Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage MK III - Because Hand-Winding matters
Do you own a diver's watch, a three-counter, a timepiece with retrograde indications, a Reverso and a Sixy-Nine but you are still not the proud owner of real aviator's watch? No problem; the Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage MK III that you can see in these pictures is probably the right answer to your shortage. Alpina has been creating aviator's watches since the 20s/30s, the golden era of aviation when many pilots who risked their life or even lost it in the attempt to tame the first big flying machines were wearing this type of timepiece. It was a time when people were still experimenting with flying and when designers and engineers started to migrate the big manual winding caliber that were usually contained inside pocket watches into a wristwatch's case. It was also the time when a timepiece represented much more that an accessory, since it was used to calculate the speed of aircraft and even the flight trajectory.
Two years ago, Alpina created two limited editions of that original timepiece; the Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage MK II and the Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage MK III. Both watches were produced in 1883 pieces to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the founding year of the Union Horlogere – today known as Alpina and part of a single group, together with Frederique-Constant. Those two models are among the most interesting and authoritative aviator's watches available on the market; they are big in size (the case measures 50mm) and they sport a manual winding caliber. This particular option is slowly coming back in fashion and more than one manufacturer has today decided to invest in it.
Between the two models, I opted for the Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage MK III, despite the fact that the MKII is probably the most faithful reproduction of the original model but I was lucky enough to come across a fantastic offer on Chrono 24 and I thought that I couldn't miss that incredible opportunity. It was one of those rare occasions when the demand perfectly meets the request! Among one of the reasons for my purchase is the presence of the big Alpina AL-435 manual winding caliber, an Alpina re-elaboration of the Unitas 6498 caliber that had been originally created for the big pocket watches and that was later re-adapted to fit in the cases of the first wrist watches. The caliber features continuous seconds at 6 o'clock and the movement runs at 2.5Hz. ETA, who is the owner of that specific kind of caliber, customized it for Alpina. Many other brands use it too (Panerai, for instance, equipped their Luminor watch with the 6497/2 version of the caliber before their new in-house-built calibers entered the market).
You can view the AL-435 caliber through the covered “hunter case”-style back-case of this timepiece. The caliber is one of the best decorated ones currently available on the market, it features Cotes-de-Geneve decoration, browned wheels that have been customized through the “Alpina – Geneve” writing and blued screws too. The big case has been entirely brushed, except for a thin ring (that you can't really consider as a bezel), it also sports a perfectly flat sapphire and an extremely large dial.
When worn, the timepiece seems a bit over-powering but it is actually quite thin (it fits perfectly well under my shirt's cuffs). The winding crown (yes, it does wind here) is not excessively big and it gives the user a rewarding feeling of sturdiness and consistency when used to rewind the timepiece. The caliber doesn't feature any power reserve indication so you need to get used to the ritual of the instinctive rewinding movement that you should perform during the day to avoid the watch from suddenly stopping working.
The dial is one of the Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage MK III's elements enhancing this timepiece's "cool factor". It is matte black and it sports big and thick applied indexes, Alpina decorated them with a nickel-made edge and filled them with SuperLuminova cream colour, a choice that has been also adopted on the two central hands. The nickel edge has the natural ability to reflect every single light ray so, if you take a picture of the dial from above, you will see it emanate matted hues, but when you take a look at it from a different angle, you will notice a mixture of bright hues instead. This is a special effect that definitely matters, the MK III might look less vintage than the MKII but it also gives the user a "premium feel" that lets you think to have bought something that costs much more than it actually does.
The only flaw of the Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage MK III is its wristband; I imagine that the manufacturer wanted to reproduce the double wristbands of the original aviator's watches, but their choice actually backfired; it is way too hard and it doesn't really fit the big case so, unless you tighten the wristband to the max, it looks as if you were wearing a big eccentric mass around your waist rather than a timepiece. One of the first things that I will do is to look for an alternative soft wristband, as black as the dial, featuring a buckle and made of rolled and aged leather, the best option for this type of timepiece and something that I suggest Alpina to think about.
A new Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage MK III retails at about 1,600 euro – 1,700 euro and it is one of the best options available on the market if you are a fan of modern aviator's watches that resemble the original army models. This timepiece is designed for those users with a big wrist, it features a manual winding crown like the original models and you can customize it with a different wristband. I am glad that this timepiece is not a marketing move but it is actually a re-edition of an authentic idea but I also reckon that Alpina should give it a bit more room in their collections and they should not only focus on the promotion of their new lines featuring in-house-built calibers (that are, however, top notch). After all, this timepiece has written the history of the previous century and it deserves to be appreciated.
(Photo credit: courtesy of Alpina Watches; Horbiter's proprietary photo-shooting)
Gaetano C. @Horbiter