Monday, July 10, 2017

MEET THE WATCH: Swiss Army Whisper

Collecting watches does not have to be a solitary pastime. In fact, it is better when you have friends to share your interests with. Watch collecting has allowed me to meet many new people. This article is about one such connection with a reader named Kraig. He contacted me about a Swiss Army watch that I had never seen before. I thought that I knew every model the company had made since 1989, but this one looked unfamiliar.

Kraig's mystery watch. Photo: Kraig Radesi
Kraig had just bought a new Swiss Army watch and wanted to know a little bit more about it. I should really say he bought a "new old stock" watch because while his watch was seemingly unworn, it did have some age on it.... probably from the early 2000s. He attached photos for my reference, and we went from there. I did not know much about it either so we both did some digging.

This watch is a mixture of old and new design elements. Photo: Kraig Radesi
The shape was certainly unique for a Swiss Army watch. It had an oblong cushion case that was longer lug-to-lug than it was from side-to-side. I suppose this qualifies as a tonneau case, which literally translated means barrel-shaped case.

A comfortable fit. Photo: Kraig Radesi
It had a very small crown which suggested that it was a quartz watch that only used the crown for setting time and not manual winding. Sure enough, prying off the case back showed a Swiss Made, 5-jewel Ronda 705 quartz movement. This movement has the EOL (end-of-life) system that warns when the battery is low by moving the hands in 5-second jumps. (see video)

A 5-jewel quartz movement by Ronda powers the Victorinox Swiss Army Whisper. Photo: Kraig Radesi
Kraig thought that his watch was reminiscent of military timepieces from the 1970s. At first, I had my doubts, but the samples he shared convinced me that the shape of this watch looked a lot like a Hamilton W10 military issue watch used by the British forces. The shapes are close enough.

However, there are significant differences on the Swiss Army watch such as a 24-hour military track outside of the main numerals, and an attached raised bezel that for some reason reminds me of art deco. This appears to dress the watch up a bit compared to the single-level case design of the Hamilton W10. In my final analysis, I would call the Swiss Army watch a "casual sport" watch. With a water resistance rating of only 50 meters, this is not a commando's standard issue.

A Swiss Army watch with a pre-Victorinox logo. Photo: Kraig Radesi
As it turns out, the name of the watch is the Victorinox Swiss Army Whisper, model #24474. Not much is known about it except that it was a very early Swiss Army watch. Victorinox Customer Service told Kraig that the watch was discontinued some time in early the 2000s. The inside back cover is stamped with 2003 supports this assumption. Notice that this watch did not have a model number or serial number on it... both of which were added as standard practice on later Swiss Army watches after 2004. Learn more about Victorinox Swiss Army Serial numbers and manufacture dates.

It looks like this Whisper was manufactured in 2003. Photo: Kraig Radesi
This watch had some nice features including a more expensive scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, a highly polished cushion case and a decent leather watch band. It also had a date window at 3:00.

Swiss Army Whisper handset and dial detail. Photo: Kraig Radesi
It also had some features that I think might be unique to this watch because I do not recall any other Swiss Army watch with those old fashioned hands that look like stylized syringes, which are known as cathedral hands or more specifically as poire squélette. My amateur translation of this French is "Pear Skeleton", and wow... that is a great description of the hour hand shape. I have seen these hands on watches of World War I so using them on a watch brings to mind a certain era of time of the last century. The numerals are stylistically unique and look like a custom font... also alluding to another time other than the 2000s.

The Swiss Army Whisper had lumed hands only. Photo: Kraig Radesi
The case back gives the illusion of a screw-in version that requires special tools to open, but in fact the back is pried off with a case knife. This style of case back offers lower water resistance.

Case back of the stainless steel Whisper by Swiss Army. Photo: Kraig Radesi
As I was writing this article, Kraig told me that he bought another Whisper. This one was more interesting to me because it was made from titanium. Using this space age material allowed Victorinox to make a very thin bracelet for the watch. This particular specimen has lost a layer of lume in the minute hand so you will have to use your imagination.

The bead-blasted titanium transforms the look of the Whisper. Photo: Kraig Radesi
Titanium has a completely different look than mirror finish stainless steel. It is a matte gray and more serious, more high-tech. Juxtaposing a high-tech material and a slightly vintage aesthetic makes for an odd-couple pairing, but somehow it works. I don't think that quirky watches like the Titanium Whisper should be derided... instead, we should celebrate them and the designers who were willing to experiment.

For once, these are not my hairy arms. ha ha. Photo: Kraig Radesi
A peek at the case back shows that it is also titanium... a great option for people with metal allergies. The titanium in the bracelet seems slightly different than the case, but this could be a trick of the light. The engraving shows an interesting transitional corporate identity... Swiss Army by Victorinox with no fewer than 3 registration marks!

Case back of the Titanium Whisper by Swiss Army. Photo: Kraig Radesi
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Swiss Army Whisper watches is their thinness. The photo below shows that this is the kind of watch you could wear and forget that it is on your wrist. Even though it is wide from lug-to-lug, it sits low on the wrist. The bead-blasted titanium and matching gray dial give this version of the Whisper an understated appearance, and more serious than the polished steel version.

Titanium Whisper watch with matching bracelet. Photo: Kraig Radesi
Presumably, Swiss Army this custom-built this bracelet for the Whisper, and you can see that it fits perfectly on the case with fitted end-links. Stylistically, it could be argued that a more flowing link design could have been integrated to match the sensuous lines of the case, but that would have likely been more expensive to do. Regardless, I would have liked to see this bracelet design on other Swiss Army watches.

A titanium bracelet with hidden clasp for the Swiss Army Titanium Whisper. Photo: Kraig Radesi
Kraig provided a few size-by-side comparisons of his Whisper watches, and you can see how different materials and finishing can affect our perception of a watch. The one on the left looks dressy, and the one on the right looks more tactical. Both models could easily be put on a NATO strap that might make them look more like the military issue Hamilton W10 watches.

Swiss Army Whisper watches in stainless steel and titanium. Photo: Kraig Radesi
This last photo best illustrates the  extremely thin nature of the Whisper watches. That titanium bracelet is a cool accessory. I suspect that it would make the watch "wear" larger than the leather watchband because the end-links would effectively push the lug-to-lug distance out a few millimeters further.

Incredibly thin Whisper watches by Victorinox Swiss Army. Photo: Kraig Radesi
In closing, I think that rediscovering older, sometimes forgotten watches made by Swiss Army in their earlier days can be an interesting thing to do. I was happy that Kraig shared his watches with me, and thus with all my readers. Thanks Kraig.

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