How do you follow up on a hit release as a young watch brand? While established marques have a variety of lines and a rich heritage with which to build upon existing success, the “sophomore album” problem can be a major challenge for a newer watchmaker. This is especially true in the case of CIGA Design. Beyond the need to build upon the foundation of its award-winning core design, the brand has arguably taken up the mantle of delivering innovative Chinese horology to the masses, which only adds to the pressure on its current slate of releases. With this in mind, any follow-up to the 2021 release of the CIGA Design Blue Planet is bound to garner intense enthusiast scrutiny. Rather than resting on its laurels, the brand takes the GPHG-winning base model and adds a new layer of visual drama and material quality. The new CIGA Design Blue Planet – Gilding Version combines an impressively luxe feel with the same unique display as its predecessor, delivering what may well be the Chinese marque’s most compelling offering to date.

At 46mm-wide, the lugless circular case of the CIGA Design Blue Planet – Gilding Version offers the same form and dimensions as its predecessor, but that’s where the similarities end. Although the smoothly rounded, UFO-like shape may be familiar, the new polished black zirconium oxide ceramic case material gives this soft shape an inky new sheen and an even more futuristic feel. As with the previous iteration of this design, the tall curving arc of the sapphire crystal is the visual centerpiece of this case, flowing seamlessly into the case side curvature and providing a visible “atmosphere” for the dial’s rendition of the Earth. Impressively, CIGA Design also renders the stylized 3 o’clock crown in matching ceramic for a unified look. Although the case dimensions may seem bulky on paper, the lightweight ceramic material and fully lugless geometry work in tandem to deliver a surprisingly comfortable and compact wearing experience. However, the 15.6mm overall case thickness does make itself apparent in daily wear, and thanks to a floaty stance on the wrist this is a difficult watch to slip under shirt cuffs. Like the previous Blue Planet, water resistance is something of an Achilles heel for the Blue Planet – Gilding Version, with a subpar official rating of only 30 meters.

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Although the dial of the CIGA Design Blue Planet – Gilding Version may follow the pattern of its predecessor, a change in both materials and colorway gives this design a markedly different character. While the original Blue Planet’s dial largely highlighted the rich blue semi-matte surface of its “oceans,” a swap to subtle matte black for these elements instead draws the eye far more towards the “land.” As with its predecessor, this model offers a finely detailed relief map of Asia, eastern Africa, Oceania, Antarctica, and parts of Europe, with dramatic elevations and depressions (this is especially apparent in its rendition of the Himalayas). However, CIGA Design makes this already ornate visual layout even more dramatic with the addition of 24K gold finishing for all landmasses as well as the compass rose hour indicator. Pure 24k-gold is a relative rarity in watchmaking, but its use here is a real spectacle on the wrist, turning an already dramatic and stylized watch design into a true showstopper. The swap to a predominantly black main dial also creates a more unified look for the Blue Planet – Gilding Version, allowing this model to avoid the original’s visual disconnect between the central blue dial and the contrasting black outer rings. This results in a more open, spacious look overall as well, although it does shift the design away from the original’s theme of the fragile beauty of the Earth and its oceans.

Functionally, though, this is the same dial display as its predecessor. For those that are unacquainted with the line, the world map-style central dial is essentially a large circular hours hand. The compass rose element works in tandem with the fixed outer hours ring to indicate the current hours. The Blue Planet – Gilding Version’s real mechanical feat is the inner minutes ring, however. Rather than acting as a standard minutes hand and circuiting the dial once an hour, this rotating ring is instead keyed to the position of the hour indicator. At any time,  wearers can accurately read both the hours and the minutes by looking at where this compass points. It’s an elegant solution, although it does take some mental adjustment in practice, particularly because the hours and minutes scales count in opposite directions. Learning curve issues aside, it’s a charismatic and unique way to display the time and one that offers more visual spectacle than nearly anything else at this price point.

Inside the CIGA Design Blue Planet – Gilding Version beats an in-house designed automatic movement. Finishing on this movement is solid if a bit simplistic, with a striped signed rotor and broad perlage across the plates and bridges. Some of the simplicity of this finishing is masked by the printing atop the sapphire display caseback, which proudly celebrates the original Blue Planet’s Challenge Prize win at the 2021 GPHG awards. In terms of performance, this unnamed movement is similarly simplistic, with a 40-hour power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate. CIGA Design claims a surprisingly broad accuracy range of -20/+40 seconds per day, but the lack of a seconds hand and the nature of the overall display helps to mask some of these shortcomings on the wrist.

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CIGA Design fits the Blue Planet – Gilding Version with an all-new polished black ceramic bracelet. The clean single link design and gold tone butterfly clasp create a handsomely unified look on the wrist, with a high-gloss finish that commands attention. Like the case, this is a comfortably smooth and lightweight material, which helps to keep the overall wearing experience light and comfortable throughout the day.

It’s no easy feat to follow up successfully on a hit watch design, particularly when it comes early in the development of a new brand. With the Blue Planet – Gilding Version, CIGA Design has effectively tackled these challenges, elevating and refining the original design with new materials and new finishes that help this young Chinese marque offer a compelling alternative to more established nameplates. The CIGA Design Blue Planet – Gilding Version is available now through Amazon and the brand’s e-commerce platform. Official MSRP for the CIGA Design Blue Planet – Gilding Version stands at $1,899 USD as of press time, but from March 15 to March 31, 2023, readers can use the promo code “ablogtowatch” to receive a $200 discount. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.

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