One year after unveiling its first chronograph, retrograde king Reservoir has added another two models with the functionality. When the brand released the Sonomaster Chronograph last year, it certainly stood out from other chronographs for its bi-retrograde display, but not from other Reservoir watches. At least not for that reason. If you had asked anyone who knew Reservoir what a Reservoir chronograph may look like, they’d certainly include at least one retrograde display in their prediction. Conversely, no other Reservoir watch uses two hands to display the time; every other model features a retrograde minutes hand and a jumping hour display. In a sense, the brand’s chronographs are more traditional than its time-only pieces, but that doesn’t make them any less exciting, as I found out when handling the new Reservoir Airfighter Chronograph.
In creating a more pilot-styled chronograph, the brand moved away from the hi-fi stereo inspiration of the Sonomaster and looked towards vintage airplane cockpits, specifically, the brand says, the iconic P-51 Mustang and the Badin airspeed indicator and its colored arcs. Just like the Sonomaster immediately conjured memories of my parent’s old Marantz, the Aifrighter Chronograph is instantly recognizable as a pilot’s watch, with its black and white contrast, unembellished markings, and legibility.
The Airfighter is available in brushed steel (the only polishing is on the pusher’s chamfer) or black PVD, which is entirely brushed. (Credit to Reservoir for not upcharging for the black case, which many brands are wont to do.) This case wears tall and big on the wrist, and while it’s never overwhelming, I recall my experience with the Sonomaster to be a bit better. It measures the same 43mm as the Sonomaster, but instead of the generously sloped tachymeter bezel of that model, the Airfighter Chronograph has a sterile bezel with a short slope and a coin edge. The effect is a more pronounced profile with very little to mitigate it — even the sapphire is flat, which is a modern choice but not a helpful one on the wrist. Even with the differences I detected on the wrist against the Sonomaster, and acknowledging that this is not a small watch, I found it comfortable and not overwhelming.
You’ll see two crowns in this review and regrettably, the banded two-tone crown on the steel model, which I thought was better both functionally and aesthetically, got the boot. Instead, the brand opted to take its inspiration from the potentiometer knobs (don’t ask me) from vintage plane cockpits. Their gapped knurling makes them easy to grip but not they aren’t as substantial as the other option. The 22mm strap is made from canvas with leather backing and features a black deployant clasp on both models.
When you first glance at this watch, you want the retrograde dials to be the chronograph indicators, and I’ll admit that the realization that they aren’t does hit with a bit of disappointment. Instead, the 9 o’clock arc displays the running seconds while the 3 o’clock arc displays the date. After a bit of pouting on my end, I realized that this has a clear benefit for the wearer: you always get to see one of the retrograde hands in motion and have to wait 30 seconds at most to see it snap back to 0. If the chronograph subdials — jumping 12-hour display at 6, 30-minute counter at 12 — were in the retrograde positions, you’d have to burn the power reserve for that kind of always-on visual treat. One curious decision was printing the thin internal telemeter bezel in a grey color. The effect is that it’s effectively hidden in many lighting situations, though I can’t imagine this would ever be a real issue, as no one uses a telemeter (which tells you how far away something is using a recorded time).
I strapped this watch on almost immediately, taking it in fully only once it was on my wrist. I expected clutter and a bit of confusion as I tried to read things out but got neither. With the big hour and minute hands, the small, recessed chronograph subdials, and the bright colors of the retrogrades, it’s easy to tell everything apart. That’s another benefit of having the chronographs be more traditional in position and layout: you don’t have to think any more than with other chronographs to read the elapsed time. I knew exactly where to look and how to read everything of import. The date is almost stagnant relative to the other hands, and the seconds is something I tend to only use when setting my watch, so I rarely look at it.
The Reservoir Airfight Chronograph is equipped with the RSV-Bi120 caliber, though the brand is transparent about it being a La Joux-Perret L1C0 base. This column wheel chronograph operates at 28,800 vph with a solid 60 hours of power. Reservoir has pushed for the top finishing level, which is adjusted in 5 positions to +4/-4 seconds per day and features perlage and striping on the plates as well as several blued components, most notably, the column wheel itself. This decoration justifies the sapphire caseback window, and it should be noted that while the rotor on the prototypes I handled was generic, the production models are equipped with a custom, partially skeletonized rotor with the Reservoir logo in red. The L1C0 is reportedly a module-equipped LJP L100, though whether that’s done just for Reservoir is unclear: I’ve seen elsewhere this movement being called “manufacture” or asserting it was customized for Reservoir, but LJP lists the L1C0 in its catalog. Perhaps it’s a catalog movement that most brands aren’t daring enough to try to pull off.
I find it hard to argue with a design like this. The display is novel and colorful without being too busy or overwhelming the senses, and the watch wears well enough on the wrist. Using the LJP movement allowed Reservoir to stay faithful to its retrograde obsession, an obsession I’m fully on board with. With the unexpected design inspiration of the Sonomaster and the very expected inspiration of the Airfighter, it will be interesting to see where Reservoir takes its chronograph platform next. The Reservoir Airfight Chronograph is priced at $5,750 USD. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.