Over the past several years, Chinese watchmaking has made impressive strides towards international legitimacy. Brands like Atelier Wen are pushing the envelope for homegrown Chinese design and finishing, while CIGA Design has gone a step further and claimed a coveted 2021 GPHG prize for its Blue Planet world timer. This has understandably created a fair amount of enthusiast buzz around CIGA Design, but as the gleam of the 2021 awards season fades further into memory, the question remains if the Chinese brand can recapture lightning in a bottle. CIGA Design’s answer to this difficult “sophomore album” question is a dynamic, futuristic full skeleton watch for under $400. It’s an incredibly enticing prospect on paper, but does it stack up in the real world? The new CIGA Design Series X Gorilla offers wild Hublot-esque looks for a genuinely affordable entry-level price, and could well be a bellwether for the future of affordable Chinese watchmaking, but as with all ambitious designs in this price range it’s not without its compromises.
With a rounded square skeleton case design measuring in at 44mm-wide, there’s no denying the CIGA Design Series X Gorilla packs some serious presence on the wrist. Crafted from a mix of DLC-coated stainless steel and Grade 2 titanium, this is about as wild and avant-garde as entry-level watch design gets, with a two-layer case system featuring an outer case ring connected to a stepped inner case by a set of four shock-absorbing springs. CIGA Design claims this is the first shock-resistant suspension system fitted to a wristwatch case (although it bears more than a passing resemblance to the case spring system Formex has used for years) and accents these springs with a set of striking purple-coated screws. More purple accents on the rubberized crown and along the 9 o’clock side of the case add some truly eye-catching highlights to the design, particularly when paired with the printed 9 o’clock gorilla emblem (other variants of the Series X Gorilla swap these purple touches for highlights in orange, red, blue, or gold). While the majority of the case is simple matte black, CIGA Design does add a slim polished chamfer to the case edges and the bezel to act as effective rim highlights on the wrist. This bezel design also acts as the Series X Gorilla’s only set of hour and minute markers, with a sharp corner to indicate each five-minute interval on the dial. While this is a clever solution to making a full skeleton design more legible on paper, in practice this can still lead to some difficulties in accurate at-a-glance reading, especially thanks to the square case shape.
Although the case dimensions may seem bulky, CIGA Design keeps the Series X Gorilla impressively wearable thanks to a variety of factors. First among these is the simple slimming power of black. It may be a cliché in fashion circles, but it genuinely is true that black coloration makes things appear smaller. Furthermore, while the case width may be on the larger side, the overall thickness is a manageable 11.8mm, which combined with the stepped case profile allows for a surprisingly flat stance on the wrist. The extremely short squared-off lugs also play a large role in wearability here, preventing overhang on the vast majority of wrists. As a full skeleton watch, CIGA Design naturally fits the caseback of the Series X Gorilla with a sapphire display window. Despite the focus on ruggedness and shock resistance, however, the watch underperforms on the water resistance front, offering only a 30-meter rating.
It isn’t often that one finds a truly bespoke full skeleton dial at an entry-level price point, but the CIGA Design Series X Gorilla delivers a dynamically high-end look here. The Series X nomenclature comes from the central X-shaped skeleton dial, which also functions as an ornate movement bridge. CIGA Design continues the purple theme here, coating the arms of this skeletonized form with thin strips of purple Super-LumiNova, complemented by purple accents on the polished skeletonized straight sword hands and the central stick seconds hand. Purple is a rare color in modern watchmaking, and when coupled with the avant-garde style of the Series X Gorilla it makes for a truly one-of-a-kind look in this market segment. It is worth noting, however, that this lume application is on the weaker side, producing only a dim green glow for a short period. Given that other brands at this price point, especially Seiko, are capable of brilliant lume work, it’s worth noting as a potential shortcoming. On a related note, like most skeleton designs, the Series X Gorilla can be challenging to read at a glance, but the contrasting polished handset against the black skeleton dial does alleviate this issue somewhat.
Beneath the CIGA Design Series X Gorilla’s skeleton dial lies the brand’s in-house CD-01 automatic movement. As with the rest of the watch, there’s an impressive amount of visual drama at play in this movement, with a heavily pared-back web of skeleton bridges supporting a fully visible gear train. The layout draws the eye towards two main visual centerpieces: the cutaway mainspring barrel at 12 o’clock, and the 6 o’clock balance wheel. These two elements act as handsome visual counterweights to one another on the wrist, and both offer an intriguing spectacle that rarely appears in this market segment. The constant motion of the balance wheel immediately draws the eye, and the mainspring barrel works as an effective ersatz power reserve indicator as well. With that said, the overall finishing on the CD-01 is on the simpler side, with elemental matte blasting across the bridges and balance cock. The exception to this is the DLC-coated skeleton rotor, which offers a central segment in tight perlage. Overall performance for the CD-01 is average, with a 40-hour power reserve at a 21,600 bph beat rate. The CD-01’s accuracy, on the other hand, is decidedly below average, with an overall gain of +17 seconds per day across our testing period.
CIGA Design fits the Series X Gorilla with a pair of strap options. The first and most striking of these is a bespoke perforated strap in black rubber. This soft, flexible strap features a repeating raised three-pointed motif that nicely echoes the futuristic feel of the case and dial, while also helping to make this strap comfortable and breathable. The brand also includes a black fabric strap for more rugged use. Both straps use hardware in bare stainless steel, leading to a slightly contrasting look with the case.
While it may not be perfect, it’s difficult to compete with the sheer amount of fun and avant-garde design packed into the CIGA Design Series X Gorilla, especially in this market segment. If this is laying the groundwork for the next generation of Chinese timepieces, the future of Chinese horology may be very bright indeed. The CIGA Design Series X Gorilla is available now through the brand’s e-commerce platform. MSRP for the CIGA Design Series X Gorilla as tested stands at $369 USD as of press time, but the watch is available at a 10 percent discount through Amazon until December 31, 2022. For more details, please visit the brand’s website.
>Brand: CIGA Design
>Model: Series X Gorilla
>Price: $369 USD
>Size: 44mm-wide, 11.8mm-thick
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a fun, affordable “look at me” piece at nightclubs or bars.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Experienced enthusiasts looking for an affordable third or fourth watch as a statement piece.
>Best characteristic of watch: Wild skeleton design; striking colorway; affordable pricing.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Simplistic finishing and build quality; difficult legibility; middling movement accuracy.