Revealed at Baselworld 2015, the Alpina Alpiner 4 Manufacture Flyback Chronograph (ref. AL-760SB5AQ6) is not just another handsome wristwatch from just another second-tier brand. Besides featuring a distinct and interesting exterior, it is also one of the few relatively affordable chronographs that are powered by an in-house caliber. Developed by the brand’s parent company Frederique Constant, it sports an unusual design feature: instead of the tried and true cam-and-lever or a more precise column-wheel, its chronograph module has a star-shaped gear that makes it easier to produce on an industrial scale without sacrificing much in the precision department.
If you keep a close eye on the market of luxury timekeepers, you have probably already noticed that every year there is at least a couple of watchmaking brands presenting their very first in-house calibers. There are two driving forces behind this recent trend.
The first reason is, of course, that the great and powerful Swatch Group has announced some time ago that it will eventually stop selling its blank movements made under ETA brand to third-party manufacturers. Whether they don’t like competition or simply want to make sure that their own brands have uninterruptible access to the best-money-can-buy mechanisms out there is not clear, but the fact is the fact. A small number of second-tier manufacturers (such as, for example, Sellita) started to pitch their own “direct replacement” ebauches to prospective customers, but not everyone is satisfied with this solution: when you are trying to sell a watch that costs around $4000 USD, you either power it by a bullet-proof mechanism that’s been out there for ages or deliver an “in-house” caliber that makes the watch more “unique.”
The second reason, perhaps, has something to do with the maturing market. While even ten years ago nobody seemed to care if their Breitling was powered by a mass-produced ETA caliber, during the last couple of years there appeared a gradually growing number of customers who want something more exclusive for the sort of money that most “premium” brands ask for their product.
Frederique Constant and its “premium” sub-brand Alpina were among the first to wake up to the new reality. Now they have at least four mechanisms of their own including a tourbillon (!) and a world timer.
This new Caliber AL-760 that powers the new Alpina Alpiner 4 Manufacture Flyback Chronograph is based on the earlier Caliber AL-710 base movement that is a better decorated version of the Caliber FC-710 and, among others, animated their dressy 2011 Alpina Startimer Pilot Manufacture Aviation.
While the original caliber was a simple three-hander with a usual “small date” calendar display, AL-760 features an additional module that does the job of a flyback (aka “split-seconds”) chronograph. Too, developed and built in-house, the add-on module not only adds the chronograph (and telemeter) functionality but also replaces the original calendar wheel for a circular indicator that better blends into the timekeeper’s layout perfectly matching the only 30-minute chronograph counter at 3 hours and a small seconds display at 9 o’clock.
Although I am usually quite cautious when it comes to, first, in-house mechanisms made by relatively small brands and, second, mechanisms that are made using add-on modules, I must note that the base movement has a good reputation of a reliable and efficient engine and I don’t think that Alpina would risk their reputation by introducing a still crude chronograph module. However, keep in mind that if you happen to live in a third-world country, fixing a minor problem may require an amount of time (and money) that you would have considered absolutely outrageous if it was a standard ETA mechanism.
The movement is, by the way, pleasant to look at. Although I don’t approve their extensive use of perlage, the Geneva stripes on rhodium-plated and beveled bridges, as well as the same pattern on a black PVD oscillating weight of an unusually complex shape make a good impression. So does a set of polished and blued screws that holds the whole setup together, as well as the way the balance wheel is presented in all of its rugged glory.
Featuring basically the same styling as their Alpiner 4 Chronograph “Race for Water” limited edition model that was first presented back in September 2014, this new timekeeper looks a bit more interesting, although, to be frank, I would like it a lot better if they have changed the silvered dial for something less blending with the case. Even a glossy white finish would give the watch a deeper, more three-dimensional look.
The 44-millimeter stainless steel body, too, is identical to that of the aforementioned model (although there may be some modifications, I don’t see any except different bezel) and it is still quite large on a normal wrist. The relatively short (and nicely curved) integrated lugs somehow manage to remedy the problem, but the timekeeper still takes a great deal of space on your hand. If that’s your style, or if you are simply bigger than an average man, that may be okay. If you are not sure, try to find either this or another similarly sized Alpina and try it on your own wrist. You know, better safe than sorry.
Alpina is charging more than $4500 USD for this trinket depending on the market, which is a bit steep and is dangerously close to an Omega Speedmaster powered by an ETA 775x-based caliber.
Build quality: 5/5
Value for money: 4/5
Alpina Alpiner 4 Manufacture Flyback Chronograph (ref. AL-760SB5AQ6) specification
Price: CHF 4750
Movement: Automatic, Caliber AL-760 (based on Caliber AL-710), in-house, Swiss Made
Number of jewels: 32
Movement frequency: 28,800 vph
Power reserve: 38 hours
Movement decoration: Oscillating weight adorned with “Cotes de Geneve” pattern, treated with black PVD; beveled and rhodium-plated bridges, blued and polished screws
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, flyback chronograph, telemeter
Case: Stainless steel
Size: 44.00 mm
Dial: Black or Silvered (pictured)
Hour markers: Applied, luminous
Water resistance: 100 meters
Strap: Black genuine alligator leather strap / Stainless steel bracelet
Back: Screw-in, engraved