The regulator style watch has always struck me as the kind of thing in the watch community that is constantly bubbling up under the surface, with a good deal of support and admiration from a dedicated niche of collectors and enthusiasts, but never truly becoming a full on trend. There has been no spike in regulators the likes of which we’ve seen for mechanical GMTs, for instance. But every so often, a new regulator comes to market that people get genuinely excited about, and a lot of us wonder why these watches aren’t more durably popular beyond their most devoted fans. There’s a lot to like in a regulator – once you get used to the idea of three hands that don’t overlap, there’s a legibility and ease to time telling that is hard to argue with, and the simple fact that it’s a bit unusual and under-the-radar has its own appeal. Today we have news of a new regulator from Alpina, the Alpiner Regulator Automatic, a modern take on a very traditional dial layout. Let’s take a closer look.
First, a quick refresher on what, exactly, a regulator is. While the vast majority of watches on the market today tell the time using hands mounted from a central position on the dial (with the notable exception of watches which use a small, running seconds subsidiary dial, usually at 6:00), a regulator watch has hours, minutes, and seconds hands mounted separately, often using hands of different lengths. Often the minute hand is mounted at the center of the dial, with the hours and seconds above and below it. If the regulator dial is well designed, it’s a snap to tell the time quickly at a glance. This format has its horological roots in the period before watches even existed, when clockmakers would design “master clocks” with this dial format, to more easily adjust and view the time on a reference clock as they tinkered with time setting (you might say, as they “regulated” their clocks). Lots of regulator watches are designed in a classical, dressy style that fits in nicely with the history of this type of timetelling.
The new Alpiner Regulator is an update of a watch Alpina first released 15 years ago, the Avalanche Regulator. That watch took the regulator layout and placed it in a sporty cushion style case, with a dial decorated to recall Swiss ski slopes. That watch was not the formal, dressy regulator most are familiar with, and neither is the Alpiner Regulator, which has a more traditional circular case shape but retains a certain amount of sporty flair in the form of hour markers with triangular tips, twisted Speedmaster-style lugs, and plenty of lume. The watch also measures 45mm in diameter, putting it squarely in “big sports watch” territory.
The regulator layout has also been subtly shifted away from the traditional style of having all registers in a line straight down the middle of the dial. Here, the minutes scale runs along the outermost perimeter of the dial, as is customary, and running seconds is in the standard 6:00 position, but the hour scale has been moved to the left side of the dial, near 10:00. In terms of overall legibility, I don’t think this has a major impact. Some will quibble that the hour scale now covers part of the minute scale where the minute hand meets the edge of the dial, but I don’t know that this would have a practical impact on our ability to read the time at a glance in a meaningful way. It does throw the symmetry off, which will either be deal breaker or a prized feature, depending on your own preferences.
The dominant aesthetic element of the Alpiner Regulator, besides the dial layout, is the Côtes de Genève finish applied to the dial itself. This is an unusual decorative choice, but vertical striping adds a lot of visual interest and, according to Alpina, actually aids in legibility. The reasoning here is that Côtes de Genève, when applied to the movement, is intended to reduce reflections that negatively impact a watchmaker at work. On the dial side, Alpina claims this finishing technique has the same effect, keeping the focus on telling the time.
The Alpiner Regulator is available with a blue or black dial, on either a strap or a stainless steel bracelet. There’s also a limited edition version available with a blue dial and red accents that will be kept to just 883 pieces. Pricing ranges from $1,895 to $1,995 depending on the strap option selected. Alpina