June 9, 2021
by David Bredan
Behold the Graham Fortress Monopusher Chronograph, a quintessentially Graham watch that’s nevertheless been toned down just a bit so as to improve its chances. For many of us, Graham has been characterized by its massive, trigger-like chronograph pushers, novel use of colors and materials, grand proportions, underappreciated build quality, and, let’s be frank, some controversial styling that often borders on cartoonish. The Graham Fortress Monopusher Chronograph re-tunes a lot of those loud components in favor of some unobtrusive vintage-military vibes, lines up that trademark and build quality, and attaches a hefty price tag to serve as a reminder that there still ain’t no such thing as a free lunch in luxury watchmaking.
Is the Fortress still a proper Graham? It definitely is, from up close and afar, alike. From afar, it’s still quite loud, reminding me of the Morgan Three-Wheeler that has all the scantily clad women and bullethole stickers plastered over its quasi-military paint job. If you have one of those, you pretty much have to get a Graham Fortress.
The crown and its integrated monopusher are on the left-hand side of the watch – I still wear it on my left wrist because I actually appreciate the fact that the massive onion crown isn’t digging into the top of my wrist. But hey, if you are a lefty who’s wearing the watch on your right hand, this will still look “correct” there. On a related note, shouldn’t there be a great many more lefty luxury watches? I think there should be.
Priced at $7,750, the Graham Fortress should absolutely feel and look expensive, and – despite its unserious style – feel and look expensive, it does. It’s big and bright and shiny, but the case feels solid and, on a second look, delicately finished. The dial exhibits details found only on proper-expensive watches, but more on that later. The strap and especially the borderline oversized tang buckle are beautifully made: no exterior component was cheaped-out on.
Powered by what Graham calls the G1750 movement, the case encapsulates a modified ETA/Valjoux 7750. It’s not a Sellita: With sharp near-sight or just a weaker loupe, you’ll spot that it is marked as an ETA under the balance wheel. Even the not-so-eagle-eyed among you will spot that it’s installed “upside-down” to bring the crown from the right to the left side of the case. The continuous running seconds subdial is, therefore, now at 3 o’clock and the date is at 9 – all straight-forward stuff.
The pusher, as I said, is in the center of the crown. It’s large, easy to find and hit. Unusual is the initial feel: Starting the chronograph takes some extra force when compared to the smoothest and easiest mechanical chronographs out there. It being a monopusher chronograph, the starting, stopping, and then re-setting are done by three presses on the same pusher. The first push takes the highest amount of force, stopping is easier, and re-set is, relatively speaking, a breeze. I’ll take a more reassuring press over a flimsy one any time, but frankly, the initial force required belongs more on a device inside the cockpit of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress than on your regular luxury watch. Come to think of it, a buttery smooth press wouldn’t belong on this watch, and I presume Graham Fortress customers will agree.
Measuring in at 47 millimeters in diameter, the Graham Fortress is still a loud watch, even without off-the-wall color combinations or that grenade pin-like pusher over the crown. By traditional watch sizing guidelines (i.e., the ends of the lugs must not extend beyond the edge of the wrist), the Fortress is optically too large for my 6.75″ (17.2cm) wrist. Still, the strap had enough holes to allow me to get a snug fit and wear it in actual comfort. Wearing it with long sleeves was the way to go to reduce its oversized appearance. Between you and me, I’ll say that I wish I could better pull these watches off wearing short sleeves.
The Chronofighter Prodive that I used to own had one of those big pushers, and I absolutely loved the way it looked and operated. That said, despite the field/pilot watch theme, somehow the same trigger-like pusher never really clicked (see what I did there?) for me on the previous Fortress. This integrated push-piece is a much more elegant solution. Water-resistance is rated at 100 meters, another minute point that proves Graham isn’t cutting corners by sacrificing real-world, long-term utility and durability. Every darn luxury watch should have at least 100 meters of WR – but many don’t, and I’m glad this one does.
The bezel is concave and satin-brushed, a detail that adds more than its fair share to the uniqueness of the Fortress. It would have been easy and convenient to slap a polished and domed bezel on there, but this is how such an expensive watch can and should stand apart from the rest. The case band and lugs are all polished, which makes me wonder if a full satin-brushed look would have worked better with the theme. But then again, if Graham wants to reach a broader audience, that audience I’m told prefers an expensive watch to have (quite) a bit of sheen to it.
Wearing a 47mm watch is rarely a discreet or forgettable affair – not while you are in the act, at least. That’s especially true on my narrow wrist, which wasn’t exactly designed for 45mm-plus wrist-clocks. Graham seems to have gotten the hang of things when it comes to designing large watches, though, as is indicated by the deep integration of the straps between the lugs. The holes and the spring bars are close to the case itself, leaving virtually no gap between the strap and the case band – further enhanced by the curved spring bars. All this is to say that the straps can turn downward directly next to the case without a stiff section sticking out and adding yet more to the lug-to-lug dimension of the piece. The large tang buckle also helps with wearing comfort, as is normally the case in my experience. Despite being large and crafted in steel, the Fortress is a comfy watch to wear.
The dial looks like the most refined and expensive component of the watch. There is no way around it — large, intricately shaped, raised hour markers with thick, polished frames look ace when they reflect the light right back at you. They make any dial look expensive because they are very costly and challenging to produce on this level. Every index has to be set on the exact same plane; the smallest deviation would mean that only some indices would reflect back at you while others would not. Needless to say, that can still occur – but that’s to do with the light source, not the leveling of the indices.
The background is an almost microscopic grain that looks rugged without appearing rough. The subdials are sunken below the grained plane and have a surface treatment that’s somewhere in between concentric rings and circular polish – it’s impossible to distinguish with the naked eye. Appreciating these best will take a good loupe.
Legibility is great both day in and, to my surprise, day out. The yellowish lume on watches tends to have a distinctly weaker luminescence than the regular off-white Super-LumiNova. In this instance, when I first walked into a staircase from the sunny outdoors, I was pleasantly surprised by the evenness and brightness of the lume on the hands and indices. It would be easy to say that these details should of course be perfect on a high-four-figure watch, but just because they should be perfect doesn’t mean that this is the norm. Far from it, in fact. The front sapphire crystal has an anti-reflective coating applied to its inside, reducing glare and further aiding the already strong legibility of the rhodium hands.
Limited to 100 pieces in this exact configuration, the Graham Fortress is a lot less likely to be dumped onto the gray market. Combined with a tighter grip on distribution and discounting, Graham might be able to better protect its wares from taking a hit even before the first sale – and, consequently, also on the secondary market. Well-made and fun to wear for those who are into this sort of stuff, the Graham Fortress is an expensive, high-quality rendition of an off-the-wall quasi-military watch. You can get a similar vibe for a lot less — this theme has been popular in recent years — but the quality of the case, dial, and other accoutrements, as well as the quirky monopusher upside-down movement, propel this into the luxury watch category, as does the $7,750 price. You can learn more at the brand’s website.
>Model: Fortress Monopusher Chronograph
>Price: $7,750 USD
>Size: 47mm-wide, 17mm-thick including domed crystal, and 55mm lug-to-lug distance.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: When wearing long sleeves outside of formal occasions.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: The one with the Graham Three-Wheeler.
>Best characteristic of watch: Outstanding case, dial, strap, and buckle quality that still goes unnoticed by many.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Pricey. Chronograph start action requires a tad too much pressure.