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The 5 Best Alpina Watches - A Buyers Guide

Posted on January 11 2021

Alpina Swiss Watches

 

Alpina is a Swiss watch brand that was originally established in the late 1800s. Now owned by the Japanese based Citizen Holdings, the company specialises in Swiss-made sports watches. Alpina can be described as an entry-level Swiss brand with their watches competing in the same market space as Tissot, Certina and Hamilton.

Describing their fans as Alpinists, their watches are designed for sportsmen and women who perform in challenging outdoor environments. The company’s ambassadors tend to be skiers, snowboarders and deep-sea divers. The brand has a unique backstory that I’d like to take you through, then I’ll present you with a concise list of my favourite Alpina watches.

The History of Alpina Watches


Alpina has a history that is a little unusual, even by the standards of the Swiss watch industry that was built by individual watchmakers and their families. In 1883 Gottleib Hauser, an independent watchmaker, came up with a solution to the problem that he had sourcing watch parts. He created a union for Swiss watchmakers, through which they could pool resources, ideas and expertise.

Known as the Alpina Union Horlogere, the group created their own calibres, exhibited at watch fairs and ultimately registered the Alpina name in 1901.

Shortly afterwards, Hauser and his son toured Russia in what turned out to be a successful attempt to access the Russian market. The union members, or Alpinists, agreed to use the name collectively on their watches and the logo we now know - the red triangle - was adopted.

From there the Union expanded its production into Germany, supplied watches to the German Navy and recruited watch dealers in many of Europe’s large cities. By the 1920s their dealership network could be measured in the low thousands.

Having created their first sports watch in 1933, the brand would go on to debut the Alpina 4 - a watch with a stainless steel case that was water-resistant and had anti-shock and anti-magnetic features. The number 4 is still referenced across the Alpina line

I’ve mentioned the quartz crisis in a number of posts, noting how manufacturers from Japan benefited, how some like the British company Accurist got by, and how others went out of business. Alpina just about survived, but wasn’t in a healthy position.

The owners of Frédérique Constant, an entrepreneurial Dutch couple, came to the rescue. They acquired Alpina in 2002 and began to release new designs - still influenced by the original sporting ethos.

By 2006 the company had a new Swiss manufacturing facility and in 2013 Citizen bought the Frédérique Constant Group, which included Alpina.

Where are Alpina Watches Made?


The two brands - Alpina and Frédérique Constant - share production facilities in Plan-les-Ouates, Geneva. Alpina watches are therefore Swiss-made and carry the wording on their dials.

Are Alpina Watches Good Quality?


Given the Swiss heritage and manufacturer, I’d suggest that Alpina watches are well-made. The company does have a history of innovation and is now a part of Citizen’s stable along with other big-name brands like Bulova.

 


 

As noted above, the watches are assembled in Geneva and Alpina use their own calibre movements. These movements are modifications to Swiss ETA or Sellita engines. So we have reliable Swiss movements, modified and then used in watches assembled in Switzerland.

As an entry-level Swiss manufacturer, I’m more than happy with the specifications and build quality at this price-point.

The Five Best Alpina Watches


I’m not normally a big fan of sports watches, particularly as the market moves more towards smartwatches. With Alpina, however, there’s been a real attempt to create analogue designs with a fine eye for capturing the best of the brand’s history.

There are Alpina watches that recreate heritage models and others that are just classically styled tool watches. I’ve narrowed down the list to my five favourites and, as usual, I’ve tried to give a fair representation of the brand.

 

Alpina Alpiner Watch

 

The Alpina range is broken down into three distinct collections - Air, Land and Sea. The Alpiner is from the Land collection and is described as pure by the manufacturer. Pure in the sense that it embodies the essence of the Alpina mission - it’s a simple tool watch designed to be legible and easy to wear.

Given that this is a quartz piece, it will be as durable as the original Alpina 4 models were designed to be and the use of a sapphire crystal confirms this. There is also the addition of 100M water resistance - fine for a watch worn as a part of an active lifestyle.

I’ve featured the silver dial version before, as this design is one that I’m enamoured with. That spartan look found in the Rolex Explorer and other early sports watches has a timeless appeal and a versatility that has real-world practicality.

The Alpiner is 42mm wide - probably as big as this style of watch can go - and it has a stunning blue sun-ray dial. The neat date window at 6 o’clock is easy to miss unless you’re looking for it, and the watch has uncomplicated hands and markers.

The leather strap reinforces the outdoors aesthetic and finishes the watch off nicely.

Alpina Alpiner AL-240NS4E6

  • 42mm Diameter
  • 10mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Quartz Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 



Alpina Seastrong Heritage Watch

 

The Seastrong Heritage is from the Sea collection and is designed to recreate the Supercompressor style watches that the brand released in the late 1960s. Although it’s very similar in appearance to 1969s Seastrong 10, it’s not a full homage or reissue.

At 41mm it’s a comfortable size - a touch smaller than the Alpiner, but not as small as most original Supercompressor watches. The Supercompressor style is a bold look, the signature dual crowns always attracting the eye. The second crown rotates the inner bezel and is an alternative to an external rotating bezel.

For me, this really works. Particularly the contrast between the white dial and the darker bezel. The date window at 4 o’clock is a little quirky and isn’t a feature from the earlier models, but it doesn’t detract from the overall design.

This is an automatic watch, so it is among the more expensive Alpina models currently available. The movement is Alpina’s own calibre AL-525, a Swiss engine based on the Sellita SW200.

Where this watch is successful, other than the tried and tested Supercompressor design, is in the small details. For example, of the two crowns, one is decorated with cross-hatching like the original Supercompressors. The other has the Alpina logo - the same as that used for the 12 o’clock marker.

Along with the relatively plain hands and markers, we have a sapphire crystal and a full 300M of water resistance. This is a high-quality modern mechanical watch that gives more than a nod to its ancestors.

Alpina Seastrong Heritage AL-525S4H6

  • 41mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • 21mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 300M Water Resistance

 



Alpina Startimer Pilot Watch

 

Next, we have a watch from the Air collection. The Startimer aviation watches have a couple of main designs, with a strong emphasis on German Flieger styles. The watch that appealed to me most is a slight departure from the standard black dial, with a large case and onion crown that is the hallmark of a Flieger.

At 42mm this is more modestly sized and the white dial and standard crown maintain the aviation style, but with additional flair. I particularly like the red markers at the quarter hours and the green strap that would normally be reserved for military pieces.

The overall effect is to nail down the aviator basics, but with its own distinct character. With this being a quartz model, it’s able to come in at a slim 9mm. Although pilots watches shouldn’t need much in the way of water resistance, this does have 100M.

It’s not as sporty as some other Alpina models, but the Startime Pilot is capable of performing the same function.

Alpina Startimer Pilot AL-240S4S6

  • 42mm Diameter
  • 9mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Quartz Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 



Alpina Seastrong Diver Watch

 

The cushion case diver is a popular style among vintage-inspired watches. And this is a vintage-inspired piece - the inspiration coming from the brands own history. It’s a large dive watch with a slightly angular case - the cushion case design is there, but with strong, clean lines rather than the graceful curves of Panerai’s Radiomir.

This variation, with the bronze PVD case, has a distinctive appearance, with an over-sized crown, large hands, and a distressed leather strap. It hits that sweet spot that successfully combines vintage aesthetics with modern sizing and technology.

The movement is a Swiss-made AL-525 automatic calibre, based on a Sellita. It’s an attractive movement and is visible through the exhibition back.

The overall watch is an elegantly styled piece, with great specs and Swiss workmanship. It’s relatively affordable and therefore good value for money.

Alpina Seastrong Diver AL-525LBBR4U4

  • 44mm Diameter
  • 13mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Bronze PVD Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 300M Water Resistance

 



Alpina Heritage KM-710 Watch

 

I’ve saved the most expensive watch until last - but this really is an impressive piece. Based on Alpina’s own designs from the 1930s and 1940s - for watches issued to the German military - this is one of a number of similar watches produced by the brand over the years.

Again, this modern reinterpretation is slightly updated. The most obvious change being a diameter increased to 42mm. The movement is built from a Frederique Constant base - making for a beautifully decorated movement that can be observed through the clear case back.

So there’s no doubting the build quality and specifications.

Style-wise, I really like this watch. It’s faithful to the original designs with a printed dial that uses patina-toned lume. This gives the impression of age and adds to the authenticity of the piece.

One noticeable difference is the sub-seconds dial. On this version, it doesn’t contain the second-hand. Instead, this is used to add a date function - cleverly avoiding adding a date window that could compromise the vintage-styling.

Taken together - the movement, design and specifications - not to mention the attention to detail, this is a great showcase for Alpina. It may not be the most obvious place to start with the brand, considering they are now promoting their smartwatches, but for me, it’s Alpina at their best.

Alpina Alpiner Heritage KM-710

  • 42mm Diameter
  • 14mm Thick
  • 19mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 


Conclusion


Swiss-based Alpina is a historic watch brand that arose from a union of watchmakers. Working together for mutual benefit, and led by Gottleib Hauser, they went on to create the Alpina brand and its recognisable red triangle logo.

Although now owned by Citizen, the brand is still manufactured in Switzerland in the factory it shares with sister brand Frederique Constant.

These Swiss-made watches are built specifically for those with an active-lifestyle and house Swiss-made movements. There’s also a strong vintage-theme to the Alpina collections with some watches being reproductions of the company’s classic designs.

I’ve highlighted my favourites. Let me know yours in the comments below.


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