Inside & Out: Alpina Alpiner Automatic 4
How I got this watch: I spoke with Alpiner about reviewing a timepiece. I was given a selection of watches to choose from and chose the Alpiner Automatic 4. I wore the watch for two weeks. This is not a paid review.
The Alpina Alpiner Automatic 4 is a watch worthy of a weekend warrior
I'll be honest and say that I didn't know much about Alpina before spending two weeks with the watch. Much like Mido & Niall, I had seen a few photos on Instagram but other than that I was going in blind (A practise that gets harder and harder the more I write and research about watches).
Founded in 1883 by Gottlieb Hauser, Alpina began life as a collection of Swiss watchmakers working together. The Alpina Union Horlogere S.A. was Hauser's attempt to fulfill his 'Alpinist Principle', a goal of uniting Swiss watchmakers to create the highest quality product possible, through collaboration and innovative manufacturing.
In 1901 the name Alpina was trademarked as a symbol to be stamped on high quality movements made by the Alpina group. It wasn't until 1908 that the Alpina name first started appearing on the dials of the group's best timepieces. 1908 was also the year that the 'Alpiner' symbol, a small red triangle, was used by the company.
By 1929, Alpina had partnered with the American brand Greun to provide distribution for each others watches overseas. In 1938, the brand released the Alpina 4 which represented their essential qualities of a sports watch: anti-magnetism, water-resistance, anti-shock and a robust steel case.
By the 1970s, Alpina and dozens of small brands faced tough times during the quartz crisis. Alpina weren't the first to close their doors and they weren't the last either. On Alpina's website they give the following reason for what happened during the Quartz crisis. "After the devastating effects of the Quartz wave, Alpina missed the renaissance of mechanical watches, which began in the mid 1980s, perhaps, perhaps because the new German owners were too far removed from the Swiss epicenter". It is perhaps ironic that the company has been going from strength to strength under the tenure of their new Dutch owners.
Alette and Peter Stas were the founders of Frederique Constant and under their tenure, Alpina now has five in-house calibers (AL-760 Flyback chronograph, AL-980 Tourbillon, AL-718 Worldtimer, AL-950 Regulator and the AL-710 Automatic). The AL-525 that is inside the Alpina Alpiner Automatic 4 is not one of these in-house movements. It is a Sellita SW200 with a customized rotor and decoration Alpina. The SW200 is actually a clone of the incredibly popular ETA 2824 that is a reliable work horse movement that gets the job done and is easy to service world wide.
Let's get this out of the way. Yes, this watch is called the Alpina Alpiner Automatic 4. Perhaps the difference of inflection of Alpina and Alpiner is distinctive enough in French but in English, it's a tad clumsy. It's clumsy without knowing the history behind the Alpiner logo and it's still a bit clumsy even knowing that. Yet, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and the Alpina Alpiner Automatic 4 is a still a cool watch, even with such an awkwardly alliterative appellation.
The red triangle, the titular Alpiner, is on the watch as the counterbalance on the central seconds hand. It's a nice touch of color along with the red 4 above the white text at six o'clock. Like the Alpina 4 from 1938, this Alpiner is also antimagnetic, water-resistant (100m), shock resistant and has a big robust case. These four principles should really be the guiding force for any brand trying to make a modern sports watch.
Whilst water-resistance over 100m is overkill, a watch without some anti-magnetic properties is crazy. In 1938 it was a luxury to have an anti-magnetic watch but in 2017 it's almost a necessity. Televisions, phones, cameras, laptops, computers, purse clasps or practically everything you come into contact with during your day will have some level of magnetism.
The Alpiner Automatic 4 uses one of the oldest methods of protection against magnetic fields, the Faraday cage. I've gone into detail before about the history of anti-magnetic watches, but to be brief the Faraday cage is a box that stops magnetic fields. Brands like Omega, Rolex and Patek Philippe have been using non-ferrous materials in their movements for a while now which negates the use of a Faraday cage. Yet the Faraday cage still works perfectly well and is a far more practical solution for a watch costing $1395. The use of a Faraday cage does mean there can't be any sapphire crystal backs to a watch so instead we have a nice alpine engraving along with the Alpina name.
The bevelled edges of the lugs wrap all away around the case to the other side and it's details like this that more watches in this price range need. It's not an earth-shattering example of exquisite case finishing, but it's something that didn't need to be there on a large sports watch. Like the translucent dial on the Bulova CURV, these touches aren't necessary but adding them goes that extra step into giving the customer something more.
The Alpiner is a sizeable 44mm with a high profile and a thick strap so it's unlikely that you'll be forgetting it's on your wrist anytime soon. It was always comfortable but the knowledge that I was wearing a watch was already at the forefront of my mind. I don't like to play the shoulda woulda coulda game when talking about watches, but there were times wearing this watch that I'd drift off and think "You know what, this watch would have been amazing at 39 or 40mm, hell, even 42mm!". Even though the hour markers are the right size, the hands are a great length and the bezel is the perfect thickness, the watch is just a little too big for my taste. That doesn't make it a bad watch, but it's just a few millimeters too big for me.
A benefit of a larger case is a larger dial and the blue sunburst dial is beautiful. It's a simple effect but it gives the watch a lot more charm. The matte finish to the chapter ring provides a subtle contrast to the shiny dial, as do the matte white hour markers. There are two other dial options, silver and black, with an option for a matching black strap with the black dial version. The strap has some nice red lining on the sides and underneath and the buckle is also nicely finished but there is no questioning one fact, this watch was made to be put on a NATO strap. It's big, it's fun, it's sporty and it would look so damn good on a NATO that I'm disappointed I didn't have one for the photoshoot.
I'm not one for pages of prose on the dial but the three lines of text on the Alpiner (Automatic, Antimagnetic and 100M 330ft) are just the right size to be both legible and unobtrusive. However, the red 4 above them is more muted than the Alpiner triangle and can sometimes look more like an abstract shape than a number.
I'm glad that Alpina decided to place a brushed steel bezel on this watch rather than increase the price with a ceramic or aluminum one. There something about a steel bezel that I just love. It's the reason I like the Daytona Ref. 6239 over the 6241, it's a classic look. The Alpiner isn't strictly a dive watch (I don't think there are many great depths that other substantial submersion up in the Alps) so the bezel bi-directional.
The final verdict on the Alpina Alpiner Automatic 4? It's a quality watch at a great price. If you don't mind larger watches and you're looking for a weekend wear to take hiking or a trip to the mall, then the Alpiner would be a great pick.