It has been the practice of the watch industry to exercise its relationship with friends, including journalists, by using them to field-test watches. Think of this as “beta testing”, just as the software houses drip-feed new programs to civilian geeks. It’s a sure-fire, money-saving way to uncover flaws that may not emerge in-house.
Although I have only road-tested three or four pre-production watches, I do know journalists who thrive on it – not least because imparts a feeling of “inclusion”, of being on the inside. Equally, and many of these journalists fail to see this side of it, field-testing a pre-production watch, or a pre-production anything for that matter, destroys impartiality because the individual becomes part of the design process.
In such cases, as I am describing here with Christopher Ward’s rather special C9 Harrison 5-Day Automatic, the only way the writer can remain “clean” is if any writing is 1) confined to describing the actual pre-production sample or 2) if having to write about the actual production version, the writer discloses involvement.
Why stress this aspect of the watch industry? Because there are too many journalists with too-cosy relationships with watch brands that they do not disclose. I have no problem with journalists being asked to write literature, or brand histories, because that’s what writers do. As for the latter, their names appear on the work.
Equally, writers must be transparent about this if later they are called upon to write about a brand with any sense of neutrality. So, full disclosure about the C9: I, and a few other journalists, were asked to assess the C9, culminating in a conference with the people from Christopher Ward.
Amusingly, because the watches were so close to the finished article, there was a sense of a fait accompli. The brand was simply soliciting our opinions, possibly in anticipation of how the public would react. Anything we said about it was actually of little practical use: the watches were finished examples in all but two ways.
Most obvious, but hardly debilitating, was that the pre-production review samples were mechanically identical but not chronometer-tested. This didn’t matter at all, because the watch succeeded in the two key areas of concern – accurate timekeeping AND running for five days. It sailed through these. COSC certificates are merely a bonus.
For the second difference from production, and I know I’m not colour-blind because I just had my eyes tested, the sample I tested has a dark grey dial, almost black in some conditions. Judging by the press kits and DreamChrono’s full report on its Calibre SH21 movement, the versions for sale will be offered with white or dark blue dials.
Perhaps Christopher Ward is saving the grey dial for later use? Or more likely, it found the blue proved more favourable? If a grey one appears on eBay, it will be a future collectible, I suspect.
To recap briefly, this watch contains the company’s first in-house movement, an automatic with twin barrels. It was designed and developed over a four-year gestation period by Christopher Ward’s watchmaker, Johannes Jahnke, and it is entirely Swiss-made, Synergies Horlogères SA, effectively part of the Christopher Ward empire. The calibre’s name combines company’s initials “and the ambition that this movement will become a classic of the 21st century.” Crucially for Christopher Ward, this movement will serve as the base for future models, the brand already planning a chronograph, GMT and a moon phase.
Before going any further, it is important to highlight just why this watch – which is available only on-line – is so significant, and it is primarily down to price. Among the points raised by myself and my colleagues during the group discussion (which took place mere weeks before the formal release date), the price proved most amusing, because we all felt that £1500 was actually too low!
How so? Because people tend to be suspicious of anything that seems under-priced, although that its exactly the raison d’être of Christopher Ward. Anyone else would charge £2995, and for good reason: it’s absolutely worth it. Unless you know someone else offering a genuinely handsome automatic with date powered by a manufacture movement, with 120-hour power reserve, limited edition status and chronometer certification for the same price? Hardly a criticism, eh?
Another point that was questioned, given the see-through back to show off the movement, was the choice of finish. Here, the conference grew heated, because we were discussing something subjective, something wholly driven by taste. Simply put, given the “Harrison” nomenclature and constant reminders that this watch respects classic British watchmaking, the surfaces on the rotor and the bridges were uninspiring at best. At worst, it looked like an ebauche arriving raw from its supplier.
We were told again and again how many stages of polishing went into its microscopic graining, that “Less is more.” Be that as it may, “It’s not what you do, it’s what you’re seen to be doing” is the credo of every PR putz on the planet. If decision makers at Christopher Ward think that this is “traditional British finishing,” then clearly they’ve never heard of the subtle technique that certainly dressed (and still dresses) the most British of movements: frosting. Think: Roger Smith, Greubel Forsey, et al.
That aside, the watch flatters the wearer, as its technical claim of a 5-day reserve has been achieved. Thanks to its impressive 43mm size and overall finish, with nice touches like elegant hands and a terrific deployant clasp, it’s comfortable to wear and looks wonderful. I would have preferred a seconds hand less like the minutes hand, but that’s just me. Judging by the images, the white dial with blued steel hands and steel seconds is the more legible; the blue-dialled edition has all three hands in steel.
Those who saw the C9 while I was testing it fell in love with it. And I’m talking about guys who are partial to military watches and chronographs, not classically-styled dress watches. There may be no higher recommendation.