Aviation themed watches are often exciting looking – bold and masculine, with an appealing ‘tool watch’ feel – and Christopher Ward’s C8 series bring a unique aesthetic to the breed. Now two new members of the family are taking the series to new heights, as Matt Bielby finds out...
Pilot watches are one of the main pillars of the industry, and plenty of famous Swiss companies have built their names and reputations around them. But while the likes of IWC mostly look to the B-Uhr observation watch for their inspiration – those oversized beasts inspired by Hitler’s mid-’30s desire to rebuild the German air force, with four German makers, plus the Swiss IWC, eventually supplying them to the Luftwaffe – Christopher Ward likes to do things a little differently. No surprise there, right?
Doing things differently, in this instance, means looking to a different inspiration. The B-Uhr look tended towards the aggressively simple: black dials, white Arabic numerals, luminous sword hands, and an upwards orientation triangle or arrow at the 12 o’clock position. These were big watches – not big in the normal way we think of it, but 55mm big. Virtually pocket watches for the wrist.
IWC’s current Big Pilot watch is essentially a variation on the theme, and companies like Stowa (one of the original German manufacturers of B-Uhr) make even more literal modern incarnations.
British pilot watches of World War II, even when made by the neutral Swiss – IWC famously supplied both the RAF and Luftwaffe – used a similar design language, but were mostly smaller, simpler things. Christopher Ward has made B-Uhr influenced watches in the past, but in recent years has instead been looking to some very British icons for their aviation-themed range.
The dials now reference the Smith’s Mark II clocks found in Spitfire cockpits; and the backs nod to the giant turbines in the three wind tunnels at Farnborough Airport in Hampshire, for a long time home to the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Britain’s early skunk works. This is where they tested everything from the Hawker Hurricane to Concorde.
“When we first came across those wind tunnels, we couldn’t believe that nobody had ever referenced their look in watch design,” says Mike France, co- founder of Christopher Ward.
Now, with two new 44mm models – the first pilot watches from the company to sport Christopher Ward’s new logo and branding, that logo appearing in the fast-becoming-familiar 9 o’clock position on one and, interestingly, centred more traditionally at 12 o’clock on the other – the proudly disruptive brand is looking set to make waves once again.
First up, the C8 UTC Worldtimer, a particularly handsome beast in either regular brushed stainless steel or sandblasted steel black DLC (Diamond- like Carbon, giving a tough, black-coated finish). Powering it is the familiar 21-jewel ETA 2893 automatic movement, this one running hours, minutes, seconds, date and a UTC/GMT function, and with a 42 hour power reserve. Two C8 SH21 crowns – one at about two o’clock, the other at about four – control regular functions and the cities ring, which moves through a sequence of 24 positions.
The most appealing thing about it, though, is the way it looks: big numbers at 12 and 6, batons for the rest, a date wheel at 3 o’clock balancing nicely with the new logo’s regular position opposite it on the dial, and the 24-hour-clock number on a ring around the edge of the main watch face, depicted with white or old radium numbers on black for the top half of the dial (the nighttime hours, from six at night until six in the morning), and black on white or old radium for the daylight hours.
Beyond all this comes that rotating ring at a low angle, with London at the top, Auckland at the bottom, and major cities in each of the world’s time zones marching around the dial on two stacked levels: Zurich, Cairo, Moscow, Dubai...
“Last year’s C8 P7350 Chronometer limited edition model, released to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Britain, contained a genuine piece of Spitfire in the case, and was very closely based on the Smith’s clocks,” says Mike. “These new pilot watch designs retain that look, but in more stylised form.”
The very appealing package is completed by Tibor vintage leather straps in either black, a mid-tan or a darker brown; cases in regular stainless steel or the military black DLC; and the dial print in either straight white radium (with the steel case) or the slightly creamier old radium (with the black one).
And then there’s the UTC’s sister watch, the C8 Power Reserve Chronometer, this one containing SH21 – Christopher Ward’s remarkable in-house movement, designed by Johannes Jahnke – in hand-wound small second and power reserve form. Despite two subdials (at six and nine), and a date window at three, it’s a slightly more restrained presence, though one thing strikes you immediately.
That’s right: the new, crisp and modern Christopher Ward logo has relocated to the classic 12 o’clock position – it has little choice, considering the dial layout – and is now centred (with ‘Ward’ underneath the central R to P of the longer ‘Christopher’), rather than aligned left.
Opinions on this? Well, some will immediately like it better – it’s a much more familiar arrangement, after all – though I, personally and on balance, find the default nine o’clock position slightly more dynamic, individual and exciting. Whatever side of the debate you fall on, it certainly shows the useful flexibility of the new arrangement.
Another black sandblasted watch with a two-layer dial and narrow old radium troughs serving as ‘batons’ – slimmer than on the UTC, and with numerals only at twelve this time – its design is very much in the pilot watch tradition. And though there’s no function here quite as clever as UTC/GMT, two things that this version of SH21 offers – besides the joy of knowing your watch contains one of JJ’s movements – are very pleasing and useful.
One, of course, is that it’s a certified chronometer – the small text on the dial tells you so, and this immediately puts it in the top 3% of Swiss mechanical watches for accuracy – and the other is SH21’s remarkable five- day power reserve function, meaning that once you wind your watch (manually, remember) it will keep running for 120 hours. “It doesn’t take a huge number to turns to get it fully wound,” Mike says, “and, in some ways, having a lengthy Power Reserve function makes even more sense with a hand-wound watch than it does an automatic.
Useful? I’d say so – as someone who flips between three or four regular daily watches, the thought that a mechanical watch almost certainly won’t have run down (and so need resetting, including the date wheel) by the time I get around to wearing it again is pleasing indeed. The subdial at nine reminds you how much power the watch has left, while the lower dial handles the seconds.
Remember how we talked about how Christopher Ward aviation watches use a unique design language? Well, part of it has always been the distinctive case backs that the C8 range uses, featuring what looks like a six-spoke car alloy with its surrounding tyre, but which actually references those huge Farnborough fans.
The C8 UTC has this case back, but the C8 Power Reserve Chronometer does something different again, giving the watch a huge sapphire display window at the rear to show off SH21 and a redesigned bridge – here in sandblasted black PVD – and revealing the large twin barrels that give this version of SH21 its impressive 5-day running time.
Because of the new bridge, and the lack of an automatic movement’s rotor to get in the way, the two barrels are hugely striking and dominant, and have here been engraved to again reference the Farnborough turbines. The end result is a watch where you want to stare at the back almost as much as you do the front.
With these two new watches, Christopher Ward doesn’t just seem to have upped its aviation game, but is making its new design language really sing.
Matt Bielby is editor of Loupe Magazine
The C8 UTC Worldtimer and C8 Power Reserve Chronometer are on pre-order for October release; £899 / $1,200 (steel) and £950 / $1,270 (black DLC) for the UTC, and £1,550 / $2,070 for the PR.
Article source: Loupe Magazine issue 2 - 2016
Edited by Admin