Perhaps best known for their Seastrong diver’s collection and their Startimer pilot’s watches, Alpina have, in recent years, branched out by producing their own manufacture calibers as well as their first smartwatch. However, Alpina’s core strength remains their ability to produce high-quality casual and sports watches at far more accessible prices than many of their larger Swiss relatives. We've covered Alpina's outgoing Startimer pilot's watch collection before right here, and earlier this year Alpina released an updated Startimer collection, the Alpina Startimer Pilot Automatic Al-525 watch, a 44mm tool watch that we go hands-on with here.
Taking even a brief look at the Startimer Automatic, it’s clear to see that Alpina are tipping their hats to some of the great military and pilot’s watches of the past. On the dial, oversized applied luminous numbers for hour markers alternate with large rectangular luminous indices at twelve, three, six, and nine which all sit inside of a printed ring graduated at one-minute intervals and labeled in five-minute increments. Taken together, the dial elements very purposefully provide the aviation instrument feel. The dial itself, and indeed the watch, are available in four distinct variations; black, white, white with gold accents, and a sort of dark grey. A red triangle, an Alpina signature, sits prominently at the top marking the sixty/zero minutes position.
The luminous hands are a slim, curved sword style with a stick seconds hand which once again features the red Alpina triangle, this time as a counterweight. Dial printing of the Alpina logo and signature is large, though given the 44mm case and ample dial real estate, it is not overpowering. Other than that, the dial is marked with “Automatic 100M-330FT” and “Swiss Made” in its traditional six o’clock location. Overall, the dial is effective and attractive. One of the key elements of any pilot’s watch is instant legibility and the Startimer Automatic has that in spades given its clear and clean layout. Some may take offense at the repetition of Alpina’s triangle which appears no less than three times in the dial and hands but, quite frankly, that is simply how Alpina rolls and you see their logo everywhere in their collection. The inclusion of an anti-reflective sapphire crystal ensures unfettered viewing of the dial despite variable lighting conditions.
Moving to the case, which is 44mm by 10.7mm in size with a brushed finish and an extremely minimal utilitarian design, we see again how Alpina are paying homage to important pilot’s watches of times long past. Absent are any intricacies in alternating finish or complicated case shapes or bevels. The tool watch feel is evident here and gives the watch a no nonsense aesthetic which plays into the pilot’s watch concept. A simple but neatly engraved case back adds to the utilitarian concept. A minor issue for me is the use of case plating on two of the four variations of the Startimer Pilot Automatic. While I understand the drive to produce a “gold” and a “titanium” version, I think the idea of case plating is a little distasteful for some who know this plating can easily wear off with use, especially on a tool watch.
In addition, the Alpina Startimer Automatic’s width of 44mm at a relatively thin 10.7mm could be a challenge for those with smaller or rounder wrists though I understand why the watch is a bit big as size is another important aspect of a pilot’s watch. Consider the popular IWC Big Pilot at a whopping 46.2mm or a real vintage military pilot’s watch such as the Laco B-Uhr at a now unwearable 55mm (designed to be worn over a flight-suit) and the Alpina begins to look like a more reasonably sized option with just enough heft to let you know it was designed with aviation heritage in mind.
When you’re talking about a fully featured Swiss made watch at a price point like that of the Startimer Automatic, you expect to end up with a somewhat less impressive movement to provide some savings but in this case, the Alpina AL-525 caliber gets the job done. Although it’s essentially a base grade ETA 2824-2 with an Alpina rotor, the 38-hour power reserve AL-525 is exactly the right kind of movement for the spirit of this watch and enables the extremely approachable price of entry. When you get right down to it, a pilot’s watch requires little more than an accurate and robust movement and the ETA 2824-2 has had that exact reputation for decades. Servicing is also easy with such a ubiquitous caliber and any capable watchmaker should be able to keep it in shape. One thing I want to mention that I really like is the large crown, which is a nice tapered design.
Frankly, I can’t argue with what Alpina has done with the Startimer Pilot Automatic. Sure, there are more impressive watches with aviation styling but not many come close when you take into account the list of features on the Alpina. You’re getting a reliable Swiss movement in a Swiss made package with a tastefully done pilot treatment for a price of around $1,000, which is a sweet spot for many collectors and general buyers alike. In a watch world of ever increasing options, with micro brands nipping at the heels of major players, Alpina have survived and thrived by creating value propositions like the Startimer Pilot Automatic. Alpina have mastered the art of taking some of the higher end design ideas of larger brands, sending them through the Alpina mixer, and releasing them at prices regular people can actually afford. Despite my minor issues, for me, it’s a concept which really takes off.
Keeping the Alpina Startimer Pilot Automatic faithfully attached to your flight-suit, or in most cases, your wrist, is a heavy black leather strap with contrasting white stitching, which is the same no matter which of the four versions you select. No word of a bracelet has been yet announced. As previously mentioned, the Alpina Startimer Pilot Automatic AL-525 is available in four variations; stainless steel with a black dial, stainless steel with a white dial, a polarizing rose gold plated version with a white dial, and a “titanium colored” version with a dark grey dial. The two steel versions will retail for $995 while the rose gold plated and titanium versions will come in at $1,295 and $1,050 respectively. alpinawatches.com