In the early 2000s, one of the most interesting watch companies to keep your eye on is one that’s fallen somewhat out of sight in recent years. Chronoswiss Regulator Manufacture was an early leader in the post-quartz mechanical renaissance – the company was founded in 1983 by Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, who began as a watchmaker at Heuer, and who left before the company was purchased by Techniques d’Avant-Garde and became TAG Heuer. Chronoswiss, which was originally headquartered in Munich, had as its stock in trade the use of new-old-stock movements from Marvin, and also Enicar, both once very well-known makers of midrange watches. Enicar produced the famous “Sherpa” series of timepieces as well, but both companies are long gone, victims of the Quartz Crisis, and successive rounds of consolidation of the Swiss watchmaking industry. Enicar SA, like Marvin, was also a movement maker, and the Chronoswiss Regulator Manufacture caliber 122 is derived from the Enicar 165 automatic movement.
The company was a big hit among enthusiasts in its time, but as the watch industry continued to grow, and to be dominated by conglomerates like LVMH, the Richemont Group, and the Swatch Group, Chronoswiss struggled to be heard, and in 2012, the company was purchased by a Swiss couple, Oliver and Eva Ebstein, who moved the company’s headquarters to Switzerland, and who hope in some measure to return the company to its glory days, by reviving old favorites as well as creating new, more modern designs.
One of the most historically resonant of all the current C Chronoswiss Regulator Manufacture is the Regulator Manufacture. In addition to his fascination with chronographs – Lang’s personal collection of chronographs number close to a thousand, and he’s the author, along with Reinhard Meis (the author of Das Tourbillon) of the must-have Chronograph Wristwatches: To Stop Time – Lang was also interested in the regulator-style display of the time, in which a large central minute hand dominates the dial, with the hours and running seconds in smaller sub-registers. In 1988, Chronoswiss introduced their Régulateur, with a modified Enicar 165 movement dubbed the caliber 122, and it was when it launched the very first wristwatch with a regulator style dial to be produced in series . Since then, hundreds of watches with such dials have been introduced by other brands, but if you were there in the late ’90s when Chronoswiss was becoming a household word among watch enthusiasts, the association of Chronoswiss with a regulator dial is inescapable.
The design has changed very little over the years. The signature onion-shaped crown is still there, along with the straight-sided case with coin-edge knurling (the original version had a coin-edge bezel) and the shape of the lugs is the same as well. The finely formed, very elegant blued-steel hands are today as they were in 1988, and the dial typography hasn’t changed in thirty years.
The dial is quite lovely – solid sterling silver, decorated with engine turning, which is a rarity to put it mildly for a watch at this price point. The overall effect is old-fashioned bordering on quaint, but there is a quiet dignity about the overall design of the Regulator Manufacture, and a sense of security in its own identity. It’s not hard to understand, when you see it in person (I haven’t seen a Chronoswiss Regulator in person in I don’t know how long) why it’s managed to persist in the company’s collections for so long.
The movement is an interesting piece of Swiss watchmaking history in its own right. Enicar and Marvin are both long gone, but in their heyday, they represented the kind of watchmaking that at one time was a staple for the industry as a whole. The designs were not especially remarkable (although many of the Sherpa models are an exception to that rule) but basic mechanical quality was kept, if not high, then squarely in the realm of solidly reliable, on the understanding that in the years following World War II, a mechanical watch was something of a necessity and as a matter of competitive edge, you tried to offer the best reliability you could at a given price point. The movement runs in 30 jewels, with a 40 hour power reserve, at 21,600 vph; through the caseback, you get the impression of something solidly built, intended less for show than for reliable day-to-day operation
The Chronoswiss Regulator Manufacture is a sort of living museum of Swiss watchmaking. Its design, construction, and the selection of an out-of-production, new-old-stock movement were, when the watch debuted, a genuine rallying cry for the pleasure of mechanical horology over battery powered quartz technology, and an argument for the inherent interest of the mechanical watch. It’s hard to imagine nowadays, when collectible watches sell in the millions of dollars, the internet is awash in horological discourse, and new luxury watches are a multibillion dollar business annually, what the watch world looked like in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The continued existence of mechanical watchmaking, Rolex notwithstanding, still seemed by no means assured and if you were a lover of mechanical watches, you felt as if you were part of a beleaguered but noble cause – you know, sort of like Jon Snow’s outnumbered but game army in A Game Of Thrones, right before the Battle of the Bastards.
And yet, despite its air of coming a bit from a bygone era, there’s something genuinely timeless about the design. While it may have been an exciting novelty when it first came out, the Chronoswiss Regulator Manufacture has stood the test of time remarkably well, and its combination of almost muscular machine-ness with touches of unexpected elegance, like the dial and hands, makes it a watch that can be enjoyed not just for historical interest, but for what it says about how to play a long and lasting game in mechanical horology.