January 12, 2019
Earlier this year, I came across the release announcement for the Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage, and I knew I was going to want to take a look at it. This watch was introduced to Alpina’s Startimer collection of aviation-inspired watches, and with its throwback barrel case design and a variety of colors to choose from, it should offer broad appeal to watch fans.
The Startimer Pilot Heritage is Alpina’s new GMT timepiece, and generally speaking, I am a huge fan of GMT watches. They always imbue my life with a sense of adventure and wanderlust, even if all I’m doing is setting the GMT to track a time zone I wish I were in. One of the salient details to take away from this review early on is that Alpina didn’t opt for the run-of-the-mill ETA 2893 jumping GMT hand movement, but instead reworked a Sellita base to offer a local adjusting hour hand — and all for under $1500.
My first thought when I strapped the Startimer Pilot Heritage to my wrist was how structural and substantial the case felt. It measures in at 42mm side-to-side and roughly 45mm lug-to-lug, but feels bigger, likely due to the lugless design and rectangular case shape. The watch isn’t uncomfortable, however, when you put it on; the case rests fairly proportionately on my 7” wrist. If I could register one complaint, it would be that the corners of the case are a bit sharp and could use a chamfer — otherwise, it wears nicely, if a bit large.
I knew on a watch like this the case finishes were going to be important, especially with how many vast expanses of bare steel exist around the dial and crowns. I am happy to say that Alpina clearly took this into consideration and did an excellent job making the case interesting. Surrounding the boxed sapphire crystal is a radial brushed surface that reminds me a lot of the Omega Speedmaster MkII reissue’s bezel. This is flanked on either side by a sizable polished chamfer, then brushed case sides. All these varying textures result in a watch that plays with the light really nicely.
The Startimer Pilot Heritage has two crowns, in the style of a compressor case: The first, at 4 o’clock, is signed and handles the winding and time setting, while the second, at 2 o’clock, has a nice checkered texture pattern on it and deals with rotating the internal GMT bezel. (It’s worth noting that only this second crown is screw-down.) The bezel doesn’t click as it’s turned, so you really have to eyeball the hour marks before tightening it back down.
Lastly, the case back is signed with Alpina’s mountain and airplane logo indicative of the Startimer series. Around the perimeter of the case back, Alpina has engraved all the particulars of the watch, most notably its 10ATM water resistance. This is all pretty standard fare, but is well executed by Alpina and good-looking.
Sitting underneath an inviting boxed sapphire crystal lays the Startimer’s dial. This is what first attracted me to the watch, with its vintage leanings, blue sunburst finish, and rotating inner GMT disc. After having some time with this watch, I’m still a fan of how it looks. However, I’ve found that having the GMT indicator on an inner disc, while the GMT markers are on the outer rotating bezel, can take a second or two of consideration to see where it’s pointing. I also feel that the minute and hour hands feel a little small. Not to keep drawing the comparison, but they remind me a lot of Omega Speedmaster hands; they do feel undersized on the dial, however.
So, down to the main event, the movement. Alpina states that the Startimer Pilot Heritage has the AL-555 movement inside, a Sellita-derived automatic movement that features an independently adjustable local hour hand. There are a bunch of terms for what type of GMT this is: True GMT, Flyer GMT, etc.… but distilling it down makes it much more usable. You’re able to set the GMT disc to your local time zone, then adjust the hour hand on the fly as you enter new time zones. This makes a GMT watch much easier to use and operate as you travel.
Practically speaking, there’s some “wobble” in the movement when you’re adjusting the local hour. By that, I mean as you advance the hour you can see some wiggle in both the date wheel and GMT disc. This seems to be self-correcting, for the most part, but I wonder if it’s a symptom of the modified time-date Sellita movement? The timekeeping has been good, per my observation — the date snaps over at midnight, and all the functions are otherwise smooth and easily accessed.
The Alpina Startimer Heritage ships on a dramatically tapering padded leather strap. The strap is comfortable, well made, and I think suits the watch well. The taper really accentuates the lugless look of the watch overall. The aspect I find really interesting, however, is that the buckle also doubles as the first keeper. This works surprisingly well and simplifies the process of strapping on the watch.
When I first saw the Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage, I was struck by how unusual the watch is. The mechanism behind the GMT is unique, and the vintage stylings are a little different from what I would expect from Alpina — and while not unusual, I’m a sucker for a compressor-styled case. After a few weeks on the wrist, my interest in the watch’s quirky nature has remained, although I do feel like the form might be taking precedence at the expense of the function here.
That being said, I think Alpina has created a good value proposition with a jumping local hour GMT movement at this price point. They’ve also incorporated some well executed and reasonably complex case finishes, plus a very interesting dial (hands aside). This, in my opinion, makes it a solid candidate for a frequent traveler’s first foray into mechanical watches. Most competitive options will feature a jumping GMT hand instead of a local hour; I have found the former much easier to use when traveling.
Currently, the Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage is available in three different dial colors: blue (as pictured), dark green, and black. These will all come on a leather strap and are priced at $1,350. For additional information, please see alpinawatches.com.
>Model: Startimer Pilot Heritage
>Size: 42mm wide, 45mm lug-to-lug distance.
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Likely not; with the small hands and difficulty reading the GMT feature, I’d opt for something different.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: A price-conscious GMT seeker.
>Best characteristic of watch: The dial finishes are gorgeous.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Difficulty in seeing what hour the GMT indicator is pointing at.