The Fastback Thunderbolt is the first chronograph produced by the independent Swiss-based watchmaker Gorilla, and it is also probably its most expensive model, to date. I recall the brand’s first watch (the original Fastback from 2016 on aBlogtoWatch here), and it is very cool to see how far Gorilla founder Octavio Garcia has come with his muscle-car inspired brand. Garcia was head of design at Audemars Piguet prior to founding Gorilla. The new brand started with a roughly $1,000 product about six years ago and now offers a piece a lot closer to $10,000 — a bold move in such a short period of time, even if the product does feel very much worth it.
Hands-down the most satisfying watches over the long-term are pieces like the Fastback, which are the manifestation of one persistent person’s visual dream that they render over and over again until that visual dream becomes part of our cultural reality. No one who creates something new is ever thanked at the outset, and novel visual forms are almost universally panned by at least 51% of onlookers. Nevertheless, forms that maintain their momentum and continue to be replicated in culture do have a tendency to persist. That’s all a long way of saying that Gorilla watches originally launched with a lot of people not understanding the concept or design but that, over time, as people learn and pick up the product with their own hands, their perceptions slowly change from conservative skepticism to a warmer and inviting acceptance.
Gorilla isn’t quite there yet, but the product is excellent and just waiting for more people to discover it. I was lucky enough to wear the Gorilla Fastback Thunderbolt Chronograph (debuted on aBlogtoWatch here) in front of multiple watch lovers who were entirely delighted with it. The two most common feedback remarks were the comfort of wearing the case and strap despite the larger on-paper dimensions, followed by the sentiment that the watch was really well made and looked very good in person. I suppose prior to the hands-on experience I offered them, they formed probably ill-conceived notions about Gorilla Fastback watches from remarks they saw online. The real piece set them straight.
As the first chronograph from a brand that makes performance car-themed watches, this watch sets up big expectations from Gorilla fans. The result is a classic chronograph that doesn’t look like anything else and comes complete with a semi-skeletonized dial that offers a deep, satisfying view into the movement. Gorilla also proudly partners with fellow Swiss movement maker Dubois-Depraz on the mechanism, which it calls the caliber DD-268 automatic movement.
The movement is exactly the type of thing that Dubois-Depraz specializes in, which is taking a base movement (in this case a Swiss Made ETA 2892-A2) and then building a chronograph module that goes on top of it. The entire package is very nicely polished and decorated, and it uses a custom black-colored Gorilla-branded automatic rotor. The movement operates at 4Hz with 42 hours of power reserve. The dial indicates just the time with hours and subsidiary seconds at 3 o’clock, as well as a 30-minute chronograph.
Chronograph operation is very smooth thanks to the quality operation of the pushers, and it is fun to watch the horizontal clutch in action through the skeletonized bits of the dial when you operate the mechanism. Around the periphery of the dial on the large ceramic bezel structure is a tachymeter scale, which is applied with luminant paint. In fact, Gorilla made a point to not only offer a lot of lume on the bezel and dial but also to make sure that the chronograph hands are lumed (which is most certainly not always the case), which helps with visibility in darkness.
The dial itself combines an open look at the movement with a full-labeled chronograph display. Similar to pocket watch stopwatches of old, the hour markers are replaced with double-digit minute indicators that are applied and rather legible. I do feel that the minute hand’s skeletonized design does impact legibility, to a degree. This is because the hand is mostly skeletonized, and I don’t think it needed to be. That said, the overall design of the hands is spirited and interesting. The Thunderbolt is certainly a handsome watch from a dial-design perspective, and it is what makes the Gorilla Fastback Thunderbolt watch feel as high-end as it is.
The stylized chronograph dial with modern mechanical watch design elements is a combination of familiar themes with something new. That’s in large part the formula for success that many of these brands need to adhere to, as going “off the deep end” with creativity can lead to too-polarized reactions and stunted market success.
Many people who wore this watch learned about the 44mm-wide (48.5mm-wide with the crown and pushers) size prior to ever putting it on. On paper, that size, combined with the Thunderbolt being in a cushion-shaped case and 13.1mm-thick, can create apprehension that it wears too large. In reality, the integrated design of the strap and case offer a concept that wraps around the wrist elegantly and wears very comfortably on most wrist sizes. I hate wearing uncomfortable watches, and I can easily say that size is not directly related to the comfort you experience when wearing a timepiece. That said, it is true that larger watches require more thought and refinement to be comfortable, and given that the Fastback case is about six years old now, Gorilla has had ample time to keep making improvements on the concept.
The case is water-resistant to 100 meters and has an AR-coated sapphire crystal over the round dial. The case is produced from a few parts, including a matte ceramic top bezel, an orange-colored strip of anodized aluminum, and a main case produced from dark gray DLC-coated titanium. Natural titanium is used for other parts, such as the strap buckle and the complicated crown and chronograph pushers. Speaking of the chronograph pushers, – I happen to think they are particularly cool with their complex, purpose-inspired shapes. You can certainly see some of Garcia’s work at Audemars Piguet here as he created similar modern chronograph pushers for a variety of Royal Oak Offshore pieces.
The blue and orange “Gulf Oil” colors of this debut Thunderbolt watch (I presume Gorilla will make future color variations of this Chronograph model) continue a popular theme at the brand and is also nicely applied to both the dial and the case/strap. The FKM rubber (very high-quality rubber) strap comes in the correct color of baby blue and has a rubber base with an inset layer of Alcantara leather which is very smooth to the touch and offers a superior level of aesthetics when compared to mere base rubber. This strategy for dual material straps with rubber liners isn’t new and has been very much popularized by brands such as Hublot.
The fun and quality you experience from a watch like the Gorilla Fastback Thunderbolt Chronograph are high. The design is inspired and functional, while the watch is comfortable and well-made. Items like this have always performed best when they are slightly less expensive alternatives to the most popular big-name watches on the market, today. In fact, a good way of identifying the price points that small brands are aiming for is by looking at how smaller brands increase their prices. Gorilla seems to have begun by swaying customers purchasing $2,000 – $3,000 watches to their more hip, less expensive options. Then, Gorilla seems to have aimed at more mainstream watches priced in the perhaps $5,000 range. Now, with a product priced at the level of the Thunderbolt, one can surmise that Gorilla is aiming for people who might otherwise spend $10,000 – $20,000 on a chronograph. Indeed, the $10,000 – $20,000 sports watch market is particularly interesting right now, especially with popular pieces in this segment, such as a Rolex Daytona, that are not easily available for purchase. I remain very optimistic that buyers will find the Thunderbolt but am also very curious to know what types of enthusiasts they are since this is such a distinctive product. Price for the limited edition (99 pieces)(delivery of watches will be in early summer 2022) if the Gorilla Fastback Thunderbolt Chronograph watch is $8,500 USD. Learn more at the Gorilla watches website here.