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Review of the Chronoswiss Opus
©1998 by Marc J. Rochkind. All Rights Reserved. Permission is hereby granted to Richard Paige to place a copy of this article in the TimeZone archives.
If you've read any watch-related periodicals in the last year or so, you've seen ads for this watch. There's one on p. 57 of "Watches Volume 3 (1998 Annual)," on the inside back covers of International Wristwatch Numbers 34 and 35, and even on p. 77 of the June 1998 Robb Report. It's not that Chronoswiss wants everyone to buy this particular watch, but just that the Opus is symbolic of their market positioning as the watch brand for lovers of mechanical watches. And, the Opus is so eye-catching that Chronoswiss, unlike, say, Omega, doesn't have to shell out to hire a (human) super-model.
The Opus was Armband Uhren magazine's 1996 Watch of the Year. Chronoswiss makes this very clear in their ads, and even puts it on a plastic tag attached to the watch so that those who see the watch at a dealer will know about it.
The Chronoswiss catalog, called "Fascination of Watchmaking," is well-done. Chronoswiss is one of the few companies that says clearly what their movements are based on, rather than pretending that they are in-house. For example, their C.754 is "Base ETA 7750." For watches that use an ETA movement more-or-less as is, they just call it, for instance, "Caliber ETA 2892-2." This goes along with their overall approach to marketing: no hype, no hiding anything, no pretty model, spacecraft, or airplanes. Just the watches.
The Opus and some others are not in the main catalog, but in a companion booklet called "Novelties." So, again, they're playing it straight: the Opus is a novelty watch.
Chronoswiss watches are widely available in the US, and I assume the rest of the world as well. Two stores well-know to TimeZoners, Kenjo and Paris 1925, both carry Chronoswiss. The US distributor is Chronoswiss USA. Their ads say that you can call them at 516-776-1135 if you want a free catalog. There's no Chronoswiss official web site, and no unofficial one either, as far as I know.
I got my Opus, the all-SS model, less than a week ago. The watch came in a highly-polished wood box with a brass latch. The papers inside were divided into four elegantly-printed little booklets: Directions for Use, Wasserdichtigkeits-Pass (which appears to be the service record, with room for 8 entries), Guarantee (2 years), and General Agents. The General Agent for the US is listed as UTime Company Inc. in New Jersey. I don't know if that's still true; as I mentioned above, the recent ads suggest that Chronoswiss USA may have replaced UTime as distributor. This is important if the watch needs repair, as you don't want to have someone pop in standard Valjoux 7750 parts just to get the watch running again. The guarantee isn't just for defects in material or workmanship, but also for "exact function," whose meaning isn't clear, but presumably includes accuracy.
The Directions for Use are exactly one page long. I think Chronoswiss is assuming that anyone who buys this watch already knows how a typical chronograph operates. I think that's a fair assumption.
Chronoswiss was started by Gerd-R. Lang in the early 1980s, a very odd time to start a watch company. The established European companies were undergoing a traumatic downsizing due to the advent of the inexpensive quartz watch. But Lang realized, possibly before anyone else, that this upheaval meant not the end of the mechanical watch, but only the end of mechanical watches for the masses. A desire to own new, innovative, high-quality mechanical watches would remain, and even grow stronger, and no quartz watch would ever meet this need. So, he went ahead, positioning Chronoswiss as the watch for people who are serious and knowledgeable about watches.
Today Chronoswiss has a rather complete line of classically-styled watches. There are chronographs, chronometers, a sports watch (here even the Chronoswiss catalog just has to show a sailboat!), and even a reversing rectangular watch that, of course, reminds one of the Jaeger-Le Coultre Reverso. But, as one would expect, what's on the back of Chronoswiss's Cabrio is not an engraving or another watch face, but the display back. It's for people who want to look at the movement without removing the watch. (JLC has at least one model that does this, too.) For some people, even reversing the case to see the movement is too much work, and those are who the Opus is for.
Gerd-R. Lang isn't just some marketing guy or rich watch lover. He's an expert on chronographs, and the co-author (along with Reinhard Meis) of the Schiffer book "Chronograph Wristwatches--To Stop Time" (available from the TimeZone Bookstore).
Chronoswiss is a German company, but, as its name suggests, all of their movements are Swiss. I don't know where the case is made, but I would guess Switzerland as well. I don't think that's enough to call the watch "Swiss Made" under the rules, because control and final assembly are in Germany. So, the watch doesn't say anything at all about its country of origin. I would call it a Swiss watch made in Germany. This is very different from Lange, which makes German watches in Germany.
The CaseThe Opus case is 38mm in diameter and 15mm thick. It's pretty light--only 65 grams. After all, much of the metal has been removed!
As you can from Figures 2 and 3, the case is cylindrical with a straight side, finished with vertical brushing. The same finish extends to the sides of the lugs. The top and bottom edges have a rounded, fluting that I find very appealing. This a standard Chronoswiss feature, found on most of their watches. The front and back crystals are slightly curved. The front crystal is flush with the steel case, so there's no protection.
I can't help it--the case reminds me of a can of tuna fish (Figure 4).
The model number "CH 7523" is engraved lightly on the side between the 6 o'clock lugs, and the case number "8 220" between the 12 o'clock lugs. [ChronoCop, for the interpretation of "8 220"]
The Opus's crown and chronograph pushers are very large, which I like a lot. The rounded, fluted crown adds to the watch's classic styling. Nothing screws in, which allows for easy operation. That's the right choice, since this is obviously not a diver's watch. I suspect the dial can't be read at all underwater and through a mask.
The strap is held on with screws, not pins. Stylistically, this enhances the mechanical image of the watch, but it has two practical advantages as well. You can remove the strap without a pin tool, and the screws are more secure than pins. That would be my guess, anyway--I suppose it's possible for the screws to loosen if one fails to tighten them adequately after a strap change.
The back (Figure 5) has a crystal of mineral glass, which is not as hard as sapphire. This is probably OK. There are no markings anywhere on the back as far as I can tell.
My opinion of the case is that it's very well machined and finished, but it's too boxy. The diameter-to-thickness ratio is only 2.53, which is the lowest of any of my 10 watches. It's close to the Breitling Chronomat (39mm x 14.5mm; 2.69), but the Breitling doesn't look nearly as boxy. A glance at the profile of the Breitling (Figure 6) shows why. (For more on this subject, see "Effects of Design on Look and Fit of Large Watches" in the TimeZone Archives.)
However, since the Opus is not going to be anyone's everyday watch, and since its boxiness is unlikely to be the reason why it stands out (it is a skeleton watch, you know), the boxiness bothers me much less than it would in another watch. It will be interesting to see if my feelings about this change over time.
The alligator strap that the Opus came with is one that I felt no need to replace with something more to my liking, which I did for several other watches I've acquired recently (notably, a Lange 1). In fact, it's the best looking and one of the most comfortable straps I have, although maybe not the toughest. Its padding isn't nearly as thick as on the Hirsch straps I've bought, and as a result it doesn't require as much break-in.
Well, actually, there are fragments of a dial, just enough to hold some time markers and some text. Imagine a complete dial with all of the unused parts cut away (i.e., skeletonized), and that's what the Opus has.
The background is white with reflective sparkles on it, like on a highway road sign. I can't see where the sparkles help at all with low-light visibility, however, so I assume that that's not their purpose.
The markings are black. There's an unbroken sequence of indicators around the periphery of the dial, with numbers at 15, 30, 45, and 60, and dots at the other 8 major points. In between are long tick marks at each second/minute point, and then shorter tick marks to divide the seconds/minutes into 4 intervals. These fine markings and the very thin blued steel hands combine to allow the watch to be set and read precisely. Notice I didn't say "quickly;" with so much on and behind the dial, you need to really concentrate to find what you're looking for. It's a challenge to make a readable chronograph on a conventional watch; with a skeletonized dial it's impossible, so at least Chronoswiss went for precision, instead.
The subdials are also precisely marked, as you can see in Figure 7.
There no center date wheel, as on most 7750-based chronographs, probably because that would block the movement with too much metal. Instead, there's a date wheel at 3 o'clock. I like the way that fourth subdial balances the other three.
Note that the date subdial is a little asymmetric, as the numbers 31 and 1 are adjacent, without a dot between them. That's a result of there being an odd number of dates to indicate. We don't have this problem with hours, minutes, and seconds, because the maximum number on the dial is always even (12, 30, 60).
Each subdial is attached to the outer dial with a small tab, as you can see in Figure 7. The tabs holding the subdials at 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock are wider, to accommodate the brand name and the movement caliber (C.741), the model (OPUS), and the serial number (2123). This extra metal is undesirable on a skeleton watch, but it doesn't really hurt here since the movement has nothing interesting at those locations anyway.
It's hard for me to see how, on a skeleton chronograph, the dial could be any better. If the watch were not a chronograph, the outer dial could be made a little thicker, and maybe the hands could be thicker as well, although then they would block more of the movement. But with the interior subdials, there's a tradeoff between readability and skeletonizing. Obviously, with this watch, the bias should be towards skeletonizing. (That's this watch... I wonder what makers of unreadable, unskeletonized chronographs use for an excuse.)
The Opus movement is C.741S, a skeletonized variant of their C.741, which is based on the ETA 7750 (same as Valjoux 7750, I assume), as the catalog makes clear. I don't know how much of the following is Chronoswiss and how much is ETA, but here's the C.741 description from the catalog:
In addition, a Chronoswiss modification to the standard 7750 is the analog date indication at 3 o'clock.
There's a discrepancy between the number (19) of jewels given in the catalog where the movement is described and the number (25) given where the watch is described, which is quoted at the top of this review. I think 25 is correct, because that's also the number given in the Breitling catalog for my Chronomat. [Michael Friedberg has confirmed that 25 is correct.]
Alas, I'm not knowledgeable enough to comment on the finish of the movement, except to say that the skeletonizing looks pretty aggressive. I can't see anything that could be opened up any more. (Perhaps I should send this watch to Walt Odets for disassembly and analysis?)
I've not had my Opus for even a week, and I know it came from the factory to me with little delay, so it hasn't been broken in yet. Nonetheless, over the past 4 days it has gained around 5 sec. per day, which is fine. This watch is not a COSC-certified chronometer, in case you were wondering.
There's one other item worth noting. On my Breitling Chronomat, also 7750-based, the chronograph minute hand jumps to the next minute when the second gets close to 60 sec. If you stop the chronograph at that instant, it's not clear what the elapsed time is, since you don't know whether the jump has occurred. The C.741 in the Opus doesn't have this problem--the minute hand moves smoothly to the next minute, taking about a second or two to complete its journey. I don't know whether this is variation from one 7750 to another, or an example of extra care taken by Chronoswiss.
The Opus will not be my everyday watch, for two reasons that have to do with the watch itself, and one that is just me:
Because of point 3, the Opus will definitely be in my rotation. It's truly a watch for the watch enthusiast. That's what is was designed for, and that's who it's marketed to.
The Opus is educational, too. What better way to begin learning how a movement works than to study the Opus through an eye loupe?
And, if I sometime feel the need to impress some people with my watch, people who themselves might be wearing gold Rolex Datejusts, I can just put on my Opus. Even if it doesn't impress them, it will certainly confuse them.
Also, I'm planning ahead for that great TimeZone convention, when everyone who attends will agonize for hours over what to wear (on their wrist). I could wear my Lange 1, but I'm afraid everyone who attends will have rented one for the occasion. So, I'll just wear the Opus instead.
Is the Opus a good value? Probably not for most folks... $7500 list for a novelty watch with a commonplace movement (albeit skeletonized) is perhaps excessive. It's $1200 more than a JLC Reverso Duoface, more than twice an IWC Mark XII, and, in gold, within $5000 of a Lange 1.
But, there are lots of other reasons to want an Opus besides for its value. It's an outstanding design, beautifully executed, from a notable company. I think every watch lover should consider at least one skeleton watch. It's too early to tell for sure, but I'll bet the Opus becomes one of my favorites.
As I was editing the final draft of the review, one more reason to have an Opus came to mind. Let's say you're in a group of real sophisticated, but somewhat arrogant, watch owners and they start to make derogatory remarks about the pedestrian 7750 movement in your chronograph. You shoot back with, "Well, yeah, but most of it's been removed."
All photographs were taken by the author with a Sony Mavica MVC-FD7 digital camera. Except for the book and the can, the "inverted light bowl" technique described in the TimeZone Archives article Lighting Watch photos was used.
After this review was posted, the author modified his Opus slightly to make reading the time easier. Click here to see this modification.
When the Opus was first placed in its new home, it got into a fight with a Lange 1 over who was going to be number one. However, shortly thereafter the two were calmed down by a professional with substantial experience in working with youngsters.(25233 hits when counter was turned off on 2-June-2008)