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Deep inside the smart Swiss watches that challenge Apple Watch with analog panache

Jon Phillips | April 24, 2015
Philippe Kahn is a big man with a big personality and big feelings about Swiss watches. He's got a massive Alpina model on his wrist, and he's bragging about how the watch is water-resistant down to 100 meters, and can last more than two years on its built-in battery.

Frederique Constant: Quiet elegance

Each MMT watch comes with a subdial for checking progress toward step- and sleep-tracking goals. This complication is absolutely loaded with techy-mechanical sex appeal, and the engine driving it — a Fullpower processing module — is hidden well beneath the surface of a stainless steel case.

The Frederique Constant models, aimed at male boardroom executives, are the most understated designs. Five 42mm models will launch this year for between $1,000 and $1,300. You can choose between either white or black dials, and cases made of either stainless steel or stainless steel with rose gold plating. Band choices include either a stainless steel link bracelet, or various straps made of CrocoCalf — that's leather with crocodile-style patterning.

Keep in mind, none of these MMT designs are traditional Swiss watches with fully mechanical movements based on microscopic gears and springs. Their timekeeping features run off quartz crystals, just like the majority of Swiss watches sold today. But there's still an unmistakable elegance to these watches, especially the Frederique Constant models.

The Frederique Constant subdial is recessed on a separate surface below the main dial. Raised Roman numerals serve as hour markers. The cases themselves are graceful studies of curves and bezels, one gently segueing to the next. The sum-total effect reminded me of an old movie from the 1930s. Or perhaps the drawing room at a fancy English gentlemen's club.

Alpina: Bravado and bling

Alpina, a watchmaker founded in 1883 but purchased by Frederique Constant in 2002, is going for a much more modern, even brash, aesthetic. The first of eight models will begin shipping in June at prices ranging from $1,050 to $2,600, and all of them strike a sporty pose. Water resistance ranges from 50 to 100 meters, and that's a requirement for Kahn — who, of course, likes to surf.  

The men's designs are thick and chunky, with heft and gravitas. In fact, one model with a stainless steel bracelet was downright heavy, and I'm not sure I'd want to wear it to bed for sleep-tracking. Alpina's body lines are more severe and architectural than Frederique Constant's. But there's nothing wrong with that — this is all about personal preference — and I loved the embossed Alpina logo on the back of the case. You just won't see this level of detailing on a watch designed by a consumer electronics company.

Alpina will also deliver the first MMT watches designed for women. These offer smaller diameters (39 mm), a guilloche triangle pattern on either black or white dials, and nine hand-set diamonds at every hour marker from 8 o'clock to 4 o'clock. The two most expensive of the ladies' models add a string of smaller diamonds circling the circumference of the crystal. This definitely won't match well with a Fitbit or UP3 activity-tracker. But then again, it will never need to.


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