The proper way to start this article is by saying congratulations to the Christopher Ward brand. Kudos, hurrah, cheers!.. my proverbial glass of champagne is raised to you! In the few years we’ve been running worn&wound, Christopher Ward has gone from staple affordable brand, to affordable brand making waves with in-house capabilities to a genuine Manufacture. They’ve pushed the envelope on what is possible for a young brand, and have proven that accessible pricing and horology are not mutually exclusive. They’ve stared into the face of a seemingly very stubborn industry with its own anachronistic rules and etiquette, turned their back and did their own thing. With the announcement of their new, genuine in-house movement, the caliber SH21, they’ve raised their status yet again, now shoulder to shoulder with brands that probably didn’t expect to see them standing there.
An anecdote they’ve featured in their press releases really illuminates the relationship of Chr. Ward to the watch industry at large. It’s easy for us as end consumers to not be aware of the politics of running a watch brand. As an editor of a blog, I still only see just the edges of what is really going on. This quote says a lot:
“Mike France, one of the three co-founders of the Christopher Ward brand, explains the significance of the launch of Calibre SH21: “Last year, the CEO of a major Swiss luxury watch brand heard rumours about SH21 and his – frankly, affronted – comment was “What gives you the license to do that?”
“For me, that comment epitomizes two hugely contrasting spirits at opposite ends of this industry; the entrenched conservatism of the established brands and the dynamism of Christopher Ward and other independents.
“We give ourselves license to do this…”
Further emphasizing their approach, they are being pretty transparent about the who, what and where regarding the manufacturing of the movement. Building off of the relationships they created in developing their previous in-house complications, they’ve merged with Synergies Horologères, a 7-year old watch manufacturer founded by Jörg Bader, the previous employer of Johannes Jahnke. They’ve also out-sourced manufacturing to 9 different suppliers in order to keep development, and therein, end costs down. Simply a modern way to go about things.
Calibre SH21 from Christopher Ward on Vimeo.
But, let’s get back to star of the show here… the SH21 is a lot more than one might expect, especially for a brand’s first in-house movement. If they had made a simple manual movement with no date and a standard 40-hr power reserve, I still would have written this article, as that also have been a massive achievement. Not ones to take the easy road, Chr. Ward in collaboration with their in-house wunderkind, Johannes Jahnke, created an automatic chronometer with a 5-day power reserve.
Let that settle in for a second. Their first in-house movement is an automatic (standard fare, but a complication nevertheless), is a chronometer (as in, has been certified by the COSC and has an accuracy of -4/+6 sec/day), has a power reserve of 120-hours made possible by twin-barrels (something we’ve yet to see on a watch in the price range we discuss), a solid tungsten rotor, hacking seconds and a date to boot. That’s staggering. That’s them showing off. And, wow, is it cool. Oh…and the first watch that features the bloody thing costs just over $2k…speechless. And I say “the first watch” intentionally, as they have made it clear that the SH21 was designed to be a base for modules. GMT’s, chronographs, etc… So, this isn’t a one-hit wonder, so to speak, it’s a sign of things to come.
As far as finishing goes, this Swiss made, 31-jewel beauty opted for a much more subtle approach. So subtle, that at a glance it might appear undecorated. As their own article on the topic indicates, rather than the expected Côtes de Genève, blue screws and perlage, they went for something more old-school, more industrial and, frankly, more British. Using a technique called “flat grinding”, each plate is carefully sanded for an even, almost brushed appearance. The wheels are all turned and gold-plated and the screws, which are not-blue by choice, are flat polished. While the overall look is less “wow” inducing, in their own words they “have created not only a movement of the highest quality, reliability and precision, but one that appeals to those who prefer depth to their beauty rather than the instant, more accessible looks which is the current vogue.” I’ll have to see it in person to cast judgement.
Of course, a movement needs a case, dial, hands, etc, to become a watch, and the SH21 will be featured first in the C9 Harrison 5-Day Automatic. Closely playing off of the motif they’ve been slowly growing with their C9 series, this 43mm business casual watch is perhaps the most refined to date. They’ve used the gorgeous, long slender needle hands first seen in the C900, dials in white, sunburst blue and sunburst graphite grey with applied markers. They just ache of art-deco cool, while exuding class and masculinity. All are available with a choice of Gator straps or what appears to be a very nice and new bracelet style. Chr. Ward smartly went for something classic and versatile with the C9 watches, albeit large for their look. The grey dial with brown gator has my name on it.
$2,065 is a remarkable price ($2100 with a bracelet) for the C9. It is accessible luxury in the truest sense. They’ve taken the previously unattainable and put it just in reach. While 2K isn’t an amount I’d spend everyday on a watch, for this, I think it’s exceptionally reasonable. This is the kind of watch that could be worth something down the road, especially if Christopher Ward continues pushing forward at the rate they currently are. A day might come when they are not be the biggest outsider brand, but rather the brand all others are looking at. And, in the current market, it’s in a class of its own for the features it provides. So, once again, congratulations Christopher Ward.
by Zach Weiss