Last week we brought you a review of the Frederique Constant Slimline Moonphase, and today we’re bringing you a review of a watch by their sister brand, Alpina. Alpina Watches has been in existence since 1883, making them one of the oldest brands that you might have never heard of. Founded by Gottlieb Hauser, Alpina was a genuinely innovative brand in the early 20th century, with impressive distribution to match. They manufactured watch calibers and chronometers in both Switzerland and Glashütte, supplied to the military as well as civilians, making them a sizable brand.
In 1938 they made a big leap in the development of durable sport watches with the “Alpina 4”, which is a set of standards, that are clearly in use today, including anti-shock, waterproof, anti-magnetic and a stainless steel case. The brand stayed strong, producing various lines of watches up to the seventies, when like so many other great brands, they were leveled by the “quartz crisis”. For a very detailed look at their history, check out this timeline (be sure to roll over the individual dates).
Alpina was bought in 2002 by the founders of Frederique Constant, who have the goal to revitalize this once prosperous brand. Like the FC mainline, what sets Alpina apart from other sports watches in the price range is that they have access to FC’s manufacture movements. In their line currently you will find their auto with pointer date, worldtimer, a regulator, even a tourbillon, as well as various modified and decorated ebauchés. The watches themselves are a big departure from FC’s lines, with very aggressive styling, big cases, and bold, modern dials.
They have several themed ranges, but the most vast is their line of Aviation Watches. With models ranging from quartz chronographs to a 50mm hand-wound remake of a watch from 1926 to a clean, classic 40mm auto and more, they’ve got their bases covered. Most interesting to us, though, is the Startimer Pilot Manufacture: Small Date Automatic. Utilizing their beautifully decorated in-house Swiss made automatic, this big modern pilot watch is visually striking, and a great value for a manufacture watch, coming in at $2,550.
When you consider that many of the very popular and better known sports brands currently out there have off-the-shelf automatics and this same starting price or higher, the value proposition is quite clear. That said, their is certainly a bump in price to go for the manufacture movement. Luckily, they have essentially the same watch in 40 and 44mm cases with Selitta automatics, including a new model for 2014 called the “Sunstar”. So if the look does it for you, but the price doesn’t, you got options.
Before we get to the review, I do think it’s worth bringing up what I would deem as the biggest negative of the watch. It doesn’t effect the quality, the finishing, the style, the value or how pleasurable it is to wear. But, the Startimer watches are very clearly derivative of IWC’s pilot watches. They differ in many ways, of course, from the font to the hands, obviously the movement, and various minutia, but in the end of the day, at-a-glance, it looks like an IWC. Should that stop someone from buying it? No, of course not, unless they are an IWC die-hard. And on one-hand, they are making a watch of this style more accessible, while beating the other brand on value greatly. An entry level Mark XVII has an MSRP of $4,900, for a modified ETA 2892 movement, almost twice the price of the Alpina. It’s just that when I see a brand with the capabilities that Alpina has making something that feels a bit derivative, I get frustrated as I think they are hindering their own potential.