Catorex is another of those old names in Swiss watchmaking that you’ve probably not heard of until now. The manufacture is still operated today by the Cattin family, which has managed the company for six generations, starting in 1858. My understanding is that, for most of the brand’s life, it was mainly a supplier to other companies, producing watches for third parties as opposed to watches with the Catorex name on it. More recently with economics and supply-chain shifts in Switzerland, the company has embarked on the journey of making its own Swiss Made watches, now with an ambitious direct-to-consumer sales model.
Today, I look at the Catorex Krono Classic 42 Smoked Red Steel watch that, in addition to this reference 8169-276-SB, comes in a host of dial colors. Krono Classic 42 is also available on various leather straps in addition to this matching three-link steel metal bracelet. In most respects, this is a decent watch at a rather fair price. Its story, however, reflects some of the important challenges Catorex and similar brands have when trying to appeal to today’s picky and over-messaged watch consumers. The difficult question Catorex (and colleague brands even in Switzerland) has to answer is, “Why does my brand exist, what purpose do the watches serve, and who is meant to wear them?”
Browse the Catorex website, which is necessary to get its watches, since the brand’s goal is to sell directly to consumers — and you’ll be greeted with a number of ambiguously designed “classic” watches. By ambiguous, I mean that the designs, in some instances, are generic or otherwise don’t look as though Catorex dreamed them up. As an historic supplier whose job it was to produce watches for others, this is actually rather understandable. Catorex is making watches it believes the public wants as a function of looking at what it has been producing for clients in the past. A few decades ago, this was a winning model, but in today’s world, it is less so.
Why? Well, frankly, because the world has too many timepieces these days and consumers need reasons above and beyond “this is a good watch” to get excited about any particular product. That a watch is in high demand on the after-sales market, that it has an original design, that it has some fun story associated with it, that some famous person famously wore it… these are some of the more common reasons, above and beyond a watch being a good watch, that helps stimulate purchases. Catorex is one of those brands that offers a good product to a public not sure what to do with it.
Little of that is Catorex’s fault. It is trying to do its best in a quickly changing wristwatch market where traditional manufacturers are being asked to do things that historically don’t have much experience with. Remember, most watch factories (even in Switzerland) simply produced the watches that companies ordered from them. They didn’t need to invent them, market them, or distribute them. Today, brands that make watches have to do all of the above, and its a huge strain on their culture and resources to do all of those things. I’ve always recommended to brands that can afford to do so to have a separate team to handle design, marketing/advertising, and sales in addition to the watch production team.
That leaves Catorex as a brand that will appeal the most to confident watch collectors who are keen to try on the designs that Catorex produces at really reasonable prices. Those consumers will be brand agnostics and mostly interested in having a quality watch, with a particular design, at a particularly accessible price point. Indeed, I know that “Catorex” as a name doesn’t sound like what most people think of as a fancy watch brand. But doesn’t it sound very powerful as some sort of industrial cleaner or medical solution? Realistically, not all consumers will think about the brand name in this way. Watch fans in the West with more familiarity with English might take pause, but those who doesn’t speak English as well will probably not mind. This actually opens up the possibility that Catorex could use its skills and make a separate brand under a new name for different audiences.
Let’s now look at the Catorex Krono Classic 42 Smoked Red Steel watch I am reviewing in this article. The first challenge, if you like this watch, is which to choose. Catorex seemingly produces over a dozen dial variants in the Krono Classic 42 collection, some with slightly different designs and hands. This is in addition to the various strap/bracelet combinations — and most of them are priced in the modest 1,100 Swiss Franc price vicinity.
This smoked red dial model is rather nice overall, but I have two complaints. First is the fact that the polished steel hands can be difficult to read against the dial. Other versions of the Krono Classic 42 watch have painted hands, which I think ought to translated into better legibility. As a classic/sporty-style watch, this is a good combination, but other models Catorex makes are likely to be more legible. In the future, Catorex could easily fix this problem and make this dial for the Krono Classic 42 better by simply replacing the handset.
My second issue is with proportions — not dial proportions but case proportions. This is a challenge for many watches and it has to do with the fact that the bezel, crown, and pushers seems to be oversized in comparison to other dial elements. Functionally, they make sense given that a bigger crown and larger pushers are predictably easier to operate. That said, as wristwatches are functional art, an adherence to traditional rules of symmetry, balance, and proportions is important.
If I had to add a third quip, it would be with various elements of the bracelet. First, the bracelet doesn’t quite perfectly fit between the lugs. I wouldn’t call it loose, but I do prefer narrower tolerances. The bracelet itself is decent looking with a traditional three-link design and a polished center link a la the Rolex GMT-Master II. Though comfortable enough, the bracelet feels a bit “last generation.” We currently live in an era in which wristwatch bracelets are coming back into fashion a lot more, and I simply think that consumer expectations are very high. That said, I always need to be mindful of the very aggressive price point Catorex is asking for the Krono Classic 42 watches, which dampens the weight of my criticism, given the overall high value-proposition Catorex is offering here.
At the watch name implies, the Krono Classic case is 42mm-wide in polished steel and water resistant to an admirable 100 meters. The case is a wearable 49mm from lug to lug, but the case is on the thicker side at about 15mm. The AR-coating on the flat sapphire crystal over the dial is very good, and glare is hardly an issue here. One distinctive design feature of this otherwise generic-looking case and bracelet (and dial) is the crown, which I believe is a signature Catorex feature. I call it the “upside-down Christmas tree.”
Returning to the dial of the Krono Classic 42, it is meant to look like a 1940s-era sports watch with both a tachymeter and a telemeter. No one wearing this watch will ever use those scales, as they are there for show. If you are curious as to what they do, when used in combination with the chronograph seconds hand and a piece of third-party reference data, the scales are used to measure speed and distance, respectively.
Catorex’s emulation of this classic dial style is nicely done and proportionate overall, notwithstanding the hand legibility issue mentioned above. A lot of consumers demand the date, so I understand why Catorex designed to include it on the dial, but it does sort of feel like a frameless hole cut into the dial, and the Krono Classic 42 might look better without it. It isn’t like the analog watches from the 1940s had a date window…
Inside the Krono Classic 42 is a Swiss-made ETA Valjoux 7750 automatic chronograph movement (4Hz operational frequency with a power reserve of 42 hours). This is probably one of the most affordable ways to get a 7750, and the good news is that it isn’t even the lowest grade 7750 available. Equipped with a custom Catorex automatic rotor and sporting some decent polished surfaces and blue-colored screws, the 7750 movement in the Krono Classic 42 offers one of the models’ most welcome views.
Catorex has some areas to improve the Krono Classic 42 collection, but in general this is a lot of watch for the money. Those just starting out a watch collection and interested in getting a classic-looking Swiss-made chronograph could go way more wrong, for way more money. Catorex offers a healthy variety of styles for various tastes, and the attractive pricing will likely allow for a lot of newer timepiece enthusiasts to seriously consider this or another Catorex product for their collection. Price for the Catorex Krono Classic 42 Smoked Red Steel reference 8169-27-SB is 1,094.31 Swiss Francs. Learn more at the Catorex website here.
>Model: Krono Classic 42 Smoked Red Steel (reference 8169-27-SB)
>Price: 1,094.31 Swiss Francs as configured
>Size: 42mm-wide, ~15mm-thick, and ~46mm lug-to-lug distance.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: When a red dial and a classic chronograph dial style are in order.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Less experienced watch collectors entering Swiss mechanical watches seeking to experiment with a popular design and looking for a good value.
>Best characteristic of watch: Price is very fair for what you get, given the mostly decent components and mechanical movement. Dial color is attractive, though the hands need work.
>Worst characteristic of watch: This particular dial execution has legibility issues, given the polished steel hands. Crown and pushers are proportionally oversized for the case. Some fit issues for the bracelet, which itself feels a bit too “classic,” given some of the more recent developments in watch bracelets and the resulting consumer expectations.