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Jason Pitsch

REVIEW: Alpina Alpiner 4 Chronoflyback

Jason Pitsch

June 29, 2016

Overview

After three years of development, last year, Alpina unveiled an in-house chronograph based on their base caliber AL-710. A serious feat for any watch manufacture. Parmigiani Fleurier, for example, who has been in business for roughly two decades, just like the Frederique Constant group (which owns Alpina), introduced their first in-house chronograph this year. Notably, the Alpina chronograph has been added to an existing movement as a module, as opposed to being integrated directly caliber design from the start, however, it does have one proprietary feature that sets it apart from other chronographs: patented direct flyback technology. This allows for Alpina to produce a fairly complicated chronograph, for a relatively low price.

The dial

Legibility is the key to a good watch dial. I mean who says, “I want a watch with a busy dial that is difficult to read?” Nobody I hope. Yet, many watch companies produce watches with cluttered, poorly designed dials. With the Alpiner 4 Chronoflyback, Alpina, designed the dial with prominent, polished applied hours markers, as well as large polished hands, set against a matte black background – offering excellent visibility at a glance. Not to mention, all but one of the six hands are treated with the luminescent material, as well as all of the indices.

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On the flange is a telemeter scale, printed in white, which works in conjunction with the chronograph to measure the distance of an event that can be seen and heard. A lightning strike and thunder, for example, can be easily measured with the Chronoflyback by pushing the chronograph start button when you see lightning and then stopping it when you hear the accompanying thunder. Wherever the central chronograph seconds hand (distinguished by the red triangle-shaped counterweight) is pointing on the telemeter scale, tells you how far away the storm is in kilometers (can also be miles). To me, this is far more easy and fun to use when compared to a tachymeter scale. Although, I would also argue a tachymeter scale creates a more visually sporty appearance.

Maybe not Datograph smooth, but better than some chronographs costing twice as much.

The chronograph has a 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock, along with central chronograph seconds. No hour counter, though. I don’t mind this, although I do like to time flights if I am wearing a chronograph, and to do that you need an hour counter.

The other two subdials are small seconds at 9 o’clock, and a date by hand at 6 o’clock, respectively. All three subdials have a black snailed finish in the center, surrounded by a silver ring, with black transfers for each respective scale (date, seconds, chrono minutes).

“Alpina 1883 Geneva” is transferred on the dial in white, with an applied Alpina triangle logo just above that at 12 o’clock.

The case

At 45 mm in diameter and 15 mm thick, this watch is ideal for larger wrists. My wrist is about 7.5” around, and it works good for me but it would look pretty big on a 6” wrist. It weighs 134.3 grams, (which they can surely lighten in the future by offering a titanium, or ceramic version). The length, an often omitted measurement of a watch, is 52 mm, from lug end to lug end. This should not be ignored as this is what determines how it will fit on your wrist more than the diameter.

The stainless steel screwed down crown is emblazoned with the Alpina triangle and measures is 7.5 in diameter. It is both easy to operate and does not dig in at all, in my experience. I did, however, find the crococalf strap (which was brand new and not broken in yet) to cause the watch to push into my wrist in a way that was not comfortable. Moreover, I am not a big fan of crococalf. Give me calfskin or real crocodile/alligator. Printing a croc pattern on a calfskin strap is not befitting of a luxury timepiece, in my opinion. I would highly recommend going with the steel bracelet, especially considering the price is the same across the board. And then just add some aftermarket straps, such as Natos, textile, or calfskin (interhorn lug width 21mm).

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A flat crystal – that protrudes slightly above the fixed, polished stainless steel bezel – protects the dial. The back features a screwed down stainless steel caseback with a relief engraved Alpina mountain motif. Water-resistance is 100 meters.

The exterior of the case features satin-brushing on the case flanks, the top of the lugs, and the front of the pushers. All other exterior surfaces are fully polished, including the buckle.

The movement

Above and beyond a typical chronograph, a flyback complication allows you to hit the restart button (at 4 o’clock) while the chronograph is activated, causing the chronograph seconds to flyback and instantly start counting from zero, with no need to restart it. And this flyback chronograph does so in a technically unique way which ultimately does not change the usability, but does rely on a completely new movement, and it is therefore patented.

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Instead of using a horizontal wheel coupling, oscillating pinion or vertical clutch, Alpina created a new way to actuate the chronograph mechanism which they refer to as a swiveling component with two toothed pinions.

“An unmistakable characteristic of high-quality chronographs is a column wheel rotating on bearings to control the three start, stop and reset functions. In conventional mechanisms, this component has several columns. In contrast, the calibre AL-760 has no standard-type column wheel, but a star-shaped one. Together with the operating lever, which is controlled by the start/stop push-piece, this component is responsible for the exceptionally smooth operation of the mechanism,” according to Alpina.

Alpina says that the new design works like this, “when the button is pressed, it connects the two ‘storeys’ together. At the lower level, in the watch movement proper, it takes up the rotation of the centre seconds and conveys this, via the corresponding upper component, to the actuating mechanism to turn the chronograph hands. At the same time, the lower central seconds also drives the seconds hand at 9 o’clock, which turns continuously in unison. The rotations of the chronograph hand are “recorded” by the 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock.”

Alpina-AL-760-chrongraph-caliber-diagram.jpgExploded view of the Alpina in-house caliber AL-760 chronograph flyback movement


Alpina caliber AL-760 operates at 4Hz (28,800 vph), has bi-directional winding, a 38-hour power reserve, and 233 components (96 just for the flyback module). Finishing of the movement includes rhodium plating on the mainplate and bridges, Geneva stripes on the bridges, perlage on the mainplate, and chamfered edges. The movement dimensions are 30.5 mm x 7.9 mm.

In testing the chronograph functionality, both at Baselworld when it launched, and during this Review, I can honestly say that starting, stoping, restarting, and restarting while the chronograph is running, all work very smoothly. Maybe not Datograph smooth, but better than some chronographs costing twice as much.

Verdict

The “four” in the Alpiner 4 collection stands for 1- antimagnetic, 2- antishock, 3 water-resistance, 4- stainless steel. The Alpiner 4 Chronoflyback is no exception, and offers this robust, professional level of robustness, with the added benefit of a nicely finished movement that is proprietary to the Frederique Constant group, and cannot be underestimated. Technically speaking, the movement is very impressive. Furthermore, we expect this movement to make it into other pieces within Alpina, Ateliers de Monaco (it is already being used in a 42 mm diameter higher-end models), and possibly Frederique Constant as well. The retail price for the Alpiner Flyback Chronograph is $4750, all models are the same price, whether you go with the steel or blackened steel, white dial or black dial, strap or bracelet. The movement is the belle of the ball here, and I truly do look forward to seeing it in other watches from the group. (Ref. AL760-BS5AQ6) $4750

Learn more at Alpina.

Alpina, Featured, Horology, REVIEWS


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