Christopher Ward C11 MSL MK1 Automatic Watch Review

Christopher Ward C11 MSL MK1 Automatic Watch Review

I've been a fan of Christopher Ward for a long time. They were one of the first high-value brands I discovered, and a wonderful introduction to fine watches. It has been a pleasure to watch their style develop and evolve, which is to say that I had a lot of anticipation going when I opened the box for their newest model, the C11 automatic.

According to their catalog, the design team went through 30 to 40 iterations, trying to create a watch with the look and clarity of an aircraft altimeter in a wearable form. The result, a squared-off complex shape with decorative screws and some subtle details, is a real eye-catcher.

Let's start with a real altimeter. Here's one from a plane I used to fly:

You can see the aspects they were shooting for: the shape of the hands, the high contrast, and more subtly, the 'bug' marker at 3 o'clock and the shape of the crown. Look closely, and you'll see they used diagonal-cut knurling on the 7.4mm crown, which combine for suburb ease of adjustment.

Also immediately noticeable is the anti-reflective coating used. In a first for Christopher Ward, the C11 has it applied to the outside of the flat sapphire crystal, which is more effective at stopping glare. The off-axis blue tint implies a single-layer magnesium fluoride treatment, which should be fairly durable to abrasion and wear. Inner A/R is immune to wear, but much less effective so I applaud their choice here. On-axis the crystal just vanishes:

Interestingly, the dial itself, quite large at 35.2mm, lacks minute markers. It makes for a dressier, less fussy look. You can read this one from across the room!

The case is 42mm by a slim 10.7mm, 53.7mm lug to lug. At 100g on the leather strap, it's quite light and very wearable. It wears large and thin.

As I checked out the case I slowly realized that, with this watch, Christopher Ward has taken a decisive step up in build quality. Let's start in an unlikely place, namely the buckle:

Watch buckles usually don't get much attention; it's usually not visible and often a place to skimp on build quality. This one is the opposite: Mixed brushed and polished surfaces, machined from solid stainless steel, with two decorative screws that match the case plus deep-etched engraving. It's beautiful, and really extravagantly so.

Now let's look closely at the case finishing. When evaluating build quality, keep in mind that simple shapes are the least expensive, as are brushed finishes.

Here we have a curved surface intersecting a straight section, with adjacent brushed and polished finishes. That's expensive, difficult to make and nearly as well executed as my (much pricier) IWC Aquatimer. It's a big step up from the cases on the previous Christopher Wards I've reviewed, leading me to wonder if they've changed case suppliers. Regardless, bravo!

The emphasis on design continues on the case back. Instead of model number, depth rating and the like you have this:

The Latin means "Reach for the Stars." Not a bad motto, even if there is a double entendre there for armed robbery!

Since they omit the usual case back specs, I'll tell you them here:

  • 316L stainless steel case
  • Water resistant to 100m (even with the non-screwdown crown)
  • ETA 2824-2 or Sellita SW200 (2824 clone) movement, also available in quartz
  • SuperLuminova hands and indices
  • List price 332 pounds UK for non-EC buyers, about $516 as of today.

They don't mention it, but the strap is tool-free quick release, 22mm lugs. Super convenient.

The lume is very good:

The second hand is hard to see, both day and night, so about the only design kvetch I have is the paint color there. I like a conspicuous second hand, but maybe that's just me.

On the wrist, it's gorgeous. I got a lot of attention, and at least one of my friends has already bought his own after seeing it. Notice how the date window is there when you need it but inconspicuous.

Not flashy at all, note the color-matched stitches and lack of decorative rivets. The size keeps it from being a low-key watch, so it's kind of hard to describe. Large in appearance, light in weight, and non-bling is my best effort. Goes under shirt cuffs very easily. I have average wrists, 7.25".

I really, really like what they've done with this one. It's got an aircraft look, reminiscent of Bell & Ross or Sinn, but the case shape is uniquely their own and a win for wearability. And of course the value proposition is miles ahead. The addition of outer anti-reflective coatings and museum-grade sapphire makes for an amazingly legible watch, and the case finishing is astoundingly good. This is an amazing value.

It's a bit bold for three-piece-suit formal, but I think for anything up to that the C11 would go from work to weekend with aplomb and panache.

Thanks to Christopher Ward for the review unit. Opinions are 100% independent.

Written by Paul Hubbard.

  • J Stacey

    Great review Paul, yet another great looking and nicely built CW.

  • Greg

    Having not paid sufficient attention to the header my overwhelming thought when reading this was, “Wow, Adams can fly planes, jesus, he seems to struggle with just a keyboard sometimes!” :)
    All was revealed at the end, great review Paul, totally agree on the point you made re the second hand, needs paint three quarters of the length IMO, much like the B&R this resembles in so many ways.

  • Dan B

    Also agreed on the second hand. I wouldn’t have been mad if CW made it a little more pronounced. Still, it’s a beautiful watch and between this and the C60 I’ve been lusting over for about a year, I think my next watch money is going to CW.

  • kris c

    It certainly worked out well, but that crown, as nice as it is, seems out of place; it looks like and aftermarket addition, and not part of the original design.

    Quite the easy reader, this one. Gotta appreciate that in a watch.

    • phubbard

      My mistake for not making it more clear, but the crown shape mimics that of the the altimeter. The knob on the front of the altimeter, used for calibration, is precisely the same shape. Also note that I pulled the crown out to the stop position for the pictures, so it’s sleeker in normal life.

      Sorry about those…

  • Brandon

    Looks like a very nice watch. I appreciate that CW didn’t go for direct ripoff of this and it looks very well executed and new.

    One question for you Paul: I’ve never heard of “museum-grade” sapphire crystal. Please explain.

  • phubbard

    Have a look at this nice post –

    for an in-depth explanation.

  • Gmatt

    I’m still not a fan of the date window on CW watches. Mostly I think it clashes with the rest of the dial because it’s off-axis with respect to the dial’s numerals. And the fact that they use it identically in most of their watches makes each one a little less special to me.

  • Harrison

    Wonderful watch! I love it! :) Great review!


    I imagine this is what Lum Tec’s would look like if they were designed in Britian.

    • Roger

      Very perceptive I totally agree.

  • Rob

    Great looking watch, to bad the Latin on the back is wrong :)

    Should read something like this: “advenite astris” – My wife teaches Latin, so I take no credit here.

  • Rich B

    Not bad. Kinda looks like a cross between Bell & Ross and Lumtec.

  • Dennis

    any video review of this watch anytime soon? i really like the look but worry if it’s going to be too big on my wrist (7.5″). Anybody purchase one and care to share their thoughts?

  • Pingback: Christopher Ward C900 Watch Review()

  • Pingback: FS: Christopher Ward C11 MSL Auto, Brown Strap Pilot Watch()

  • Pingback: Christopher Ward C11 MSL Vintage - $550 Shipped()