Review: Archimede Pilot Chronograph Trikompax

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I have a soft spot for chronographs. The first watch I ever owned was a chronograph, and I didn’t even know how to use it. I was just transfixed by the busy dial that seemed to have dials within dials, and the extra buttons on the side of the case. It was a quartz watch, so you couldn’t break the mechanism by fiddling with the pushers, and I remember wearing that thing as an adolescent and it taking on the function of a modern day fidget spinner. Bored in class? Start the chronograph. Waiting in line for a movie? Start the chronograph. Checking the time for any reason whatsoever? Oh, the chronograph is already running. Better stop it, reset it, and start it again. 

So what’s the first thing I do when I get the Archimede Pilot Chronograph in my hands? Well, the very first thing I did was wind it up, using the incredibly satisfying and easy to manipulate onion crown. Then, yes, I started the chronograph. And stopped it. And reset it. And I’m here to tell you: even as an adult, it’s still fun.

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The Archimede is straightforward in its presentation. It’s a large watch at 42mm, and I find that it wears larger because of the thinner bezel and large dial. The 3-6-9 three-register layout is incredibly attractive, in part because of the symmetry created by the arrangement of the sub-registers. There’s a running seconds at 9:00, minute and hour totalizers at 3:00 and 6:00, respectively, and a date window at the dial’s southernmost tip. The handset is classic Flieger style — the hour and minute hands are long and generously lumed swords that have been heat-blued to great effect. The Arabic numerals in the main hour track glow as well, as do the minute indices, all of which come together to give this pilot’s watch an appropriate instrument feel, even in low-light.

Pilot’s watches are no nonsense. There’s less nonsense in this Archimede than nearly any watch I’ve handled. Strip out the chronograph registers and give this to a kid, it’s big, straightforward, and simple enough to learn to tell time on.

Let’s jump right in.

$2300

Review: Archimede Pilot Chronograph Trikompax

Case
Stainless steel
Movement
ETA 7750
Dial
Black
Lume
Super-LumiNova
Lens
Sapphire crystal with internal AR
Strap
Black leather with rivets
Water Resistance
5 ATM
Dimensions
42 X 51mm
Thickness
13.6mm
Lug Width
20mm
Crown
Push/pull
Warranty
Yes
Price
$2300

Case

Archimede falls under the Ickler family of brands. Ickler has been around since 1924, known primarily as expert case makers in the industry. Ickler supplies cases to a number of brands all over the world, and they often do so quietly. Beyond that, Ickler has a handful of in-house brands, and Archimede can be thought of as their boutique pilot’s watch company, being spun off relatively recently in Ickler’s history in 2003.

Ickler makes their watches in-house. Solid blocks of steel (and not only steel — they also deal in titanium, bronze, etc.) are CNC-milled, and all the design, prototyping, surface finishing, assembly, and quality control is done in-house as well. The end result is a watch that feels extremely solid and well made in the hand.

The Ickler-made case is high mark here.
Beautiful, subtle brushing.
Large crown and pushers.
And the robust onion crown…
…is signed with the Archimede “A.”

The  case surfaces are uniformly brushed and the watch has a flat, gray tone that’s both under the radar and traditional for the genre. And while the Archimede is certainly not discreet in size, it’s thoughtfully constructed, and it’s easy to see that actual human beings had input on the overall design, something that’s lacking in many contemporary watches that are more likely to come out of board room brainstorming sessions than an individual’s attempt to solve a problem, or just make something cool.

There’s a heft to it that makes it feel more expensive than it really is, and the user controllable elements like the crown and pushers feel really good in-hand. The crown winds smoothly and is easy to grip due to its shape and size.

Around back, you get a screw down case back with a view of the modified Valjoux 7750 within, but we’ll get to the caliber a little later in the review.

Dial

The dial is utilitarian, but it’s not unengaging. Legibility is king here, and it feels like every design decision that was made when it comes to the dial happened with this in mind. First and foremost, it’s expansive enough that the Archimede Pilot Chronograph avoids one of the cardinal sins of chronograph design: sub-dials partially obscuring Arabic numerals on the hour track. Three and six are gone entirely, but two, four, and eight are left intact. Only ten has the smallest sliver obscured by the running seconds dial.

The date window is cut into the hour totalizer in such a way that the whole thing becomes a bit of an eye chart if you happen to be half past an hour, or if it’s between 5:30 and 6:30. And if you’re timing something that’s in the neighborhood of six hours, the whole area is just going to look even more cluttered. I suppose every chronograph has an area that becomes a natural point of weakness like this in terms of legibility, but it could have been avoided somewhat had Archimede elected to go date-less. Nevertheless, from an aesthetic standpoint, the date window integrates rather well into the overall layout, keeping dial symmetry intact.

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Clean, legible dial layout.
Date window hidden away at 6:00.
Solid nighttime glow.

Typical of pilot’s watches, the hands on the Trikompax are large and easy to read at a glance. They are nicely heat-blued in addition to being filled with lume, and the minute hand extends all the way to the minutes track. They’re in perfect proportion to the oversized minute and hour indices, and have a familiar sword-like shape that is fitting for this genre of watch.

Movement

Powering the Archimede Pilot Chronograph is the extremely reliable ETA 7750 with a module to get the The 3-6-9 three-register layout. This is a robust Swiss movement that has proven itself in many, many watches at this price point and much higher.

It’s visible through the previously mentioned open caseback, and it features finishing with plenty of perlage and a signed rotor in gunmetal gray with Archimede’s logo. While I have mixed feelings about open case backs on pure tool watches, I think it’s completely fine on any type of movement, even those that aren’t finished to the nines, as it’s a great opportunity to start a conversation about the mechanical nature of the watch with someone who might not be aware that such a thing exists.

Wearability and Straps

So, how does Archimede Pilot Chronograph actually wear? It’s big, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but it’s not unwearable by any means. It feels larger than a Speedmaster Professional, which also comes in at 42mm but feels smaller, to me, because of its sleek profile and bezel. The Archimede is more of a slab, or a large hunk of metal, and doesn’t benefit from the soft and fluid lines of a Speedmaster with its twisted lugs and segmented profile. That’s not a criticism, however, it’s just how a pilot’s watch should wear. Historically, many watches designed for pilots were meant to fit over their bulky jackets. The historic Flieger watch was a whopping 55mm in diameter — basically a clock on the wrist. It’s the one genre of watch where vintage examples approach, and sometimes even exceed, modern size standards.

Shown here on a 7-inch wrist.

I found the Archimede Pilot Chronograph surprisingly comfortable on the wrist, and I was concerned, initially, for a few reasons. First, the size. Even though I have a larger than average wrist (according to Mark Cho’s exhausting but amazing data) I tend to prefer watches no larger than 40mm. They just tend to be more comfortable for me, and while they might make me look like a giant, I’m at a comfort-over-everything point in my life, so bring on the vintage Datejusts and conservative dressy watches. And second, those big chrono pushers and that onion crown I enjoy so much were, no joke, kind of intimidating. The last thing I want are those precision-milled Ickler components digging into my wrist all day long.

Well, I’m quite relieved to say that because of a feature I’m generally not a fan of, exhibition case backs on tool watches, this anxiety proved to be largely unfounded, and through several days of testing I didn’t observe any discomfort from the components on the right hand side of the case. The additional vertical real estate caused by the glass on the underside of the watch pushes everything just far enough up that it’s not a problem. In other words, while the Archimede doesn’t sit high on the wrist like some massive divers I’ve tried out, it’s not flush either, and there’s enough clearance to make it quite comfortable over a lengthy period of time.

The watch is also big enough that it doesn’t flop around on the wrist much at all. It sticks to one place, holding its position nicely. It also has a lot of wrist presence, and seems to take on an even more instrument-like feel the longer you wear it and the more you look at it.

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While Archimede has kept the watch itself free from distracting little details that might add style but not function, that’s not exactly true from the strap, with the traditional rivets on either side hugging the poles of the watch case. The reason you see rivets on aviation watches is simple. Basically, because watches like this were meant to be worn over a jacket, rivets were added to the watch strap to help it adhere more consistently to the jacket, keeping it one place. The underside of the rivet would not be finished, so the rough texture would act as a sort of bonding mechanism to a flight jacket. The rivets on the Archimede’s strap are finished on both sides and purely decorative. Now, this is a small quibble with an otherwise fine strap and I’m sure plenty will love this detail, but I just think it would look much cleaner without the rivets, so I’m okay getting a bit picky here. Plus, the strap is maybe the best thing for a watch brand to get wrong because it’s so simple and even enjoyable for the wearer to change it out for whatever it is they happen to prefer.

Conclusion

The Archimede Pilot Chronograph in its Trikompax configuration is a solid tool watch at a fair price, and gets a lot of its aviation design right on the money. This is a style of watch that is so straightforward, I’ve always found it difficult to justify paying IWC prices for a design that is shared by so many small brands who happen to do it quite well. If you just want the look there are many, many options at almost any price point. Archimede gives you the look, a bullet proof Ickler case, a thoughtful overall design, and a Swiss movement you won’t have to worry about for about $2,300. Archimede

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.
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