The Chronoswiss SkelTec is radically different from its forebears. It features a new hand-wound movement, the Manufacture Calibre C.304, and is housed within an ultra-modern steel case. Angus Davies gets ‘hands-on’ with this latest creation.
Often when viewing a painting, the subject matter, chosen colours, art style and, most pertinently, the brush technique, can provide a strong clue to the identity of the artist. Similarly, certain characteristics of a building, piece of music or item of couture will invariably disclose the creator’s identity.
In the world of high-end watchmaking, several brands possess a unique fingerprint disclosing their identity. Indeed, marking the dial with the brand’s name can sometimes prove unnecessary.
Chronoswiss was founded in 1983 by Gerd-Rüdiger Lang. Five years later, the firm launched ‘the world’s first serially manufactured wristwatch with a regulator-type display separating minutes, seconds and hours’. At the same time, the brand adopted certain design codes that continue to endure today. These features include a fluted bezel, an onion-shaped crown and the brand’s patented system for securing the strap to the watch head in steadfast union.
The Swiss firm’s penchant for conceiving groundbreaking watches led to the release of ‘the first serially manufactured, automatic, skeletonised chronograph’ in 1995. Since then, the luxury marque has released additional ‘firsts’, demonstrating its capacity for innovation. However, at all times, the brand’s models have remained classically styled, with some creations even featuring hand guilloché dials.
In 2012, Oliver Ebstein and his family acquired the assets of Chronoswiss and he became CEO of the company. The watch firm opened a new atelier and HQ in Lucerne, providing the perfect environment for customers to view watches at close quarters and see the company’s artisans and watchmakers at work.
After acquiring the firm, Ebstein shrewdly identified those core elements of the Chronoswiss brand, such as the fluted bezel, onion shaped crown and guilloché dials and chose to retain them. He also placed a strong emphasis on making regulator watches, something that has become a speciality of the Maison. However, Ebstein and Maik Panziera, the company’s Head of Design, began creating watches with three-dimensional dials, encompassing numerous layers. Moreover, Chronoswiss has not been afraid to embrace vivid dial colours and even brightly-hued cases. This approach has endowed the Lucerne-based brand with a broader appeal and imbued its models with a younger, more playful appearance.
Despite incorporating many changes, each new model under the Ebstein / Panziera era remains clearly recognisable as a Chronoswiss timepiece. The identity of the brand remains intact and just like a painting, building or piece of music, the defining characteristics of each model are clear to see.
Inevitably with any brand, there will always be consumers who reject an existing model range because it doesn’t appeal to them. However, Oliver Ebstein and Maik Panziera have now created a new watch, the Chronoswiss SkelTec, calling on the expertise of RUMA design, and in particular Ruben Velasco and Mario Fuentes. Forget what you have seen before, this watch is very different. Recently, I received a sample of this timepiece for evaluation and I relay my observations herein.
As its name implies, the Chronoswiss SkelTec features a skeletonised Manufacture movement and dial. It is not the first time the Lucerne-based brand has made a skeletonised model (see earlier), however, this new creation is very different from its forebears and explores new territory.
The appeal of a skeletonised movement / dial is that numerous components which are usually hidden from view, behind a brass dial, are openly shown. Those individuals who are naturally curious and like to understand how mechanical objects work will immediately understand the appeal of this horological genre. Indeed, if you had a tendency for dismantling your toys as a child, then look no further, a skeleton watch is made for you.
Located centre-stage are scarlet hour and minute hands. These hands are open-worked, except near their tips where a liberal application of Super-LumiNova resides. The hands engage with a suspended track, marked with white strokes and red Arabic numerals, save for the lower portion of the dial where the balance assumes greatest importance.
A problem which afflicts many skeleton watches is that exposed movement components can impair readability. No such issues mar the performance of the Chronoswiss SkelTec. While the minute track is softly spoken, the ebullient red hands fanfare their presence.
Thankfully the extrovert character of the hands is tempered by the unassuming black tones which feature throughout the composition. The overall appearance of the watch is ultra-modern, highly legible, tasteful and easy to live with.
Adjacent 3 o’clock, a silver-toned crown wheel attracts attention. It is interesting that all other parts of the keyless works are hidden from sight, when viewed from the dial side.
The barrel is positioned just below noon with the barrel cover pared back to just a series of spokes, reminiscent of a car wheel. The wearer is able to see the mainspring in various states of tension. This is a watch made for horological voyeurs.
The gear train can be seen when viewing the watch from the front. In addition, the motion works and the escape wheel are also visible. Chronoswiss has engineered a dial which indulges the wearer with views of components in varying states of motion. This is probably most notable with the screwed balance wheel, hairspring, pallet lever, and escape wheel collaborating together and, by default, controlling the flow of time.
One of the potential pitfalls of skeleton / open-worked watches is sometimes there is a lack of rigidity. In the past, companies would take an existing movement and use hand saws and files to remove superfluous material, creating a near-diaphanous appearance. The objective would be to reveal the beauty of the movement without compromising its integrity. Material would not be removed near the jewel beds, screws or the gear train. Some resultant movements were inevitably better than others. If the movement is pared back too much, it may become ‘floppy’ and parts may foul each other, impairing reliability. Some companies still employ this approach, but many firms today design a movement to be open-worked from the outset.
The Chronoswiss SkelTec features a beam-type design, acting like a conventional mainplate, conferring rigidity, but affording front to rear views through the dial and case. The Lucerne-based firm has masterfully delivered transparency as well as torsional stiffness, ensuring reliable operation.
By Chronoswiss standards, the SkelTec is a large watch, measuring 45mm in diameter. However, when the watch was affixed to my wrist it never felt unwieldy. In terms of its appearance, the black DLC coated case components helped to mitigate the sense of scale.
The case is comprised of 51 parts, a remarkably high number which demonstrates the Swiss brand’s obsession for details. The caseband and lugs are presented in a sandblasted matte finish. Black DLC abounds, featuring on the bezel, crown, screws and caseback.
Appraising the design of the SkelTec, some traditional Chronoswiss style elements have been retained, albeit they have been modified to suit this ultra-modern model. For example, the onion-shaped crown remains, but it is now dressed in black DLC and appears smaller, possibly a consequence of being recessed within a crown protector. Furthermore, the bezel and outer edge of the caseback are embellished with a castellated motif. While this is different to the fluted decoration found on other Chronoswiss models, the inspiration is clear to see.
At times, the luxury firm has ventured off-piste and embraced a clean-sheet design approach. The lugs are open-worked and highly modern, albeit they still feature the brand’s ‘screw-in lugs with patented Autobloc’. Likewise, the caseband eschews the vertical satin-brush seen on its siblings and shuns the usual straight case flanks. The caseband on this model is curvaceous, flowing and softer in character.
Overall, the case looks radically different from any other Chronoswiss creation. It is only with close examination that the model’s parentage becomes apparent.
Located at the heart of the Chronoswiss SkelTec is the new C.304 movement. Where the skeletonised Opus Chronograph of 1995 contained over 300 parts, this movement has been pared back to just 166 components. By minimising the number of parts employed, this movement appears cleaner, a welcome attribute on a skeleton watch.
The screwed balance has a frequency of 28,800 vph (4Hz) and the movement contains 21 jewels. Assuming the mainspring is fully wound, the movement will run autonomously for up to 48 hours.
When viewing the movement via the exhibition caseback, the beam-like mainplate comes into view. It is presented in a stealthy shade of black, allowing the silver-toned parts to bask in the limelight. The underside of the wheels, including the escape wheel, can be seen. Most notably, the transmission wheel and ratchet wheel come to the fore. Personally, I like the telephone dial look of the ratchet wheel and the fact that I can also see the barrel beneath it. This is a movement you want to dive into and explore.
The intelligent use of colour allows critical elements of the movement to shine, while the mainplate / beams sit deferentially, dwelling in the darkness. This approach fanfares some of the more interesting movement components and, most importantly, the hour and minute hands. Unlike some skeleton watches, there is no difficulty reading the prevailing time with this SkelTec model.
Chronoswiss has not fully abandoned the house style, retaining just a few elements that have been modified to suit a new audience. And that is the key aspect of this watch, it should attract new audiences who may have previously shied away from the Swiss firm’s advances.
The smooth case flanks almost flow towards the crown and invite tactile examination. Furthermore, the case construction is incredibly complex, comprising 51 parts. However, the resultant aesthetic proffers an abundance of eye-appeal. Put simply, the case looks and feels sublime.
Initially, Chronoswiss is offering two versions of the SkelTec, this model, and a further option in steel and 18-carat red gold, both limited to 50 pieces each. Based on the fact that the brand has invested in a new Manufacture movement, the Calibre C.304, and expended much energy designing this model, I am sure there will be more SkelTec models in the future.
When this model was designed, Ruben Velasco, Mario Fuentes and Maik Panziera respectfully incorporated a soupçon of Chronoswiss DNA. However, they have allowed their imagination to run free and, in so doing, created a very different watch. Although I have been a fan of Chronoswiss models for many years, there will be some individuals who, up to now, have not succumbed to the brand’s charms. Therefore, I would urge this latter group of horophiles to look again at Chronoswiss, I am sure they will be pleasantly surprised.
- Model: Chronoswiss SkelTec
- Reference: CH-3714-BK
- Case: Stainless steel; diameter 45mm; height 15.15mm; water resistance 5 bar (50 metres); sapphire crystal to the front and exhibition caseback
- Functions: Hours; minutes
- Movement: Manufacture Caliber C.304; hand-wound movement; frequency 28,800 VpH (4Hz); contains 21 jewels; power reserve = 48 hours (approximately)
- Strap: Calf skin and textile strap paired with a pin buckle.
- Price: CHF 17,700 (RRP as at 29.10.2020)
- Limited Edition: 50 pieces