, a hacking seconds, automatic and manual winding as well as a quoted power reserve of 40 hours. The accuracy is stated between -15/+30 seconds per day, and it’s easily within this tolerance. The big surprise here was the power reserve, the quoted time of up to 40 hours is great, though during testing it lasted closer to 53 hours when fully wound. That is pretty impressive as most barely manage 30 to 40 hours at this price point. The other great experience with this is watching it wind, usually, with a manually winding watch, all the components are hidden, whereas if you flip the watch and look at the back, you can see the cogs and gears turn as they wind up the mainspring, it’s quite a sight to behold. As for the winding, it feels reassuringly solid, and there is plenty of audible, tactile and visual feedback, yes you can see the spring tighten as you wind which means you can never really overwind the watch. In use, setting the time feels and looks great, you get some nice feedback that feels smooth and not grating, the hands turn smoothly and quickly yet not too freely, it’s just about bang on. As there is no date you only get two positions. One is pushed in and this allows you to manually wind the watch, the second is pulled out which hacks the seconds and allows you to set the time, it’s quite straight forward.
With the Z Series, you get a selection of straps. The main strap is a black silicone that has the same cube design as you’ll find throughout the watch. The second is a red silicone strap (only available for the first 300 orders, all are gone already sadly) which looks fantastic – and pretty funky, yet it has this weird texture inside: I didn’t so much like that. The build is great, however, the inner texture just didn’t do anything for me. The third and final strap is a leather one that is only available for the first 500 orders. The leather strap isn’t that great actually: it’s a black faux croc and feels a bit stiff and plasticky. Honestly, out of the three, the black silicone is the best of the selection, and that is what I used the most. The black silicone features the aforementioned cube pattern like the rest of the watch, but they’ve again gone a bit extra as the adjustment holes line up with the top of each cube, this little attention to detail is something you’d expect on higher-end watches let alone one under £250. It doesn’t stop there either as you’ll see an even more complex design inside the strap along with some quick release spring bars. The top section of the strap features the branding, two floating silicone keepers and a signed black buckle. Like the case, the strap is somewhat of a dirt and lint magnet as it gets easily stuck in the gaps and to the surface. Bit of a shame as the strap looks dirty most of the time. All in all – minus the dust/lint issue, the main strap feels well made, looks cool, but is it comfortable?
Well, it’s a mixed bag. The watch head is comfortable for me thanks to the short lugs, profile and weight, although does tend to sit on top of my wrist rather than conforming to it. It’s still comfortable though. The strap, however, is a different story. The strap silicone is nice and soft, smooth on the inside and very flexible, but for my wrist size (6”/15.4cm) it just doesn’t fit nicely. One adjustment is too loose, and the other is a bit too tight, there’s no happy medium for me though that would more than likely be different in your case. During wear, I noticed that the first few hours were okay but after three or so, it started to become a bit more bothersome, plus it gets quite hot too which is not so bad in the UK, but in warmer climates might be a bigger issue.
Strap options are sort of limited too, single pass and natos are likely not to work very well as the lugs are set high in respect to the caseback meaning they may fit, though would likely not be all that comfortable. So that leaves you with two-piece natos, silicone or leather, luckily it’s got 22mm lugs so strap options are aplenty and you may need to look at another option if you have a similar experience to me.
To sum up, I’m a fan, though that aside this watch is far from perfect. Starting with the time telling issue; this could be a big deal-breaker depending on what you want and need. There’s then the few design elements that I wasn’t so keen on, and finally, two of the bundled straps didn’t do anything for me in terms of comfort, but I can’t deny that the red one looks great. So some of these issues are a matter of preference, and one is likely not going to impact you though if it does, it’s an easy problem to fix. The big main issue for me is the legibility across the board. In the daytime, it’s hard enough to read at a glance, and when it gets dark, it’s almost impossible. Another minor complaint is the dust and lint build-up that happens quite often on both the case and strap. Not deal-breaking bad, but it can be tiresome trying to keep it looking pristine.
On the flip side, I love the design, the attention to detail is pretty stellar for this price point, and there’s honestly a design cohesion that you just don’t see that often. Yeah, there are a few things to nitpick, but you have to admit that they’ve taken a not uncommon design, and made it their own, then carried that theme throughout and made it work. Very few can claim to do the same. However, that doesn’t take away from the primary purpose, to tell the time and sadly it falls hard.
Yet, I still want to wear it and admire all the details. So great at time telling it might not be, but it sure is a fascinating piece and a definite conversation starter.