It can be an unrewarding experience trying to find a new and interesting watch if you’ve set yourself a hard out at $1,500. While there are hundreds of watches over $3,000 and thousands under $1,000, that in-betweeny price bracket has few in the way of desirable options. Partly it’s because it’s the dead zone, where better brands struggle to make good quality watches cheap enough and lower-end brands don’t have the cojones to charge that much with their cheaper ingredients.
If you pick from a major watch brand, you tend to get the bottom end of its quality, ingenuity, and creativity, when what you really want is its grail watch beyond your wallet. It’s often what turns people on to vintage, though even that is frankly a struggle these days with its spiraling prices.
One very notable—and often overlooked—exception to all that is Alpina, a Swiss brand that has devoted itself to making aviation-themed watches for much of the past 50 years. It makes very affordable and no less well-conceived quartz watches that’ll run you a few hundred dollars, but it’s the mechanicals that offer the best value. Many of these are huge and closely inspired by the authentic, dinner plate-sized tool watches of World War 2 navigators and pilots.
Last week the brand launched the Startimer Pilot Heritage Automatic, a slightly smaller version of the jumbo 50mm limited edition it created in 2015. The new version (an edition limited to 1883 pieces, to echo the brand’s founding year) is a relatively stately 44m (which still leans on the yuge side). Beige dial markings and numerals give instant vintage appeal without over egging it.
The movement inside is an Alpina-branded Selitta SW200-1, a dependable workhorse movement used by a litany of mid- and upper-market brands. It is visible through the hunter case back—a detail that’s pretty unusual at this price bracket. For the style/quality/value coefficient, we’d put an automatic Alpina pilot on any budding collector’s list.
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