About two years ago, the Swiss watchmaker has introduced its vintage-styled Startimer Classic three-hander (Ref. AL-525SCR4S6). With a sleek, easy to read dial, the timekeeper looked great and probably generated good sales because for this year the company re-introduced the watch as an Alpina Startimer Pilot Sunray (Ref. AL-525GB4S6).
Alpina has come a long way in terms of not only increasing quality (although it has always been high), but also make the design of their timekeepers a lot less common, less generic. Their last batch of wrist watches makes a clear statement that the brand has already abandoned the usual “let’s make a watch with a Swiss Made inscription and sell it at a premium to a bunch of suckers” strategy and started to design timepieces that are pleasant to look at and nice to actually put on a wrist.
In other words, you will buy this new Startimer not because it is made in Switzerland, but simply because it is extremely cool.
Coming in a noticeably smaller body (it now measures only 40 millimeters in diameter* and is just over 10 millimeters thick compared to much impressive 44 millimeters of the previous version), the watch still features the same elements of design, those including leaf-shaped, vintage-styled hour and minute hands, as well as applied Arabic numerals and a signature cork-shaped screw-down setting crown embellished with the brand’s logo.
As usual, I feel like complaining about the shape of the setting crown. Although handy when it comes to operating the mechanical movement (even if you happen to possess a set of thick, clumsy fingers), the crown is a bit too long and may cause some discomfort to those who prefer to wear their timepieces closer to their palms.
Another thing that you must keep in mind is that, while the case’s diameter is not that big, the lugs are long relative to the size of the body, which makes this timepiece rather long in that “lug-to-lug” department that many first time buyers overlook. Closer to 50 millimeters, it may cover almost all width of a normal person’s wrist, but if you are on a thinner side, you are possibly having a severe case of tough luck: this version of Startimer Pilot Sunray probably won’t fit you well.
Of course, the timekeeper’s dial was, too, refreshed in order to better match those of its siblings (including the gorgeous Alpina Startimer Pilot Black Star Automatic Chronograph (Ref. AL-860GB4FBS6) that was introduced a couple of weeks earlier).
Together with the applied luminous triangular at 12 hours, the new set of rectangular hour markers and a satin-brushed body with attractively polished edges, the new elements of design make the watch look like a true companion of a WWII-era pilot of a combat plane.
Its IWC-style Arabic numerals are attractively shaped and all of its visual elements stand clearly against the anthracite background of its sunburst-finished dial.
As usual, I find the calendar aperture a bit too small. A nice big date complication would look good here, but it would possibly also significantly increase the price of the watch. So, maybe next time.
In its press release, Alpina provides only so many technical details only mentioning an “automatic” movement that powers it, but it looks like the watch is animated by a slightly refinished Sellita SW200 self-winding caliber that features a Spartan level of decor including some circular-graining on its bridges, blued screw-heads, as well as their customary blacked-out oscillating weight that is visible through the transparent case back cover.
UPDATE: Yes, it is in fact the same Caliber AL-525 (as I should have gathered myself reading the reference number that came with the press release) that Alpina, for example, used in their last year’s Extreme Diver 300M Automatic. It is indeed based on Sellita SW200 blank movement, which is known for its relatively high precision, adequate reliability and is basically a go-to caliber if your brand is cut off from ETA supply chain.
Although the level of finish doesn’t sound particularly impressive, the shape of the rotor, as well as the way it is treated with black, extremely scratch-resistant DLC coating, which is applied atop the usual Geneva stripes makes the mechanism look nicer. It is that rare case when a transparent case back cover (regretfully, the crystal here seems to be mineral, not sapphire) actually works for the better: it makes the watch more attractive and, well, expensive.
The only thing that this watch lacks is a more serious water resistance rating. For most people, its guaranteed water-tightness of 10 ATM would be more than enough, but for a military-styled pilot’s watch one would expect something closer to 150-200 meters: just to be sure.
At a price that is currently set at just CHF 1290, it is possibly one of the most affordable ‘nice’ pilot’s watches that you can find if your options are limited to just Swiss Made models.
* CORRECTION: It still measures 44 millimeters wide.
Build quality: 4.5/5
Value for money: 3/5
Alpina Startimer Pilot Sunray (Ref. AL-525GB4S6) specification
Price: CHF 1290
Movement: Automatic, caliber Sellita SW200, Swiss Made
Number of jewels: 26
Movement frequency: 28,800 vph
Power reserve: 38 hours
Movement decoration: Black DLC oscillating weight
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date
Case: Stainless steel
Size: 40.00 mm
Case height: 10.20 mm
Lug width: 20.00 mm
Dial: Grey, sunray pattern
Numerals: Arabic, luminous
Hour markers: Luminous
Hands: Luminous, white
Water resistance: 100 meters
Strap: Black “crococalf” leather strap
Crystal: Sapphire, convex