You have probably already seen Alpina’s recent Startimer ref. Al-860GB4S6. Slightly oversized, the “aviator” features that trendy bi-compax design and elegant overall styling of its dial. For this year, the Swiss watchmaking brand introduces another version. Called Alpina Startimer Pilot Black Star Automatic Chronograph (Ref. AL-860GB4FBS6), it differs from the earlier version only with its black body finish.
Although its black PVD coating is not as robust as the DLC finish we often see on more expensive watches, it is still durable (especially if you understand that this is definitely not a daily beater and that it requires a certain degree of respect) and is a pleasure to look at.
The finish is nicely matched by a pair of black sub-dials (a 30-minute chronograph counter at 3 hours and a small seconds indicator at 9 o’clock) and a genuine black leather strap. Making the black parts look even darker, the watch sports a number of white elements, including white contrast stitching on the strap, white minutes/seconds track on the bezel flange, and, of course, white Superluminova covering its leaf-shaped hour and minute hands and Arabic numerals.
Refining its design language year after year, the Swiss manufacturer comes dangerously close to the great and terrible IWC that has a far greater experience in creating vintage-styled pilot’s watches, but so far manages not to cross the line: their watches still look original enough for the company not to be called a copycat.
According to official specs, the watch sports the same Caliber AL-860 automatic movement that we have seen in their other chronographs with bi-compax dial layout (like, for example, this 2011 Alpina Startimer Classic Chrono-Automatic).
Based on Sellita SW500 blank movement (which is in its own turn based on the legendary ETA Valjoux 7750 from the 1970s), the mechanism won’t surprise you with an exquisite finish, but it still doesn’t look crude and is even equipped with their signature black “Alpina” oscillating weight that is visible through a large opening on the back. If that’s not enough, I must tell you that the blank caliber is even used by brands such TAG Heuer (currently selling its refinished and fine-tuned version as Caliber 16,) a slightly less-advertised, but still brilliant Oris and even IWC. So, nothing is bad about owning a relatively affordable Swiss chronograph powered by an SW 500-based mechanism.
At 44 millimeters in diameter, the watch is by no means huge (especially if you spend a minute of your time and compare this guy with a monster like this vintage-styled Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 GMT 1903 Limited Edition (Ref. 96.2431.693/ 21.C740) or a more restrained, but still impressive IWC Big Pilot’s Watch TOP GUN Boutique Edition Green, both of them measuring overwhelming 48 millimeters wide), but still can be massive, especially if you happen to have a skinny wrist.
Yes, although during the last decade we somehow grew accustomed to timepieces that measure more than 40 mm in diameter and are still called “compact”, young men with thin wrists wearing these monsters still look kind of ridiculous compared to more mature men that tend to prefer timekeepers not larger than 39 mm, or maybe 40 mm tops.
So, as always, try before you buy (and don’t forget to take into consideration your wardrobe).
Oh, and Alpina asks €2350 (around $1700 USD at the time of writing this review) for the timekeeper, so it is not terribly pricey, too.
Build quality: 5/5
Value for money: 3/5
Alpina Startimer Pilot Black Star Automatic Chronograph (Ref. AL-860GB4FBS6) specification
Price: €2350 (MSRP)
Movement: Automatic, Caliber AL-860 (base Sellita SW500), Swiss Made
Number of jewels: 30
Movement frequency: 28,800 vph
Power reserve: 46 hours
Movement decoration: Black Alpina oscillating weight
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, chronograph
Case: Stainless steel, black PVD
Size: 44.00 mm
Lug width: 22/18 mm
Dial: Grey, sunray finish
Numerals: Arabic, luminous
Hour markers: Luminous
Water resistance: 100 meters
Strap: Genuine black leather strap with white contrast stitching, on a deployment buckle
Crystal: Sapphire, antireflective, convex