I’ve just finished spending some time with a watch I had always wanted to try, the Ultramarine Albatros. You may think it’s peculiar that this one called to me, but since its release in 2019, one year after the brand’s founding, the Albatros (and its GMT sibling the Morse) have been on my radar. While the brand is gearing up for the release of its new Beluga diver, it is also preparing to retire the current generation of the Albatros and the Morse, both of which run on Eterna movements. I knew that this might be my last chance to try one out, and a recent connection with brand owner Lionel Bruneau finally afforded me the opportunity.
The allure of the Ultramarine Albatros for me wasn’t in its being incredibly unique, nor was it about any story that might be attached to it (by the brand or otherwise). It was just an attractive blue watch that seemed well-made. Those aren’t rare, I’ll admit, but something about the Albatros made it stick in my mind. When it arrived, I quickly put it on and wasn’t entirely surprised to find that it wears tall, but was surprised that I didn’t love the strap. Beyond that, this watch was a winner for me. Also noteworthy, especially at this price point, is that everything on this watch is made in Switzerland: the movement from Grenchen; the case, dial, hands, and straps from La Chaux-de-Fonds; the hands in Le Locle; and, the sapphire crystal in Roche-d’Or. I’ve never cared much where my watches come from, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a brand committing so fully.
The 40mm case here is straightforward and the epitome of slab-sided. While the polished lugs slope down towards the outer edge, it does nothing to make this 12mm-thick case wear any thinner. To be sure, I found myself pulling out the calipers to double-check the case’s height, but sure enough, it was right at 12mm (and 48mm lug-to-lug). One of the issues, I found, was the included blue leather strap. It’s padded, which makes the watch sit slightly off the wrist unless tightened to an uncomfortable level, and even with the padding, it’s rather thin against the thicker case. That juxtaposition emphasized the case’s height. When I put this on a thicker strap that better suited the case dimensions, the watch looked far better on my wrist (I had success with a mahogany-colored leather strap and a bright yellow rubber strap). I should also mention that when setting and winding the watch, I found the crown’s polished ridges a bit smooth and the grooves shallow, making it hard to get an ideal grip.
The dial is what must have drawn me to this watch. Again, I don’t think it’s anything unique on paper: blue sunray (also available in black or grey), Arabic cardinal numerals, lume. I think it’s just that it’s done so well. There’s no clutter, nothing seems off, and the proportions are perfect. Yes, it’s weird to put the caliber on the dial, but as I think of it, it’s just as weird to put a depth rating on the dial. The applied albatross silhouette (the brand’s logo) is a nice touch and catches the light wonderfully (by the way, albatrosses have the largest wingspan of any extant bird, measuring up to 11 feet tip to tip). The high polish of the indices also manages to pick up the tiniest ray of light, so the indices brighten up even in low light.
The handset is far more common on pilot’s watches, but I think that’s the great thing about watch design: A particular element, however associated with one type of watch, need not be confined to that type of watch. Instead, the elements chosen for a design simply need to work well together. Here, the Super-LumiNova-filled hands and indices perfectly complement each other, so the hands work. The lume itself was quite good, with even application and brightness throughout.
The Eterna Caliber 3902A movement that Ultramarine used in its first watches, including this one, is a choice that was a product of its time (the writer said of a 5-year-old model). Back in 2012, after over 150 years as a Swiss-owned company, Eterna (along with Porsche Design) was purchased by a Chinese firm for a modest CHF 25 million. Just a year later, following a development process that had started before the acquisition, the Eterna Caliber 39 series was introduced. A modular caliber that allowed complications to be easily swapped in and out, it had required significant investment and was a big gamble by a company that was already struggling. All told, the Eterna 39 series offered 88 different configurations, but even with such versatility, it seems to have disappeared from every watch except Eterna’s own, with brands like Monta, Oak & Oscar, and Biatec all moving away from the series after using them early on.
The Eterna Caliber 3902A in the Ultramarine Albatros is a Swiss-made automatic movement with a substantial 65-hour power reserve at 28,800 vph and a ball-bearing rotor system that reduces friction. While Eterna’s 5-ball logo represents the five ball bearings installed in the winding system or its famous Eterna-Matic movements, the 3902A features a single ball bearing. While routine service shouldn’t be an issue for any skilled watchmaker, I do have concerns about spare parts in the long term. On its website, however, the Eterna watch brand lists a global network of authorized service centers, suggesting that spare parts shouldn’t be an issue for now.
I’m hopeful that Ultramarine doesn’t just drop the Albatros altogether when it retires the first generation. It’s a beautiful watch and while there is room for updates and improvements, there’s always space in a brand’s catalog for a simple three-hander. As a brand that I think has more than proven itself capable of designing high-quality watches, I’m sure whatever replaces the Albatros, whether an updated version or an entirely new imagining, will be equally impressive. Given that it’s being retired, you can now get the Ultramarine Albatros for €1,300, €600 below its original price. At that price, you’re getting an entirely Swiss-made watch that I think looks pretty great. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.