January 6, 2020
by Ariel Adams
The biggest trend in the luxury watch industry today is producing items that look like watches that brands feel the market wants to buy. In some fundamental ways, this is a reversal from a more traditional (if nostalgic) approach to designing for a market in which a brand aims to put unique (i.e., distinctive) wristwatch products on the market (as opposed to those that feel too familiar). Nowadays, if a style, material, color, or price point seems hot, the biggest brands want their piece of the supposed action. Today, premium brand steel or mostly-steel watches that comes in integrated bracelets are hot. Chopard’s answer to this craze is the Alpine Eagle. In summary, it is a handsome, well-made, appropriately priced, and too vaguely branded luxury wristwatch for daily wear.
Chopard has every right to enter the contemporary bracelet watch arena with a brand new product (that is meant to look like an older product). Chopard comes to the plate with its Geneva-based pedigree, legitimacy through its luxury sport watch and haute horology L.U.C collections, and sex appeal through its various celebrity relationships and success with women’s jewelry. Consumers should not feel at all strange about a product from this brand competing in a space that also includes the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Patek Philippe Nautilus, Rolex Submariner (yes), and some upcoming newer contenders each with their own “bracelet watches.”
Making the decision to produce a luxury “sports” watch in steel (though in this review I look at the two-tone Alpine Eagle in Lucent Steel and 18k rose gold) is just half the battle, as Chopard also needed to decide what it was going to look like. Chopard was nice enough to have aBlogtoWatch launch the new Alpine Eagle watch collection here. In that article, our David Bredan explains in thorough detail all about the Alpine Eagle and its design inspiration, which was a vintage bracelet watch Chopard produced known as the St. Mortiz. David’s article is where you should learn about the background of this watch, as well as its more intimate technical details. This Chopard Alpine Eagle watch review is my assessment of its larger desirability and its positioning in the space of competing products.
I wore the two-tone Alpine Eagle for a decent time but then waited some time to type up the review. When this happens, it means that I am not quite sure how to best sum up my experience with a watch, especially if I’ve had a positive experience with a known controversial product. Is the Alpine Eagle controversial? No more than any other new high-end luxury watch is, but it is the most important Chopard release of 2019, and probably a platform the company will continue to invest it for at least five to 10 years (at least, I hope). People who don’t like the Alpine Eagle have one major problem with it, and that is they feel it looks too much like the Royal Oak or other similar watches. That is it. People aren’t concerned about pricing or quality; their sole gripe with the Alpine Eagle is that it looks a bit too much like another popular watch. I’m not even sure most consumers see that as a bad thing.
Let’s look at this in a light that is the most favorable to Chopard — because the logic makes sense. First, let’s begin with an important rule in the luxury watch industry (and other “design” industries): Original and creative designs are almost universally shunned at first or criticized because they are new. Familiar designs are, by definition, much less creative but are more readily accepted by consumers. This is a hard and fast rule. What can happen is that, with some time in the market, a novel design may become eventually adopted if it ends up being a good design — that is after time has tested it. Not all novel designs become classics, but all good novel designs have the potential to become classic if they are around long enough. In the world of design, while a simplification, this is a good rule.
Chopard, in this scenario, had the option of making a totally novel watch called the Alpine Eagle and design it to look like nothing else ever made before. By doing this, they might have critics celebrating the enduring elegance of their watches 10 years from now and have an uphill battle to climb with deservedly stubborn luxury watch consumers for the first few years. Option two is for Chopard to say, “We know we want to get into bracelet watches, but we also don’t want to wait years before making a profit. Let’s produce something that fits into market expectations and themes and see how it goes. If it is successful, then, with each future iteration we improve it and make it more distinctive.” Such remarks may very well be how Chopard’s managers are thinking, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. As I said, the Alpine Eagle is a well-made product. So they did succeed on many levels.
Also, I want to put “design originality” into some context. It is extremely easy for people to claim that so and so copied Gerald Genta, and that such and such watch model is simply trying to look like a Royal Oak. If you look back at many bracelet watches from the 1970 and 1980s, they looked alike back then, as well. Perhaps there simply were not that many practical ways to produce a timepiece with an integrated bracelet. You might feel that the Alpine Eagle looks too much like a Royal Oak. You’d be right that there is a resemblance, but that same resemblance is in the Chopard St. Moritz and countless other watches from that era.
For the rest of the Alpine Eagle, Chopard simply took a cross-section of various manufacturing techniques at their disposal, along with some of their brand’s visual DNA, and tried to marry horology and jewelry polishing into a single satisfying product. What items in the “bracelet watch” category all have in common are a lot of shiny surfaces. Accordingly, the Alpine Eagle’s contrasting polished and brushed surfaces are mostly flat, which helps them play nicely with the light. The noticeable amount of light sparkle you want from a luxury timepiece is certainly part of the Alpine Eagle experience.
Chopard certainly lacked more than one opportunity to be original with the Alpine Eagle. There is nothing in the bracelet watch rule book that says you must have screws in the bezel or that you must have side flanks. Alas, the Alpine Eagle has both of those. They are certainly well done (and the screws all line up properly) but they feel forced. I know that the original St. Mortiz watch had bezel screws, as well, but I’m just saying that since this design feature is used so often, it pays for a brand to do them in an extra-original manner to stand out.
The 41mm-wide case (a 36mm-wide model for women is also available) is a good all-purpose size, and the case also manages to be under 10mm-thick (with 100 meters of water resistance), which allows for a slim wrist profile. I will say that the bezel (here in 18k rose gold) seems like a bit of a scratch magnet (especially due to the brushed finishing). Aesthetically, it looks gorgeous, but I can’t help but feel that Chopard might want to consider a scratch-resistant metal alloy, ceramic, or other material for the bezel of some future Alpine Eagle models.
Worry about wear and tear on a watch are reserved for the most well-finished of timepieces. So that merely means I admire the considerable effort it takes to polish each Alpine Eagle. The steel is not normal 316L stainless steel but rather something called A223 Lucent Steel, which has a whiter color and polishes up uniquely. It certainly helps the Alpine Eagle reflect light in some very attractive ways.
Another thing of beauty on the Alpine Eagle is the bracelet. The visual design of it isn’t to everyone’s tastes, but the tight tolerances and overall engineering are admittedly impressive. Unfortunately, this is all work that started on the original St. Moritz watch, but for the Alpine Eagle, Chopard really put the bracelet on to steroids and into overdrive for a very sophisticated-looking and well-finished jewelry-style bracelet. It is probably my favorite part of the watch. The bracelet closes elegantly with a “mystery” hidden deployant clasp. It would have, however, been nice to see a micro-adjust feature or similar system which, in addition to being convenient, would help Chopard have more functional advantages over the competition.
Grand Seiko helped remind the watch community that everyone likes a good dial texture. Chopard created a new spiraling deep-cut sunburst-style dial that is colored gray for this Alpine Eagle model. This (or a similar look) may have been used on some older Chopard watches, and the texture does help give the watch dial a lot of character. The mixed index and Roman numeral hour markers are legible and filled with Super-LumiNova luminant — but they don’t have much personality beyond their functional value. The hands are solid, sporty, and well-proportioned. They also look like cousins made in the same factory (a compliment) as the latest generation Royal Oak hands with their angled edges.
One of the best features on the dial is the date window. Not that this is a very exciting complication, but you can see how Chopard clearly agonized over making it look as clean and harmonious as possible. The result is a custom date disc with a custom date font and color. The window is a custom placement and with a custom shape. While we’ve all seen date windows before, Chopard went to the trouble of engineering a totally new one just so that it would look good for the Alpine Eagle. While some of the design ethos may get confused from time to time on the Alpine Eagle, the watch doesn’t suffer from a series of very attentive eyes making sure it stands out in the market.
Inside the Chopard Alpine Eagle is one of the brand’s in-house movements – the caliber 01.01-C. The thin 4Hz automatic movement has a long power reserve of 60 hours. You can also view the movement through the caseback window. The movement is perfectly respectable but it is not from the finest looking family of movements that Chopard produces. Outside of Ferdinand Berthoud, the Chopard L.U.C movements are the best- looking ones.
You can get an L.U.C watch for Alpine Eagle money, but the Alpine Eagle has the same base movement as those in the Classic Racing models (those that have in-house movements). Knowing how lovely-looking the L.U.C movements are, it is hard not to want that level of finishing on the caliber 01.01-C. Again, assuming the Alpine Eagle collection becomes a hit, there is no reason why Chopard can’t play around with future models and include a variety of movements in it.
Another way to view the Alpine Eagle as a product in the luxury watch market is as a spirited love-letter to the Royal Oak. It doesn’t want to be the Royal Oak, per se, but it wants to live up to the Royal Oak’s standards and be approved by the same crowd. To do that, Chopard will have to go beyond merely making a visual love letter to the Genta icon — it will have to replicate the years the Royal Oak took to really penetrate the market and will have to give it time before enough consumers try to adopt Alpine Eagles into their timepiece collections.
Where Chopard offers a nice incentive to early Alpine Eagle adopters is price. The Alpine Eagle in all-steel is especially attractively priced when compared to a Patek Philippe 5711 Nautilus. It also beats the Royal Oak in price. Personally, I truly admire this watch and sincerely hope that Chopard invests in giving the collection the patience and investment in personality that it needs to become a success.
The launch collection for the men’s Alpine Eagle line (women’s models currently outnumber the men’s pieces by a healthy margin) is just three models. One is in all steel with a blue dial (predictable, it is true, but an effective color palette, nonetheless), followed by the same model but with a gray dial (like this two-tone model). The all-steel Chopard Alpine Eagle watches have a price of $12,900 USD. In two-tone steel and 18k rose gold, the Chopard Alpine Eagle has a price of $19,700 USD. Learn more at the Chopard website here.
>Model: Alpine Eagle (reference 298600-6001 as tested)
>Price: $19,700 USD
>Size: 41mm-wide, 9.7mm-thick
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a daily wear high-end wrist watch for men with the appeal of refined jewelry and the legitimacy of a prestigious timepiece.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Slightly iconoclastic luxury-seeker who is interested in non-conformity as much as value.
>Best characteristic of watch: Precision polishing and tight manufacturing tolerances result in a very well-made product. Polishing and overall decoration are effective and attractive. Dial detailing is very good. Bracelet is comfortable and impressively engineered.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Design itself fails to generate independent personality. Will too often (and unfairly) be thought of as a Royal Oak impersonator. Might prove to scratch easily. Brand fans will want Alpine Eagle house Chopard’s best movements.