Up Close: Chopard Alpine Eagle XL Chrono

A luxury-sports chronograph done truly well.

Luxury-sports watches are the flavour of the day, and brands in every price segment offer something in the category. Given the fad, Chopard’s launch of the Alpine Eagle last year wasn’t much of a surprise, although the fact that the Alpine Eagle was a reboot of the 1980s St Moritz was unexpected, since the St Moritz was never really a hit. But the St Moritz was smartly reworked, creating a watch that is good looking and in typical Chopard style, very well made and also well priced.

The Chopard Alpine Eagle XL Chrono has all of the qualities of last year’s base model, but everything comes together better on the chronograph. And despite being more complicated and thus more expensive, the chronograph is arguably better value, and perhaps even the best in class.

Initial thoughts

When the Alpine Eagle was unveiled almost exactly a year ago, making its debut as a 41 mm three-hander with date, I was impressed by the fit and finish, and also the price; the value proposition was good.

But the three-hand Alpine Eagle isn’t particularly compelling in the hand. To be fair, the base-model Alpine Eagle manages to avoid the usual pitfall for a luxury-sports watch – looking derivative and too similar to the most famous watches in the category – but it is a little plain.

The new Alpine Eagle XL Chrono, on the other hand, is compelling in style, size, and substance. Visually the chronograph works better than the three-hand model, because the sub-dials are well proportioned and ideally positioned, so they full up the dial well and accentuate the sporty look of the watch.

At 44 mm in diameter, the chronograph is exactly the right size. It is big, chunky, and shiny – the case and bracelet are made of a new, proprietary steel – while also being sharply finished inside and out. The case and dial have excellent details, while the movement is smartly designed and finished in a quiet, but worthy, manner.

Even the bracelet is worthy of special mention for being thin yet rigid thanks to a simple but clever construction. But the bracelet also encompasses the only bit of the design that doesn’t quite work: the polished central stripe looks too narrow for the watch.

Importantly, the Alpine Eagle chronograph is priced a little under US$20,000, which probably makes it the best value amongst high-end, luxury-sports chronographs. In fact, the Alpine Eagle chronograph is mostly a cut above most of the competition in terms of fit and finish, with its only weakness being the competition is better marketed and better known.

Bringing back the eighties

The Alpine Eagle is modelled on the St Moritz, a luxury-sports watch that was introduced in 1980 and very much looks the part. In fact, the St Moritz continued to look like a 1980s watch even in its later iterations that remained in production until the mid 2000s.

A 1980s ad for the St Moritz. Photo – Chopard

Chopard sieved out the bits that are overly 1980s, streamlining and refining the St Moritz to create the Alpine Eagle, which retains the best features of its predecessor. So the bezel is now a perfect circle with no bulges or kinks, while having a sharply-defined bevelled edge. And the bracelet has been narrowed slightly to make the case seem larger; the original had a broad bracelet almost as wide as the case, which made the watch look diminutive.

Shiny steel

All Alpine Eagle watches in steel are made of Lucent Steel A223, an alloy developed by Böhler, a steel company that’s a subsidiary of Voestalpine, an Austrian industrial conglomerate. Like the gold that Chopard uses in its watches and jewellery, A223 is sustainable, made up of 70% recycled steel.

Taking some four years to develop, A223 cast twice during fabrication – melted and allowed to solidify, and then again – to reduce the quantity and magnitude of inclusions in the alloy. This results in a denser, purer alloy that has properties useful in a watch. For one, A223 is 50% more “abrasion resistant” than conventional steels used for watch cases, a quality achieved by “changing the molecular structure and optimising the microstructure” according to Voestalpine.

And A223 has a brighter white appearance than typical watchmaking steels, which tend to have a greyish tint. The difference in colour is not extremely obvious in the metal, particularly in indoor lighting, but the Alpine Eagle does have a notably lustrous finish that is no doubt a result of finishing but also the nature of the metal itself.

Case and bracelet

The Alpine Eagle chronograph is a big watch at 44 mm wide and 13.5 mm high, but it is a good size for a sports chronograph. And it also sits well on the wrist thanks to the angle of the lugs and bracelet.

Design-wise, it is recognisable as being descended from the St Moritz, thanks to the eight screws on the bezel arranged in pairs, as well as the narrow, polished stripe on the bracelet. The protruding flanks of the case, which are actually part of the bezel, do bring to mind the Hublot Big Bang; the resemblance is not so much that the Alpine Eagle seems like a copy, but it is there.

Even if bits of the watch do bring to mind the competition, the case and bracelet finishing is superior to other watches in the same price range. Both are finished with a combination of contrasting brushed and polished surfaces, each separated by well-defined borders.

The case finishing extends to the smallest details, which are all very well done. The holes on the bezel for the screws, for instance, all feature polished countersinks. The oblong chronograph pushers have even, polished bevels along their lengths. And even the crown is neatly finished with a brushed top and polished sides.

The bracelet is similarly well finished – every link has bevelled edges – and ends in an elegant, concealed clasp. The polished central band, however, looks disproportionately thin. It isn’t thin enough to be an accent, but too narrow to be a defining feature of the bracelet.

At the same time, the bracelet is relatively thin. It’s substantial enough to suit the size of the watch, but not so much that it becomes clunky. It also has a good degree of flexibility, thanks to a simple yet unconventional construction.

Instead of the usual pins or screws, the bracelet links are held together by plates that slide into the sides of each link. Each plate is then secured by a large screw in the back of the link. The screws, in turn, also hold the polished links that form the band on the central length of the bracelet. The construction allows the bracelet to flex, while also retaining rigidity.

The links held together by plates that have a figure-of-eight profile

The screws on the back of the link secure the plates and the polished central link

The bracelet without the polished central link. Photo – Chopard

Installing the plates that hold the links. Photo – Chopard

Eagle’s eye

The Alpine Eagle has an unusually-patterned dial, although it is available in the predictable colours of a luxury-sports watch, namely blue, black, and grey.

The pattern is atypical because most luxury-sports watches have either linear or geometric motifs on the dial. In contrast, the Alpine Eagle dial is deeply stamped with a spiralling, radial pattern with a granular texture that’s inspired by the iris of an eagle’s eye. The pattern is most obvious on the blue dial, and less so on the black.

The dial is well done both in finish and design, with thought evidently having been put into the details. The sub-dials and hands, for example, are design to distinguish the chronograph from the time display.

All three chronograph hands are filled with red Super-Luminova, while the hands for the time are white. And the chronograph sub-dials are ringed in brass, while the constant seconds register is instead recessed, stepped, and surfaced with a smaller concentric pattern.

Though it is not initially obvious, the sub-dials sit slightly higher than usual. This gives the registers more space, which allows the dial to avoid looking cluttered.

One element taken from the original St Moritz that could have been left out is the “XII”. The 12 o’clock marker isn’t a dealbreaker, but because Roman numerals tend to have classical connotations, it feels out of place against everything else, which is modern and clean.

Mechanics

The movement inside the Alpine Eagle chronograph is the Chopard 03.05-C, a high-spec, in-house movement that is derived from the L.U.C 03.03-L, which is found in the brand’s top-end L.U.C chronographs.

Even though the cal. 03.05-C doesn’t have many of the flourishes found in the L.U.C movement, it is still a first-class calibre, especially in a sports chronograph at this price.

To start with, the movement has a respectable, 60-hour power reserve. And it has both a vertical clutch and column wheel, which have become the norm in today’s mid- to high-end chronographs.

Both help to ensure more precise operation of the chronograph, while the vertical clutch allows the chronograph to run without affecting timekeeping. That said, the vertical clutch does impact serviceability, as it has to be replaced as a whole. More notably, the cal. 03.05-C has a flyback function, which is less common.

The decoration is high quality and workmanlike, which means mostly machine-applied finishing and a monochromatic look. But up close it is clear the details have been properly treated.

Screws and jewels sit in countersinks, while the wheels have circular grained faces. Notably, the screw heads have chamfered edges and slots – a tiny detail that could have been forgone but tellingly included.

Variants

The Alpine Eagle chronograph is making its debut with three variants, two in steel and one in two-tone steel and gold. The two-tone has a slightly dated look and is the least attractive to me – and it is also substantially more expensive – but two-tone watches have a particular appeal and whoever likes the look will probably find it superior to the other two.

Between the two steel models, the blue dial catches the eye more easily, and reveals the dial pattern more clearly. It does, however, feel a bit formulaic, since practically every luxury-sports watch is now dressed in blue.

Concluding thoughts

The Alpine Eagle chronograph is strong value for money. In fact, it’s probably best in class.

It costs a little under US$20,000 in steel, which is about the same as the Hublot Big Bang Integral in titanium. While the Hublot has a more aggressive and distinctive style, the Alpine Eagle wins in terms of finishing and mechanics. And the equivalents from Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet hover at the US$30,000 mark, but the Alpine Eagle is comparable in terms of quality.

But unlike its peers, Chopard doesn’t have much of a history with luxury-sports watches, so the Alpine Eagle doesn’t have a backstory to sell it. But on its own merits the Alpine Eagle is an outstanding watch.


Key facts and price

Chopard Alpine Eagle XL Chrono
Ref. 298609-3001 (steel with blue dial)
Ref. 298609-3002 (steel with black dial)
Ref. 298609-6001 (steel and gold, with black dial)

Diameter: 44 mm
Height: 13.5 mm
Material: Lucent Steel A223; also with 18k rose gold accents
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 100 m

Movement: Chopard 03.05-C
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, flyback chronograph, and date
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 60 hours

Strap: Steel bracelet

Availability: Already at retailers and boutiques
Price:
Steel – US$19,200; or 26,500 Singapore dollars
Steel and gold – US$26,800; or 37,000 Singapore dollars

For more information, visit Chopard.com.


 

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