Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Commemorating a Helicopter Airbase in Switzerland with the Victorinox Swiss Army Alpnach Chronograph Series

The Alpnach series of watches by Victorinox Swiss Army was a bit of an acquired taste for me, but once I accepted the design aesthetic, I was hooked. Some people have a real problem with the dial, but we will get to that later.

I had all off these Alpnachs for a single moment in time before the "squadron" split up
Alpnach is an airport smack dab in the middle of Switzerland. You can take a Google tour by hitting that link. It looks like it would be a great place to land a private airplane with its scenic mountain views.

Photo: Google Maps
According to Wikipedia, "Air Base Alpnach is the main logistical base of the helicopter of the Swiss Air Force." With a crowded arena of watches named after airplanes, it is nice to see other types of aircraft represented. All of the automatic versions of this product line feature a stylized helicopter rotor on the 9 o'clock subdial with a single red rotor. Cool!

Victorinox Swiss Army Alpnach Model 241195
Swiss Army says that the design cues for the watch were inspired by the Eurocopter AS532 Cougar which flies from Airbase Alphnach. I want a ride in that whirlybird.

Eurocopter Cougar of the Swiss Air Force. Photo: Wikipedia
There are currently two generations of the Alpnach automatic watches with many sub groups. I will be focusing on the chronographs since that is what I am most interested in. Swiss Army smartly designed this series realizing that they could use the same base watch design and make a score of color and finishing changes to create a visually varied and stunning collection. The watches below are very similar, but different enough to be distinctive and desirable. Perhaps it saves on manufacturing costs to have a scalable design.

The first generation is filled with creative design variations
The main differences in the models are in the color of the dials, the countdown bezel finishing, tachymeter ring and watchband. 

Metallic blue dial on the Victorinox Swiss Army Alpnach Model 241194
The blue and black models are most similar with the white one showing a higher degree of finishing. The white Alpnach's bezel has white engraved text, a red pip at zero and alternating matte and polished finishes on the parapet-like outer bezel.

Related but unique...
Zooming into the Swiss Army's 241195 dial, one can see the attention to detail with the applied polished steel and lumed numbers, the multi-level dial, and the masterful use of high polish, brushed and matte finishes. Plus, black PVD was applied for contrast to great effect.

The first generation had PVD coated oblong pushers
Bring a loupe when examining this watch and you will be rewarded with visual treats like the brushed steel hands and the dab of white on the chronograph needle.

Most surfaces are brushed, painted, engraved or coated in PVD
If you are wondering why some people don't like the dial then look below and count the numerals. There are only 4 complete large numbers on the dial. The rest are partially or fully obscured by subdials. This does not bother me one bit because I know where the numbers on a clock typically are.  It gives the wearer just enough context to read the time at a glance. The subdials are replacements for the numbers at 12, 6 and 9. 

Victorinox Swiss Army Alpnach Model 241450
The second generation was redesigned to what I might call "monolithic". This is a chunky beautiful watch that simplifies the dial by removing all numerals. That will teach us to complain about half numbers!  The indices are simple line variations now. The subdial positions remain the same, but the  date has been moved to a new spot and a "day of week" has been added.

Victorinox Swiss Army Alpnach Model 241528
The countdown bezel mostly has numbers in 5 minute intervals and a larger pip. Look closely and you will see an engraved tachymeter scale. This is subtle and accessible when you want it, but does not make the dial overly busy. Just imagine if they had painted that scale. It might have ended up looking like a Citizen. Ouch!

My other favorite feature is the orange tip on the chronograph hand. The boring solution might have been to make it red like the other accents on the watch, but orange is more vibrant and will not blend into the red accents. I like the flat military gray and the cordura watchband.

This model has red and orange accents against black and gray. It is military chic.
A curious feature of the 2nd generation is the designer's choice to use a overly prominent chronograph center hand. This one is a thick white skeletonized dagger with a color tip. The counter weight is quite large as well and hangs deep into the subdial zones. Usually chronograph hands take a back seat to the hours and minute hands, but not this one. It is quirky, but I like it.

The normal pushers have been replaced with asymmetrical buttons. The start/stop pusher is a plunger and the reset but is more like a thumb pusher that literally reads RESET.

The PVD coating is susceptible to scrapes on the edges, but that does not detract too much.
The stainless steel finishes of the first generation were replaced with blacked out PVD to give the watches a sinister black ops feel. The watch will not get mistaken for a sport dress watch any longer. It pairs well with jeans, boots, button downs and the occasional flight suit.

Heavy duty nylon bands complete the military look.
The green accented watch is a very special version of the Alpnach first mentioned in the article "A Truly Presidential Special Edition Alpnach Watch by Victorinox Swiss Army". I was able to acquire it from the seller who was an amazing person. It will get its own update story in a later blog. I am lucky to have it.

I almost forgot to compare the backs of both generations. The 1st gen. has your standard display back showing the workhorse ETA Valjoux 7750 movement. It looks like many other Swiss Army watches that are powered by the same movement.

Swiss Army Alpnach - first generation case back
The 2nd gen. however, tries something new preferring to make the window look like one pulled off of a military armored vehicle. The beating heart of the movement cannot be viewed but the spinning rotor creates a strobe like effect when in motion. 

Swiss Army Alpnach - second generation case back
If you are still reading this article, then maybe the Alpnach series of watches has worked its way into the pleasure centers of your brain. Be careful, or you might end up with a squad of your own.

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