When Christopher Ward announced their SH21 movement, I made my excitement pretty well known. I mean, it’s not everyday that a brand announces their first in-house movement…. let alone an affordable on-line only brand… one that has only been around for only 10 years. So, it was a big deal when it happened. Of course, the sheer fact that they made it wasn’t the only exciting part, so too were the movements features and the price of the first watches they were going. For a reasonable $2,075, the C Ward released a 5-day automatic chronometer. Specs like that, at that price, in a brand’s first movement was more than just a leap forward for the brand, it was a statement to the industry that it could be done.
Needless to say, I was very excited recently when a box showed up at my door containing the Christopher Ward C9 Harrison 5-Day Automatic inside, the first of their watches to showcase the SH21 movement. This formal, gentleman’s watch keeps true to the styling of the Harrison line, which contains all of their higher end and more complicated watches, from their jump hours to their single pusher chronographs. Like those other watches the aesthetic is reserved and dignified, providing a safe container for the new movement.
Reviewing this watch is a bit tricky, as the design itself is one we’ve seen before, more or less. The case is similar to other Harrisons and the dial uses the same vocabulary. There are also less expensive watches from the brand with more or less the same design. The real draw is to the movement inside, which when on your wrist works like any other movement, its exceptional qualities being mostly invisible. So, it’s sort of like looking at two different things, the shell and the heart within… Now, when they first revealed the SH21, we did not how else they would utilize the movement… well, just the other week they announced a version of the new Trident Pro line that would also feature it. So, there are more options, and the assumption of yet more to come, letting those of us who are drawn to a $2,000+ dollar 5-day automatic chronometer choose how we wish to experience it.
Christopher Ward C9 Harrison 5-Day Automatic Review
Movement: C Ward SH21
Strap: Genuine Gator
Water Res.: 50M
Dimensions: 43 x 51 mm
Thickness: 14 mm
Lug Width: 22 mm
Crown: 7 x 3 mm
Warranty: 60|60 Guarantee
The case of the C Ward C9 5-day is very similar if not near identical to the other watches in the C9x Harrison line, being some variation in thickness. As such, I’ve more or less reviewed it before when we looked at the C900 Worldtimer and Single Pusher Chronograph, but to summarize, it’s a large case with an overall clean and formal design. Measuring 43 x 51 x 14mm it’s definitely big, especially for something on the dressier side, but works in its own way. It’s masculine and handsome, with a solid feeling that while not “rugged” is substantial. To compare it to something, it’s like wearing any of the larger size Marine Chronometers out there. Despite their size, they come off as elegant… This is especially fitting, if not even intentional, when considering that the line takes its name from John Harrison, who famously invented the Marine Chronometer.
The design lacks surprises, but makes up for that in quality execution. The edges are all sharp and well finished, with a nice balance of polished and brushed elements. The quality of the machining is particularly noticeable on the lugs, which are very crisp. The large crown off of 3 is well proportioned for the larger case, as well as easy to grasp for winding time setting.
Flipping the watch over, the other reason why the watch is large is made apparent; the SH21 is a very big movement. Fully spanning the 31.5mm window, the SH21 is truly a machine. The two massive barrels are immediately visible, hinting at the 5-day power reserve, while the equally tremendous solid tungsten rotor glides around. Looking deeper in, the balance and escapement are exposed. I’ll get into the decoration later, but the overall presentation is clean and almost industrial. It’s definitely a different take on a movement design, most of which are quite small and delicate.
Like the case, the dial is clean and stately. It too matches the aesthetic that C Ward is cultivating for the entire Harrison line. Within the entire breadth of C Ward’s watches, I find the Harrison to be their most distinct, with a look that is reserved, but with a mid-century flair. The C9 5-Day is available in three color-ways, sunburst blue, sunburst grey (my favorite) and matte white, which we had on hand. All three are properly handsome and suit the general aesthetic of the watch, with the white being the most formal.
The dial is quite expansive, measuring about 39mm wide, giving it a lot of real estate. The white surface is completely clean, lacking any extraneous texture or indentations. On this surface is the primary index of applied steel markers, including roman numerals at 12 and 6, and batons for the other hours. The roman numerals are perhaps my favorite feature on the dial, having a very well chosen typeface. It’s tall and lean, matching well with the other features of the watch, and bringing in an almost Art-Deco feel. Between the applied markers are simple black marks for the minutes/seconds. These add a touch more legibility as well as eat up what would have been too much empty space.
Below twelve is the now standard “Chr. Ward” logo, while above 6 are two lines of text reading “5 DAY AUTOMATIC” and “CHRONOMETER”, in a suitably small font. While text is typically discouraged on more formal watches, here it makes sense. Firstly, it’s not obtrusive in any way, as the font really is very small, but more over, this watch has incredible features that are otherwise hidden. These two lines of text indicate, in a very modest fashion, just how special of a timepiece it is. In fact, I’d almost go so far as to say that they are being a bit coy by downplaying it so much. You know other brands would beat you over the head with this info, but C Ward is just like…oh, by the way, this happens to be a 5-day automatic chronometer…
With that said, I could argue there is a detachment between the movement and the watch. While I always respect modesty and prefer it, since this watch does look so similar to their other Harrison models, the reason to buy it is for the movement… As such, I do wish there was a 5-day power reserve indicator or some other flourish to bring the mechanism to the forefront. Naturally, that would have raised the cost (and is obviously easier said than done), but it would have made the watch as whole a bit more interesting.
At 3 is a date window showing black text on a white disc. This suits the white dial just fine, though I’m not sure how it looks on the other color options. While there is nothing wrong or offensive about the presentation, there is also nothing that interesting about it. Given that this is their own movement, they clearly could have designed the date to their own specifications, and this just feels a bit stock. I think of how Nomos treated the date on the Metro or Orion Datum, with extra tall and thin numerals, and I just wish the C9 had something more distinctive.
The hands of the C9 immediately became a point of contention upon its release. People saw the watch and reacted by saying the hands were all too similar… and yes, they all are very similar, with the same basic size and shape, yet when wearing the watch, I didn’t find this to be an issue. Furthermore, as one of the more unique aesthetic features of the watch, they add character that might have otherwise been missing.
Looking closer, all three hands are long, thin, tapering needles with long counterweights that are also needle shaped. The hour hand is the shortest, pointing directly to the edge of the applied markers, while the minute hand is longer ending at the black minute markers. Both are blue steel, which looks great against the white dial. The seconds hand is polished steel, and more or less identical to the hour hand. When reading the time, the hour hand is very clear because of its length, while the minute hand, though it could be confused with the seconds hand, will become evident as it’s not in motion.
My favorite thing about the hands is how, at certain times of the day when they are spread out just right, they create an star shape on the dial. If you stop yourself from looking at the hands individually, and just look at the shape they create, it’s quite beautiful; it’s a little explosion in the center of the dial. This isn’t something I’ve ever noticed on another watch.
As nice as the watch itself maybe, in this circumstance it is just a home for the movement within. The SH21 is major step forward, a step that truly distinguishes C Ward from the herd of affordable brands. Designed by Johannes Jahnke, who they’ve worked with on all their previous complications, and manufactured by their Swiss partner, Synergies Horologères, the SH21 isn’t just a simple movement they developed, which would have been an achievement as well, it’s a veritable powerhouse. A movement that has features that don’t just stand out amongst the few affordable manufactures, they are on par with many luxury brands. Of course, these features being a 5-day (120hr) power reserve and chronometer certification.
The advantages of a large power reserve are clear… when fully wound, the watch can be removed from the wrist and left for a prolonged amount of time without stopping. While not necessarily the most exciting feature on Earth, it’s extremely practical and something that needs to be considered in the planning of a movement. A longer power reserve means either a larger/longer mainspring, or more mainsprings (barrels) functioning together… something a brand can’t typically tack on an existing watch. In the SH21, they went with two barrels in series, which are easy to identify when looking at the movement. Though recently we’ve seen Swatch group brands with 80-hr power reserves (which as a counterpoint to my own comments, were made out of previously 40-hr movements), 5-days is unheard of under $5k.
Chronometer certification is more common in this price range, but is still an achievement on a new in-house movement. By getting the certification, which means each movement goes to the COSC and is regulated, tested and certified 99% accurate, they are proving that they didn’t just make a movement, they made a good one. One that has achieved the same high marks for accuracy as many luxury brands. Furthermore, when you look at the package as whole, at $2,075, this is a massive value adder. Most $2k chronometers are basically sub $1,000 watches with a COSC certified movement… this is a manufacture movement.
On the often muddy term “in-house”, the SH21 does represent a different take on the concept. First off, C Ward didn’t do this independently, and didn’t do it in their offices in the UK… Nor do they claim that to be the case. Instead, they partnered (and I imagine that means their businesses merged to at least some extent) with a manufacturer who had the capabilities. They’ve also stated that they’ve outsourced parts to 9 different contractors (though still %100 Swiss), likely a move that saved cost. It’s also not proprietary as we’ve already seen one other brand with a nearly identical movement; MeisterSinger. Though the nature of the relationship is unclear, the similarities between the movements are obvious… though the price difference might suggest they are buying it from C Ward, rather than be a partner in the process. With that said, I think it speaks to a better watchmaking world for them to make the movement accessible to other brands, if that is the case, as that would lead to more diversity.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the actual movement. The SH21 is a 31-jewel automatic with hand winding, hacking seconds, date, 120-hour power reserve and a frequency of 28,800 bph. It’s a massive movement, as stated before, with a design that puts visual emphasis on the twin barrels and solid tungsten rotor. Now, at a glance once might think this movement is undecorated, while in fact it’s decorated in a very traditional, and apparently English, manner. The seemingly brushed movement is actually hand-ground piece by piece for an even, and clean texture. The wheels are all turned and the screws, which are steel rather than blue intentionally, are flat-polished.
While the result, in-person, is clearly nicer than an unfinished movement, to say it’s understated is an understatement. I do appreciate the concept here of sticking to a traditional English finish, but I’m not sure if that’s going help sell watches. The result is a bit cold and industrial. Plus there is a lot of seemingly blank real estate in the movement that would clearly take some Geneva stripes nicely (just check out the MeisterSinger variation). But, good for them for taking the harder road, the one that requires more understanding. I’m not sure if people will like to look at it as much, but the watch is a statement from the brand in the little ways as well the large.
Straps and Wearability
The C9 Harrison 5-Day comes mounted to a 22mm genuine gator strap, in one of three colors you can choose. The model we had featured they same beautiful blue we saw on their C900 World Timer. On the white dial, it adds to the formal feeling and picks up the blue in the hands. It’s a very well made and detailed strap that tapers towards the buckle as well as gets thinner. Because its gator, it has an almost plastic feel, but one that is of quality not cheapness, a kin to cordovan. It also features their fantastic Bader deployant clasp, which is the easiest to use and cleanest looking.
On the wrist, the C9 is a big watch, but not an unwieldy one. I actually felt it fit my 7″ wrist quite well despite the fact that I typically wear watches that are smaller. It’s just a well-proportioned watch. The lug-to-lug isn’t bad, and despite being wide, doesn’t seem to massive because of the size of the dial. While it’s not a substitute for a classic, small scale dress watch, it’s a nice formal everyday watch, especially if you have a larger wrist. Like I had said before, wearing it is like wearing a Marine Chronometer. It’s clean, classic and handsome, but large, making it even more masculine.
Aesthetically, it’s a very refined watch. Like a well-fitted suit, it looks good, adding some style to the one who wears it, but similarly has classic lines that don’t surprise. It’s not a watch that stands out, nor will it likely be noticed by non-watch folk. But, that’s sort of the point. It’s understated elegance, and it’s an understated vessel for an out of the ordinary movement.
How to wrap this up… With the SH21, C Ward entered into a new frontier. They proved they could do it too, and do it and a great price. The movement is a real achievement, one that now established, opens up a lot of options for the brand. They’ve already stated they plan on using it as a platform for other complications, and we know they can put it in a dive watch, so the future seems ripe for the SH21.
The watch, the C9 Harrison 5-Day Automatic Chronometer (man, that’s wordy), was a logical first place to use the movement as it’s part of their higher end line that pays tribute to one of the most significant people in the history of watch making… though it’s not necessarily the most compelling watch… nor is it uncompelling. It’s just very safe and reserved. It’s not a design that would likely plant itself in the back of my mind, gnawing away until I have to pull the trigger. And if it is, there are other, less expensive options from the brand that are very similar. But I think the movement is awesome and want the movement… So, you have to want both parts together. With that said, I also totally enjoyed wearing, and thought it looked good. So, what I can draw from that is that if you are compelled to get it, whether for the movement, looks or both, I think you will firmly enjoy it.
Of course, the other factor is the sheer value of this piece. It’s a 5-day automatic chronometer for Pete’s sake that costs $2,075! That’s nuts and amazing. I think they really nailed the price (I’d love to know their margin on these as it must be thin, but I somehow doubt that will ever be revealed) as it’s high enough to be something special, something that would be a highlight in one’s collection, yet not a number one can’t save for or sell other watches to get too (how many of us typically fund new purchases). And compared to other $2k watches it’s features are simply outstanding. Now I think I just have to wait for the right SH21 watch for me… likely a pilot, but we’ll see.