Equipped with a hand-wound Swiss-made movement, the 2016 Chr. Ward C5 Malvern Slimline Square makes a strong impression. This new accessory, as deceptively unsophisticated as it is, may become one of the halo models for the British brand all over the civilized world, at least when it comes to people who can appreciate real beauty.
The Overall Impression
It took me a while to get back to this brief review, but, well, here it is. First of all, this is the finest “simple” watch offered by the British brand until this day. Yes, they have several more technically advanced models with nice and even impressive for such small brand complications, and they certainly have more expensive models in their product range. Yet, again, somehow it happened that this particular watch is their best offering so far both in terms of design and technical specifications.
I do believe that if you are into the market of compact dress watches and your budget is limited to approximately $1000 and you are open-minded enough not to be influenced by logos on their dials this C5 Malvern Slimline Square may look like the most natural choice among brand new square-shaped timekeepers currently available on the market.
Combining a low price £400-£475 depending on your choice of strap, good materials, and a reliable caliber, as well as almost impeccable exterior design, the only thing that may put you away from this model is perhaps that you can’t just bring it back to a local brick and mortar shop close to your house: you would have to mail it back to England if your romance with this gorgeous model doesn’t hold the test of time (they offer 60 days free return policy) or something happens to the mechanism during the first five years of movement warranty.
The Case & Strap
The stainless steel body measures only 37 mm x 37 mm (plus maybe eight or ten extra millimeters for the lugs) and is just over eight millimeters thick. The C5 Malvern may be considered small, even tiny by today’s standards. However, those seeking a true vintage-styled dress watch will probably find its size deliciously refreshing after those supermassive monsters that were designed to match the tastes of men who lack any. And prefer flashier things to more discreet ones.
Style-wise, it attempts to take us back to the 1940s when square-shaped timepieces with their rounded corners and short lugs were popular among the major brands. It is however not an homage and not a rip-off of some iconic model (or at least I fail to recognize one in this new model,) but rather a well-done variation on the classic form if you would allow me to put it this way.
On a normal wrist, it feels… organic being flat enough to sit nicely without causing any discomfort with its short horns. The notched crown, too, is comfortable providing good grip, yet still short enough not to bother those who prefer to wear their watches closer to their palms.
The case is well-made with nicely machined edges and a set of alternately brushed and polished surfaces giving it an even more three-dimensional look. I can see a couple of spots with the potential to harbor small deposits of grime (especially if you happen to be not only sweaty but also lazy enough not to regularly clean the case) but that doesn’t look like a serious issue to me.
So far, the C5 Slimline Square is offered not only on fairly standard leather straps currently available in three colors but also may be ordered on adjustable mesh bracelet (ref. C5-SQ-SLM-SWS, listed as £475 including European VAT) that makes the watch shine (it is especially true for the model with blue dial). Although the bracelet maybe not as refined as some (ten times more) expensive watches are offered on, it still looks great and solid.
The face of this new C5 Malvern Slimline Square features the usual for the British brand mix of exterior features. These include sunburst dial finish (and matching that of the circular-shaped members of the same C5 Malvern Slimline family), a set of hair-thin hour markers, and nicely finished dauphine-style hour and minute hands. The indicators are nicely matched by a “long trapezoid” seconds hand that circles the dial in a smooth fashion thanks to the 28,800 vph caliber that powers the trinket. This smooth flow is something that owners of older 21,600 vph (and even slower) watches sometimes miss.
As it is usual for the class, neither the hands nor the hour markers are covered with Superluminova. Although the lack of lume is by no means a flaw, I would probably prefer the brand to use the same approach that we have seen in the now out of production Longines Silver Arrow re-issue: ultra-thin patches of Lume on the hour and minute hands and the chapter “ring” wouldn’t ruin the otherwise gorgeous design while offering at the same time a lot better legibility at night and other situations where there is not enough natural or artificial light for a time to be easily read.
I couldn’t detect any more noticeable problems with the design though. The brand’s logo is resized to cleverly match the size of the dial opening and the small “SLIMLINE2” inscription on the bottom looks neat here. It is also great that the mechanism chosen for this piece comes without the calendar wheel: as vintage-styled, as it is, the C5 Malvern Slimline makes an even better impression without the usual date aperture that many watchmakers keep equipping their dressy timekeepers with. While unarguably useful, it often ruins an otherwise brilliant design.
All in all, I have the impression that the person responsible for designing the general layout of the dial knew what they were doing it. Unlike many pieces in the $500-$700 range, this one doesn’t look like the work of an amateur. I understand that some may find the layout soporific or outright boring, but, well, I know a real person who finds Federico Fellini boring, too, so it’s again down to personal tastes, I presume.
So far, the dial is available only in two colors (white and blue,) but that’s better than the outburst of colors that makes your eyes explode when you take a first look at the product page devoted to their circular-shaped siblings.
The caliber is the relatively new Sellita caliber SW210-1. The same well-known Caliber SW200 without the automatic winding system (and thus seven synthetic rubies short compared to the original,) the tiny engine will probably soon become popular among independents who would like to add a hand-wound watch or two to their product range.
The reason for that is, of course, that since the good old ETA 2801 (previously the industry’s caliber of choice when it came to relatively affordable hand-wound timepieces) is getting more and more difficult to acquire since ETA decided to cut supplies to third-party manufacturers. The mere fact that the new caliber is almost an exact clone of the aforementioned cal. 2801 (the only visible difference between the two is that the SW210-1 is built on 19 jewels, while the cal. 2801 features only 17 of the stones) and thus can easily be serviced or repaired by any moderately skilled service person also helps a great deal.
The guaranteed 42 hours of power reserve do not look especially impressive today when monsters like IWC and Panerai offer timekeepers that can keep going for a whole week on a single charge, but in this price range, this is basically standard.
As far as decoration goes, the mechanism makes a great first impression. With its sunray-finish gears, blued (not heat-blued, I suppose) screws, and vertical Geneva stripes on quarter panels and balance cock, the movement features the same decor as a more expensive Stowa Flieger (not this Black Forest Edition Flieger that you, btw, absolutely should check out, the other one), which is nice: the British manufacturer didn’t try to cut corners here as it is often the case when it comes to relatively affordable timekeepers.
Of course, you have to understand that, being as relatively inexpensive as it is, the mechanism probably comes with only so much fine-tuning to stay more or less within the officially specified range of +/- seven seconds per day (for the top of the range “Elaboré” grade that is used in this particular instance) for the first couple of years of its life on your wrist. If you find yourself in a situation where it works not as fine as it was supposed to, you will either have to mail it back to England or simply to turn the piece for your local service specialist. Well, again: not a big deal considering more than democratic price and an almost impeccable exterior design that you rarely find in this price range.
The Pricing & Availability
At the time of writing of this brief review, the C5 Malvern Slimline Square was offered at just £399 for the versions with leather straps. The price, as well as styling, makes it a great alternative to the gorgeous (but a little bit too academic to my taste) Longines Heritage 1968 Square in stainless steel (Ref. L2.718.104.22.168) that, although being officially discontinued, is still being offered by some online stores at almost £1100. Of course, Longines is considered to be a more, well, premium brand, however, seven hundred pounds is seven hundred pounds: not enough to pay for a better-advertised logo on the dial and a self-winding ETA mechanism with comparable accuracy and reliability.
The only thing that could make a difference to me is that there are dozens of authorized service centers that deal with timekeepers manufactured by the Swatch Group. When it comes to Chr. Ward, you will probably have to mail the timepiece back to England to fix it, which is a bummer.
Oh! And here is a nice video that gives you an idea of how beautiful this inexpensive watch is. Frankly, I am glad how fast the British brand develops its own style and a sense of good taste. It is not a homage-maker as some people still tend to call Chr. Ward.
Photos: Christopher Ward
Build quality: 5/5
Value for money: 5/5
Chr. Ward C5 Malvern Slimline Square (ref. C5-SQ-SLM-SWS) specification
Price: £400-£475 (MSRP)
Movement: Caliber Sellita SW210-1, Elaboré grade, Swiss Made
Number of jewels: 19
Movement frequency: 28,800 vph
Power reserve: 42 hours
Movement decoration: Geneva Stripes, blued screws, sunray finish on gears
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds
Case: Stainless steel
Shape: Square with rounded angles
Size: 37.00 mm x 37.00 mm
Case height: 8.25 mm
Lug width: 20 mm
Dial: Blue / White
Hour markers: Stick-shaped
Hands: Dauphine-shaped, polished
Water resistance: 30 meters
Strap: Black or Brown embossed alligator pattern Italian leather with CW motif clasp / Adjustable mesh bracelet
Crystal: Sapphire, antireflective coating
Back: Transparent, engraved with unique serial number