According to Switzerland’s Czapek & Cie (“Czapek”), the new for 2020 Czapek Antarctique (aBlogtoWatch debut here) is hands-down the brand’s most popular watch of the year. The brand as a whole has dazzled collectors with spirited modern watches featuring a traditional look, which also marked the return of an old name to contemporary watchmaking. Czapek also made history a few years ago as being among the most high-end brands to get its company going via crowdfunding.
Over the last few years, some of Czapek’s watches edged closer and closer to being “sporty.” This was a decision based on market forces and feedback from consumers making it clear that they wanted to wear their Czapek watches in more casual settings. Alas, not withstanding the pandemic and the surging popularity of “athleisure,” fewer and fewer people (at all income levels) have the opportunity to wear dress watches, while formal occasions are increasingly rare for a lot of people. That has left a lot of dress watches to gather dust, but it also creates new opportunities for design and new product creation. The popularity of timepieces such as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus is really a reaction to luxury buyers wanting more casual, simple watches to enjoy on a daily basis. It’s as if the market is saying, “We want casual luxury watches, and we feel that steel watches on a bracelet which more or less just indicate the time are a satisfying way of getting that.”
The Czapek & Cie Antarctique collection of watches is in direct response. It is a sportier Czapek, and it is also a Czapek that falls in line with one of the most popular trends in luxury timepieces. So, how does it stack up against the competition?
From a price and technical perspective, the Czapek Antarctique has a lot going for it and is competitively priced, given what it offers. Czapek built the Antarctique to be more than a few models — really, a platform. This means that, in the years to come, consumers will see a variety of versions of the Antarctique. This particular model is the Czapek & Cie Antarctique Passage de Drake (debuted on aBlogtoWatch here). It isn’t even just one model but actually represents the dial style and texture. In addition to this black-colored version of the Passage de Drake, there is a gray, blue, and silver version available, and even the color of the seconds hand is something that can be personalized from a series of available options.
Czapek calls this Passage de Drake (i.e. Drake’s Passage, in reference to a dangerously stormy waterway between the southern tip of South America and Antarctica) stamped-dial-style “Stairway to Eternity.” That sounds suspiciously like a name designed to suggest (while not irritating) Led Zeppelin. The Antarctique dial itself is pretty lovely, actually. What I like best is the legibility offered despite the rich level of character and luxury sheen. The applied hands and hour markers are framed in polished metal, but nothing about that makes it hard to read them against the high-contrast black-textured dial. The hands are all the right length, and dial symmetry is prioritized in the overall design.
Integrated bracelet watches — a category of timepiece products that the Czapek Antarctique has clearly aimed to be a part of — are not actually known for their showy or elaborate dials. Rather, the dial is supposed to convey character and classicism, while the watch case and bracelet design are where most of the visual pizazz can be found. Czapek certainly wanted to impress in that department.
At 40.5mm-wide in steel, the Antarctique is 10.6mm-thick and topped with a slightly domed AR-coated sapphire crystal. It sort of amuses me that Czapek decided to rate the case’s water resistance to 120 meters, a rather rare rating that just happens to also be shared by the Patek Philippe Nautilus.
The case itself has a lot of very nice details and is well-finished (as you’d expect at this price). I like how, even though the watch case has traditional proportions, a close examination reveals the interesting work along its flanks, and how Czapek did some creative things with how the brushed finishing is applied.
Given the theme of the Antarctique, it has a matching steel bracelet that is integrated into the case but also detaches with a new quick-release mechanism. Czapek offers a series of available straps for the watch that will probably give wearers a lot of interesting and stylish variations to match with their lifestyle. The tapering bracelet is quite comfortable and is designed with links that look like downward-facing brackets — or Czapek “C” letters, as the brand intended. The bracelet is well-done, and the components fit together nicely. That said, there is a lot of competition in this space and, in some areas, Czapek could probably improve in the future. For one thing, the links are not beveled or angled on their edges. This is not absolutely necessary, but with a lot of other watches offering this decor, it leaves the Antarctique links feeling a bit basic. The bracelet also uses tension pins to hold the links together, as opposed to screw-in pins. Again, this really doesn’t affect structural integrity, but these components are perceived as not being as valuable. In many instances, using them is actually better because it allows for a more cost-effective way of making a thinner steel bracelet.
The bracelet closes elegantly with a folding butterfly-style deployant clasp. The clasp itself is among the better ones available, but it is still a sourced stock part with the Czapek logo laser-eteched on it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but I presume a lot of consumers seeking independent watches at this price level have already gone through a lot of watches and enjoy products from brands like Czapek due to originality of design, as well as parts.
Flip the Antarctique case over and you can view the proprietary new movement through the display window. Known as the caliber SXH5, the micro-rotor-based automatic movement has deep gray-colored bridges and a design that is more akin to traditional pocket watch movements than contemporary wristwatch movements. This was done intentionally to offer a more “open bridge” design that is aesthetically pleasing and interesting to look at in operation. The movement offers the time and date, operating at 4Hz (28,800 bph) with a power reserve of 56 hours. For weight, the automatic rotor is in solid platinum and the movement is just 4.2mm-thick. The SXH5 movement is truly a highlight of the watch and will be something that Antarctique wearers will be eager to show to other timepiece hobbyists (as it will likely impress onlookers).
The Czapek & Cie Antarctique Passage de Drake watch (here with the “Black Ink” dial) represents so much of what is popular in the luxury timepiece space right now. That’s because, in a lot of ways, brands like Czapek are on the cutting edge of what timepiece hobbyists seem to want. Accordingly, Czapek is delightfully busy trying to produce orders of these pieces. The brand will also continue to refine the watch over time, but the limited-production nature of the Antarctique will also preserve a very real sense of exclusivity for the collection — something crucial to many buyers spending this type of coin. Price for the Czapek & Cie Antarctique Passage de Drake watch is 18,000 Swiss Francs, or $20,000 USD. Learn more at the Czapek watches website here.