Publisher Eric Rhoads wanted to find out if the claims of a watch for painters can hold up. Can a watch tell you how much sunlight you have left or when the tides will be coming in? Read his review here.
It’s a cliche that sometimes still needs repeating. Painting is as much about light as it is about subject. For the landscape and nature painter light means the sun. The quality of light is determined, of course, by the time of day as well as atmospheric conditions. We also know that directional light is dramatic, and the warmth of early morning and late afternoon light can make an otherwise so-so scene come to life. Colors are more intense and shadows are more dramatic, which makes for a great painting. The rest is up to us.
Just wandering out to do some painting at any old time of the day is not likely to lead to anything terribly exciting. And when planning to paint, whether in the next county or the other side of the world, knowing when sunrise and sunset will take place, and planning your travels and positioning accordingly can make the difference between “Nice” and “Oh Wow!“.
When I plan my painting days and I have any flexibility at all in my scheduling, I always try to have it coincide with a full moon. Each month, for a few days before and a few days afterward, the moon can become an important element in the landscape, and knowing when it will rise and set is for me as integral a part of painting as brushes and paint.
Knowing when sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset will take place, and also the phase of the moon, is not difficult to determine. There are any number of web sites that provide this data, and programs for laptops and smartphones are readily available that provide the same information.
But what about next week in Florence, or next August in Russia? And when will the moon be rising this evening? I’m notorious for underestimating how much light I’ll have to paint in the afternoon. In fact a couple weeks ago in Venice I ran out to do a quick two-hour painting in the afternoon only to find the sun went down on me in less than an hour. I could have prevented that, yet I’ve done it hundreds of times.
While the internet, laptops, and smartphones can all provide this information from home or during travels, now so can your watch. Not just any watch, but the unique YES Watch.
The Smaller YES Watch
I first came across the YES Watch on a photography site. I thought, “That’s just what I’m looking for as a painting tool.” I thought I should try it, if for no other reason than to write about it for other painters to see. I was a little skeptical, yet when it arrived I found that it did everything I wanted it to. I read the instructions and found the watch a little overwhelming because it did so much. But I persisted and found myself more and more amazed at the technology behind this watch. I was also impressed with the quality. Buying from a previously unknown company on the internet lowered my expectations, but the watch arrived in a beautiful wooden box that contained extra watch bands (one formal, one casual, one very casual and practical that can be covered in paint and not concern me).
What it Does
There are several different models of the YES Watch, in different sizes, with different bezels, and with different wrist bands. But they all essentially do the same things in the same way. The differences are mostly cosmetic, and in size, weight, and cost.
Features of the YES Watch
Functionally complex, and somewhat confusing until you take away the legends and lines from the above schematic, what you have is an economy of presentation. What one can see at a glance are the time in digital display format, and an hour hand showing the current hour on a 24-hour basis, with noon at the top and midnight at the bottom of the dial. The light-toned part of the LCD dial shows the hours of daylight against the 24-hour dial, while the dark area shows nighttime, both of which change, of course, over the course of the year. The current phase of the moon is shown by the moon phase icon, while the LCD’s rim shows the time of moonrise and moonset against the 24-hour dial.
For me the real beauty of the YES Watch lies in its analogue representation of a large number of important pieces of information. When digital display watches first appeared they were in large part rejected because it takes a different part of the brain to translate digits into time than it does the position of hands. On the YES Watch, with the exception of the actual digital display at the 12 o’clock position, all other information is graphical and analogue in nature. This means that it’s as easy to read and comprehend as the hands on a clock. You know what time it is, without having to mentally interpret numbers. And in the case of the YES Watch that knowing now includes a range of information of value and interest to landscape painters – including the ratio of daylight to night, sunrise and sunset times, the phase of the moon, and the times of moonrise and moonset for that day. Quite an accomplishment.
Programmed into the YES Watch are data for nearly 600 cities around the world, and one also has the ability to enter an exact location via longitude and latitude. The watch is able to calculate all of its functions for any location on earth, and for any date until the year 2099. In addition it can show a second time zone along with all astronomical data at the push of a button, and it has an illuminated backlight, an alarm, countdown timer, and so on and so forth. Oh yes, and it can also be set to sound an alarm 30 minutes before sunrise or sunset. That feature is brilliant for me. It’s a reminder to bring this painting in for a landing.
Although not a feature particularly relevant to painting, the YES Watch can also be used as a solar compass (on a clear day) and to indicate the time of high tide and low tide, all through its LCD display and rotating bezel. Very clever and very useful. Especially the tides. Recently I painted in Maine with Don Demers and some others and we went out on a sandbar, which is normally underwater. I was not entirely sure when my feet would be getting wet. This watch would tell me when to expect the tide to return.
The point of all this discussion is that the YES Watch provides anyone needing to know the basic astronomical information associated with plein air painting with not only the key information needed today, but also what is needed for planning paint trips well into the future and anywhere on the globe. There’s nothing else on the market like it that I know of, and for as low as $495 it’s not outrageously priced.
Choosing a Model
If the YES Watch interests you, you may find that the company’s website can be a bit confusing. Here are the things to consider. There are five models, all of which have essentially the same functionality. The Tati is a smaller watch lacking the mechanical hour hand, and I don’t particularly care for the cosmetics, though it is the smallest.
The largest models are the 48mm Zulu, Inca and Kundalini. These are made of titanium. The Cozmo is the mid-sized model with a 43mm case, but it is made of stainless steel rather than titanium. It is also priced between $495 and $595, while the larger titanium watches range from $795 to $995. The more expensive models also come in a fancy presentation case, which may be a factor if you want to give one of these as a gift to a painter friend. (Hint to husbands or wives!)
Each of these watches can be had with one of three different bezels – Solunar, 24 Hour and Symbol. Each adds some minor functionality of a different type, and each has a different cosmetic appeal. They are well illustrated on the website.
There is a selection of bracelets available, and one can request any mix-and-match combination even if it isn’t illustrated on the website. So, between the model, bezel, and bracelet one can end up with a fairly unique timepiece. As I mentioned earlier each watch comes with a rubber and a leather strap as well as strap-changing tools. Rubber and painting go well together, yet if I want to dress it up, I can wear the metal band. The watch is waterproof as well, to 10 ATM (100 meters / 333 feet). In real-world terms this actually means that it’s OK for use around water, and swimming, but not for anything more than that.
The Bottom Line
Will you wear a YES Watch every day? No, probably not. But you will come to wish you had it on the day you go painting and forget to bring it. It’s a tool as important as my brushes. What I’ve found most interesting is that it’s a great conversation starter. People will look at my watch and say, “Did you know your watch is missing a hand?” I can then start telling them about this unique instrument and how it has become a killer tool for painting. As someone with an appreciation for legibility of controls and interfaces, I have mixed feelings about the YES. The astronomical information is very well presented, with a graphical interface that makes just about everything intended visible and understandable at a glance. And for when you want the exact times of some event, such as moonrise for a nocturne painting, the pressing of a couple buttons calls up a full set of numeric displays.
But, that is also the Achilles’ heel of the YES. Its ordinary time keeping function is a digital display, and not that large of one, either. This is not a watch that you can simply glance at and “know” the time. It takes a close look and the mental effort of converting digits to time, as with all digital display watches. And as with all LCD watches, they are less amenable to being read easily in low light, though the YES does have a back light for night use. I also found the alarm sound to be somewhat anemic (as are most watches’ alarms), but I rarely use the alarm on my watch since I prefer my phone for this function.
Nevertheless, the YES Watch has taken a favorite place in my arsenal of painting accessories. I would no sooner go painting without this watch on my wrist than I would without an easel and brushes.
For anyone (like me) that travels a great deal internationally, not only is the database of nearly 600 cities worldwide with their times invaluable, but another unique feature of the YES is that it is programmed with Daylight Saving Time information for the nine various zones around the world that observe DST. These are automatically applied as the calendar changes, and the data is even correct with regard to the change-over dates.
One unanticipated pleasure provided by the YES Watch is its ability to help visualize the ever-changing rhythms of the sun’s and moon’s cycles. Because the length of day and night, moonrise and moonset times, and the phases of the moon are all displayed graphically, one can very quickly become attuned to these cycles, and understand them better than in the abstract.
For example, to be able to daily see the outer LCD ring that displays moonrise and moonset advance around the dial that shows the moon rising later each day of its cycle, and to see the phase of the moon change daily along with it, provides a visceral connection to our nearest cosmic neighbor. And while the display that shows the days slowly lengthening or shortening as the seasons progress is too slow to see, over time the change in the comparative size of the light and dark segments of the display becomes apparent, and of course pressing a button to show another time or place on the globe makes these differences instantly clear.
The YES Watch is a useful, informative, and fun tool. Chances are I’ll be wearing it next time we go painting together. And when you see me along the road painting a brilliant sun-drenched red barn, I certainly won’t be running out of light.