Alpina Startimer Pilot Manufacture Review

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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$2550

Alpina Startimer Pilot Manufacture Review

Case
316L Brushed Stainless Steel
Movement
AL-710
Dial
Anthracite
Lume
Yes
Lens
Sapphire
Strap
Leather
Water Resistance
100M
Dimensions
44 x 53mm
Thickness
13.5mm
Lug Width
22mm
Crown
7.5 x 5mm Screw down
Warranty
2 Years
Price
$2550

Case

The Startimer Pilot Manufacture is by no means a small and subtle watch. Coming in at 44 x 53 x 13.5mm (to the top of the domed sapphire) with 22mm lugs, this is a big pilot watch in the tradition of big pilot watches. I typically would turn away from such a massive case, preferring 42mm as my top, but pilot watches scale up really well, so 44mm just makes visual sense. More shockingly, which we’ll get into deeper later, it’s still very wearable despite its size.

The design of the case has a classic shape with broad contouring lugs and a raised cylindrical bezel. That said, it’s one of the nicest versions of this standard design I have seen, thanks to quality finishing and a few details. The top surface of the central case is lightly brushed, as is typical on a pilot, preventing too much reflection. The bezel, which steps in and up, creating a blunt, architectural detail, is then brushed on the sides and polished on the rounded edge that flows into the domed sapphire. This adds a needed bit of elegance to the top-side of the watch.

The most interesting and best executed detail is on the case side. The primarily brushed slab surface breaks just before the lug into a very shallow, tapering bevel. This surface is polished, creating a graceful line that elevates the case, belying its sportiness and military undertones. Off of three is one of the most massive crowns I’ve seen on a watch yet. It measures 7.5mm around and 5mm tall, with a straight tapered shape and deep grooves. The flat end has a an etched surface with a polished Alpina triangle logo in relief. Overall, it’s a very nicely detailed crown, having a bit more going on than your average, but it’s also twice as big, so it needs more. Given its size this might be a love it or leave it detail, but I found it enjoyable, adding some classic flair to the watch. That said, it isn’t the easiest to screw in, sometimes having difficulty catching the threads.

Flipping the watch over, you are presented with a display case back, showing a partial view of the AL-710 movement. Around the window is a deeply etched area with various details about the watch in relief. Around that, and stepped down about a millimeter, is a wide polished area, with slots for a case-back tool as well as the edition number of the watch. These are limited to 8,888 pieces, hence the reasoning for this.

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Dial

The dial of the Startimer Pilot Manufacture is big, bold and legible. The model we had on hand has a sunburst anthracite surface, which is a gorgeous graphite grey. It’s very dark, but has a nice sheen to it, which adds depth and texture. Though black would be more classic, I think for a modern variation, one that is perhaps a bit more elegant, this is the way to go. It also creates a great surface for the primary index, which consists of large applied arabic numerals to sit upon, as I think it creates a false sense of height. The numerals, or 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10 and 11 to be exact, all features a thin polished edge with lume filling, in a modern, sans-serif font.

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On the outer edge is a thin applied chapter ring, also in grey, but slightly different than the dial, with a minutes/seconds index in white. Protruding off at 3, 6 and 9 are applied rectangles, which act as part of both the hour and minute index. Similarly, at 12 is an applied triangle with a black dot in its center, playing off of the classic pilot style. This elevated ring is one of the design highlights of the watch, adding depth and some contrast. Since this is a large watch, the dial is also quite big, but it doesn’t feel like there is any wasted space. The chapter ring aids in this by adding density to the outer edge, which moves the eye inward.

Perhaps the most unique and striking element is the small pointer-date at 6. This sub-dial is proportionally very large, giving it a bold and aggressive look. It actually cuts into the 5 and 7 markers, like it was stamped on by a massive machine after the fact. The dial itself is set below the main surface, and has concentric circle graining. This makes it contrast the main dial nicely, and have its own sunburst effect. Inside, printed in white, is an index of numerals for the odd numbers and dashes for the even. I like this detail, though it is admittedly a bit strange on a pilot’s watch. At a glance, one almost expects that to be a small seconds dial, and the seconds hand to be a GMT. This doesn’t effect anything, and I really like how it looks on the dial, it’s just unexpected to have so much emphasis put on the date. That said, no pesky off center date windows or incorrectly colored date disks to deal with.

The handset Alpina went with differentiates it from most modern pilot watches. Rather than the oft seen roman swords or otherwise angular style, they chose elegant leaf hands for the hour, minute and pointer-date in white, with lume filling. They work surprisingly well, being easy to read at a glance, yet not trying too hard to be aggressive or blunt. The seconds hand is a thin white stick with a red Alpina triangle counterweight. As the only color on the watch, this is a nice touch that adds a sudden pop, without overdoing it.

The lume on the watch is disappointing. The hour and minute hand glow the strongest, followed by the applied rectangles and triangle on the chapter ring. The applied numerals, however, are very dim and a bit spotty. While this didn’t effect my usage of the watch, and since it’s not a diver, it seems less critical to the functionality. But, for a $2,550 sport watch, the lume should be stronger.

Movement: AL-710

The gem of the Startimer Pilot Manufacture is the in-house caliber within. It’s the reason the watch costs $2,550 rather than $1,200 or so (for the Selitta versions) and what makes it special. Like the movement we saw in the FC Slimline Moonphase, it’s also beautifully decorated and a pleasure to behold. As far as stats go, it’s a 26-jewel automatic with manual wind, hacking, small pointer date, 42h power reserve and a frequency of 28,800 bph.

The design of the movement is the same as the FC-710 in the Slimline Moonphase (same positioning of the balance, plates, screws, etc…) because they both are clearly built off of the same modular architecture. The functional differences, which can’t be seen by the eye when looking at the movement, are the moon phase complication on the FC and the active seconds on the Alpina. That said, they used slightly different decorations to create distinct looks for each, which play off of each brand’s positioning.

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Through the case back of the Startimer, you get a limited view of the AL-710, though you can still see that there is perlage and blued screws through out. In focus is the large balance, the automatic winding bridge and the rotor. The bridge features linear cote de Geneve for a pin-striped look, where as the same plate on the Slimline had circular cote de Geneve. This instantly makes one speak to sport watches and the other to dress; subtle but effective.

The rotor is particularly unique. It’s black PVD also with linear cote de Geneve, and a strange asymmetrical design. What you see is a triangular bridge between the center of the movement that seems much smaller than a typical rotor. In reality, the majority of the weight is going off to one side, but is under the steel of the case back. Because it is asymmetrical, it doesn’t sit the way you expect either.

Straps and Wearability

The Startimer Pilot Manufacture comes mounted on a tapering 22mm dark grey leather strap. This is a pilot style strap that utilizes a one-sided deployment clasp to secure “backwards”, or with the strap tail coming towards you. Though a bit strange looking at first, I think it adds some character to the watch. It also makes closing the strap easier and faster. The strap itself is very well executed, made of a supple leather with a nice pebbled texture. The color is interesting as well. It might read as black from afar, but up close it’s really a dark, dark grey, which I think plays off of the anthracite dial more subtly than black would. It’s also accented with off white stitching.

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As mentioned before, this is a large watch, but for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, it wears much easier than 44mm cases typically do, and I don’t think it looks ridiculous on my 7″ wrist. It is relatively flat, so it hugs your wrist well, which helps, but it really is just balanced proportions that win. The lug-to-lug isn’t too long, the lug width isn’t bad either, the case to the dial just feels right… It simply comes together, and wears more like a 42mm. Also, the large crown was a concern as I expected “crown-bite” on the regular. While it does press against the back of my hand if I flex my hand back, it doesn’t hurt. So, yeah, I’ll avoid doing push-ups with the watch on, but for daily wear, it isn’t an issue.

This watch is refined masculinity incarnate. It’s bold, and strong, but clean and dignified. The anthracite dial, mixed with the restrained and well-executed case finishing add some sophistication and style. The big dial looks like an instrument taken from a luxury sports-car, having great presence and legibility. While the watch certainly might draw some attention given its size, it doesn’t seek it, having some modesty. As a gentleman’s sport watch, this is definitely office appropriate, and while a bit large for a suit, would likely go very well with something dark grey. That said, you could also dress this down very easily, and just wear it with casual clothes and jeans.

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And since this is a pilot’s watch, it looks amazing on a 22mm NATO. This adds to the bulk of the watch quite a bit, at which point the size was more noticeable, but it looks so great you can ignore the discomfort. I tried it on a drab khaki nylon nato, which really emphasized the dark grey dial, perhaps making it edgier and more sinister. As an alternative to the leather for those days when you want something more fierce looking, this is definitely the way to go.

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Conclusion

There are two things to really consider when talking about the Alpina Startimer Pilot Manufacture watch; the movement, and everything else. Starting with everything else, this is a really nicely executed modern pilot’s watch. I love the little details in the case that set it apart as well as the beautiful grey dial. It’s a pleasure to wear and look at, even when not reading the time. It’s very handsome and stylish, going well with almost anything you want to wear it with, making it versatile, which is always a plus, especially at this price. And, as already said, it wears very easy for a large watch.

The other part of the story is the in-house Swiss made caliber inside. No other Swiss made sport brand available at retail comes close to being able to beat the value of this watch. Brand recognition aside, what looks better on paper, a $2,550 manufacture or a $4,500 ebauché? And, thankfully, it’s not just a clone of an ETA, it’s their own design, which is great to look at, thanks to smart layout and beautiful decoration.

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If the manufacture aspect of this watch calls out to you, and you’re able to save or sell your way to the price tag, the decision is pretty easy. Your next option for something similar will be pushing $8 – 10k. If this doesn’t matter to you, nearly everything that makes the case and dial so nice is available in other, cheaper variations. The only thing that is exclusive to their manufacture watches is the pointer date at 6, which admittedly adds some unique character.

As said in the intro, the only real negative thing to say is that the design is clearly derived from IWC watches. But, it’s also not a knock off or an homage, it’s just clearly heavily inspired by. If that doesn’t bother you to wear it, it didn’t bother me, the pros of the watch outweigh this con. That said, I would love to see Alpina push their brand identity further and come out with more truly unique lines, or lines based on their heritage, as I think that will promise them a more fruitful future. Clearly they have the tools available to make something great at an unbeatable price point, now it all comes down to creativity.

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Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
wornandwound zsw
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21 responses to “Alpina Startimer Pilot Manufacture Review”

  1. Earl says:

    Pretty watch looks great on leather, wished the logo was a bit more subtle though.

  2. Dan says:

    Awesome review guys. I have my heart set on an Alpina
    Albeit the Extreme diver 300m on rubber. Better price point and
    not such an obvious IWC parallel. Am I right this also comes in a Quartz version?

  3. Jim says:

    Great review and a wonderful looking watch.

    As far as pilot watches go this is one of the more original homages out there.

    Any pilot watch will draw comparisons to the original five (IWC, Stowa, Laco, Lange, Wempe) but it’s nice to see Alpina going a little farther out there with their design.

  4. Daniel says:

    I think it looks fantastic. It is quite derivative of IWC’s various entries. But at least theirs is an in-house movement and not a modified ETA.

    I think it’s a pretty decent value for a hacking manufacture. Good job Alpina. That’s a looker.

  5. Stephen says:

    If they made it 3/4 the size, would it be 3/4 the price?

  6. Bjorn says:

    Interesting review and brand.

    I found myself looking at my wrist a few times as you were talking about the ‘influence’ by IWC as I happen to be wearing a pilot watch right now. I agree that there is a lot of ‘inspiration’ going on, but I also wonder how do you build a classic pilot today that doesn’t look heavily influenced by the IWC?

    Take the Bremont Solo for instance. Similar layout and numbering (triangle at 12, dashes at 3, 6, 9). Quite a different case of course, which I think helps distinguish it (Like I said, I kept looking at my wrist and comparing).

    Not the first watch by Alpina that looks heavily ‘inspired’ by IWC, their pilot chrono very much has the same feel.

    Anyway, really appreciate the review. Keep up the good work! 🙂

    • w&w says:

      It’s totally true…Fliegers are fliegers, but there are details here, such as the chapter ring and dial color, that are pretty specific. I suppose I am more critical of Alpina because of the brand’s positioning in the market and prices. In the end, like I said, it’s a great watch regardless, and not a knock-off or anything like that. I just want them to push their own identity further, as they have so much potential.

  7. Beng says:

    Nice review Zach as usual you always distill the essence of a timepiece design

    But I couldn’t help thinking perhaps if you had chosen the Alpina “Startimer Pilot Manufacture Regulator” – it would reflect a more unique timepiece from Alpina !

    As other comments mentioned a pilot watch is a derivative homage to the original aviator watches (there’s only so much one can do with the set precedence?)

  8. Will says:

    I enjoy seeing some of the more established affordable brands with fun movements instead of so many boutique brands with boring generic Miyota movements.

    I love this movement but wish it had a date wheel. The pointer date seems out of place on a Pilot watch.

  9. Marc says:

    Good looking watch, but my initial thought, too, was that it looked like an IWC.

  10. David says:

    Great review and thank you for bringing this brand to my attention. That Alpina Sea Strong on their website (under 1970) is stunning.

  11. Alex says:

    I think Alpina line of sailing watches is pretty unique I can’t think of many brands that offer watches in this category. It’s small thing but I really dig the font for the Alpina logo too.

  12. BNABOD says:

    all I can say is that I am wearing mine right now and love every bit of it. I have an older model so not the sun grey dial mentioned in this review. the case is great the crown is my least fav part but overall a great looking watch for the price with manufacture movement.

  13. Giles says:

    These are great watches and my star timer attracts attention thought it was a bit embarrassing when I met someone with the IWC pilot and mine looked like a cheaper version…. You also have to watch the crown as is the thread is not on the outside of the case rather in side pulling the crown flash against the case. This means that if you over tighten it you pull the crown off. Alpine where great though and fixed it on warrantee though this did take 5 weeks to come back from Switzerland. Since then no issues and it wears brilliantly with French cuffs and a suit

  14. Byzness says:

    This watch looks sharp! I didn’t even know Alpina threw an FC movement in these! I already liked the Startimer, but this makes me want one even more. Great review.

  15. 190Colditz says:

    Great review. I’m looking to add one of these to my collection as I also have an Alpina car, but the fact that this is an automatic and has some nice bold features is the real reason.

  16. Sirel Mouchantaf says:

    my next watch

  17. Francky says:

    Very nice review. Thanks. I will receive mine tomorrow !!!

  18. watchman says:

    A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing the post.Alpina watches are one of greatest watches I know
    http://smartwatchpalace.com/product-category/brands/alpina/

  19. LackofPerspective says:

    Just picked up one of these thanks to your excellent review. Paid well below retail and am extremely happy with it – I thought 44mm would be too big but it fits me well. Beautiful dial, the large date sub-dial fills the negative space in the bottom half of the dial quite well.