Alpina Revives The Bumper Movement For New Startimer Pilot Heritage Manufacture

Now here’s something you don’t see too often unless you’re a vintage Omega fan or know a bit about late eighteenth century watchmaking; a watch with a ‘bumper’ movement.  

Way before that nice Mr. Wilsdorf at Rolex started selling watches with oscillating winding weights, a French maker called Perrelet used a weight in his pocket watches that moved as the wearer walked. A stroll of just a quarter of an hour was enough to power the movement for eight days – not exactly the on-it exercise regime advocated by an Apple Watch. The great Abraham Louis Breguet tried his hand at bumpers, too with his “Perpetuelles”, but the idea didn’t really catch on until a British Watchmaker, John Harwood, patented his design in the early 1920s.  Harwood’s idea came from necessity. He wanted to find a way to eliminate the main route for dust, water and dirt to get into watch cases; the winding crown and its stem. His new ‘bumper’ self-winding mechanism meant he could use a sealed case and still power his watch.

Original bumper movement

How were these ‘bumper’ winding mechanisms different from the Rolex spinny weight? Instead of the winding weight running in a complete circle around a central pivot, the weight moved through a smaller arc with a spring at each end.  As it reached the end of its travel, the weight bumped against one of the springs and was sent back to its starting point where it was bumped again, so winding the watch.

Alpina has taken the idea of the bumper movement, updated it and used it in their new Startimer Pilot Heritage Manufacture. They’ve called their movement the AL-709 – it’s a manufacture movement, too (the clue’s in the name) and you can see it on display through the watch’s clear sapphire caseback.  

Where most vintage bumpers’ winding weights ran through a 120° arc, the new AL-709’s runs through 330°, so there’s more winding action to be had. At the same time, Alpina have ditched the springs at either end of the arc for a sprung and pivoted stop, so there’s more motion to impart to that weight. It’s a 26 jewel movement and beats at a very un-1950s 28,800vph. Blued screws are a classy touch and the plates are finished to look a little like the sort of brass you’d see on an original vintage bumper.

A bumper isn’t a compromise on power reserve either – the AL-709 has a decent 38 hours if you take it off and leave it in your watchbox.  

Alpina have put their new movement in a thoroughly appropriate 1950s cushion case – the one familiar from their other Startimer Pilot Heritage watches. There’s a mix of brushing and polishing that fits with the style well and links with Alpina’s original pilot watches from the 1950s. It’s a tad larger at 42mm diameter and just over 13mm deep, although the integrated lugs snug the case down onto your wrist. There’s no need to worry about getting it wet as the case is happy to 100m – as practically waterproof as most of us need. You get a choice of stainless steel or gold-plate.

That silver dial’s a bit of a beauty. It’s vertically brushed with applied silver and red-lumed indexes. The hands are clean and simple square-ended stick-style and also lumed. The second hand is unlumed and silver. 

Should you buy one? Well, you’re not going to find many (if any) other modern bumper movement watches out there. A vintage model would be easier to pin down, but once you’ve factored in a service and any repairs you may well be close to the $2,850 asking price for this one. There’s something very engaging about a bumper movement on your wrist, too. Rather like a valjoux 7750, it’ll remind you that it’s there every so often. So if you’re looking for something that’s out of the ordinary, why not? Alpina.

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Mark developed a passion for watches at a young age. At 9, he was gifted an Omega Time Computer manual from a local watch maker and he finagled Rolex brochures from a local dealer. Today, residing in the Oxfordshire village of Bampton, Mark brings his technical expertise and robust watch knowledge to worn&wound.
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