The imperative to make a stainless steel sport watch has left few high-end watch companies untouched. It makes sense: This is, after all, a style that collectors seem to want. Today, we see that Czapek & Cie., the Geneva-based watchmaker perhaps known best for its hand-wound dress watches with extended power reserves, is no exception. Czapek has announced a new range of stainless steel sport models with integrated bracelets along with a new automatic movement to power them. Let’s have a look.
At its launch, the Czapek Antarctique is available in two versions: a main collection of 99 pieces and a special edition with a hand-varnished dial that will be made in a run of 10. Each uses the same 40.5 x 10.6mm stainless steel case. There are more models in the line scheduled for autumn of 2020, including a new ladies’ piece.
The first of the two versions we are looking at today, Terre Adélie, comes in four different dial variations – Secret Alloy (pictured above), deep blue, black ink, and burgundy – each of which is fitted with luminescent sword hands. The dials of these watches are visually striking, in particular the Secret Alloy. I think that each color works with the ’70s vibe that the Antarctique exudes, but this is particularly true of the burgundy and deep blue versions. The dials were designed and manufactured by a company called Metalem using a technique called lamé. Using a comb, the technique leaves behind characteristic striations which cause the colors applied to the dial to have considerable depth. The effect we see here is not unlike that seen on dials of certain Ferdinand Berthoud watches, for example, but while those dials (at least the ones that I have seen) have much longer striations, the Czapek Antarctique Terre Adélie’s appear to be shorter and a bit more nuanced. Each version has a date window, but it’s fairly discreet and placed at six o’clock, making for a pleasantly symmetrical dial.
The watch’s name is telling in that it hints at the mandate that led to its creation. From the start of this project, Czapek sought to create a highly elegant wristwatch that could stand up to being worn anywhere and in virtually any environment, even to the end of the Earth. Terre Adélie is a tribute to the French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville, who named a portion of Antarctica after his wife, Adèle, when he made an expedition to the southernmost continent in 1840. The Terre Adélie is offered in a limited run of 99 pieces total, sold entirely by subscription – a method for selling watches that has existed since the days of A-L Breguet – with a closing date for orders of July 15.
The special edition of the Antarctique is the Orion Nebula, named for the design of its stunning hand-varnished dial. As you can see below, the dial gives the Orion Nebula a totally different character from that of the more sober Terre Adélie. This version is limited to just 10 pieces and is already available.
With the Antarctique, we’re not just getting a new line, but also a new movement. Czapek has introduced the SXH5, which has been conceived in-house by the Czapek team and made with the help of a number of Swiss collaborators. It’s an impressive-looking micro-rotor automatic movement with elaborate finishing that includes hand-chamfering on six of its interior angles. Probably the first thing you’ll notice after its micro-rotor (which is made of recycled gold) is its elaborate network of skeletonized bridges, inspired by 19th-century pocket watches, which open up the whole of the gear train for inspection. The escapement, which has been provided by Atokalpa, has a large, variable-inertia balance. It’s worth pointing out that this caliber is capable of being regulated to within chronometer standards, and as you might have noticed from the writing on the dials, the watches will come chronometer-certified, by COSC. Besides Atokalpa and its escapement, others mentioned in the Czapek press release as components and movement manufacturing partners include AB Product, Arcofil, Ceramaret, Chronode, CMT-Rickenbach, Comblemine, Crelier, Generale Ressort, Inca, Inodeco, MLV, MPS, Novassort, Precipro, Risa, and Stocco.
From a design standpoint, the Antarctique is bound – as has every recent introduction to the steel sport watch game – to be compared to the “OG” models of the genre. In the case of the Antarctique, I think that comparisons are most likely to settle on the Royal Oak. The bracelet has a similar visual effect to that of the Royal Oak, though its construction is actually quite a bit different. Its “c”-shaped center-link design – the company says the shape of the highly polished central portion recalls that of the first letter of its name – is compelling in a similar manner to that of the Royal Oak bracelet. I think it’s the bold angularity of the links, a characteristic common to both bracelets, that caused me to make this association.
In an age when a Royal Oak, or a Nautilus for that matter, simply cannot be had by most would-be customers at retail price, coming out with a watch that scratches a similar itch strikes me as good common sense from a business standpoint. Upon close inspection, I think this is one of the more beautiful bracelets that I’ve seen in recent times. I love the contrast of the matte and polished parts, and how the matte finishing echoes the striations found on the dial. The bracelets have been designed with a quick-release system, and the watches come with an additional strap, either rubber of calf. For watch wearers who like to switch between strap and bracelet, this is an argument in favor of considering the Antarctique as an everyday watch.
While I’ve not had the chance to go hands-on with the Antarctique, its case dimensions of 40.5mm x 10.6mm suggest a slim and wearable profile. It has a kind of ’70s-style tonneau shape that may remind some of Vacheron Constantin’s vintage 222 or modern Overseas, and perhaps the aforementioned Royal Oak. But this style of case should probably be regarded as a genre at this point. I say this because the Czapek is, in my view, very much its own design. If you look closely, I think that it reveals itself to be the product of a rigorous industrial design process. There is a roundness, a kind of softness to its tonneau shape, which is emphasized in a pair of subtle crown guards. One of my favorite parts of the design is the contrast of the case’s matte surfaces against the slim, polished bezel, which rises up from the case and frames the dial nicely.
A number of high-end independent marques known for their classically styled dress watches have entered the steel sport watch arena of late. Urban Jürgensen’s One comes to mind, as does Laurent Ferrier’s aptly named Grand Sport Tourbillon. A considerably larger independent company, Chopard, re-entered this segment of the market with the Alpine Eagle last year. And A. Lange & Söhne, though not an independent, surprised many when it pivoted away from what most collectors expect from it – dress watches made of precious metal – with the Odysseus. Of all of these recent introductions, and I am probably missing a few, the Czapek & Cie Antarctique strikes me as among the most attractive. The dials of the Terre Adélie alone cause me to want a close in-person look at the collection. The integration of the case and bracelet looks pretty fantastic in pictures, and I have no doubt that achieving this integration was not a simple thing for a designer to do. Having said that, it’s difficult to evaluate a bracelet without touching it, and I hope that I’ll have the chance to go hands-on with this collection.
The Czapek & Cie. Antarctique Terre Adélie will cost $ 18,900 (the Orion Nebula is an even $ 20,000). Subscription orders for the Terre Adélie will be taken through July 15. Watches are expected to be delivered starting on October 10 of this year.
The Czapek & Cie. Antarctique Terre Adélie. 40.5 x 10.6mm stainless steel case with integrated stainless steel bracelet (comes with either a rubber or calf strap), switching is simple thanks to Czapek exclusive Easy Release system. Screw-down crown. Water resistant to 120 meters. Hand-decorated lamé dial in one of four colors. Sapphire crystals front and back. Powered by the new Caliber SXH5 beating at 28,800 vph and running in 28 jewels with 56 hours of power reserve coming from a single barrel. Limited to 99 pieces.
For more information, visit Czapek & Cie.