Inside & Out Review: Christopher Ward C1 Grand Malvern 5 Day Automatic
How I got this watch: Christopher Ward contacted me about reviewing one of their new releases and I chose the C1 Grand Malvern 5 Day Automatic. I wore the watch for two weeks. This is not a paid review.
Editors Note: An earlier version of this article stated that the first Caliber SH21s released were not chronometer rated. This is incorrect as the caliber has always been chronometer rated since its release in 2014.
As more people stray away from established brands in the search of the illusive property of 'value for money', the watch market has become inundated with cheaper brands making tempting promises. Seemingly everyday a new Kickstarter brand appears touting minimalist designs, Swiss movements and low prices by removing the middleman and passing the savings onto YOU! But just like anyone who has suffered through a $5 haircut knows, sometimes it is worth paying extra to avoid disappointment.
Christopher Ward have always positioned themselves as an alternative choice to traditional brands. They are open about their pricing structure (3x times the cost of production), they sell directly to customers online and they don't waste money on celebrity ambassadors and their watches range in price from a $430 quartz diver to several thousands of dollars for limited edition pieces. Over the past 13 years of their existence, Christopher Ward's logo has changed several times, they moved from ETA to Sellita movements and, perhaps the biggest change, they released their first in-house movement in 2014. In-house movements are seen today as a sign that a brand has 'made it' and they are a brilliant marketing tool to crack open customers wallets. But not all in-house movements are equal so is $1740 for a time and date only watch good value for money? In this case, it is.
Christopher Ward began work on the Caliber SH21 in 2009
In preparation for Christopher Ward's 10th anniversary in 2014, the SH21 entered development in 2009 under the supervision of Johannes Jahnke, the watchmaker who developed the modifications that made Christopher Wards world timer and moonphase watches possible. However designing a new movement from scratch was uncharted territory so in order to save on production costs, Jahnke studied the manufacturing process of medical equipment to see whether techniques could be used in making his movement. After 4 years of development, the SH21 was released in the first version of the 5 Day Automatic in 2014. The name of the movement stands for Synerges Horologes (the name of Christopher Ward's movement supplier/subsidiary) and 21st Century (shorthand for the movement being a modern development).
It is worth noting that the SH21 is an in-house movement but it is not an in-house manufacture movement. The difference? An in-house movement is designed by the brand but isn't made by them, whereas an in-house manufacture is. Christopher Ward merged with Synerges Horologes, a movement manufacturer based in Biel, in 2014 but production of the SH21 was outsourced to 9 different companies to save money. Since 2014, one or two suppliers have been added to that list as the SH21 begins to include more complications like a power reserve.
If you're upset with Christopher Ward's use of the term in-house then I've got bad news for you. Everyone does this. No brand, no matter whether the movement is in-house or not, makes every component themselves so if you're angry at Christopher Ward then you must be as angry to many other brands as well.
Three years after the release of the SH21 and it is clear there has been substantial improvements. In 2014, the finishing (or lack there of) on the movement left a lot to be desired but that has all changed with this latest version. The bridges of the now semi-skeleton movement have been finished with Christopher Ward's repeating flag motif and it looks very good. It is finished by machine rather than by hand but that is to be expected in this price range. In fact, the unique style of finishing reminds me of the finishing on the Niall Black Swan rotor, something I dubbed Cotes de Kansas City. Neither are attempting to look like a traditional Cotes de Geneve finish so comparing the traditional with the modern is a useless exercise.
The SH21 measures 31mm across which allows a wider and heavier balance to be used, thus increasing performance and accuracy and undoubtedly helped in securing the chronometer rating. When I wore the watch daily, I didn't notice any deviations in time but I wanted to do my due diligence, so I left the watch on its side for 5 days to perform my own rudimentary accuracy and power reserve testing on it. After setting the watch against an online Atomic clock, I went back everyday at the same time to see how it was fairing. For the first 3 days, the watch remained at +2 seconds and on the 4th day and 5th Day, it was +3 seconds.
These results are well within the chronometer parameters that the movement was rated for. Without taking off the watch and testing it, I would never have needed the 5 Day power reserve but I liked knowing there was a safety net there for any possibility. I've recently started fly fishing and I don't want to wear my usual dress watches whilst I'm standing on the river's edge failing to catch anything, so I leave my watch at home. If over a weekend I forget to come back to wind it, I'll come back on Monday or Tuesday with a watch no longer running. The 5 Day Automatic is solution to this first world problem of "Oh dear, I wish I could be spending this 40 seconds of winding and setting my watch doing something productive".
On the wrist, the 5 Day Automatic is a joy to wear (EXCEPT WHEN IT GOT HOT).
At 40.5mm, I'm sure there are people wishing that this was 3mm smaller but for me, this is an acceptable size of a modern casual dress watch. Vintage fans will find it too big, Panerai lovers will find it too small and I'm here in the middle wondering what all the fuss is about. The case does sit a little bit high on the wrist as the SH21 is not a thin movement, but I never wished it was thinner during my time with the watch. A well-proportioned case with sensible lug length allows the watch to sit well on the wrist with a tapered underside shrinking the footprint. As I said, I don't have an issue with the size of the watch although with the SH21 measuring 31mm, I suppose it would be possible for Christopher Ward to make a smaller version if demand was there.
The dial design of the 5 Day is fantastic, a marriage of clarity and style. I'm sure that the minimalist design serves two purposes; to be an uncluttered and timeless design and also to keep the costs down. After all, when you start putting more stuff on a dial, the more money its going to cost make it look good. (This is why so many Kickstarter brands have minimalist designs by the way). The dial would have felt overly plain if it weren't for a number of key elements: The dial has an opalin finish, the subtle grain of which becomes more noticeable with the more light hitting the dial and inside, the dial looks matte white but outside or closer to rays shining through a window, the texture of the finishing is apparent. The elongated 12 and 6 add character without looking out of place when paired with the thin strips of polished nickel. The blued hour and minute hands are a tad boilerplate, but they suit the style of the 5 Day Automatic so I can't complain.
Christopher Ward seem to have figured out what kind of watch they want to make
This is my sixth Christopher Ward that I have reviewed in the last 2 years, and it's been interesting to see how they've changed their design language. I started reviewing them towards the end of the first era of design with the abbreviated Chr. Ward and busier dial designs, and now they have changed to using two different logos on more simple dials. In my opinion, these simpler designs are more suited to the strengths of Christopher Ward, although I still can't quite fathom the logic behind using two different logos at the same time. The motifs of this new Christopher Ward (elongated 12/6, stick hour markers, new logo at 9 o'clock) all work well across the different styles whilst looking distinctive.
I'll be honest and say that I chose the mesh bracelet version of this watch out of curiosity. I've never worn a mesh bracelet before and I think dress watches look best on leather straps so I wanted to see how it fared when stacked against my expectations. To my surprise, I really liked the combination. The lack of end pieces gave the bracelet a vintage look to which worked well with the understated, timeless dial, but rather than be mesh all the way around, the bracelet changes to small individual links near the clasp to allow for adjustments. I didn't need to remove any links for my wrist which was an immediate plus, but during hotter days (which thanks to global warming now exist past October) the watch did become a tad uncomfortable due to the lack of adjustment. According to Christopher Ward, there are two sizes of bracelet readily available (Standard and Extra Small) although a small number of XL bracelets are still available for customers who contact the brand when ordering. Extra links for all of these bracelets can be purchased directly from Christopher Ward.
Every review I've written about Christopher Ward's watches seems to end with a discussion on price and value, and this review is no different. At $1,740, the C1 Grand Malvern 5 Day Automatic is one of the best value propositions for a modern dress/casual watch. Out of the six Christopher Ward watches I've reviewed, it's easily my favorite and the one I'd most likely buy if I were so inclined. The quality is high enough for those entrenched in watchmaking to appreciate, but the price is low enough to allow newcomers to appreciate the finer points of affordable watchmaking. Either by design or by accident, the watch addresses many concerns and criticisms people have when buying a mechanical watch, namely power reserve, accuracy and value.
The 5 day power reserve is excessive but with so many brands not going past 40 or 50 hours, I welcome a bit of excess. Being chronometer rated is a wonderful addition, especially so when the price remains as low as it is and whilst a piece of paper doesn't add value to the watch, the knowledge of independently documented accuracy does. $1740 is a ludicrously low price for a watch that has all of the above and it speaks to Christopher Ward's seemingly genuine desire to offer an alternative to traditional brands.
If you're looking for a watch that offers a clean and timeless design with an in-house movement to boot, then the Christopher Ward C1 Grand Malvern 5 Day Automatic could be for you.