The 2016 Alpina Seastrong Diver Heritage (refs. AL-525S4H6 & AL-525G4H6) collection of dressy divers is a clear reference to the brand’s so-called “days of independence” when, back in the late 1950s and throughout all the 1960s, the company introduced one beautiful model after another. Although I can’t call it a real “homage” (and I actually like that it is not,) this new pair of timepieces does a good job at recreating the spirit of the days long gone. Perhaps, the only thing that somehow devalues these gorgeous retro-styled models -besides the fact that, differing so much from other members of the Seastrong family, it needed to become a foundation of a completely new collection- is the simple mass-produced mechanism: each of these beauties just screams for a hand-wound NOS job!
From the point of view of styling, many would think that this watch was inspired by the legendary (and still highly sought after) Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Polaris diving instrument from the late 1960s. Although colors are different and this watch is a lot simpler lacking an alarm mechanism and having only two crowns on its medium-sized case, for me the similarity is definitely there. In reality, the source of inspiration is the 1966 Alpina Supercompressor that probably tried to compete with the monster created by JLC, but ahem in a different price niche. This new watch looks like a tribute (although clearly not a faithful recreation) of the original 1966 model.
For the record, I don’t really mean to insult this reincarnation of Alpina by calling the design “similar” to some other “iconic” model or calling their new watch a “tribute”. On the contrary: from where I stand, the team that made this new Seastrong Diver Heritage collection actually did a solid job by designing a timepiece that doesn’t look neither like a “homage” nor like a direct rip-off, but at the same time somehow manages to grasp that easily recognizable mood of a “gentleman’s diving watch” that characterized many legendary sporty timekeepers that were issued during the Cold War era before the infamous Quartz Revolution.
This watch looks elegant and refined; it is relatively compact and, despite being powered by a standard ETA clone, is surprisingly slim. In fact, it looks like one of the most interesting choices for a person who thinks that modern “re-issue” Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Tribute to Deep Sea is too expensive and the Longines Legend Diver is just way too obvious.
From a personal perspective, I think that I would probably prefer more vintage-colored dial (something closer to that elegant ‘eggshell’ shade of beige,) but even as it is, the new piece makes a strong impression.
Case & Strap
As I have already noted, the watch comes in an elegant and seemingly slender stainless steel case that measures 42 millimeters in diameter (it will be close to 50 millimeters long if you factor in the length of its relatively long horns) and is just a bit thicker than 12 millimeters from its screw-down bottom to the “glass box” sapphire top. Although the watch is still not available for hands-on review to us mere mortals, I can infer from the look of it that the piece is well-sculpted with ergonomically shaped horns and easy to use crowns.
As you can see on the pictures above and below, there are just two crowns here: the one at four hours allows you to set and wind the mechanism, and the other at two o’clock is here to set the dive timer (you could actually use it as a rough Pomodoro timer, I suppose) on the internal rotating ring.
Both crowns look large enough to be easily operated even by persons with stubby fingers (or long nails) and, as the Swiss brand stresses it in their press release, both are of a screw-down variety that makes the timepiece even more watertight. On the other hand, I seriously doubt that you will be able to safely operate the dive timer while actually being underwater since you would have to actually unscrew the part to make use of it.
At the time of launch, the Seastrong Diver Heritage will be available on a single leather strap that comes only in plain black leather with rather standard white contrast stitching that will probably not be particularly comfortable to wear during summer. It is however advertised as waterproof which sounds like a good idea to me since this dressy gadget sports a pretty impressive for its elegant looks water resistance rating of 300 meters. Don’t know about you, but for me, this makes it an almost ideal tool watch for a person who prefers to do his job with style.
Perhaps, the only thing that would keep me from wearing one for a sort of quickie scuba dive in the reefs is the aforementioned glassbox-type sapphire crystal. While looking extremely cool (in that playfully elegant early James Bond movies kind of way,) the crystal is not protected from occasional bumps over hard objects and, as we all know it, synthetic sapphire doesn’t like very much to be bumped over rocks, bricks and this sort of dangerous things.
Unlike the legendary Polaris, the Seastrong Diver Heritage won’t stun you with the extra-contrast dial. The luminous hands that come only silver-toned with white-colored Superluminova compound filling almost all of their width don’t look contrast over the silver-colored dial (although the ref. AL-525G4H6 with its black dial and dark blue rotating ring is actually quite readable, it, unfortunately, looks a lot less imposing than the versions with black and silver faces,) and exactly the same goes for the stick-shaped hour markers: their seemingly rhodium-plated surface doesn’t stand out well against the “silver” of the dial.
Well, it is still legible enough for most scenarios and this is primarily a dress watch so I would give it at least four stars out of possible five for the dial.
As far as the hands are concerned, the layout where one hand would have an arrow-shaped pointer and the other would look like a broad (or, like in this case, thin) sword was fairly popular sixty years ago. Even Breitling used a similar design and Alpina was not an exception here. The indicators on the 1966 model looked a little bit cruder than on this new version with the arrowhead more exaggerate and the minute hand being more like an extremely elongated triangle, so for this new “tribute” designers at Alpina probably decided to use the ones from an earlier 1964 version (pictured on the group photo) that weren’t as unique for the brand (there were dozens of models from all sorts of competitors that featured the same design), but looked way more balanced.
The rest was left intact: the rotating ring seems to be a bit wider and the date aperture is now rectangular instead of the original trapezoid, but main elements are the same.
It is stated in Alpina’s official press release that the watch is equipped by their beloved Caliber AL-525 automatic movement. Based on the well-known Sellita SW200 ebauche, it definitely won’t stun you with innovative features: there are no silicon balance wheels, no antimagnetic springs crafted from fancy nonferrous alloys. Still, it is a robust, time-proven workhorse mechanism that is good at keeping time within the range guaranteed by the manufacturer (+/- 12 seconds average rate for Standard variety or +/- 4 seconds for Premium, not sure which one is used here) and is usually reliable enough even in its ‘blank’ form not to give you any hassles if you take good care of it like it is the case with any mechanism.
Normally, Alpina invests considerable time and effort into personalizing their third-party mechanisms with their signature blacked-out oscillating weight, Geneva Stripes and all the usual stuff. Not sure about this one though since this watch comes with a solid case back cover: the only thing that you will see there are the engraved stylized mountains and the brand’s logo on the back.
Well, that’s fine with me. Perhaps, the only problem that you may encounter here is a sharper drop in the timekeeper’s resale value as long as you get it out of the box: there is a great number of persons who honestly think that only a fool would pay more than a €1000 for a watch powered by a mechanism of this sort and this watch will probably cost close to €1500 when it hits stores around the world. Well, on a bright side, there is also an even greater number of persons who don’t give a second thought about movement names and stuff and are more interested in general aesthetics of the thing, and in this regard, the watch is almost flawless.
By the way, if you are one of those people who tend to suffer limb-swelling by the end of the day, you will probably have a nice Alpina logo embossed on your skin after taking off the watch: the image seems to be engraved quite deep into the surface of the back cover.
Pricing & Availability
Alpina’s PR representative failed to respond to my request for international pricing* and availability, so I plan to update this brief review when the information is disseminated via official channels. Meanwhile, I feel compelled to praise the brand for the way they sell their timepieces in nice humidor-style wooden boxes that can actually be used for storing the watches while not in use. You don’t even need to hide them in drawers: they actually look great when put on display, although it is probably not the best idea to keep your valuables where anyone can see them.
UPDATE ON PRICE: It looks like the watch will indeed be sold at a recommended street price of €1500, which is, to my taste, more than competitive for a new self-winding timepiece of this level of refinement. Date of international availability is still to be announced, but I think that it will hit stores by the end of Q2 or at the beginning of Q3 2016.
Photos: Alpina Watches
Build quality: 5/5
Value for money: 4.5/5
Alpina Seastrong Diver Heritage (refs. AL-525S4H6 & AL-525G4H6) specification
Price: €1500 (MSRP)
Movement: Caliber AL-525 (base Sellita SW200,) Swiss Made
Number of jewels: 26
Movement frequency: 28,800 vph
Power reserve: 38 hours
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, dive timer on inner rotating ring
Case: Stainless steel
Size: 42.00 mm
Case height: 12.30 mm
Dial: Silver (ref. AL-525S4H6) / Black (ref. AL-525G4H6)
Hour markers: Stick-shaped, applied
Water resistance: 300 meters
Strap: Black leather strap (water resistant) on steel buckle
Crystal: Sapphire, glassbox
Back: Solid, engraved with Alpina logo